Last month, a spokesman for the terrorist group Hamas dismissed our peace plan as “worthless” – even though he has never seen it – in a vain attempt to preemptively undermine any chance of a political agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The barb was predictable; after all, such an agreement would terminate Hamas’s raison d’être.
But after ruling Gaza with an iron fist for a decade, Hamas has a pathetic track record. In response to the burgeoning humanitarian situation in Gaza, key countries and stakeholders are preparing to act: There was a meeting in Cairo on Thursday, and there will be a brainstorming session at the White House next week to find real solutions to the problems that Hamas has caused.
Increasing pessimism has led to paralysis on Gaza. Tragically, many seem to believe that Hamas’ rule is intractable and the suffering of the Palestinian people inevitable. The Trump administration, and particularly those of us on the peace team, beg to differ. Past failures do not absolve us of the responsibility to try to help. We are beholden to find a path to a brighter future for the Palestinians of Gaza.
Hamas, not the United States or Israel, has hijacked vast fortunes and spent it on weapons to terrorize Israelis, instead of spending it on hospitals, water, schools and the many other things so desperately needed in Gaza. Hamas, not Israel, has inflicted ever-greater restrictions on Gaza by repeatedly hiding materials to make weapons in shipments of humanitarian aid and other goods being moved into Gaza.
The Palestinians of Gaza have the opportunity to reject the failed policies of Hamas and turn toward a legitimate governing body that invests in them wisely and encourages their prosperity. Of course, it will take time to get there – a great deal of time – but we should start this journey today. It is a journey so critical to all of the children of Israelis, Palestinians (those in Gaza and the West Bank), Egyptians and beyond.
The humanitarian disaster caused by Hamas’s exploitation of the Palestinians of Gaza demands that we focus immediately on basics such as power, sanitation and drinking water. Gaza is not without resources, however, and has significant opportunities to build prosperous energy sectors in natural gas and solar. Our Gaza conference in Washington will focus on ideas for how to develop, over time, a viable economy in Gaza. Of course, any such initiatives must take into account Egypt’s and Israel’s security concerns. The United States stands ready to support these efforts, along with other countries that are eager to help.
President Donald Trump understands that improving the lives of the Palestinians of Gaza means building a thriving economy that can become self-sustaining. This would not only serve the interests of the Palestinians (including the Palestinian Authority) and the United States, but it would also very much be in the interests of our allies Israel and Egypt. As we try to build up Gaza, we must remember: Hamas’ utter failure to fulfill any of the most basic functions of governance has brought Gaza to the brink of collapse, which has necessitated the response of the international community. Bad actors such as Iran project outrage and promote violence abroad, notably by funding Hamas’ military training and weapons stockpiles, when they should instead focus their efforts on ailing economies at home.
Hamas must not be permitted to participate in any future government until it adheres to the conditions of the Middle East Quartet – the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations – including by explicitly committing to nonviolence, recognizing the state of Israel, and accepting previous agreements and obligations between the parties. It must disarm and commit to peaceful negotiations. Hamas must also address another humanitarian issue and return missing Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were taken by Hamas, as well as Israeli civilians. There is a way out for Gaza, if only Hamas has the courage to admit failure and chart a new course.
As most people understand, an essential part of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank, will be resolving – and rebuilding – Gaza. The president has been clear that he wants a fair and enduring agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians that will enhance Israel’s security and give all Palestinians the opportunity for a prosperous future. We are ready to work with any party truly interested in peace to reach this goal. Solving the situation in Gaza is an important step toward resolving the ultimate problem.
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Greenblatt is an assistant to President Donald Trump and special representative for international negotiations.