White House South side and gardens.
(photo credit: ZACH RUDISIN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
WASHINGTON – Israeli national security officials sat around the same table on Tuesday morning with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, discussing a dire humanitarian situation unfolding in the Gaza Strip.
The summit on Gaza, called by Jared Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law and senior adviser on Middle East peace, as well as Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations, marks an unprecedented moment for Israeli diplomacy, as their dialogue with officials from Arab states is publicly recognized for the first time.
The Trump administration planned the meeting over several weeks and released a list of attendees the morning of the summit, which also included officials from Egypt, Jordan, Canada and various governments of Europe.
Palestinian Authority officials did not attend the meeting.
“We regret that the Palestinian Authority is not here with us today,” Greenblatt said in opening remarks to the conference. “This is not about politics. This is about the health, safety and happiness of the people of Gaza, and of all Palestinians, Israelis and Egyptians.”
“As you know, we are here today to consider ideas on how to address the humanitarian challenges in Gaza – a topic that has long been at the forefront of all of our minds,” Greenblatt continued. “It has certainly been on mine.”
This is not the first time that Israeli and Arab officials have been in the same room together. Both were present at a peace conference in Madrid in 1991, and in UN ad hoc liaison committee hearings on the plight of the Palestinians. But the White House has never hosted an event of this kind, much less on the heels of releasing a plan designed to cement a burgeoning alliance between the Sunni Arab world and the Jewish state.
Greenblatt and Kushner are putting the final touches on a comprehensive peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which the resolution of the Gaza crisis is an integral part. The White House officials are deciding on how to roll out the plan within a matter of weeks or a few short months.
The US envoy also emphasized the need for health aid, electricity, clean water, food security and employment in the coastal strip.
“We all know that none of this will be easy,” Greenblatt said. “And, everything we do must be done in a way that ensures we do not put the security of Israelis and Egyptians at risk– and that we do not inadvertently empower Hamas, which bears responsibility for Gaza’s suffering.”
Greenblatt asked the group to “agree to leave politics at the door.”
Consecutive US and Israeli governments have criticized Qatar for generously supportive Hamas in Gaza for years.
“There are no excuses for inaction,” he continued. “Inaction not only leads to more suffering for the Palestinians in Gaza, but also creates more security challenges for Israelis and Egyptians, and pushes the prospects for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians further and further away.”
In a tweet after the meetings concluded, Greenblatt thanked the Israeli and Arab diplomats “for putting all tensions aside to work with us.”
“Everyone left politics at the door & focused on practical solutions,” he wrote.
The meeting took place amid reports from Israel’s Channel 10 that Egypt has been hosting a series of behind-the-scenes meetings between Israeli and Saudi officials. The report has not been independently confirmed.