Israeli siege and slow Palestinian reconciliation: Desolation in Gaza

Mohamed Al-Sharkawy , Saturday 17 Mar 2018

While talks on Palestinian national reconciliation flounder, the suffering of Gazans goes unheeded

Gaza Strip
Security services personnel inspect the site of the explosion that occurred as the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah entered Gaza through the Erez crossing with Israel, on the main road in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday March 13, 2018 (Photo: AP)

An explosion Tuesday morning in the Gaza Strip targeted the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Minutes later, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Islamist resistance group Hamas of being responsible for the incident.

President Abbas’s office said the explosion targeted Mr Hamdallah and the head of intelligence, Majed Faraj — both senior members of Fatah. Hamas called the attack an “ugly crime” and said it had launched an investigation. Hamdallah was unharmed.

According to witnesses, a passenger on a motorbike threw an explosive device at the last car in the prime minister’s convoy shortly after it entered Gaza through the Erez Crossing with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip is suffering unprecedented economic conditions. Unemployment rates soar at 40 per cent among youth and 62 per cent of families live below the poverty line. Both threaten unpredictable repercussions.

Observers and analysts believe stunted conciliation between Fatah and Hamas (which would partially ease hardship) is making the situation worse, especially since the Jerusalem issue is adding pressure to an already very volatile situation after US President Donald Trump announced he will relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem on 14 May, the day marking the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation.

The Palestinian street reacted with anger to the announcement, and widespread Palestinian protests are anticipated, the largest being at the wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

This could cause a serious security problem for Israel, which is why it is allowing visits by officials from the West Bank to Gaza, to help reach a deal with Gazans, under Egyptian auspices, that defuses the anger and prevents further escalation despite Qatar’s attempts to fund secession between Gaza and the West Bank.

IMF data shows that the Palestinian economy is on the verge of collapse. Karen Ongley, leader of the IMF mission to the West Bank, said last month that deteriorating economic conditions are due to the stalemate in the peace process and political tensions.

The IMF’s report last year noted that the Palestinian economy is close to inertia, and that Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Adnan Abu Amer, an expert on Israeli affairs, said that some are counting on Palestinian conciliation to bring in international support and large Arab funding to rebuild the Gaza Strip and revive the economy after the siege is lifted.

Abu Amer continued that this support would save the national economy from collapse and the Gaza Strip from exploding, but cautioned that prospects are bleak since conciliation is moving very slowly.

Azzam Al-Ahmed, leader of Fatah’s conciliation and national relations delegation, concurred.

So far, Egyptian efforts have failed to end quarrels between the two sides, despite an urgent visit by an Egyptian security delegation to the Gaza Strip and consecutive trips by Hamas and Fatah members to Egypt.

Hamas still controls Gaza, sanctions by the Palestinian Authority (PA) against Gaza remain in place, and conciliation does not to exist on the ground.

Meanwhile, it is unlikely there will be a breakthrough in the peace process with Israel any time soon, even if Binyamin Netanyahu were to resign as prime minister of Israel and early elections held, since opinion polls show no changes in Israel’s political map.

No political miracle is on the horizon, neither in Israel where the opposition is rudderless, nor in the international community led by the Trump administration.

Trump has shown his disregard for the rights of the Palestinians, undermining a just settlement and two-state solution.

Economic analyst Nasr Abdel-Karim, professor at the Arab American University in Ramallah, said that revisiting inter-Palestinian conciliation gives a glimmer of hope amid Gaza’s gloom.

Five months ago, there was talk about an imminent merge, the return of the PA to Gaza, and Hamas dissolving the Administrative Committee.

But steps towards conciliation remain shaky and there is debate about the government’s mandate. A portion of the 2018 budget for Gaza hinges on the government taking control in Gaza.

Abdel-Karim warned about the slow pace of conciliation, saying it is harmful because it confuses citizens because of perpetual controversy, tensions, polarisation and increasing negativity, which leads to rejection not only of the government but also the PA.

Some citizens believe the government wants to take advantage of the Gaza Strip more than serve the people.

They cite increasing taxes going to the PA in Ramallah through formal trade with Israel and that taxes are higher than previously agreed, allowing the West Bank to benefit from the Gaza Strip. This claim is surrounded by many rumours.

Abdel-Karim believes if a timeline is reached for applying conciliation mechanisms, even if it takes some time, Gazans will begin to feel they are on the right track.

“Even if the timeline extends for several months,” he said, “that is not a problem as long as we know that in the end it will lead us out of this dark tunnel.” He added that the 11-year rift cannot be eliminated in one day.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) warned against rising crime rates in Gaza, including homicide.

Suicides have also increased, along with illegal migration. Conditions worsen by the day as Israel’s unjust siege continues, PA sanctions remain in place, and Hamas collects taxes from Gazans.

“We cannot remain silent about the catastrophic and painful conditions in Gaza resulting from high levels of poverty, unemployment, hunger, lack of food security, power disruptions, scarce water, prohibitively high prices and high taxes,” stated the DFLP.

“Also, there are substandard health services, education problems, scarce construction materials, deplorable economic and social conditions, and limitations and violations of democratic freedoms. This warns of a mass explosion which primarily falls on the shoulders of Israeli occupation, followed by the consensus government which is procrastinating on taking over control in Gaza, and Hamas which is in charge of managing Gaza.”

The DFLP added that inter-Palestinian division is a crime against the Palestinian people which has made the Israeli siege of Gaza Strip worse and compounded desperate living conditions there. It also warned that crises are being managed rather than resolved.

The DFLP called on the national consensus government to take over Gaza and end the humanitarian and living crisis by adopting an emergency national plan. It called on the government to shoulder its responsibilities, meet the needs and interests of the people, and end punitive measures.

It should also find solutions for problems facing university graduates, high rates of poverty, unemployment, water problems, sewage problems, electricity cuts and abysmal economic and social conditions.

It is noteworthy that Hamas’s control of Gaza was a pretext for many countries not become involved in reconstruction projects or reviving the Gazan economy.

Foreign aid and relief for the Gaza Strip declined as Israel maintained a stranglehold through the siege, and amid stiff restrictions on the movement of goods, raw materials, people and trade.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly  

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