Gaza can’t wait

It is like a movie that is repeated over and over again. In 2008-09, 2012, 2014 and May 2021, there were large-scale Israeli attacks on Gaza. More than 4,000 people lost their lives, 260 of them in May; a quarter of a million homes were damaged, of which 4,000 this year and the total damage is in the billions of euros.

The toll was enormous.

Ap infographic

It is also no small matter to subject some two million people in an area of ​​365 square kilometers to a land, sea and air blockade for years. In comparison: the municipality of Emmen in the province of Drenthe covers 346 square kilometers and has 20 times fewer inhabitants. And Emmen is of course not cut off from the rest of the world. The living conditions in Gaza are now inhumane, the humanitarian situation unacceptable. In fact a UN expert declared Gaza to have become unlivable “with an economy in free fall, 70 per cent youth unemployment, widely contaminated drinking water and a collapsed health care system”.

Why is it not possible to make an end to this disaster and to the vicious circle of violence? Rigorous Israeli policies have not resulted in a loss of power of Hamas, let alone the destruction of the Islamist movement, that has ruled Gaza since 2007. 

After the large-scale military confrontations in May, the border with Gaza is still not quiet. Despite the shaky ceasefire that ended the clashes in May, there are regular demonstrations at the border fence and “fire balloons” are released in protest against the Israeli blockage of construction materials and the throttling of humanitarian aid. Israel invariably “answers” to these actions with aerial bombardments. The parties seem to be heading for an inevitable fifth round of death and destruction.

New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the White House in August and in a press conference with US media, Bennett talked about Iran, the friendship between Israel and the US and the fight against corona. But not about Gaza. When you hear Bennett talk, the Palestinians and Gaza don’t seem to exist.

Bennett is a hawk and does not want to make any political concessions to the Palestinians, he remains firmly against the two-state solution. But he does think that if Israel makes life a little more bearable for Palestinians, especially economically, then the peace process could be “parked”.

Swedish politician and diplomat Carl Bildt wrote an article after the May war in which he argued for four courageous steps to break the deadlock in Gaza.

What this view means for Gaza remains unclear for the time being.

Firstly, the blockade of Gaza must be lifted. The blockade has wrecked Gaza’s economy and made foreign trade practically impossible. Instead, the blockade has facilitated smuggling, which in turn is largely controlled by Hamas. In that regard, the blockade has strengthened rather than weakened Hamas.

Secondly, Israelis must be able to live in safety. No country accepts indiscriminate rocket fire. But Israel must also recognize that its current aggressive policy has failed.

Thirdly, Gaza must be returned to internationally recognized Palestinian rule. No aid for Gaza and no reconstruction funds without free and fair elections in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Finally, a long-term solution requires that the future state of Palestine be able to use Gaza for access to the Mediterranean and thus to the rest of the world. Gaza needs its own port and airport and a secure connection to the West Bank.

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab recently pointed out that even if Bennett does not want political progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Israel is bound by the Oslo Accords. Those agreements include a secure connection between Gaza and the West Bank. According to the agreement signed by Israel and the PLO, Gaza and the West Bank are “one territorial unit”.

Three years ago, Dutch parliamentarians Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66) and Joel Voordewind (ChristenUnie) proposed organizing an international Gaza conference to discuss the plan for a secure connection between Gaza and the West Bank. A safe route to make medical care, family reunification and trade easier and to break the ‘spiral of violence’.

The plan, like so many attempts to break out of the Gaza stalemate, disappeared into a black hole. The Netanyahu-Trump duo had different views on Middle East peace. And the Netherlands and the EU did not have the political will or guts to really push for a solution in Gaza.

It will be clear that Carl Bildts four steps require foreign political pressure, especially from the EU and the US. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas must come to an agreement on elections and Naftali Bennett must be convinced that Israel also has other options than only the military option.

The four steps are inconceivable without Israel and the Palestinians sooner or later returning to the negotiating table, and that is exactly the last thing Bennett wants.

The chance that there will soon be a replay of the Gaza horror movie and a fifth ’round’ of rockets and bombings is therefore high. No one seems to be looking forward to yet again heartbreaking footage from Gaza, but none of the drama’s protagonists is in any rush to even begin working on a solution. Only the residents of Gaza: they cannot wait for their situation to improve. Not a day longer.

Dit artikel in het Nederlands:

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