Dr. Ghassan Elkahlout is Head of the MSc. Program in Conflict Management and Humanitarian Action at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
As the world fixates on the novel coronavirus crisis, the Israeli government has inflicted a not so novel disaster on the Palestinians: the annexation of territories in the West Bank. A unilateral step amplifying the predicament present in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there is no doubt that the seemingly ceaseless conflict will have significant and grave consequences.
As a continuation of the “Deal of the Century” presented by the U.S.A earlier this year, the Prime Minister of Israel has repeatedly declared his intention to annex up to 30% of the West Bank from July 1st, with his sights set on the Jordan Valley and many of the illegal Israeli settlements throughout the region. His justification is that it’s merely an extension of sovereignty.
The Palestinian Authority condemned Netanyahu’s plan and promised an array of measures including severing funding to the unlivable Gaza Strip and cutting the salaries of thousands of officers and clerks. In support, Qatar, one of the Strip’s major humanitarian donors, has announced it may suspend financial aid to the Strip. These measures aim to hold Israel responsible as a military occupier, in an effort to deter the annexation plans. However, the consequence of such interventions would be catastrophic for Gaza, pushing it over the brink into eventual collapse and driving millions of Palestinians further into the abyss of occupation and blockade.
Cutting salaries to PA’s servants and stopping humanitarian aid to Gaza will worsen the already bleak situation. Over 70,000 Palestinians in Gaza would lose their livelihoods. This would be disastrous against the backdrop of existing financial crisis faced by the main United Nations agency working in the Strip, the UNRWA – which this year received only one-third of its $1.2 billion dollar budget, the lowest raised in 70 years according to Elizabeth Campbell, UNRWA’S director in Washington. Many people will plunge beneath the extreme poverty line, joining the almost 38% of the population already below it. With 70% of Gazans already food insecure, the UN predict that 1 million people may go hungry.
Gaza has been in dire humanitarian crisis for the last two decades. The 14-years Israeli-imposed blockade has been a vacuum of hope and stability, with devastating impacts for Palestinians. According to the World Bank, unemployment has risen to 53% (67% for young Gazans) . Since 2007, the gross domestic product of Gaza has shrunk by 50%.
Efforts to ease the suffering in Gaza has been regularly strangled. Many humanitarian actors adopt a ‘no contact policy, minimising their interactions with the de-facto ruling party of Gaza, Hamas. Major humanitarian organisations are forced to operate in an environment constructed to keep them out; a significant number cannot deliver their humanitarian programming. Those that can enter the dwindling humanitarian space face the threat of being accused of funding terrorism.
Without an immediate change, supporting the impoverished population will become even more of a mammoth task, with little resources to support such efforts and vital international backing absent. Inevitably, many Gazans will feel as though violence is their only resort. Is Israel and the international community prepared for the prospect of another outbreak of a third uprising?
The rise of social and economic adversities across the Middle East has caused nations to turn towards the Palestinian cause. However, Palestine, and Gaza in particular, has never before experienced such humanitarian turmoil. As the world faces a unified struggle against Covid-19, it is crucial that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not neglected. Immediate action is required to stave off catastrophe. The international community must act with rigor and intent to alleviate Gaza’s economic and social crisis. Humanitarian action has been regularly implemented in Gaza – but this is not enough. The international community should exert pressure on Israel to stop any unilateral steps. The stagnant peace process must be revived. However, continued lack of political will to reach a solution provides a gloomy outlook on the political future of Palestinians. Nevertheless, the international community must strive to achieve the bare minimum, which is immediately providing effective humanitarian relief to the depleted Gaza strip. The clock is ticking. Gaza is on the verge of complete subsistence, never has the need for purposeful and resolute action been greater.