Monday

25th Jul 2016

Opinion

Raising the volume on EU demands about Gaza

  • Gaza - women in particular have been cut off from economic opprotunties (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

EU foreign ministers recently said that ending the Middle East conflict was a fundamental interest of the European Union.

If this is indeed the case, Europe should pay much more attention to what is happening in the Gaza Strip. Gaza's per capita GDP has declined by 19 percent since 1994, even as GDP per capita in the West Bank has risen by 34 percent.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Yet Gaza's sea coast, arable land and skilled labor have the potential to drive the entire Palestinian economy.

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Hamas takeover of Gaza and its subsequent closure, as part of an Israeli policy to restrict movement of people and goods, supposedly to weaken the Hamas regime by crippling economic activity and making life in Gaza unpleasant.

European leaders protested loudly against this policy of "economic warfare" - as the Israeli government called it.

In the wake of the Turkish flotilla incident two years ago, the robust and unified voice of the EU was key to removing most restrictions on goods entering Gaza and opening the possibility for people to travel abroad via the border with Egypt.

Since June 2010, demands for greater access into and out of Gaza by European leaders have continued, but they are sporadic, polite, and - in my admittedly impatient Middle Eastern judgement - ineffective.

Palestinians in Gaza can now enjoy some access to the outside world but are still barred from moving to the other part of the Palestinian territory - the West Bank.

Israel is pursuing what it calls a "separation policy" designed to cut off Gaza from the West Bank and Israel.

This policy has repercussions beyond the Gaza Strip, as it severs the robust economic, academic, cultural, familial and institutional ties between the two parts of the Palestinian territory.

For example, farmers and manufacturers in Gaza cannot sell goods to Israel and the West Bank, even though those same goods transit through Israel and the West Bank en route to limited markets abroad.

It especially impacts women, who are less likely to have opportunities abroad if barred from the West Bank.

There are three main reasons why European leaders should raise the volume of their demands to Israel to let Palestinians live normal lives.

First, the EU's engagement in the Middle East is meant to strengthen shared values of democracy and human rights. Failing to insist on them undermines Europe's credibility.

Second, European taxpayers are willing to invest in the Middle East, but they want to invest in development that lasts, not perpetual humanitarian aid.

Without access to markets in Israel and the West Bank, people in Gaza will remain dependent on international assistance, primarily from Europe. Before June 2007, more than 85 percent of outgoing goods from Gaza were being sold in Israel and the West Bank. In contrast, low demand and high transport costs make sale abroad mostly irrelevant.

Without the ability to sell their products outside Gaza, the private sector cannot recover. That helps explain why more than 70 percent of Gaza residents receive international aid, nearly one-third of the workforce is unemployed, and 39 percent of those who have jobs work for the public sector, either the Hamas regime (reportedly funded primarily by Iran and Qatar) or the Palestinian Authority (funded primarily by Europe).

Last but not least, the restrictions are undermining the social, economic and human capital necessary for a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.

Let us be honest: there is no political horizon right now. The Palestinian factions remain divided, and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are going nowhere.

That has been the case for the last five years. But even as the political situation is stagnant, rapid changes are taking place within Palestinian society.

Economic ties between Gaza and the West Bank are disintegrating, institutions are pursuing divergent development paths, and social ties are straining to the point of tearing.

Certainly, the Palestinian factional split is exacerbating the separation. But the movement restrictions preceded the split by more than a decade, and we need not have a political breakthrough in order for them to be removed.

Right now, Israel can choose to allow the healthy development of Palestinian society by permitting movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, subject to individual security checks.

These facts do not elude European decision-makers. Just last month, EU foreign affairs ministers called for the "immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings" including for movement between Gaza and the West Bank.

The time has come to raise the volume of that demand.

The writer is the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization promoting the right to freedom of movement in the Palestinian territory

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit plans missing in action

The Brexit referendum has created an almighty political and economic mess, with little sign of a British or EU plan to clean things up.

Opinion

Brexit seed was planted in 2004

The clause allowing a member state to leave the EU was introduced at a time of prosperity. EU leaders should not repeat the mistake and use the crisis to reinforce eurozone membership.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumMigration, Security and Solidarity within Global Disorder: Academic Event Agenda for 2016
  2. GoogleHow Google Fights Piracy: Creating Value While Fighting Piracy
  3. EJC"My Visit to Israel" - Opinion by MEP Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the EP Working Group on Antisemitism
  4. World VisionChildren Migrating, Out of School and at Work as Hunger Deepens in Southern Africa
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStand-Up (and Exercise) to Prevent Chronic Diseases
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersLaunches a Real-time News Hub Specialised in EU Stakeholders
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for International Probe Into Turkey Coup Allegations
  8. GoogleEU-US Privacy Shield: Restoring Faith in Data Flows and Transatlantic Relations
  9. World VisionWorld Leaders & Youth Advocates Launch Partnership to End Violence Vs. Children
  10. Counter BalanceReport: Institutionalised Corruption in Romania's Third Largest Company
  11. Access NowEuropol Supports Encryption. We Can Relax Now… Right?
  12. GoogleLearn about Google's projects across Europe on Twitter @GoogleBrussels

Latest News

  1. Munich attack might not have been terrorism
  2. A very British (and Corbynite) coup
  3. Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees
  4. EU aims to lift visas on Turks despite purge
  5. ECB in ‘bail-out’ of scandal-tainted VW
  6. EU failed to learn lesson from Brexit, Poland says
  7. UK accord on EU workers 'crucial', France says
  8. EU and US take different lines on Turkey crackdown