Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 24 October, 2014
A few months after the most recent war in Gaza ended; Israel has eased restrictions in the area and has granted humanitarian and economic relief as part of the UN agreement that ended the siege. The 50 day offensive cost the lives of more than 2,100 Palestinians – mostly civilians, 67 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians, and left 108,000 homeless people. According to Reuters it is estimated that 20,000 homes as well as major infrastructure were damaged. The UN General Secretary who visited the area in September said that both sides need to stop the “endless, needless, mindless cycle of suffering”.
The UN agreement, signed in September by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, aims to the reconstruction of the isolated yet overpopulated area with Israel lifting some restrictions. Since Hamas took charge of Gaza in 2007 both Israel and neighbouring Egypt have restricted so called dual-use items such as cement, steel, and others with the excuse that they could be used by Hamas and other groups on attacks against Israel. However, restriction of such goods has a negative effect on Palestinian everyday lives. A report by Shelter Cluster, an organisation that focuses on post-conflict reconstruction, published in August, estimates that such restriction could stall the Gaza’s rebuilding by 20 years. Though only little is known about the conditions of the UN agreement it includes lifting some restrictions concerning dual-goods that will be imported in Gaza for both UN projects – liable to the Israeli government, and Palestinian projects. A UN monitoring team will overlook reconstruction by following a dual monitoring procedure for small and large scale construction projects.
Israeli officials on the other hand, although concerned about the dual-use goods fearing they will end up to various organisations inside Gaza, seem to be following its part of the deal so far. On a rather rare and surprising move, the Israeli government allowed 500 Palestinians from Gaza aged 60 and over to go to Jerusalem for the Eid celebrations in early October. It additionally gave unlimited travel to Israel to Palestinians living in the West Bank during these days in order to visit family. On the other hand though, this indication of good will came after the United States condemned the Israeli expansion of settlements in Jerusalem.
The UN agreement also includes a mechanism that will rebuilt 60,000 homes and will ensure construction materials will not reach Hamas. Regardless all efforts made so far, Israeli officials are still concerned over Hamas. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that they not allow any further reconstruction if Hamas uses construction materials to rebuild its underground tunnels.
Despite positive efforts by both sides the UN agreement will only have short term results as parties continue to ignore one important factor – Hamas. From what is known about the agreement so far, Hamas has been left out of the picture as the Palestinian Authority is the second party of the UN deal. The current Israeli government on the other hand will never get along with Hamas. Hamas’ election to power is the main factor that isolated the area as on the one hand Israel considers it a terrorist organisation, on the other the Palestinian Authority has deep ideological and political differences that go back in time. Yet Hamas’ political leadership has shown that it is willing to step away from its old self and act as a political actor. The Unity Government is one sign that Hamas is willing to change notwithstanding the government’s problematic nature and rocky conditions. Yet if Hamas wants to be included in negotiations will need to make serious changes in its core, abandon military activities and start following a more politically correct approach to the conflict – whether that is the right thing to do or not.
If the international community as well as those directly involved in the conflict continue to disregard Hamas, Gaza’s reconstruction will not only take 20 years to complete but way longer.