A whole year has passed since the Israeli government decided to “expand the civilian policy toward the Strip” and “ease” the closure. Perhaps the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories was (rightly) concerned that on the first anniversary of the decision, the results weren’t obvious enough; and so, in honor of the occasion, COGAT published a report on the implementation of measures intended to ease the closure.
As usual, we hardly have any reservations about the numbers published by COGAT. However, we continue to recommend that the data be examined in a wider context. In a broader context, the report’s self-congratulatory nature is a little less persuasive. The security context provided by the report – it opens with statistics on rocket fire on Israel during the past year – is important, but needs to be examined alongside Israel’s obligations under international law, the government’s promises and the real needs of the residents of Gaza. What would the numbers look like then?
For instance, the report states: “Israel is working with the international community and the Palestinian Authority to advance and streamline procedures for the approval of internationally-funded projects. To this end a coordination and monitoring mechanism has been set up for the implementation of internationally funded projects in accordance with security considerations. So far 163 internationally funded projects were approved for implementation”.
And in the broader context? The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose projects account for half of those approved by Israel last year, reports that this still only represents 27% of the projects they wish to implement in their recovery and reconstruction plan. For example, of 100 schools the agency seeks to build, only 42 were approved, and as getting clearance for materials still involves cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, actual construction has begun on only half of the schools. “Advancing and streamlining”, indeed.
The report continues: “In the past year, 29,715 Palestinians entered Israel from the Gaza Strip. Additionally, Israel decided to increase the quota of traders entering Israel to 70 per day. In the past year 7,282 traders entered from the Gaza Strip for business reasons in Israel, Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and abroad as part of the ongoing economic activities in the Gaza Strip”.
And back to the broader context. It is interesting to compare those numbers to the average of half a million workers who left Gaza every month on the eve of the Second Intifada. Furthermore, permits issued today are only for “senior businesspeople”, defined as those whose exit would contribute to improving the Gaza economy. The few women traders in Gaza, as well as young merchants, who want to build commercial ties with Israel and the West Bank, generally do not receive permits. Israel is thereby ignoring the common wisdom that small businesses are a driver of economic development.
From the report: “In the framework of the Cabinet’s decision on agricultural exports, the export project, in cooperation with the Netherlands to export strawberries and carnations continued. In addition it had been decided to export bell-peppers, but the exports stopped due to low quality of the produce that did not meet European standards. As an alternative the export of cherry tomatoes to European markets was approved”.
Here too, the context puts a damper on the good news. In the first five months of 2011, Israel may have allowed export of agricultural produce to Europe at the economically negligible volume of around two truckloads per day, but it has now been more than two months since a single truckload of goods left Gaza. Besides, as opposed to the government’s December decision and repeated promises made to international actors, the export of textile and furniture from the Gaza Strip has still not been approved.
Certain measures have indeed been taken over the past year to “ease” the closure, and we welcome those. But when seen in the broader context of the needs of Gaza residents and promises made to them, it’s clear that overall, progress has come too little and too late.