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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Start with simple solutions in Gaza – like medicine

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, there are some things that can be done as a priority, says Alan Philps.
Bomb damaged homes still scar the landscape with some families still living in the dangerously unstable buildings that scar Gaza. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
Bomb damaged homes still scar the landscape with some families still living in the dangerously unstable buildings that scar Gaza. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

How do surgeons operate when the power is cut in Gaza? They shine their mobile phones on the patient’s vital organs. In any other country, surgeons would wear head lamps but these are unavailable in the Gaza Strip. Israel will not allow any to be imported through the blockade – for security reasons. Apparently they can be used by tunnel diggers.

This piece of information was supplied by the Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who has worked with Palestinian surgeons during all four of the Israeli attacks on Gaza over the past eight years. Dr Gilbert was speaking in London at the invitation of the SOAS students union and Medical Aid for Palestinians. Originally the organisers printed 200 tickets, but more than 1,000 people wanted to pay to hear him. A bigger hall was hired and second session was scheduled – proof that even while Syria, Iraq and Yemen are in flames, the plight of Gaza still has enormous resonance.

And rightly so. Malnutrition is a serious problem in Gaza. No less than 29 per cent of children aged under five years are stunted, which irreversibly compromises their health, academic and socio-economic potential.

Next month will be the first anniversary of the start of the 51-day assault on Gaza that ravaged the local health care system and has left 100,000 people still unable to return to their homes. In the past, a diplomat’s answer to Gaza’s plight would have focused on the so-called peace process and its ultimate goal, a two-state solution, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.

But no one believes in that possibility since the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said during the election campaign that he would not allow a Palestinian state on his watch. Since re-election Mr Netanyahu has sought to row back on that comment. But the deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotoveli, set a more genuine tone for the new government, telling diplomats that all of the historic land of Palestine belongs to Israel. “All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

The two-state solution is a dead concept. As Nathan Brown, a George Washington University professor, has pointed out: “We have seen enough of what it would look like in reality to know that it would likely codify existing injustices rather than resolve them.” Throughout the years of the peace process, settlement building and confiscation of land have proceeded unimpeded.

It is a bitter irony that the two “states” spawned by the peace process are within Palestinian ranks – the West Bank under the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and the Gaza Strip, run by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. Israel has tried to crush Hamas, by war and blockade, while at the same time profiting from the split in Palestinian ranks that ruled out the necessity of the Netanyahu government actually having to agree peace terms.

Clearly, with the shadow play of the peace process taken off the stage, the international community needs to focus on what can be done in the real world. That means Gaza, and there are, surprisingly, some small points of light here.

While Mr Netanyahu is back in the prime minister’s office, the collapse of the US-led peace process has left Israel exposed on two fronts. Without the Americans monopolising the diplomatic dossier, attention will turn to the role of international organisations where Washington cannot offer the Israeli government a blanket defence.

Meanwhile, the option of sanctions against Israel – under the banner of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – is now at the centre of debate. As the anniversary of last year’s Operation Protective Edge moves closer, analysis of the high casualty rate among civilians and children and the devastation of the medical system – 62 clinics and hospitals damaged – will cast a harsh light on the Israeli armed forces.

For this reason the Israelis have begun allowing more goods and people to leave Gaza – giving a slight spur to the economy – and permitting more goods in. This does not change the fundamental reality that Gaza is under Israeli occupation since Israel controls access by land, sea and air and is therefore responsible for the well-being of the 1.8 million residents. This is a gesture to delay the next explosion of violence.

Some Israeli commentators now suggest a new approach by the Israeli military to Hamas: a recognition that it is there to stay and cannot be eradicated by bombs and drone strikes. This may reflect nothing more than the changed regional environment: Hamas is a known quantity, while the alternative – offshoots of ISIL which are attempting to set up shop in the Gaza Strip – would be worse.

Hamas sources have revealed that they are in indirect contact with Israel on extending last year’s truce for five years, with the possibility of Israel allowing the construction of a floating port to link Gaza to the outside world. This is surprising indeed, since the Israelis have always turned a deaf ear to Hamas’s offers of a long-term truce.

Of course, Mr Netanyahu does not have much to lose: a port can be destroyed instantly. Nor is this any kind of permanent solution: for that there would need to be reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas to unite Gaza and the West Bank. That seems as far away as ever. These Hamas-Israel talks – if they turn out to have any substance – are likely to deepen the rift, with Ramallah and Gaza having their separate lines of communication with the Israelis.

There are no simple solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is moving into a new stage, one where Israel sees advantage in easing the pressure on Gaza. So it’s time for all countries with influence to change the status quo of the last eight years in Gaza and give the people some hope. A good start would be ensuring the timely delivery of all medical supplies.

Alan Philps is a commentator on global affairs

On Twitter: @aphilps