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White House Ready to Pursue Gaza Projects Without Palestinian Authority

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to the media with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) following talks at the Chancellery on April 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. /President-elect Donald Trump looks on as French businessman Bernard Arnault, chief executive officer of LVMH, speak to reporters at Trump Tower, January 9, …
Sean GallupDrew Angerer/Getty

TEL AVIV – The Trump administration will move ahead with projects in the Gaza Strip with or without the Palestinian Authority if its chairman Mahmoud Abbas continues to boycott the U.S., senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Their remarks came after a summit at which representatives from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar met with U.S. officials and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai to implement projects in Gaza in an attempt to alleviate the humanitarian crisis there. The PA, however, was noticeably absent from the six-hour meeting which took place at the White House’s Executive Office Building.

“Our goal is to get the PA in control of Gaza, if that’s possible,” a U.S. official said in a media briefing. “If the PA is unwilling to, or unable to, implement the projects, then we would have to proceed without them.”

He added that many of the projects discussed at the meeting, which include improving electricity, water, sewage and health issues, could be easily implemented without the PA ruling the Gaza Strip, though that would not be “the ideal situation.”

“Most countries expressed their regret the Palestinian Authority was not in the room,” an official said. “A great deal of time was spent discussing Hamas’ failures in Gaza and the need for the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza.”

Trump’s special negotiator to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt said at the meeting that helping ameliorate the Gaza crisis was “essential” for solving the conflict.

Representatives from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, lamented that they had not been invited to the confab despite “on-the-ground experience that we could help bring to any conversation about Gaza,” UNWRA’s director of its Washington office Elizabeth Campbell said.

She added, “We were not able to provide that wealth of information.”

A White House official told the Times of Israel that the meeting was reserved for “Gaza’s donors and neighbors to discuss steps to create immediate and meaningful improvements for economic development in Gaza. It was not targeted at project implementers like UNRWA.”

“One or two speakers mentioned UNRWA in passing but it was not the focus of the conversation nor the goal of this conference,” the U.S. official said, in reference to recent cuts to the agency from the Trump administration.

“I can’t say that everyone walked away from the room happy. I think they did,” another official said.” I think that they realized the importance of the discussion and how we need more of this in order to solve the conflict.”

He also said the Trump team’s much anticipated peace plan was not discussed in depth.

“Because we asked people to leave politics at the door, the peace plan was not discussed other than a stray reference or two, just reminding people that we will reveal the peace plan when it’s ready,” the official said.

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