Pledge to end Gaza crisis offers a solution, not a soundbite

This op-ed by Joan Ryan first appeared in the JewishNews, click here to read it. 

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is desperate and deeply concerning. Electricity supplies are highly restricted; water and sewage facilities are under strain; rising unemployment has hit 40 percent, with an estimated six in 10 young people out of work.

For many people this crisis has one cause and one solution: lifting Israel’s so-called “blockade”.

It is true that, ever since Hamas’ 2007 coup, Israel and Egypt have imposed strict controls on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza in an attempt to contain the terror group and prevent it acquiring more weapons.

But this is far from the whole story and fixating on it will do nothing to address the complex reasons for Gaza’s plight and the multifaceted response that is required to address it.

That is why this month LFI is launching our Pledge for Gaza, which we’ll be asking parliamentarians to sign. We hope that the pledge will help to ensure an open, and more fact-based, debate about the true causes of the situation in Gaza and the steps that are needed to tackle it.

The pledge will begin by recognising the pernicious role of Hamas – its ongoing rearmament, rocket-building and tunnel construction and attempts to launch and encourage terrorism. The Oslo Accords stipulated the demilitarisation of the Palestinian territories; Hamas’ repeated and blatant flouting of that stipulation is at the root of the problems Gaza faces. Bringing Gaza back under the jurisdiction of Palestinian Authority is obviously key, and it is telling that last October’s reconciliation agreement appears to be floundering primarily because of Hamas’ refusal to meet President Abbas’ demand that they disarm.

We also need to be clear about the terrible human rights violations suffered by the people of Gaza at Hamas’ hands: executions, extra-judicial killings and the widespread use of torture, as well as its ill-treatment of women and LGBT Palestinians.

Of course, demilitarisation and an end to Hamas rule will not alone solve Gaza’s problems. The international community, Israel and Egypt have vital roles to play in tackling the Strip’s deeply ingrained economic problems.

All of the schools, hospitals and water and energy facilities which were damaged or destroyed during the 2014 war, along with two-thirds of homes, have now been repaired. However, much-needed further reconstruction, suggest international agencies such as UNESCO, is on hold due to a lack of international donor funds. In October 2014, a conference in Cairo saw pledges of $3.5bn. Barely half of that – $1.85bn – has been received.

While European countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Britain, together with the United States and Japan, have honoured their commitments in full, many Arab countries have delivered only a fraction of what they promised: Qatar, for instance, pledged $1bn but only $216m of that has been distributed, likewise less than half of the pledges made by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE have been distributed.

Ensuring that cash that was offered more than three years ago is utilised to ease the suffering in Gaza is crucial. There is no shortage of things to spend it on. At an international conference last month, Israel presented a list of infrastructure projects in Gaza which it would like to see donors fund, and offered to provide technical support and know-how. These include installing a new high-voltage line that would double the amount of electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, laying a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza and building a sewage purification plant.

Finally, Israel and Egypt, Gaza’s direct neighbours, must be crucial players in the revitalisation and regeneration of the Strip. Both have entirely legitimate security concerns about Hamas’ role in furthering terrorism. Egypt, indeed, keeps its one crossing into Gaza at Rafah closed most of the time (in December, it was open for three days, in January not at all). The reopening of the crossing this month was abruptly halted, leaving hundreds of Palestinians stranded, when Egypt launched a military offensive against militants in Sinai.

While there has been an increase in exports leaving Gaza through Israeli crossings, fear of Hamas exploiting “dual-use” material to build rockets and tunnels means imports of certain raw materials are tightly controlled. Furthermore, Gazans, unlike Palestinians from the West Bank, cannot get permits to work in Israel, while Jordan refuses to admit Gazan migrants.

In the wake of the 2014 Gaza war, Labor MK Omar Bar-lev presented a comprehensive strategy to effectively end Gaza’s international isolation. One of its key proposals was for a Gaza seaport. Since then a range of similar plans – including from Israeli government ministers – have been made. These include building a seaport on an artificial island off the Gaza coast and building an autonomous Palestinian port in Sinai close to the Gazan border. The international community should thus work with Israel and Egypt to develop and encourage these imaginative proposals and to support the requisite security arrangements needed to safely implement them.

LFI’s Pledge for Gaza doesn’t fit easily onto a placard. But those who truly care about the situation in Gaza should offer solutions, not slogans.

Joan Ryan MP is chair of Labour Friends of Israel.