Gaza conundrum

Imagine how much more the Palestinian people would be suffering at the hands of their own leaders if, hypothetically, Israel were not situated between the two Palestinian territories.

March 26, 2018 21:25
4 minute read.
Gaza conundrum

A woman waits for a travel permit to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases, in the southern Gaza Strip February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

The Palestinian civil war descended further toward disaster with the attempted assassination of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. The struggle between Fatah and Hamas is an important reason why the Gaza Strip’s nearly two million residents live in a situation of permanent instability and uncertainty.

The assassination attempt, which also targeted PA Intelligence Minister Majid Faraj, came nearly 11 years after Hamas violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-led PA in a deadly coup.

Hamas governance has brought further misery to the people. Its firm refusal to recognize Israel, rejection of Palestinian agreements with Israel, and engagement in terrorism invited the blockade of Gaza by both Israel and Egypt, the two countries with which it shares borders.

While no one was killed in the bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy, it likely marked the death knell of the latest Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, announced in October, that was already as doomed as previous efforts. The Palestinian people continue to be the main losers thanks to the fecklessness of their leaders.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the putative moderate in the face-off, has also acted irresponsibly. He rejected an invitation to a White House meeting on Gaza’s humanitarian challenges, a well-intentioned effort by the Trump administration to address the Gaza situation that drew representatives of 20 countries, including some that do not regularly speak to each other, such as Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. What they have in common is their shared concerns about the regional ramifications of Gaza’s chronic issues.

Gaza has received generous financial support from the US, the European Union, the UN and others. But some donor fatigue has set in after years of reckless mismanagement, waste and corruption by Hamas, which has prioritized assembling rockets and missiles to be fired into Israel, digging sophisticated tunnels into Israel, and instigating three wars against Israel. Since the beginning of the year, Israel has discovered and destroyed several tunnels, presumably rebuilt after the 2014 conflagration.

Israel has sought, out of both humanitarian and security concerns, to ensure Gaza does not descend into a total collapse. Daily trucks with food and other supplies enter Gaza from Israel, and Israel recently appealed to EU countries to provide $1 billion in urgent assistance. Gaza’s desperation was confirmed in a fresh World Bank report issued this month, which attributed some of the fault for the economic crisis in Gaza to the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.

How to break the Palestinian leadership gridlock is a huge challenge. It will take creative global guidance and initiative by the US.

“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,” said Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the peace process, at the White House conference only hours after the attempt to kill Hamdallah.

The White House should continue the conversations and press for delivery of aid, while avoiding direct contact with Hamas until the terrorist organization cedes authority to the PA, a key component of the reconciliation agreement that is currently on hold. And, in turn, Abbas’s PA would then presumably stop holding back on paying salaries of employees in Gaza and the fuel bills for electricity.

Imagine how much more the Palestinian people would be suffering at the hands of their own leaders if, hypothetically, Israel were not situated between the two Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank, that are supposed to become key elements of a
Palestinian state. The Palestinian civil war would likely already be much worse.

Every effort must be made not just by the US, but also by our European and Arab allies, to press Abbas to stop his globe-trotting and speech-making at the EU Parliament and the UN Security Council, to spend more time in Ramallah and return to direct peace talks with Israel. His woefully misguided efforts to subvert the traditional and essential American role in the peace process will not improve conditions for the Palestinian people he represents.

Back in 1994, one of the first bilateral agreements Israel and the PLO signed was known as “Gaza First.” They recognized that establishing Gaza as a successful example of Palestinian self-government would be a step toward building up the institutions, economy and society needed for possible statehood. The record of missed opportunities and despair is as clear as the guilt of the Palestinian parties chiefly responsible for Gaza’s colossal failure.

Still, in 2018, the fact that solving the Gaza situation remains one key to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, as well as stability and security on Gaza’s border with Egypt, demands bold action.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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