Netanyahu blasts Abbas for ‘choking’ Gaza, warns Hamas of ‘very harsh response’

As Gaza plight worsens, Palestinian leader continues to tighten the screws on the coastal enclave’s residents.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the embattled and ailing Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas for thwarting a series of internationally backed initiatives to rehabilitate the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and refusing to accept “UN attempts to ease the plight” of the coastal enclave’s residents

Abbas instead has implemented a variety of crippling sanctions on Gaza to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of the strip, which the terror group has ruled since it ran Abbas’ Fatah faction out of Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007.

Netanyahu’s comments on Thursday were made during German Chancellor Angel Merkel’s visit and were largely in response to Abbas’ threats at the UN General Assembly last week to “give up responsibility” for Gaza if Hamas backs out of the reconciliation Egypt is attempting to broker.

Netanyahu commented, “As a result of this choke-hold, pressures have been created there and as a result of the pressures, from time to time Hamas attacks Israel at a relatively low intensity but the choke-hold is tightening.”

Abbas has taken a series of measures against the territory, slashing the salaries of thousands of former government workers in Gaza and cutting fuel subsidies to pay for electricity, all in an effort to step up pressure on Hamas.

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Gaza in free-fall

These measures, combined with the decade-long blockade, have sent Gaza’s economy into free-fall. The increasingly desperate Hamas has stepped up mass violent rioting along the Israeli border and airborne arson attacks, scorching thousand of acres of Israeli farmland and nature preserves.

With Gaza expected to be the centerpiece of an upcoming U.S. peace plan, Abbas has given himself a virtual veto over the expected American initiative. The deadlock over Gaza appears to be a key reason behind the repeated delays in unveiling the plan.

For all of its talk about bringing a new approach to Middle East diplomacy, the Trump White House is running into a familiar obstacle that has confounded its predecessors and the international community for over a decade: Hamas terrorists’ continued control over Gaza.

Abbas has for his part has two main concerns. First, he fears that any interim cease-fire deal in Gaza will deepen Hamas’ control over the territory.

Second, after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his attacks on the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Abbas fears the U.S. is trying to remove sensitive issues from the negotiating agenda. For him, Gaza is the last obstacle preventing the U.S. from forcing what he sees as an unacceptable plan on him.

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“What is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Humanitarian solutions?” Abbas said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly last week.

Abbas scuttles U.N. efforts

Two senior Palestinian officials confirmed that Abbas has been working behind the scenes to scuttle U.N. and Egyptian attempts to forge a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas or to carry out large infrastructure projects that would bring relief to Gaza’s beleaguered population.

As the officially recognized Palestinian representative, Abbas’ government continues to coordinate the movement of goods through Israeli-controlled crossings into Gaza. This has given him the ability to block large-scale projects, even when approved by Israel.

The Palestinian officials also said Abbas has relayed messages to the U.S. through Arab nations Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt that there can be no peace plan that excludes him from Gaza.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal Palestinian deliberations, said Abbas fears various plans under consideration will end up entrenching Hamas and freezing him out of Gaza.

This week, another set of Egyptian-brokered talks ended inconclusively, according to people close to the talks.

“Until yesterday, we did not reach any result worth mentioning,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza. He accused Abbas of taking “retaliatory” action against the people of Gaza.

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Israel and international donors seek humanitarian aid for Gaza

At the same time, Israel and international donor nations were meeting on the sidelines of the assembly to discuss ways to improve conditions in Gaza. Those talks, like similar meetings in recent months, ended inconclusively.

Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s Mideast envoy, blamed Hamas for the dire conditions in Gaza and said the U.S. “will not fund a situation that empowers Hamas.”

Yet he also voiced frustration with Abbas, urging other countries to be “direct and frank” in pushing the Palestinian Authority to forge a “new, sustainable path.”

The Gaza conundrum is just the latest obstacle for the U.S. peace plan. The Palestinians cut off ties with the White House after Trump recognized as Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, and moved the U.S. Embassy there.

The Trump administration has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians, including $300 million for their U.N. agency, and shuttered the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington.

Greenblatt acknowledged the challenge ahead at the donor meeting. Refusing to say when his plan would be released, he pleaded for all sides to consider the proposal.

“Palestinians and Israelis deserve to read it, think about it, engage on it, and see if we can make it happen,” he said.