U.S. officials acknowledged coming American aid for Palestinians could rehabilitate Hamas after several weeks of fighting with Israeli officials as Secretary of State Antony Blinken works to seal the ceasefire between the warring sides.
“We’re going to be working in partnership with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to kind of channel aid there in a manner that does its best to go to the people of Gaza,” a senior State Department official told reporters Monday. “As we all know in life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do everything that we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it the most.”
President Joe Biden emphasized the need to “rebuild Gaza” without re-arming Hamas after the ceasefire last week. That’s a difficult problem, but the combination of regional partners and situational awareness could help Biden’s team mitigate much of that risk.
“We know pretty well from doing sanctions research which industries they’re involved in personally and where they draw a lot of their funding from,” the Atlantic Council’s Kirsten Fontenrose, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for the Gulf in 2018, told the Washington Examiner. “Putting money into industries that are not part of their bucket is one way to make sure they … can’t siphon off the funding.”
The conflict also destroyed apartments throughout the Gaza Strip, forcing tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians out of their homes, according to preliminary estimates. “The United Nations hasn’t even completed its back-of-the-envelope assessment yet in terms of the needs, and they’ll be going into Gaza and continue to go in to conduct these assessments in the days ahead,” the senior State Department official said.
Israeli officials are resigned to some degree of leakage, given that Hamas controls Gaza and can turn even the most anodyne of materials into a resource for the war effort.
“I’m not naive; some of the materials we let in will go to Hamas,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday. “In the end, it’s complicated. You need cement to build, and some of it goes to the terror tunnels.”
Israeli forces devoted heavy fire to the tunnel networks that form “the backbone” of Hamas’s martial power, in addition to an assiduous effort to kill the “very talented individuals, trained in Iran,” who represent the brains behind the militant group’s rocket arsenal. “We also took out [Hamas’s] top two layers of research and development, and I hope that will have an influence,” Gantz said.
Hamas’s ingenuity in converting civilian materials into weapons of war could warrant rigorous scrutiny of the arsenal deployed against Israel in recent weeks. “Do a real battle damage assessment of some of the rockets that didn’t explode or misfired, things that struck further away than they had before, look at the components,” said the Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior researcher Behnam Ben Taleblu, an expert in Iranian support for proxy forces in the Middle East. “What materials really are the engine of this domestic production?”
Hamas threatened Monday to resume the conflict if Israel tries to use the reconstruction aid as leverage to obtain the release of two Israeli hostages, even though that exchange reportedly was under discussion last week in the lead-up to the ceasefire. And Hamas leaders seem to think that the latest round of conflict will improve their position in the aid discussions.
“This war was a great step in the way of liberation, and we do prefer that the reconstruction of Gaza will be directed from the countries to our channels directly,” Hamas’s Khaled Mashal told the Wall Street Journal.
Blinken’s team displayed no interest in such an idea, proposing instead to “create a partnership between the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority” that could distribute the assistance.
“We don’t talk to Hamas, obviously, but we expect that they understand that if assistance is going to come in, that’s the manner it’s going to do so,” the senior State Department official said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas proposed the formation of a national unity government last week. That’s a shift from his previous decision to postpone parliamentary elections, a decision that contributed to the recent conflict as his rivals in Hamas deemed themselves cheated out of a chance to win at the polls — but it’s too little, too late, according to Hamas-aligned observers.
“After the war on Gaza, Hamas is no longer waiting for Abbas’s call to form a government,” Al-Aqsa Media Network’s Wissam Afifa told Al-Monitor. “The movement has entered the political arena through the door of armed confrontation. … Hamas sees itself as the only player in the Palestinian arena and does not feel it has to respond to Abbas’s call for forming a government.”
The reconstruction aid may be a tool for mending that fence. “It presents significant challenges,” the senior State Department official said of tensions between the Palestinian factions. “But we believe that by doing so it will get us on the pathway, we hope eventually, to a reintegration to some extent of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, which we hope in turn can help create the conditions to move us forward to a more stable situation.”
Author: Joel Gehrke
Source: Washington Examiner: Biden administration: ‘No guarantees’ Hamas won’t benefit from US aid to Gaza