The situation in Gaza is quite serious and highly volatile. At the humanitarian level, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is suffering from a financial crisis, which is affecting Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank following the United States’ decision to reduce its financial aid from $365 million to $60 million for this year with the aim of putting pressure for advancing the peace process.
This has put UNRWA in a difficult position, forcing it to dismiss dozens of its Palestinian employees who had signed employment contracts that had lasted for years. It is still unclear whether schools will be open to Palestinian students for the next academic year due to the Agency's inability to pay the teachers' wages. This grim atmosphere might spark further tension and violence, especially in the Gaza Strip.
In mid-July, news leaked about an Egyptian initiative held under the auspices of the United Nations in order to land a solution in the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade imposed on it. The parties of the initiative are the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas movement and Israel. Following the news leaks about the initiative, a Palestinian sniper purposely targeted an Israeli soldier on the southern border of the Gaza Strip. The soldier later died. As a result, Gaza was set ablaze by Israeli air and ground fire, which had not occurred since the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014.
Casualties included three members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas and a civilian while dozens were injured. The movement responded by launching three missiles, one of them landed in uninhabited area, whereas the other two were destroyed by the Iron Dome defense system. It was a deja-vu kind of a scenario which implications we are already familiar with.
The initiative, if successful, may provide a magic key that could resolve the humanitarian crisis since it includes lifting the siege on the Gaza StripAmal Abdulaziz Al-Hazani
Yet today we are confronted with the most important humanitarian issue: the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel as a result of Hamas gaining power in the Gaza Strip back in 2006. The decision was fueled by a fear of firearms and weapons smuggling, but it was also used as a method to tie the hands of the Hamas Movement and prevent it from destabilizing the security situation along the border with Israeli towns.
The initiative, if successful, may provide a magic key that could resolve the humanitarian crisis since it includes lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip, its rehabilitation in terms of rebuilding the depleted or non-existent infrastructure. This is in addition to an extended ceasefire between Israel and Hamas along with the return of the Palestinian Authority to manage the Strip.
Theoretically, the provisions of the initiative are quite easy to implement since they don’t address thorny issues such as the exchange of prisoners and the bodies of the deceased between Israel and Hamas and having Izz al-Din al-Qassam give up their weapons.
In my opinion, the success of this initiative means that resolving these issues will be finalized later when the management of the Strip changes and when the Palestinian Authority regains power there, or at least when the latter becomes responsible for these issues in front of the international community.
The initiative is excellent and will contribute into diminishing the restrictions on the Gaza Strip enabling it to finally breathe after more than a decade of blockade. Life could then return to normal and the situation in the Strip will be similar to the West Bank, perhaps even better with the absence of settlements; the dilemma which has since prevented all negotiations.
All parties are hoping for this initiative to be successful. However, it is important to point out that that the most difficult provision in its current formulation is the return of the Palestinian Authority to rule the Strip as these necessities reconciliation between the Authority and Hamas and establishing a government that both parties approve of and which is made us of staff from both parties. In practice, this means a return to pre-2006, preceding Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip following its win in the legislative elections.
What are the factors and difficulties hampering the initiative’s implementation? Are all the parties involved in favor of its provisions? Not exactly. On the Israeli camp, the extreme rightwing party led by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is pushing towards a military confrontation as well as the use of extreme force as previously declared in his threats against those launching rockets from Gaza.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has seemingly presented a less strident stance with international pressure in support of the initiative’s implementation. The Palestinian Camp, especially the Hamas Movement, has conveyed its willingness for any settlement that will ease the burden of the people of Gaza. Wise words indeed, but when it comes to actions serious doubts are cast by events of recent days and will be determined in the days ahead.
The Egyptian reconciliation initiative seems to be tapping into a possible solution, and one of its most important provisions is the return of Palestinian cabinet ministers to Gaza in order to initiate talks regarding the formation of new national unity government within a five week period.
This Palestinian reconciliation which is sponsored by Cairo is in parallel with the Egyptian international initiative. Accordingly, this requires the Palestinian side, both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas, to work seriously towards reconciliation so the initiative succeeds. If we assume that the initiative turns successful, it will be the first time that the Gaza Strip would have stabilized since the unilateral disengagement plan and Israel's withdrawal from it in the summer of 2005. This stability will provide an appropriate platform for the donors’ return to rebuild Gaza, including the United States.
The article is also available in Arabic.
Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.