Remarks (as delivered) by Joan Polaschik, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee Meeting
March 20, 2018
Good afternoon. I’m very glad to be here with you today. I’d like to start with a message from our Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, who unfortunately wasn’t able to travel from Washington to join us. On behalf of Special Representative Greenblatt, I want to thank European Union High Representative Mogerhini and Norwegian Foreign Minister Eriksen Søreide for hosting.
Many of you saw Special Representative Greenblatt only one week ago at the White House, where we gathered to discuss the worsening humanitarian and economic conditions in Gaza. He asked me to pass on his thanks to those of you who traveled to Washington to join in what we felt was a very useful session, one that built on conversations that started in Cairo on March 8, and established clear priorities for our discussion here today.
At our Washington meeting, 20 countries, including Israel and many Arab states, came together to work on preventing the humanitarian situation in Gaza from descending into a full-blown crisis—work that is dependent on having a government in Gaza that is not a terrorist organization that hijacks aid to buy weapons to attack Israel. The United States has been clear from the beginning of reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas this fall that we view the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate governing body in Gaza and we repeatedly expressed our willingness to work with the PA to restore order in Gaza and begin the rebuilding process. We encourage the PA to focus on the concrete steps we outlined last week to improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.
In the West Bank, we are pleased to report that some important steps have been taken to improve the economy. A new scanner at Allenby Bridge, donated by the Dutch, will help facilitate increased trade. The introduction of 3G cellular service is connecting Palestinians to information across the globe. And the “door-to-door” pilot program has the potential to serve as a model for a modernized network of commerce between the West Bank and Israel and eventually Jordan. But a lot remains to be done. We are disappointed that the target of completing the Power Purchase Agreement by this AHLC was not met, and we urge the parties to rapidly conclude their negotiations. We also call on both parties to prepare the way forward on a genuine shift of customs authority to the PA. And we look forward to developing a timeline to deploy Palestinian 4G networks.
The situation in Gaza, by comparison, is grim. Despite the efforts of the international community, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened over the past year. Nearly every indicator is on the decline. Electricity remains scarce. Hospitals cannot meet demand. Poverty and food insecurity are growing. The water aquifer is increasingly contaminated. Unemployment is almost 50 percent. This situation must be addressed from a humanitarian perspective. It also poses a significant threat to Israel and Egypt, and potentially to regional security.
We have to take action. At our conference in Washington, we identified specific, concrete steps that will improve the lives of the people of Gaza. Deploying small solar fields in Gaza could meaningfully increase access to electricity in a relatively short timeframe, while developing crossing points would facilitate private sector development and trade – particularly if restrictions on sales of agricultural produce and other goods can be lifted, while accounting for Israeli and Egyptian security concerns. We also need to fund the operations of the NGEST wastewater treatment plant. These are small but vital steps that will have a tangible and positive impact on the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. Under the right conditions, they can also open a path to larger, more ambitious projects that can be the foundation of a brighter future. One such project is the Gaza Central Desalination Plant, which was just presented at the pledging conference this morning. The United States strongly supports this project, and has committed $52 million to associated works such as mixing reservoirs over the past four years.
While we cannot wait to begin implementing some of these measures, we should also aim to leverage our efforts to support the return of a legitimate Palestinian government to Gaza. The return of the PA will not only reunite the West Bank and Gaza under one government, it will also enable us to usher in levels of development in Gaza not seen in over a decade.
Hamas’ continued control of Gaza remains our biggest challenge. While the international community supports the people of Gaza, Hamas diverts these resources to perpetrate violence against Israelis. While the Palestinian Authority purchases electricity and water for the people, Hamas refuses to fully reimburse the PA for these services, instead channeling much of the revenue it collects to finance its operations. It continues to hold the missing Israeli soldiers and civilians, who must be returned. So let’s be clear: Hamas and its commitment to violence is the primary obstacle to rapidly improving the lives of the people of Gaza.
We must be careful that our efforts do not do anything to empower Hamas. As Special Representative Greenblatt said last week, the goal here is to not let Hamas off the hook and create a situation similar to what exists in Lebanon today. While we understand these challenges, we believe that if we all work together, we can help the people of Gaza and pave the way for the return of the PA, all while making Israel and Egypt safer.
In closing, I urge everyone gathered here today, and Special Representative Greenblatt also urges everyone here today, to consider how we can rapidly advance these goals for the betterment of Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians, and indeed the region. There is no better time to do this. We must be ready to make real change happen now.
Thank you for your time today and we look forward to the discussion.