COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip: A Disaster in the Making

With 754 new coronavirus infections reported in the Gaza strip on this Friday, the highest single-day total as of yet, COVID-19 appears to be taking a hold on the densely inhabited region (and testing is sparse in Gaza so the real figure will likely be far higher). Until now, Gaza was relatively spared from the successive waves of infections. The situation, however, may end up setting off a ticking time bomb in Gaza as the atrocious living conditions of many Gazans are ideal for disease spread with disastrous swiftness.

In this poignant video all statistics quoted are well sourced and verified. The Palestine Trauma Centre funds and runs much needed psychosocial support and therapeutic projects in the Gaza Strip. If you wish to support the work they do in Gaza, you can do so through their JustGiving appeal page, and their friends invite you to attend their online Yoga meditation on Saturday the 28th of November from 10:00 – 11:45 am GMT, detailed on their JustGiving page.

Indeed, in Gaza there are only 87 ICU beds with ventilators for 2 million people, and many are already occupied – with a capacity to admit and treat 3,234 COVID-19 cases faced with a total of 4,374 active cases (as of the 20th of November), an increasing number of severe cases, and a dearth of personal protective equipment (PPE), this capacity will rapidly be strained. In fact, the head of the European Gaza Hospital, Yousuf Alaqqad, said on Saturday that the hospital could announce at any time its inability to receive new cases, as the hospital and adjacent school used as a quarantine centre are now full. Moreover, electricity shortages and expensive fuel costs for generators are forcing doctors to choose to allocate electricity to patients most in need, such as choosing between running ventilators or lighting up surgery rooms. The difficult issue of triage is one that many Gazan healthcare professionals are now having to face.

The pandemic is only compounding an already dire public health crisis, with the 13-year blockade having made many treatments in Gaza unavailable, providing a difficult choice for the 9000 vulnerable patients each year that need Israel’s exit permits to leave Gaza for treatment, as they risk being infected with COVID-19 when they leave, or risk life-threatening conditions if they remain untreated. If they do leave Gaza for treatment, the mandatory isolation centres upon their return are often underequipped, providing additional risks of infection. The dense living situation in Gaza is also complicating self-quarantine and social distancing conditions, as well as the lack of PPE (only 42% of those that need it can afford or have access to PPE). Economic precarity and the lack of savings after years of hardship for many Gazans also makes isolation impossible.

Self-isolation or not, two successive lockdowns have had their toll on the already precarious economic conditions of many Palestinians. Workers in Gaza have seen their income fall by almost 90% since the start of the pandemic, and tens of thousands have lost their employment. Indeed, poverty rates have been predicted to rise by at least 10% by the World Bank because of the pandemic and almost 60% of Gazans are unable to afford basic food, medicine and supplies, especially as international aid to Gaza has been severely cut in recent years.

Children have also acutely suffered the effects of the lockdown; school closures and the introduction of remote learning has been a challenge for many families when faced with regular power cuts, patchy internet, and a lack of educational resources. Moreover, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) funding that runs the majority of schools, health services and humanitarian aid to Palestinians with refugee status is running dry – it now faces a $70 million funding shortfall and will be unable to pay its staff full salaries in November and December. Aside from the economic impact on many staffers (UNRWA is the main employer in Gaza after the local authorities) and the impact on Palestinian refugees, 80-90% of whom rely on the UNRWA for assistance, many children will see further disruptions in their learning. On top of this, 86% of Palestinian children and adolescents already suffer from symptoms of PTSD as a consequence of the ongoing conflict.

This impact is not only limited to children – the conflict and insecurity has led to 82% of Gazans manifesting signs of mental health issues, such as anxiety and stress as they worry about their inability to support and feed their families. However, 65% are unaware of how to access mental health and psychosocial support services. As economic insecurity and the pandemic worsens with winter’s approach, more Gazans will have to make the impossible choice between feeding their families or buying medicine for sick relatives, especially following the escalation of violence since August, and a tightened blockade by Israel.

Saeb Erekat – Lifelong Commitment striving for Peace for Palestine

The Next Century Foundation is sorry to hear news of the death of Dr Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian who perhaps did more than any other to help shape the Middle East peace process. May God rest his soul. Sadly he died before his time as a consequence of coronavirus.

On Tuesday 10th of November, hundreds of Palestinians attended the funeral of Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.  Dr Erekat was a key negotiator in Palestinian peace talks with Israel, and helped negotiate the Oslo Accords in 1993, that lead to Yassar Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzakh Rabin jointly receiving the Noble Peace Prize.

History shows that peace can only be built if one party takes the first step to enter into discussions honestly and moralistically.  This is what Erekat did, he took the unprecedented steps to start a dialogue of peace with Israel, to achieve what he wholeheartedly believed in, a two-state solution.  This was a cause he gave earnest devotion to throughout his life, and a cause he believed in with sincerity to his final days.

