Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

A World Bank report warned that Gaza’s economic troubles can no longer be fixed by international aid.
Sunday 18/03/2018
A Palestinian woman sits with a child after receiving food supplies from the United Nations’ offices in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 11. (AFP)
Lingering uncertainty. A Palestinian woman sits with a child after receiving food supplies in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 11. (AFP)

LONDON - An assassination attempt, two international conferences and new Israeli strikes put the Gaza Strip back in the spotlight but no foreseeable end to the woes of the Palestinian territory is expected.

In a donor conference March 15 in Rome, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for Palestinian refugees, secured pledges for nearly $100 million, less than the $446 million figure that it had sought.

UNRWA is facing financial difficulties after the United States slashed its annual aid to the UN agency from $360 million in 2017 to $60 million this year, following tensions between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Trump administration over Washington’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl warned that the new funds, which were pledged by Qatar, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, France, Slovakia, South Korea, India, New Zealand and Mexico, would keep the UN agency going for few months only.

“It’s a first step towards closing the entire shortfall,” said Krahenbuhl. “It will last us a couple of months more into the middle or beginning of the summer.”

UNRWA relies on the United States for approximately 30% of its funding and the Gaza Strip is expected to be the area where the lack of funds would hurt most.

“This would have severe impacts — a cascade of problems that could push the suffering in disastrous and unpredictable directions,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “If UNWRA did not exist, if its services were not provided, the security of the region would be undermined.”

A World Bank report warned that Gaza’s economic troubles can no longer be fixed by international aid, urging for an end to the Israeli blockade on the area.

“The (Gazan) economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world,” the report said. “In the long term, aid will not be able to provide the impetus for growth, nor can it reverse Gaza’s de-development.”

Observers suggested allowing Palestinians to enjoy the benefits of their own gas fields off the coast of Gaza.

“The EU should wield its diplomatic power to push for production from Gaza Marine by the Palestinian Authority (PA),” wrote Tareq Baconi in a commentary at the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

“This can be done in a manner that alleviates Israel’s security concerns through an international supervisory force that protects the gas instalments and ensure proceeds do not end up in Hamas’s coffers.”

Baconi argued that Israel would rather have Hamas contained than deposed as it feared more radical groups filling the vacuum in Gaza.

“Despite vehement rhetoric against Hamas from Israeli politicians, Israel’s security establishment has long recognised the value of maintaining Hamas in power as the entity that could stabilise the Gaza Strip, effectively police ceasefires and keep more radical Salafi-jihadist groups in check,” wrote Baconi.

The Israeli military said it hit Hamas posts in Gaza after two bombs were set off near the border fence.

The incident came one day after an apparent assassination attempt targeting the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah as he visited the Gaza Strip. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but it is thought that radical militants in Gaza opposed to both Hamas and Fatah — which leads the PA — may have been behind it.

The PA said in a statement that it held Hamas responsible for the attack because the group had failed to properly secure the area. The attack will likely delay a rapprochement between the two Palestinian sides.

The UNWRA conference came one day after a gathering hosted by the White House on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“The attendees… discussed concrete proposals for finding realistic, effective approaches to the challenges Gaza currently faces,” said a White House statement, without specifying what measures would be taken to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Representatives from 19 countries, including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, were present. However, the Palestinians, who boycotted the meeting, were notably absent.

“We regret that the Palestinian Authority is not here with us today. This is not about politics. This is about the health, safety and happiness of the people of Gaza and of all Palestinians, Israelis and Egyptians,” said US special envoy Jason Greenblatt at the conference.

The gathering was criticised by the PA, which branded it an attempt to exploit the humanitarian situation in Gaza for political ends.

“We will not be fooled by any manoeuvring to return through the door of humanitarian crisis in Gaza and it will not change the position of the Palestinian leadership,” said the Palestinians’ head of delegation to the United States, Husam Zomlot.

Hamas, too, criticised the conference on its English-language website.

“It seems that the enormous global US violations pushed Mr Greenblatt to forget or disregard the fact that the Gaza Strip, under international law, is an occupied territory,” wrote Bassim Naim, member of Hamas International Relations Bureau.