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White House holds international meeting on Gaza without Palestinians

Several Arab countries and Israel attended conference boycotted by Palestinian Authority
A protester at the scene of clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City in January 2018 (Reuters)

The Palestinian Authority boycotted a meeting of 19 countries hosted by the White House to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in a continued sign of anger at the Trump administration's policies on Jerusalem.

President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy in December, when he decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The administration is also putting the final touches on a Middle East "peace plan", without input from the Palestinians, and US officials said the conference was integral to future negotiations.

“Fixing Gaza is necessary to achieve a peace agreement,” one of the senior administration officials said. The officials stressed that the multi-nation humanitarian and reconstruction effort remains in beginning stages.

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Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has called Trump's plan a "liquidation" of the Palestinian cause. The US plan is reported to offer the town of Abu Dis outside Jerusalem as an alternative capital for a future Palestinian state, which would not have sovereignty over its own airspace and territorial waters.

Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump who is overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" for the White House, gave a two-hour presentation to the attending countries, officials said, but the potential US plan was not addressed.

Attendees included representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, as well as several European nations. The format did not allow for direct discussions between Israel and the Arab states, officials said.

Potential electricity, water, sewage, and health projects were discussed, but officials declined to outline specific proposals.

Gaza faces a 43.6 percent unemployment rate. Palestinians blame Israel for the hardships in the impoverished strip, accusing it of placing an economic blockade on the enclave that has drastically reduced movement of people and goods.

Earlier this year, Trump cut funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose aid is critical for the people of Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the Gaza Strip in February as a "constant humanitarian emergency".

"The economic situation in Gaza is on the brink of collapse. All the economic indicators point to this," Maher al-Tabbaa, director of Gaza's Chamber of Commerce, told MEE after Trump announced the UNRWA cuts. 

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