Following is the full transcript of the remarks by senior White House adviser and Special Representative to International Negotiations Jason D. Greenblatt at Tuesday’s historic Gaza Conference (March 13, 2018), held at the White House, where for the first time ever, representatives from the State of Israel, Jordan and Egypt sat together with Saudi Arabia and four Gulf nations with whom Israel has no direct diplomatic ties — all for the purpose of helping improve the lives of the people of Gaza.
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for making the trip to Washington, D.C. It is a pleasure to see so many friends and colleagues here to participate in this important conversation. We always welcome the opportunity to work with other countries who are dedicated to trying to resolve this conflict, and those interested in helping the humanitarian challenges in Gaza. Looking around the room at those in attendance, I am so glad that all of you have put tensions aside to try to help – we should all be proud of that and build on that. I am grateful to all of you for doing so.
As today’s terrible attack on the convoy of Prime Minister Hamdallah demonstrates, there will always be real risks associated with this endeavor. But the risks justify the potential benefits. The Prime Minister was in Gaza to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant that some of you, international donors, financed to improve the health of the people of Gaza. This attack, once again, demonstrates that Hamas is profoundly unfit to govern Gaza. But we cannot be deterred, and the Palestinian Authority should not be deterred. The PA has a legitimate role to play in Gaza, as does the international community.
We regret that the Palestinian Authority is not here with us today. 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. It has certainly been on mine.
In the thirteen months since President Trump took office, I have attended dozens of meetings and conferences focused on improving the humanitarian challenges in Gaza. I have heard again and again about projects and initiatives – the 161 line, Gas for Gaza, a new desalination plant – all of them smart proposals, which, if implemented, would truly improve the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza. Yet despite all of these efforts, despite all of these great ideas, the human suffering in Gaza has grown over the past year.
We are all familiar with the situation on the ground:
– There are significant health challenges.
– Electricity remains a scarce commodity, with many homes and businesses receiving less than four hours of power a day.
– Contaminated water is the single largest cause of illness and disease for infants in Gaza.
– Poverty and food insecurity are growing.
– The unemployment rate in Gaza remains the highest in the world.
I could go on. But we didn’t call you here to recite statistics or make political statements. We asked you here because we believe we can do much better – we must do much better! I am sure we all believe that. But, doing better will require fresh thinking and a commitment to action.
In a little while, you will be presented with a series of proposals for the people of Gaza that our team has developed. Some have been developed in coordination with many of you. Implementing these proposals will require us to think, and act, creatively to address the political and security challenges with which we are so familiar. Many of these proposals will require new funding. All of these projects will require our focused coordination, well past today. We also welcome your thoughts and ideas, whether by sharing specific proposals, obstacles to overcome, or new strategies to engage other partners – so long as they are practical and, with proper attention, have a strong chance of being implemented.
We all know that none of this will be easy. 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. But the situation today in Gaza is unacceptable, and spiraling downwards.
There are no excuses for inaction. 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. An essential part of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, including those in the West Bank and Gaza, will be resolving the situation in Gaza.
As we proceed with today’s discussion, I ask that we agree to leave all politics at the door. Let’s concentrate on realistic and practical solutions to the problems we are here to address. Let’s plan to leave here today with a common understanding of our immediate priorities, and a plan to implement proposals that address those priorities. While we will not solve the situation in Gaza in this room today, with the right approach, we can take an important step forward.
By the end of this conference, I hope that we can agree on some concrete proposals that we can present at the upcoming AHLC conference in Brussels. Our goal here is to support the AHLC and the efforts made by various other groups or countries.
I would like to acknowledge the presence here of Jared Kushner, who leads the peace team, of which I am proud to be a part, as well other colleagues from the White House, the National Security Council, the Department of State and our mission to the United Nations.
I also welcome colleagues from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and USAID. OPIC mobilizes private investment to address critical development challenges and stimulate economic growth in emerging economies and conflict regions. USAID plays a substantial role as the largest donor in Gaza and provides infrastructure to improve water supply, improve trade and economic opportunity and address humanitarian needs.
While neither OPIC nor USAID are here to make any commitments, we thought it would be helpful for them to attend and hear about the project concepts and the thoughts of those in the room.
I would like to ask all of you to thank your governments for the hard work helping the people of Gaza and striving to find a solution to this situation. It is because of the hard work put in by all of you and your colleagues that we are hopeful that a solution to the situation in Gaza, and a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, might exist. Of course, we are clear-eyed about the significant challenges in achieving these solutions. We need bold, fresh and decisive action. A lot less talking and a lot more building. In order for peace to be within our grasp we must first improve the conditions on the ground to create hope and opportunity. We need everyone’s best efforts and we need them now.
I want to be clear: the goal here is not to let Hamas off the hook and create a situation similar to what exists in Lebanon today. Such a situation would be bad for Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. We need to be sure that the projects and assistance are appropriately conditioned to avoid such an outcome.
Over the past number of months, I have visited the Gaza border area. I have met Israelis who live in that area, and Palestinians who live in Gaza, including those who have serious health issues, businessmen trying to make a living, students desperate to succeed and others – each has a dream for a better life. I have also seen the terror attack tunnels built by Hamas, and the remnants of the rockets used to murder Israelis – all built using money belonging to the international community, the Palestinian Authority and the people of Gaza. It is essential to tour these areas and meet these people to understand this terribly complex and tragic situation.
I would like to suggest that we visit the border between Gaza and Israel and Gaza and Egypt together, and take a tour given by the Israelis and Egyptians to see the significant challenges that Egypt and Israel face, including the attack tunnels built by Hamas. Perhaps, after understanding those challenges, we can come up with other realistic ideas. For those of you who have not yet taken these tours, I urge you to do so.
Lastly, I must raise another humanitarian situation, as my colleague Nickolay did in front of the UN Security Council a few weeks ago: Hamas must return the missing IDF soldiers who were taken by Hamas, as well as the missing Israeli civilians. I hope that I can count on all of you to work with me on this important humanitarian situation as well, and the same way I encouraged you to meet with Israelis in the Gaza border area, and Palestinians from Gaza to learn their stories, I encourage you to meet these families as well.
The more we strive to work with one heart and one mind, the more we might be able to accomplish … millions of Palestinians and millions of Israelis are counting on us. Thank you.