The latest World Bank report about the situation in Gaza is worthy of close attention and scrutiny. While the concentration has been correctly focused on the importance of the Israeli withdrawal and dismantlement of their illegal settlements, many more issues are clearly in need of attention. A World Bank official once told me that the main obstacle preventing Gaza and the West Bank from reaching economic prosperity is bureaucracy. He said he had never seen in any country in which he had served so many bureaucratic restrictions that have such a direct negative effect on the economy.
“You don’t have some of the problems that countries like Bangladesh or India have, with large population and scarce resources. If you can find a way to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles, your economy can improve rather quickly.”
Of course, if you ask the Israelis, everything is centred on security. And when the Israeli security establishment itself is judge, jury and executioner, it is hard to imagine how Palestinians can get out of this quagmire.
While much attention is given to political and security issues, the socio-economic front is almost completely ignored.
A way out of this impossible cycle requires, first and foremost, genuine concern for the people of Gaza. In the political and security battle involving the Israelis, Americans and Egyptians, the welfare of the people of Gaza is clearly short-changed by everyone. Even the media, both local and international, have done little to focus on the human element in Gaza. We always get the story of the numbers of dead and injured, and the tally of houses destroyed, but rarely do we get the long-term effects of the status quo on ordinary Gazans.
I am not belittling the importance of solving the political problems. The Israeli occupation and settlements, as well as the continued tit for tat between the Israeli army and the Palestinian resistance, need to be given priority by all parties. But what is the harm in the key players’ giving more attention and importance to a parallel track which doesn’t hold the people of Gaza hostage to the latest negotiating tactic.
Sources in Gaza, for example, indicate that a major USAID infrastructure projects dealing with wastewater treatment has been suspended for some time. This, of course, on top of the extreme restrictions on the movement of US personnel in the West Bank and Gaza. No such restriction is imposed in Iraq, which is certainly much more dangerous than the West Bank and Gaza.
In its report, the World Bank listed a number of areas in which Israel can make changes without harming its overall security situation. None of these restrictions will be eased while the Israelis have such monopoly over the lives of Palestinians and while Israel’s major patron, the US, is unable to exert serious pressure to make the Israelis change their ways.
Whenever I talk to experienced international officials, the issue of the economic well-being of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, is often high on their list. Everyone seems to understand the relationship between economic deprivation and political/security extremism. They all speak about the need to create welfare structures parallel to those that have been successfully created by some of the more radical groups.
It would be fabulous if we could find a way to create a way to de-politicise the issues that affect the well-being of ordinary Palestinians. The present situation is a black mark on the countries and groups that should have been doing something in this regard for some time now. The US, the international agencies and Israel, as well as the Palestinian National Authority, are all guilty in different degrees of the disaster that has affected Palestinians in general and the people of Gaza in particular.
An international lobbying group made up of committed individuals should be formed with a clear mandate to put the humanitarian interests of the people ahead of all other considerations. Only with such a strong lobby, focused exclusively on this humanitarian issue, can we guarantee that generals and politicians no longer hold the people hostage to their narrow interests and their zero-sum game.