Gantz: Can’t guarantee some of the aid to rebuild Gaza won’t go to Hamas

Full rehabilitation must depend on returning Israeli captives, defense minister says; EU FM expresses frustration about continually paying for the cost of the IDF-Hamas conflict.

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz attends a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz attends a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Israel supports efforts to rebuild Gaza, even though some percentage of the aid will likely go to Hamas terrorists, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a briefing on Sunday.
Gantz said that dual-use products, which can be used for construction but also for terrorism, must be closely supervised.
“I’m not naïve; some of the materials we let in will go to Hamas,” Gantz said in a briefing. “In the end, it’s complicated. You need cement to build, and some of it goes to the terror tunnels.”
While in the past, the IDF and Shin Bet worked to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza, in recent years, Hamas as moved to manufacturing its own arms, the defense minister said.
“The more we work with the Egyptians, the less their ability will be to manufacture [weapons]. We also took out [Hamas’s] top two layers of research and development, and I hope that will have an influence,” Gantz said.
His remarks came two days after US President Joe Biden said that his country would help rebuild Gaza without allowing aid to get to Hamas. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to visit the region on Wednesday and Thursday, and Israeli officials said that the matter would likely come up in his meetings in Jerusalem.
Gantz said Israel plans to work with the US, EU and others on rebuilding Gaza, and the defense ministry is working on coming up with a better system to supervise the transfer of donor funds into the coastal enclave. He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the matter on Monday.
The defense minister said he is in favor of reviving the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) created by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the UN after Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which allowed for millions of tons of construction material into the Gaza Strip under Israeli supervision to prevent the aid from being stolen by Hamas. The UN is the facilitator of international humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
When asked why things would be different now, if the GRM didn’t stop Hamas from stealing cement and other products to build tunnels and manufacture arms over the past seven years, Gantz responded: “That’s why we took out their factories, the R&D people and their ability to develop and manufacture.”
Blinken called to support the reconstruction and development of Gaza in televised interviews on Sunday.
"Our focus right now relentlessly is on dealing with the humanitarian situation, starting  to do reconstruction and rebuild, and engage intensely with everyone, with Palestinians, with Israelis, with partners in the region," Blinken said on CNN.
The Biden administration would ensure aid does not go to Hamas by working with "trusted, independent parties that can help do the reconstruction and the development, not some quasi-governmental authority."
Hamas, he added, "has brought nothing but ruin to the Palestinian people: its gross mismanagement of Gaza while it’s been in charge, and of course, these indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, which have elicited the response that they did because Israel has a right to defend itself."
Gantz also said that Israeli civilian captives – Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed – and missing soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – would have to be returned before Gaza can be rebuilt.
“I separate basic humanitarian [aid] of food, medicines, water and electricity that we must let people have, from a higher level of humanitarian [aid] that must be conditioned on [returning] the captives and missing,” he said.
European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrrell wrote about his frustration about continually paying for the cost of the IDF-Hamas conflict.
"The EU cannot be expected to finance yet again the re-building of Gaza without a meaningful prospect of actually solving the underlying conflict," Borrell wrote in a blog entry posted over the weekend. Although his statement did not have the consensus of the 27 member states, it does reflect the sentiment of some of them.
Borrell spoke out as top UN officials — Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories Lynn Hasting and UN Relief and Works Agency Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini — visited Gaza over the weekend.
At present no humanitarian assistance can enter Gaza, because as of Sunday night the main commercial crossing at Kerem Shalom and the pedestrian one at Erez remained closed, saved for the entry and exist of journalists. Gaza only has three land crossings, the two Israeli ones and a third with Egypt at Rafah. But the Rafah crossing is not set for the large scale transfer of goods.
The closure of the crossings means that a present goods and people can not get in and out of Gaza. Typically the crossings are closed in situation of hostilities and operate normal in period of calm.
For the truce to hold for any meaningful period the crossings would have to reopen.
In speaking with reporters Gantz said Israel’s goal following the latest round of fighting is not to preserve the status quo.
They surveyed the civilian damage done during the 11-day IDF operation to target Hamas terror infrastructure, known as Guardian of the Walls. It began in response to Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians on May 10 and ended early Friday morning.
Some "258 buildings, comprising 1,042 housing and commercial units, had been destroyed" as of Thursday, according to an initial estimate by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It also estimated that 769 housing units "had been severely damaged, and rendered uninhabitable.” It added that "an additional 14,536 units suffered minor damage."
Hastings said that, "In the coming days, we will launch an inter-agency financial appeal to support our efforts to address new humanitarian needs."  In the interim, she said, "the humanitarian community is working hard to bring in essential items, including food, medicine and fuel."
Already, even in advance of a funding drive, the UN plans to release $22 million for immediate needs such as healthcare and water, Hastings said. Last week UNRWA launched a flash $38 million appeal for funding. 
Hastings and Lazzarini also visited some of the victims of the IDF bombings.
Israel’s goal following the latest round of fighting, Gantz said, is not to preserve the status quo.
The next time Hamas attacks Israel, the response will be “very aggressive,” Gantz warned. “I’m not promising now that for every rocket or balloon at 3 a.m. I will necessarily attack; I may attack at times that are comfortable for me. I am preserving freedom of action and timing. What is clear is that the force will be much greater.”
Biden said on Friday that it is “essential” for PA President Mahmoud Abbas be recognized as the rightful leader of the Palestinians, as opposed to Hamas, which he pointed out is a terrorist organization.
Gantz similarly said that he seeks to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, while not letting Hamas set the agenda in the Gaza Strip or in the West Bank.
“We have to make an effort to strengthen alliances between moderates in the region,” he added.
Gantz also revived the idea of a “Reconciliation Cabinet,” which was written into his coalition agreement with Netanyahu, but never acted on. Following the rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns, Gantz said that he would make a Reconciliation Cabinet a condition of him joining any new government.
Blinken also said that he found the internecine violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel in recent weeks "deeply disturbing," and expressed hope that "Israelis of all persuasions will find ways to come together to try to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. And hopefully that finds expression as well in their politics and in their governments."
Asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC about the Biden administration's frequent calls for Israelis and Palestinians to have equal measures of security and peace, Blinken said: "It's vitally important that Palestinians feel hope and have opportunity and can live in security, just as it is for Israelis.  And there should be equal measures...I think that that hope, that security, that dignity can – will be found in a Palestinian state."