Yesterday, the White House held a ‘brainstorming session’ to promote solutions for the economic and humanitarian crises in the Gaza Strip. There are a few points worth mentioning in the context of any conversation aimed at finding long-term solutions for the Strip.
Israel imposes an extremely restrictive and highly obstructive permit regime on the two million residents of the Strip; enabled by the comprehensive control it wields over all but one of Gaza’s crossings to the outside world. The abysmal living conditions of Gaza’s residents are largely a result of Israel’s permit regime, and the decisions made every day (and often not made at all) by those who implement its policies.
In June 2007, Israel tightened its closure on the Strip with the expressed objective of making life harder for Gaza’s civilian population. On every day that has passed since then, Israel could have decided to do otherwise. In practice, even after the Israeli security establishment changed its tune following Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and increasingly recognized that economic development in Gaza was essential for regional stability, the closure has only been tightened.
Gaza’s water, sewage and electricity infrastructure, its schools, hospitals, office buildings and homes, run on an exceedingly insufficient supply of electricity, allowing for no more than 6 hours of power, followed by at least 12 hours of outage. Those who manage to obtain permits to travel abroad, for whatever reason, are often made to sign a commitment not to request to return to the Strip for one year. Businesspeople and traders are denied exit from the Strip again and again, on the basis of arbitrary and unpredictable “security blocks” placed on them, barring them from travel. The entry of essential equipment, spare parts for machinery, and other materials that are crucial for industry is delayed, or denied altogether. Medical patients who need urgent life-saving treatment at hospitals outside the Strip wait for months on end for responses to their applications; many are denied exit and sentenced to a life of pain and misery, even death. And most of Gaza’s two million residents, regardless of their needs, dreams, or personal circumstances, don’t even meet Israel’s narrow list of criteria for submitting permit applications to begin with.
Any plan which is likely to advance real improvements in the Strip is a good thing, especially one that takes a broader political horizon into account. But a staple of any such plan must be Israel’s recognition of its responsibility, given its ongoing control over Gaza. The Palestinian Authority, the de facto government in Gaza, Egypt, and the international community also have a role to play. There is a lot that can be done immediately to alleviate the dire humanitarian conditions. First and foremost, Israel must respect Gaza residents’ right to freedom of movement. There can be no hope for Gaza’s recovery and prosperity without it.