Sometimes man-made disasters can be worse than natural calamities. This certainly applies to the Gaza Strip, where humans are responsible for serious humanitarian, economic and psychological calamities.
Last summer, the people of Gaza received a dose of hope when the warring Palestinian factions, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas, appeared to have buried the hatchet and began serious implementation of an already agreed upon reconciliation process.
The reconciliation would have produced relief on two basic fronts; it would have found a solution to the electricity problem, which had been hampered by the lack of funds, and, once fully cemented, the reconciliation would have resulted with the permanent reopening of the Rafah crossing point to Egypt and the world, thus breaking a decade-long unjust siege that the Israelis have imposed ever since Hamas took over power in Gaza.
The expected results never happened as both warring parties have been blaming each other for the failure. Electricity is still being provided for a few hours a day, record setting unemployment continues as the Israeli-imposed siege is not being relaxed and the anticipated opening of the Rafah crossing point has never materialised.
Hamas' agreement, some say capitulation, in September last year on the three conditions which President Mahmoud Abbas and the Ramallah-based government set included dissolving the Hamas-run administrative government, empowerment of the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah's government and agreement to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.
The fanfare around the retaking of the government was short-lived because of the obstacle of what to do with some 45,000 Palestinians from Gaza who were unilaterally appointed by Hamas. The cash-strapped Ramallah government refused to take them back and referred to a clause in the reconciliation's agreement that relegated solving their problem to a joint committee that would look into the status of each employee, case by case, to determine who is needed and therefore hired and who is redundant.
The biggest problem and the one area that many had hoped would produce psychological relief if nothing else, namely the reopening of the Rafah crossing point, has been stuck in problems.
The plan was for the EU border assistance mission that had manned the crossing point to be returned, thus providing the needed assurances to Israel and the Egyptians to allow a permanent reopening of the border crossing based on the previous pre-Hamas control arrangement.
The European External Action Service (EEAS) issued a statement last November greeting the handover as an important step towards allowing the Palestinian Authority resume its full responsibilities in Gaza and achieving an intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
It also declared its readiness to deploy its border assistance mission in Rafah, which was withdrawn in 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. The mission has been on stand-by since then. It is not sure whether Egypt, which facilitated the opening of the crossing, will agree to this.
But all that has not happened is in part because of the slow pace of the reconciliation and also because of Hamas’ insistence that new arrangements must be introduced to lessen or remove the indirect Israeli oversight.
The Europeans put the brakes on once they realised that there isn’t full agreement between the parties and because of Hamas’ refusal to publicly accept the return to the pre-2007 arrangement.
Of course, the elephant in the china shop continues to be Hamas’ armed wing Izz Al Din Al Qassam Brigades and their military arsenal. While there have been suggestions that that Al Qassam weapons be placed in hiding, the Ramallah-based government of President Abbas insist that they don’t want a Hizbollah-like situation in Gaza,demanding a total disarming of the fighters; a request that has been scoffed at by Hamas and its military wing.
Despite the anti-peace efforts of the US and Israel and US President Donald Trump’s unilateral decisions to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and cut aid to UNRWA, the situation in Gaza has not changed, leaving a huge humanitarian problem that can explode any day.
The needs of the people of Gaza are huge. Hospitals are closing down as they are unable to handle the lack of electricity, tens of thousands of businessmen are being sued for not being able to cover their cheques and can end up in jail. The lack of any serious effort to resolve these problems is disheartening to us all.
The optimism of last September has disappeared and the people of Gaza are no longer remembered as the issues of Jerusalem, UNRWA budgets and the lack of peace process take up most of the headlines.
Nearly two million people in Gaza are suffering. Their problems are created by men and can be easily solved if there is a will to do so. Don’t forget Gaza.