By Burc Kostem
Over a year after the Mavi Marmara attacks, at a time when rapid changes are taking hold in the Middle East the international community presents an unprecedented and vulgar indifference towards the Palestinian people. While attention is drawn to the hotly contested issue of Syria, Palestinian people are experiencing a horrible plight both inside the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Actors such as the Syrian regime have abused the Palestinian issue, in order to direct public anger towards other sources. In fact many analysts have commented on Israel’s increasing isolation in the region and how this will affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet precisely at a time when such manipulations are no longer possible for such regimes, we see how isolated Palestine really is in terms of finding real supporters in the region. It is therefore critical that the international community act now to stop catastrophic results for the Palestinian people in the very near future.
Gaza in particular is currently experiencing a humanitarian crisis as the UNRWA explains . Food is in shortage and the economy faces severe obstacles with 80 percent of Palestinians receiving food aid. Furthermore a recently report published by the UN explains that without significant investments in infrastructure such as water supply, schools and hospitals the Gaza Strip will not be a livable place by 2020 . Specifically the lack of water sources has caused great problems for agriculture that has in turn caused a food crisis in the Gaza Strip. Although humanitarian aid in the form of food donations to the Strip has been high, without significant improvements in infrastructure Gaza will remain a very difficult place to live in. For such improvements to take place, a political change from the Israeli side in the form of easing the blockade is critical. While hopes had been raised after the Mubarak regime had been toppled in Egypt and the Rafah border temporarily opened, latest moves by Egypt to close the border crossing as well as cracking down on the illegal underground tunnels indicates disaster for Gaza as these tunnels provide an economic lifeline for the Strip.
While this is the case in Gaza the West Bank is also experiencing a host of different troubles. After a summer of turmoil and financial instability the Palestinian Authority is now facing increased protests inside the West Bank. During September “over the period of a few short days, thousands of Palestinians protested in the town squares in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Tulkarem, and Bethlehem. Protestors blocked roads with their cars, burned tires in protests, and were heard chanting slogans demanding the downfall of the (interim) Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad. ” The Palestinian Authority, which currently receives around 43% of its revenue from foreign donations as of February 2012, seems to be unable to rally public support and is at a political impasse over the “peace process”. Adding to these complications is the fact that a significant portion of the donations is channeled through the Israeli state. Many Palestinians view the foreign donations as well as Israel’s control as a way to discipline and contain Palestinian political behavior. All of this has caused the Palestinian Prime Minister has lost his credibility according to some analysts.
Another critical issue in the West Bank is a new wave of settlements that Israel has decided to build. While 2011 presented a 20% increase in settlement building activities by different branches of the Israeli government, 2012 presents a completely new wave of settlement building according to recent news. For example the Israeli government announced 695 new housing units in various settlements on February 22, another 851 housing units in Jewish settlements inside the West Bank as well as 800 new housing units in the Givat Zeev settlement to northwest of Jerusalem. Lastly the Ministry of Housing has proposed a plan to build 942 housing units to expand the Gilo settlement. These expansions in settlement mean greater isolation of Palestinian villages from commercial routes and other critical resources such as access to water. This could have a crippling effect on the already weak hopes for a Palestinian state.
While many have criticized the Palestinian Authority’s failure to stop Israel form such expansions, Prime Minister has tried to enliven political enthusiasm by renewing attempts to seek recognition in the international community. While its project for becoming a full member state of the UN had failed, as it was unable to gain support from the UN Security Council, this time the Palestinian Authority will try to obtain non-member observer state status. This can be achieved by a simple UN General Assembly resolution, which the Palestinians are certain to achieve as over 120 countries in the General Assembly already recognize Palestine as a state. While such a bid wouldn’t immediately change facts on the ground, the upgrading of Palestinian status in the UN could mean greater access to UN agencies. Critically the UN recognition could theoretically open the way for becoming a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which has long been able to rule on Israeli allegations of war crime due in part to Palestine’s observer status in the UN. Yet contrary to the political support afforded to Fayyad during his bid for full membership, Palestinian people are far from being enthusiastic about the recognition bid.
A host of different challenges face the Palestinian people as the economic and political realities on the ground become ever more complicated. The region is rapidly changing, yet the indifference with which the international community treats the plight of the Palestinian people is sure to have a lasting effect on the fate of the country. If the world doesn’t act to ease the blockade and bring a halt to the settlement expansion, Palestinians maybe robbed of their claim to statehood permanently causing suffering and exclusion for many Palestinians for generations to come.
Burc Kostem, USAK
UNRWA, Emergency Appeal for the Gaza Strip, available at http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=659
UN Country Team in the occupied Palestinian Territories, “Gaza A Livable Place in 2020?” August 2012, available at: http://www.unrwa.org/userfiles/file/publications/gaza/Gaza%20in%202020.pdf
Doha Institute, “Birth of a Social Movement: The Palestinian Protests of September 2012”, available at, http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/94454f0f-ed0b-40c1-b9b3-58c5b6f0b525
Palestinian Monetary Authority Report “Quarterly Economic and Social Monitor“, Volume 27, February 2012, available at, http://www.pma.ps/images/stories/economic_monitor/monitor%2027%20english.pdf
Doha Institute, September 2012, “A New Wave of Settlement Building in the Westbank”, available at http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/06b943d2-5570-43bc-a763-96a944e25e6f