U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week conducted a Middle East tour, meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah after Tuesday’s separate sit-downs with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Blinken’s stated goal in visiting the region was to discuss “essential follow-up efforts” to consolidate the cease-fire reached last week between Israel and Hamas, and to “reduce risks of further conflict over the coming months.”
Hostilities flared earlier this month near Israel’s southern border after Hamas, the Islamist group the controls the Gaza Strip, launched rockets at Jerusalem and other Israeli cities and towns.
Nearly 300 people were killed in Gaza, most of them Hamas combatants, according to Israeli authorities. The Palestinian Health Ministry insists that well over 100 of the dead were women and children.
In Israel, 11 civilians and one soldier were killed as a result of nearly 4,400 missiles launched at primarily southern towns and cities.
During his meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the top American diplomat unveiled Washington’s updated aid plan, which is slated to include $38 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to residents of Gaza and the West Bank, delivered through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and other organizations.
The White House also intends to “provide $75 million in additional development and economic assistance for the Palestinians in 2021,” the secretary of state said Tuesday.
The latest relief package will join an already hefty $250 million in economic, development, security, and humanitarian funds announced by Washington last month, bringing the total U.S. aid to the Palestinian people to approximately $360 million.
Still, Blinken insisted the huge sums of money will not be dispensed indiscriminately.
“We will work with partners to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from these reconstruction efforts,” he told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint press statement.
“Asking the international community, asking all of us to help rebuild Gaza only makes sense if there is confidence that what is rebuilt is not lost again because Hamas decides to launch more rocket attacks in the future. So this is vitally important.”
Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and former head of the Palestinian desk at the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, believes these statements will be “extremely difficult to translate into practical terms.”
“Even if you determine that the body in charge of administering the money is the Palestinian Authority, they’ll still be in charge of, at best, the border crossings into Gaza, not the actual territory itself,” he says.
Once these donations enter the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, Michael says, Ramallah no longer has control over them.
“Hamas isn’t going to allow PA officials to oversee infrastructure projects in Gaza. But what you can do is complement the money transfers with robust mechanisms, put in place by Egypt and other international players, that will receive the money and manage the rebuilding efforts," he says.
“Even then, the sovereign at the end of the day is Hamas and I don’t see anyone confronting them. There may be minor improvements, but Hamas will likely still misuse a large proportion of these funds.”
In another major development announced by Blinken on his visit, the U.S. plans to reopen its consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, reversing a Trump-era decision that deeply rankled Ramallah officials.
The decision could be “a calming element,” says Michael, but should not have been executed free of charge.
“These are so-called gifts and incentives that are given for nothing in return. You could say it’s merely a reversal of unfair policies by the previous administration, but still, it sends the wrong signal. It’s a waste of leverage,” he says.
On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrived in Israel for similar meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.
“[Israel] will work in cooperation with the international community to weaken Hamas’s power,” the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem told The Media Line on Wednesday following Ashkenazi and Raab’s summit.
The statement echoed Blinken’s sentiments regarding the group in control of Gaza, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., Canada, Japan and the European Union.
“This is an Israeli, Palestinian, regional, and international interest that will strengthen regional stability and minimize the threat against Israeli civilians,” the ministry spokesperson added.