Convening Israelis and Arabs, White House says Gaza central to peace effort

The discussion brought national security officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain together for an exceptional diplomatic moment.

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March 13, 2018 23:49
2 minute read.
Convening Israelis and Arabs, White House says Gaza central to peace effort

US President Donald Trump returns to the White House. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – Trump administration officials worked the phones for weeks to bring Israeli and Arab diplomats around the same table at the White House, and finally succeeded in doing so for the first time on Tuesday.

Senior administration officials said that several parties to the US conference, which focused on the dire and pressing humanitarian plight facing the Gaza Strip, had expressed that “they could not be in the same room as each other.”

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And yet, “we had discussions with them, and everybody realized the importance of being in the room,” one senior official told The Jerusalem Post after the six-hour conference, held in the gilded Indian Treaty Room of the executive office building.

The discussion brought national security officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain together for an exceptional diplomatic moment – the possible start of a regional dialogue over Israeli-Palestinian peace, ahead of the publication of a peace plan by the Trump administration meant to comprehensively end claims to the conflict.

But the US team could not vouch for whether the Israelis and any particular Arab delegations held talks separate from the formal session on the sidelines.

“It was a room with a big table, and everyone sat around the big table,” the official said. “The format didn’t lend itself to any direct talks between any sides.”

Trump’s team was led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser leading the administration’s peace process, and Jason Greenblatt, the US special representative for international negotiations. Their opening remarks and presentation alone lasted for two hours.

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“We need to fix Gaza for a variety of reasons, whether we reach a peace agreement or don’t reach a peace agreement,” the US team said. But “of course, it is necessary to achieve a peace agreement.”

A large focus of the summit was on Hamas’s control of the Strip, which the administration believes is an impediment both to the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance, but also to the success of its pending peace initiative.

The officials would not comment on Qatar’s particular role in the Gaza crisis after successive US administrations have blamed Doha for boosting Hamas there.

One administration official said the US hopes to secure Palestinian Authority participation in its effort to wrestle back control of Gaza from Hamas. But the PA rejected the administration’s offer to join the White House conference, the US official added.

While the peace plan was not the focus of the conference, Kushner and Greenblatt see the Gaza crisis and the prospects for their plans success as inextricably linked. And to that end, the peace team is optimistic that it was able to bring together Israel and Arab powers – if not the Palestinians themselves.

“Certainly it is our hope that it is just the beginning,” one official said. “Its too soon to tell.”

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