Will the crisis in Gaza finally force Israel to lift its siege?

Qatar and the UAE have donated money to ease the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but such assistance will likely only postpone an implosion in the absence of arriving at a solution to the enclave's isolation and lifting of the Israeli blockade.

al-monitor A Palestinian woman sits on a donkey cart after receiving food supplies from the United Nations' offices in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 11, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Feb 27, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The worsening humanitarian and public health situation in Gaza has prompted Arab countries to intervene with financial aid to avert a total collapse. The Arab Organization for Human Rights in the United Kingdom and the United Nations pressed countries in January and February, respectively, to step in to stop the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Palestinian factions warned against an imminent implosion on Feb. 20.

As part of the Arab countries’ efforts, the United Arab Emirates made a $2 million donation on Feb. 7. A day later, Qatar contributed $9 million in aid, part of which will go toward supplying hospitals with fuel and medicines. Meanwhile, Egypt has resumed contact with both Hamas and Fatah to further the reconciliation process and find a quick solution to the humanitarian crisis.

Israel agreed on Feb. 21 to grant entry permits to 3,000 Gazan merchants so they can obtain goods to bring into Gaza and to allow Gazan fishermen to work farther offshore, expanding the range from 6 nautical miles to 9 as of April 1. It has also allowed a large quantity of goods, including wood, cement and medical equipment, to enter Gaza through border crossings.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting Feb. 14 at the request of Kuwait and Bolivia to discuss the humanitarian situation. The next day, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN secretary‑general, attributed the worsening conditions to funding cuts by the United States to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the closure of border crossings and the state of Palestinian reconciliation.

Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki told Al-Monitor that the Palestinians, including the leadership, appreciate the efforts at halting the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, but he also said that emergency assistance only postpones resolving the situation. The only solution, he believes, is lifting the decadelong Israeli siege. Zaki called on international institutions to act immediately, before the situation implodes, rather than contenting themselves with appeals and cautionary statements. He said that Gaza is everyone’s responsibility.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor that Gaza's catastrophic setback has been caused not only by the Israeli siege, but also the punitive measures of President Mahmoud Abbas since April 2017. He explained that although Hamas is no longer in the government, movement officials are making contacts daily and holding meetings to help stop the growing crisis.

Speaking to the press Feb. 14 in New York, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, urged representatives of UN Security Council member states to go to Gaza to see firsthand how much Gazans are suffering. The Popular Committee for Confronting the Siege had reported on Feb. 9 that the poverty rate stands at 80% for Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants while unemployment exceeds 50%.

Yousuf al-Ghaziz, an adviser to Mohammed al-Emadi, who heads Qatar's Gaza Reconstruction Committee, told Al-Monitor that during a Feb. 18 visit to the Palestinian territories, Emadi inaugurated a number of construction projects.

Ghaziz explained that $2.5 million of the $9 million Qatar has provided would be directed at reviving the health care sector and the rest will go toward food aid, home construction and rehabilitation, university tuition, and infrastructure. He noted that the Qatari commitments to reconstruction projects, relief and humanitarian assistance have totaled $90 million thus far this year.

On Feb. 15 in Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. During their encounter, in the presence of Nikolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, both sides discussed Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and agreed to reassess the reconstruction mechanism to accelerate reconstruction of houses destroyed in the 2014 war.

Akram Atallah, a political analyst and writer for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, told Al-Monitor that the Gaza crisis has reached the level of residents lacking the most basic necessities of life. He warned, as have others, that the financial aid provided by some Arab countries is a mere palliative and does not resolve the crisis, which requires ceaseless and efficient efforts to overcome.

Atallah is convinced that everyone is aware that the situation in Gaza will soon implode and that they want to stop it or slow it. Given this, he asked, “Why have the Arab countries, except for Qatar and the UAE, not supported Gaza, leaving it struggling all by itself?”

Isam Shawar, a columnist at the local daily Felesteen, told Al-Monitor, “The [potential] angry [reactions] in Gaza and surprises by the resistance are alarming for all parties, which for this reason are looking for immediate solutions. The apparent [international] pressures are nothing more than a way to obtain concessions [from Hamas] before the siege is lifted.”

He explained that Israel and the rest of the international community have expressed concern about the siege and the worsening humanitarian situation, adding that the latest efforts by Arab states, the international community and Israel are a prelude to gradually ending the siege, because the United Nations stated in a July 2017 report that Gaza is not fit for living.

The international and Arab aid provided so far is not even the minimum required. Fuel for generators has run out at some hospitals, where janitors are also on strike to demand payment of their salaries, and many medicines are unavailable. Furthermore, purchasing power has collapsed due to a liquidity crisis. Families are being forced to sleep in the streets because they cannot afford to pay their rent.

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