TRAPPED

The International Crisis Group’s depressing new report confirms that without a fundamental shake-up, either from regional shifts or the emergence of a broad-based popular movement in the occupied territories, things are hopeless for Gaza and for Palestine.

The ICG argues that Israel and Hamas share an interest in stabilising Gaza, since neither at present want another round of violence; Israel has therefore eased the closure while Hamas is policing the truce. Yet the prospect of genuine development and prosperity in Gaza—the only thing which can prevent, and not just forestall, another conflict—is not on the cards.

This is because:

  • Egypt refuses to take responsibility for Gaza, and is happy to see Hamas suffocate.
  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) insists upon full control of Gaza as the quid pro quo for assuming responsibility there, and refuses reconciliation because the terms of this would be incompatible with its remaining a client of Israel and the US. In the meantime, it is happy to see Hamas suffocate.
  • Hamas is desperate for cash, but at present is unwilling to disarm or relinquish security control over Gaza to get it.
  • Israel, the US and the EU have, since the 2014 massacre, moderated their opposition to the PA’s return to Gaza, but remain opposed to genuine political reconciliation (elections; recomposition of the PLO) of the kind required to reconnect Gaza and the West Bank—a development Israel’s whole policy has strived to prevent. Meanwhile, because Israeli officials do not see another round of conflict as imminent, they do not feel pressure to make progress in negotiations over Gaza.

As the report summarises:

[T]hough Israel has arrived at a greater appreciation of the need to strengthen Gaza’s economy in order to lesson the likelihood of renewed conflict, its preference is to do so by means other than connecting Gaza to the West Bank. It desires greater PA influence in Gaza and control over Gaza’s crossings, but only insofar as it does not threaten to empower Hamas in the West Bank, either through progress in reconciliation or Israeli relaxations that would bring greater connection between the two Palestinian territories.

What can be done to improve conditions in Gaza, therefore, is constrained by what Israel and the PA will allow in the West Bank. Because the West Bank is a greater priority than Gaza for both Israel and the PA, and because they remain committed to preventing Hamas from sharing power there, the most that can be hoped for in Gaza are small economic improvements and relaxations of the closure regime. These are necessary steps that should be taken to help forestall the next war, but they will not prevent it or even bring a sense of stability, because they would not come close to ending Gazans’ sense of strangulation.

The ICG’s recommendations are strictly geared towards preventing another escalation of violence—which at present is, it concludes, “only a matter of time.”   To that end it urges Israel and Hamas to pursue an agreement based on their common interests in stabilising the ceasefire.

The price of this, it is clear from the ICG’s analysis, would be enabling continued Israeli settlement of the West Bank (perhaps even Israel’s annexation of the major settlement blocs) and further entrenching Israel’s carefully constructed division between the West Bank and Gaza. The report recommends that any agreement between Israel and Hamas include a verbal provision reaffirming the political unity of the two territories, and argues that an Israel-Hamas agreement would “at least offer Israelis and Palestinians the possibility of less bloodshed, while other possibilities, including unblocking the diplomatic impasse, are explored.” But the former would do nothing to counteract the Gaza-West Bank division, while the latter ignores that fact that, from Israel’s perspective, a principal virtue of an agreement with Hamas is precisely that it would help sustain the “diplomatic impasse.”

Instead of these disingenuous evasions the trade-off should be stated frankly: easing Gaza’s suffering in exchange for more deeply entrenching Israel’s occupation and West Bank settlements. An agreement like this would represent a continuation and culmination of the logic behind Ariel Sharon’s 2005 redeployment. The ICG is willing to endorse this trade-off, on the grounds that the alternatives—it mentions the peace process, but the same could apply to mass nonviolent resistance—are at present going nowhere: “Holding Israelis and, especially, Palestinians in Gaza hostage to defunct approaches makes little sense and indeed will only precipitate further strife.” The moral choice here is not clear to me; one can argue it either way.

*

Some useful points of information from the report:

  • Of the $2.5bn pledged for Gaza in 2014, just 13.5% has been delivered. [4]
  • After OPE, Israel permitted the UN to deliver cash to Gaza to pay Hamas employees’ salaries. According to an Israeli intelligence official, “This was one of Israel’s major policy shifts caused by the war.” [cit. 5n24]
  • A “major cause” [11] of OPE, the ICG argues, was Hamas’s inability to pay salaries as a result of the closure of the tunnels. According to an Israeli official in the prime minister’s office: “We’re aware that the salary issue was a major precipitant of the war. Some called it ‘harb al-rawatib’ [the war of the salaries].” [cit. 11n66]
  • Pages 7 and 8 of the report portray the social fabric, economic life and basic humanitarian existence in Gaza rapidly deteriorating. It is stomach churning. For example, on water: one third of Gaza residents have access to water only 6-8 hours every four days; water related diseases account for more than 25% of illnesses and are the primary cause of child morbidity. [7-8]
  • “Boys and young men are eagerly joining the Qassam Brigades… one of Gaza’s only growth sectors.” [8]
  • “Hundreds” of Palestinians have died since August 2014 at the hands of maritime smugglers, while attempting to escape the Strip. [8]
  • Gaza-Sinai tunnels are now “nearly all closed.” [11] According to an Israeli security official: “there is no smuggling now.” [cit. 17n92]
  • Hamas’s attempts to impose new taxes, e.g. the “solidarity tax” on high earning businesses in April 2015, have largely failed. [11]
  • Paraphrases some Hamas officials in Gaza to the effect that one reason Operation Protective Edge lasted so long was that several external Hamas leaders were “naively” banking on “Qatar and Turkey [to]… bypass Egypt” and work with the US to deliver a ceasefire. [17n96]

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