No winners in long-term Gaza deadlock
Four years since the last major Israeli onslaught on Gaza, the omens are that there could be a rerun this summer. Tensions have been increasing for months, most notably with Israel killing more than 110 Palestinians and wounding 14,000 during the “Great March of Return” protests.
Those protests may be over, but the violence is not. On Friday, Palestinian fighters sent more than 200 rockets and mortars into southern Israel. In response, Israeli bombing raids — the largest daytime strikes since the 2014 war — killed at least two in Gaza.
Prior to that, Israel had effectively closed off the Kerem Shalom crossing, collectively punishing the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza for arson kite attacks that had set alight farmland in southern Israel. A cease-fire brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas agreed on Saturday could just be a temporary pause.
All of this appears to conform tragically to Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted dictum that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The overall policy on Gaza — of all parties, from Israel to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the international community — is a long and painful exercise in the collective banging of heads against a brick wall.
The presumption is that supposed Israeli security needs must come first, trumping all other considerations. Israeli citizens, especially those who live in border areas and are targeted by rockets, mortars and, most recently, the so-called arson kites, are entitled to expect this. Palestinians in Gaza, however, are also entitled to security and not just from weaponry. They also suffer from acute economic and environmental insecurity: 60,000 homes damaged in the 2014 war are yet to be repaired.
The two are linked. Trap two million people in an open-air prison, with barely any clean water, nearly all living on diminishing aid handouts and with no prospect of a better life, and you should not be shocked if a violent response ensues. The cause of improving life in Gaza is not served at all by Palestinian rocketeers lobbing projectiles toward Israeli communities. Flying burning kites into Israel is similarly counterproductive, with 20 fires a day reported in recent weeks.
Gaza could flourish, but only if it can trade, have a port, an airport and be connected to the West Bank and the outside world.
For the 11 years of the intensified blockade of Gaza, the approach is resolutely identical, punctuated by wars every few years. It is rooted in focusing solely on the symptoms of the crisis, especially in how it relates to Israel, as opposed to the root causes and continuing drivers of conflict. Once out of office, many former Israeli security chiefs have spoken out about the flawed Israeli government approach. Six former heads of Mossad have all argued that Israel should have done more to make peace with the Palestinians. One of them, Efraim Halevy, has been arguing it is even time to talk to Hamas.
The reasons for the wars depend on your point of view; either to maintain the status quo in Gaza, just “mowing the lawn” and reminding the population who is in charge, or a failed attempt to radically alter it. As yet, it has been the former that has prevailed. The same matrix of control operates over Gaza, with Hamas in charge internally, the PA controlling many of the purse strings, Egypt maintaining the blockade whilst ensuring it does not become a domestic issue, and Israel enforcing the prison’s borders via all means possible. The international community pays the bills, but does no more than try to tweak the arrangements.
Take the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. This was, in theory, a temporary measure, implemented after the 2014 war by Israel, the PA and the UN as a means to control the flow of goods into Gaza. Israel is essentially given a right of veto, including over much-needed construction materials and spare parts for water treatment, sanitation and power. Israel invokes its own list of dual-use materials it deems could have a military purpose, but goes much further than the international standards as outlined in the Wassenaar Arrangement. Instead of being a means to end the illegal closure, or even lighten it, the GRM actually reinforces it. The UN announced a review of the GRM back in February but, as yet, nothing has been done, and few are expecting it to be replaced with a workable system that would alleviate the dire situation inside Gaza.
Nobody wins in this long-term Gaza deadlock, and the biggest losers are Palestinian civilians. Gaza could flourish, but only if it can trade, have a port, an airport and be connected to the West Bank and the outside world. At the moment, Palestinians in Gaza have little to lose and zero hope of gain — a toxic mix that should alarm sensible, clear-thinking neighbors.
Israel has no clear strategy, other than just to hit very hard in the event of any attacks and keep Gaza on the brink of total humanitarian collapse. The PA is doing little to help address the situation, while Hamas seems solely intent on surviving politically. The latest reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas that kicked off last October has clearly failed. The latest re-escalation with Israel should serve as a reminder of just how vital it is to cease the fighting, open up Gaza and pursue reconciliation with true purpose.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Twitter: @Doylech