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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

New US report on Gaza urges contingencies in case of Israel-Hamas war

Report makes recommendations to break the stalemate while embracing Egypt’s role

epa07203011 Palestinians fish in the sea during sunset in the west of Gaza City, Gaza Strip, 01 December 2018. EPA
epa07203011 Palestinians fish in the sea during sunset in the west of Gaza City, Gaza Strip, 01 December 2018. EPA

The US administration must make new contingency plans in order to break the stalemate in Gaza for fear of a potential new outbreak of war between the territory’s rulers Hamas and Israel, a group of US scholars and experts urged in a new report on Monday.

In a 52-page-document, experts from both the Brookings Institution and the Center for New American Security called for an intensified US effort that would reverse some of the past policies such as the funding cut to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and shifting away from a West Bank-first policy.

The report titled “Ending Gaza’s Perpetual Crisis”, co-authored by Hady Amr, Ilan Goldenberg, Kevin Huggard, and Natan Sachs, established a task force of former US envoys and a diverse pool of scholars working to break the 11-year-old stalemate in Gaza.

In a briefing with reporters ahead of the release, the authors said they are under no illusions about the extent of the gridlock and unlikelihood of achieving a breakthrough, whether humanitarian or political, in the Hamas-controlled strip anytime soon.

“The current situation is so difficult, and the incentives of the parties to maintain the status quo are so strong, that a long-term sustainable political arrangement may not be immediately possible,” they wrote.

In that context, they predicted that “it may take a moment of crisis to produce the necessary flexibility in each of the key parties to allow for a comprehensive deal that can fundamentally reshape the situation.”

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They identified the three crisis scenarios that could shift the dynamic as: a new major military conflict between Hamas and Israel; a change in Palestinian leadership; or a change in Israeli leadership or a shift in the governing coalition.

While they strongly advocated that the United States should not play any role in fomenting the crisis, Washington should be ready in the aftermath to push for a comprehensive solution in Gaza.

That would primarily “address the dire humanitarian and economic conditions…pursue the political and physical reintegration of Gaza and the West Bank in a manner that promotes a two-state solution and avoids the permanent separation of the two territories”.

It would also pin down a “long-term cease-fire between Israel and a group of Palestinian factions that includes Hamas and Fatah and that has the blessing of the PLO, managing the necessary tradeoffs between conflicting imperatives”.

The report advocates a parallel strategy that would work on reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas as one pillar, and a long term ceasefire as another. It calls for a strengthened Egyptian role in mediating between the parties.

Nathan Sachs, one of the authors, told The National, that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad backed by Iran could work as a spoiler for such agreement. However, the authors saw enough incentives for the three other main parties involved (Hamas, Israel, and the PA) to achieve it.

Hamas "would see an end to the Gaza Strip’s economic strangulation and could relinquish unwanted governing responsibilities in Gaza while being included in Palestinian political decision-making,” they wrote.

“Israel would receive sustained long-term quiet. And the PA would receive both the national unity ordinary Palestinians desire in overwhelming numbers and actions from Israel and/or international players that strengthen its position in the West Bank and signal progress toward a two-state solution,” the report said.

Mr Amr warned of continuing economic decline with unemployment hitting 53 per cent and 90 per cent of the water being unfit for consumption. Even as Qatar prepares to send its second installment of the $15 million cash package to the strip this week, the authors saw the situation as deeply unsustainable.

They recommend for “more Gaza workers to return to Israel…increase the supply of fuel to the Gaza power plant…and repair pipes to stop widespread local water loss.”

The team that met with US envoy Jason Greenblatt in the summer strongly argued in favor if the US reinstating the UNRWA funding and allowing for Gaza services to be fully restored.

The US administration is reportedly readying to release its own plan to attempt to resolve the conflict early next year.