x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Gazans just want the electricity to stay on

Many Strip residents have given up on idea of peace with Israel and long for normalcy in their lives.

GAZA // When it comes to the restart of direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, Mohammed Adnan has learned his lesson. For him, talks between the two sides represent a roller coaster of hope and disappointment that he no longer wants to ride. Like many Gazans, his concerns primarily centre on restoring life in this densely populated, destitute strip of land to a sense of normalcy.

Gaza's Hamas leadership was estranged from the West Bank's ruling Palestinian Authority after a civil war broke out between the two in 2007. And Israel's ongoing blockade on Gaza has resulted in, among a multitude of hardships, constant power blackouts and increasingly impoverished customers for Mr Adnan's shop, in Gaza City's Rimal district. "I believe solving our daily problems, and solving these terrible electricity cuts, is better than wasting our time doing these worthless negotiations," Mr Adnan, 49, said yesterday as he prepared to crank up the generator that provides power for his small clothing shop.

Analysts here say that nearly two decades of failed peace talks and intermittent war with Israel have sapped Gaza's residents of faith in the most recent round of negotiations. Glimmers of hope have emerged in the West Bank, with its burgeoning economy. But Gaza still suffers under an Israeli economic blockade and 40 per cent unemployment. "Nobody's caring, nobody's talking, nobody's watching," said Raji Sourani, the director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Mr Adnan's hopes for peace were briefly raised when Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Annapolis, Maryland, nearly three years ago to hammer out an agreement. But his expectations, like those of many of Gaza's 1.5 million residents, were violently dashed when the talks stalled and Israeli forces invaded the Strip in late 2008. Since the fighting, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,300 Palestinians and an economy levelled by Israeli bombardment, Mr Adnan has been convinced that coming to terms with Israel is an illusion.

"We, the Palestinians, didn't learn lessons from the past - Israel is not interested in peace," he said. "Let Fatah" - the largest member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which controls the Palestinian Authority - "and Hamas reconcile so that we can have our electricity problems solved and so that they can work to have the siege lifted. "We shouldn't be wasting time with [the Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu."

Yet uniting the rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank may be as difficult as forging peace with Israel. Hamas has denounced the negotiations and claimed responsibility for two recent attacks in the West Bank. The attacks, in which four settlers were gunned down in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday and another two Israelis wounded in Ramallah on Wednesday, were apparently aimed at scuttling the talks.

"Our answer to the negotiation came fast, and it was a message to Abbas and his attempts to destroy resistance in West Bank," said Abu Mohammed, a leader of Hamas's military wing, using his nom de guerre. He was referring to the clampdown on Hamas activity in the West Bank, in which some 150 Hamas members were detained after Tuesday's attack by the Palestinian Authority. "The Hebron operation is the beginning of serious operations against Israeli targets, either in the West Bank or in Israel," Abu Mohammed said, adding that "the sleeper cells have woken up".

Mahmoud al Zahar, a Hamas leader, said resistance - not negotiations - had to continue, as "the Palestinians have been negotiating since 1991, and what are the results? More Israeli settlements, Judaising Jerusalem, confiscation of more Palestinian land, destroying houses". Hamas has said that only when Israel starts to abide by international law, such as dismantling its West Bank settlements, then peace negotiations should commence.

"Resistance is the only practical choice left for the Palestinians to free their lands," Mr Zahar added. However, Husam Zomlot, a PLO spokesman, condemned the attacks and said they would serve only to turn the debate against the Palestinians. "Resistance and negotiations are part of the same coin, but they are not ends in and of themselves," he said. Standing in line at a food distribution centre in Gaza's Shati refugee camp, Samy Rayan viewed the recent violence against Israeli settlers as comeuppance for their occupation of Palestinian land. More than 300,000 settlers have moved into the West Bank since Israel's victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

"Settlers must suffer as well, they must leave our lands now," said Mr Rayan, a father of five who, jobless, spends his days searching for handouts to provide for his family. Jamal Oda is one of the few willing to judge the talks on the basis of results. The 55-year-old fisherman is prevented by Israel from sailing more than two kilometers from the coastline, which is imperiling his fishing business and ability to provide for his three sons.

"If the negotiation with Israel will open the sea for us to fish, as we used to, then good luck, Mahmoud Abbas," he said. "If not, then don't waste your time and stay home." @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Hugh Naylor