Palestinian civil war causes suffering in Gaza

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The Palestinian civil war descended further towards disaster with the recent attempted assassination of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. The struggle between Fatah and Hamas is an important reason why the coastal territory’s nearly 2 million residents live in a situation of permanent instability and uncertainty.

The assassination attempt, which also targeted Palestinian Authority Minister of Intelligence Majid Faraj, came nearly 11 years after Hamas violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in a deadly coup.

Hamas governance has brought further misery to the people the terrorist group rules. Its firm refusal to recognize Israel, rejection of Palestinian agreements with Israel, and engagement in terrorism invited the blockade of Gaza by both Israel and Egypt, the two countries with which it shares borders.

While no person was killed in the bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy, it likely marked the death knell of the latest Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, announced in October, which was already as doomed as previous efforts. The Palestinian people continue to be the main losers, thanks to the fecklessness of their leaders.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the putative moderate in the face-off, has also acted irresponsibly. He rejected an invitation to a White House meeting on Gaza’s humanitarian challenges – a well-intentioned effort by the Trump administration to address the Gaza situation.

The White House meeting drew representatives of 20 countries, including some that do not regularly speak to each other, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. What they have in common is their shared concerns about the regional ramifications of Gaza’s chronic issues.

Gaza has received generous financial support from the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and others. But some donor fatigue has set in after years of reckless mismanagement, waste and corruption by Hamas.

Unfortunately, Hamas has made its top priority assembling rockets and missiles to be fired into Israel, digging sophisticated tunnels into the Jewish state and instigating three wars against Israel. Since the beginning of the year, Israel has discovered and destroyed several tunnels, presumably rebuilt after the 2014 conflagration.

Israel has sought, out of both humanitarian and security concerns, to ensure that Gaza does not descend into a total collapse. Daily trucks with food and other supplies enter Gaza from Israel, and Israel recently appealed to European Union countries to provide $1 billion in urgent assistance.

Gaza’s desperation was confirmed in a recent World Bank report, which attributed some of the fault for the economic crisis in Gaza to the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.

How to break the Palestinian leadership gridlock is a huge challenge. It will take creative global guidance and initiative by the United States.

“An essential part of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, including those in the West Bank and Gaza, will be resolving the situation in Gaza,” said Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy to the peace process. He spoke at the White House conference only hours after the attempt to kill Hamdallah.

The White House meeting should continue the conversations and press for delivery of aid, while avoiding direct contact with Hamas until the terrorist organization cedes authority to the PA – a key component of the reconciliation agreement that is currently on hold. And in turn, Abbas’s PA would then presumably stop holding back on paying salaries of employees in Gaza and the fuel bills for electricity.

Imagine how much more the Palestinian people would be suffering at the hands of their own leaders if, hypothetically, Israel were not situated between the two Palestinian territories – Gaza and the West Bank – that are supposed to become a Palestinian state. The Palestinian civil war would likely already be much worse.

Every effort must be made not just by the U.S, but also by our European and Arab allies, to press Abbas to stop his globetrotting and speechmaking at the European Union Parliament and the U.N. Security Council so he can spend more time at his headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank and return to direct peace talks with Israel.

The woefully misguided efforts of Abbas to subvert the traditional and essential American role in the peace process will not improve conditions for the Palestinian people he represents.

Back in 1994, one of the first bilateral agreements Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed was known as “Gaza First.” They recognized that establishing Gaza as a successful example of Palestinian self-government would be a step toward building up the institutions, economy and society needed for possible statehood.

Sadly, the record of missed opportunities and despair is as clear as the guilt of the Palestinian parties chiefly responsible for Gaza’s colossal failure.

Still, solving the Gaza situation remains one key to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, as well as stability and security on Gaza’s border with Egypt. This important and challenging task demands bold action.