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Gaza reconstruction would undermine Hamas, Blinken says

CM 25/05/2021

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Rebuilding the Gaza Strip and creating opportunities for its residents would hurt Hamas, not help it, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on his visit to Jerusalem on Tuesday.
“If we do this right,” Blinken said, “reconstruction and relief for the people of Gaza, far from empowering Hamas, has the potential to undermine it. I say that because Hamas thrives, unfortunately, on despair, misery, desperation, on a lack of opportunity.”
Rebuilding of Gaza would not only answer immediate needs for water and electricity, but should “offer genuine prospect for opportunity, progress and material improvement in people’s lives,” he said in a news conference.
If the US, UN, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and others work toward that aim, “Hamas’s foothold in Gaza will slip,” Blinken argued. “We know that, and I think Hamas knows that.”
Israel has said that any aid to Gaza must be closely watched to ensure that it does not reach Hamas, with the Defense Ministry working this week on developing such a system.
Blinken arrived in Israel early Tuesday in his first trip to the region as Secretary of State, a visit that also included a stop in Ramallah. He is set to continue to Jordan and Egypt.
In his meeting with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the two agreed to form a working group “to implement civil projects in Judea and Samaria,” the Foreign Ministry said, adding that the US will also demand that the Palestinians stop taking unilateral action against Israel in international institutions and halt incitement.

The two also discussed a joint enforcement mechanism for transferring aid to the Gaza Strip without it reaching Hamas, and to ensure that Hamas cannot re-arm itself.
“We will work with our partners… to ensure Hamas doesn’t benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken said.
Following the urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza, Blinken said, the US expects Israel and the PA to avoid taking steps that will increase tension and reduce the chance of reaching a two-state solution, such as “settlement activity, demolitions, evictions, [and] payment to terrorists.” A two-state solution “is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and give the Palestinians the future they’re entitled to.”
Ashkenazi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their meetings with Blinken also presented Israel’s demand that Hamas return missing soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and Israeli civilian captives Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
Netanyahu expressed his appreciation of the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s right of self-defense during Operation Guardian of the Walls.
“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” Netanyahu warned.
The prime minister said he and Blinken “discussed ways to work together to prevent Hamas rearmament with weapons and means of aggression.”
Blinken said that US President Joe Biden “made crystal clear throughout the violence that the US fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks such as Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately against civilians.”
Netanyahu and Blinken discussed Israel’s security needs, including replenishing Iron Dome interceptors.
Blinken said that building on the outcome of the operation requires “recognition that losses on both sides were profound. Casualties are reduced to numbers, but behind every number is a human being… as the Talmud teaches to lose a life is to lose the whole world whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli.”
Blinken spoke out against the recent wave of antisemitism in the US.
Blinken quoted a tweet Biden sent on Monday, which stated: “The recent attacks on the Jewish community are despicable, and they must stop. I condemn this hateful behavior at home and abroad – it’s up to all of us to give hate no safe harbor.”
Netanyahu thanked Blinken and Biden for their statements “against antisemitism masked as anti-Zionism. You took a clear position, a strong position. I think all decent people everywhere appreciate that stance.”
The prime minister commended Biden, saying he was “absolutely correct when he said you’re not going to get peace until Israel is recognized as an independent Jewish state. That is the key, and I couldn’t agree more with President Biden.”
As for Iran, Netanyahu expressed hope that the US will not return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The Biden administration seeks to return to that agreement, if Iran agrees to return to full compliance, and then negotiate a “longer and stronger” follow-on deal.
Blinken’s visit comes as a fifth round of indirect negotiations between the US and Iran began in Vienna.
Netanyahu said the JCPOA “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy. Israel always reserves the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction and committed to getting a weapon of mass destruction to that end.”
At a later news conference, Blinken said he understood the nuclear talks are “of great consequence to Israel,” and that the US and Israel share the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, even if they have different ideas on how to reach it.
Blinken argued that the JCPOA was the “most heavily verified agreement in the history of arms control,” which made the prospect of Iran getting a nuclear bomb less likely, and that when the US pulled out of it in 2018, Iran grew closer to attaining one.
“I think that only underscores the importance and indeed urgency in seeing if we can get Iran back in compliance with the agreement,” Blinken said. “The alternative is Iran getting closer and closer… closer and closer to having a very short breakout time. That’s why we’re working to see if we can get back into mutual compliance. We said all along that would be the first step and we would try to make the agreement longer and stronger.”
The US wants to first “put the nuclear problem back into the box that we constructed,” meaning the JCPOA, he added, before addressing other issues like Iran’s proxies throughout the Middle East and its missile program.
Blinken said that the US has kept Israel and other allies updated “before, during and after” every round of indirect talks with Iran.
He also met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid, and is set to meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday morning.
While in Ramallah, Blinken met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and other top PA officials.
In Cairo, he will meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and in his final stop in Amman he will have meetings with King Abdullah and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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