By Santo D. Banerjee
A senior United Nations official has emphasized the urgency to resolve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and to return the enclave to full civilian and security control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as agreed in the Cairo accord on October 12, 2017, described as a “landmark development”.
According to media reports, the agreement between the Fatah and Hamas factions allows the Palestinian government to resume its responsibilities in Gaza. A statement released by Egypt, which facilitated the accord, said the Palestinian government should assume its full responsibilities to manage the enclave by December 1, 2017.
“The United Nations, the Middle East Quartet and the international community continue our support for Egyptian efforts to sustainably implement the recent intra-Palestinian agreement and return Gaza under the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council on November 20, 2017.
“The positive momentum should be maintained and the Palestinian government must be fully empowered to function in Gaza,” he added.
He pointed out that on November 1, in a momentous step, the Palestinian Authority had regained control over Gaza crossings. And for the first time in more than a decade, on November 18, the Rafah crossing opened under PA control. The handover has eased access at the crossings for Palestinians with permits and ended illegal taxation imposed by Hamas at the crossings since June 2007.
“This handover, if translated into the full civilian and security control by the Palestinian Authority of Gaza, could be a step towards the normalization of movement in and out of the Strip,” he added.
Another important step was taken on November 2 when the Palestinian committee tasked with rationalizing and integrating Gaza’s public sector, held its first meeting.
Meanwhile, the transfer of responsibility at Gaza-based public institutions is slowly proceeding. The Ministers of Education, Health, Transport and Environment, among others, as well as technical teams from ministries in Ramallah, have travelled to Gaza to begin restoring Government control.
Some 150 PA-employed teachers have returned to work for the first time since 2007. A ten-day registration period for all PA employees in Gaza began on November 12, to determine staffing numbers, based on an evaluation of qualifications against needs.
Mladenov noted that the process is under way in an organized manner. Some ministries with low numbers of employees have already accomplished the task and the others are expected to finish within the set time-frame.
He warned: “With all the difficulties inherent in the Egyptian-led process and concerns about the timing and modalities of the Palestinian Authority’s assumption of full civilian and security control of Gaza, the process must not be allowed to fail.”
If the peace process fails, he declared, “it will most likely result in another devastating conflict,” adding: “Whether that conflict would be triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice the result will be the same – devastation and suffering for all. This cycle must be avoided at all costs.”
Mladenov said: “Two million Palestinians in Gaza have high hopes that the Government’s return will improve their lives. After living in abject misery under Hamas control and locked in by the closures, their situation is close to exploding.”
He stressed that especially Palestinian leaders, Israel and the international community, have an important responsibility to advance the peace efforts. In this context, he expressed concern about the implications of the latest developments related to the PLO representative office in the U.S. “Only through constructive dialogue can we hope to advance peace and I call on all parties to remain engaged in the peace efforts,” he added.
Turning to the question of settlements, he pointed out that Israeli planning authorities had approved building permits for at least 418 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Ramat Shlomo. They had also issued a conditional approval of 178 housing units in the settlement of Nof Zion located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.
On November 10, the Israeli Prime Minister pledged to advance $226 million for the construction of infrastructure in the occupied West Bank that improves the connectivity of settlements to Israel potentially facilitating their expansion.
“The UN considers all settlement activities illegal under international law. They constitute a substantial obstacle to peace and should cease,” Mladenov said. “Legislative action that undermines the viability of the two-state solution also continues, as the Knesset considers a legislative amendment that would require a majority of 80 out of 120 members for any transfer of territory currently included in Israel-defined municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to a ‘foreign entity’.”
Against this background, Israeli authorities had demolished or seized 30 Palestinian structures, displacing 53 persons, including 31 children across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Three Bedouin herding communities in Area C, including Ein al Hilwe, Um al Jmal, and Jabal al Baba, were at risk of having a total of 520 structures demolished after receiving “removal of property” orders in recent weeks. “Of particular concern are donor-funded structures serving as schools threatened with demolition,” the senior UN official added.