Saeb Erekat received his doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Bradford, UK, having completed his tertiary education in the United States in International Relations and attaining an MA in Political Science.  This solid grounding lead him to first teach Political Science at the An-Najah National University, when he returned to the West Bank, and later become the key negotiator for the PLO delegation. 

Dr Erekat advocated a diplomatic solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict, asserting there was no military solution to the situation.  Breaking the long-held taboo on both sides to enter discussions with their respective counterparts, Erekat took the first steps by negotiating at the 1991 Madrid Conference, albeit under guise of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, as his counterparts were not willing to attend a conference with the PLO.  These landmark discussions at the Madrid Conference were the first of many that lead to the Oslo Accords.

Erekat was involved in most of the peace negotiations with Israel, being an advocate for the two-state solution.  He was remembered as a friend by both the Palestinians and the left-wing of Israel’s politicians.  Described as “the brother and the friend, the great fighter” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his senior negotiating counterpart, Israel’s Gilad Sher, tweeted “Erekat has contributed much more than most living Palestinians to advance the resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict via a negotiated 2 state Peace agreement” and was a “man he considered a friend throughout the 25 tumultuous years in the Israeli Palestinian arena.”

The death of Saeb Erekat comes a day after Remembrance day, commemorating the end of World War I that saw the signing of The Treaty of Versailles.  However, scholars like the British historian, AJP Taylor acknowledge in his book, ‘The Origins of the Second World War’, “the peace of Versailles [treaty] lacked moral validity from the start”, and was a war-making rather than peace-making treaty, consequently leading to the Second World War.  In the same respect, some dismiss the Oslo Accords that were negotiated by Saeb Erekat as conceding Palestinian territory without finalising the status of the fundamental issues of borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, and claimed it contributed to the second intifada of 2000.  Without reaching a settlement on these key issues, retrospectively the Oslo Peace accord has veered off the path for Palestinian self-determination, and arguably diminished Palestinian power. 

Despite this, Dr Erekat used his position as chief Palestinian negotiator on numerous occasions in the Camp David summit in 2000, the Taba negotiations in 2001, and in 2007 working with Mahmoud Abbas at the Annapolis conference, to bring talks back on track and strike an agreement for the two-state solution, but without success.

The 65 year old past away following complications after contracting COVID-19 and was buried in his hometown of Jericho, 25 miles North East of his birth place in East Jerusalem.  The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres described Dr Erekat as being “dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.”  Until his last few days he remained hopeful and steadfast in his belief that a peaceful two-state solution was achievable, messaging the Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during his illness, “I’m not finished with what I was born to do”.

The Next Century Foundation extends our heartfelt condolences to his wife Niemeh and his four children Salam, Dalal, Ali and Muhammed.

Thinking again about Israel and Palestine

Annexation does what?

Next Century Foundation Secretary General William Morris writes:

I was not so happy with my last podcast on Israel and Palestine. It was not respectful enough of the Mid East Peace Process issue – and though it covers all the bases in detail – it misses the point when it comes to the heart of the matter. This is perhaps more honest to the actual situation these two great nations living cheek by jowl now find themselves in:

To listen to William’s thoughts on the subject click here.

Israel doesn’t really want Netanyahu?

The excellent “Peace Index” has just been sent to us from Israel. After a lot on the grip that the covid-19 plague is having on the country, there are two key and interesting other observations:

  1. Most of the general Israeli public support the proposed law to prevent those accused of criminal activity from serving as prime minister, and the proposal to limit the number of terms that a prime minister can serve to two.
  2. The possibility of a national unity government is the one preferred by most of the public, and that was before Ganz expressed willingness to join a unity government with Netanyahu.

For the full peace index report click on this link

 

What do Israelis Think of President Trump’s “Deal of the Century”?

The excellent “Peace Index” is back again but its name has now changed to the “Israeli Voice Index” which is perhaps of itself a sign of the times. In this incarnation it is now published by the Israel Democracy Institute rather than Tel Aviv University. The original can be accessed on this link.  Below, edited slightly for clarity, are their conclusions about the view of Israelis on the Trump Plan:

A Palestinian state – yes or no? Just before the full plan was published the Israeli Voice Index asked: “The peace plan that President Trump will soon present will apparently include recognition of a Palestinian state. In your opinion, should Israel agree to any plan that includes such recognition?” The rates who approve of such recognition in the context of the Trump plan among the Jews and the Arabs were very similar (45.5% and 44% respectively). The finding about the Jewish sample conforms to previous studies about support for the two-state idea. However, the rate of support among Arabs is much lower than in previous surveys. The reason is apparently the mention of President Trump in the body of the question, given the widespread perception that the U.S. president is not a fair arbitrator on the issue of the conflict and is biased toward the Israeli side.

Does the publication of the “deal of the century” constitute American interference in the Israeli elections?

Among the Arabs a clear majority (68%) sees the publication of the “deal of the century” as interference in the Israeli electoral process, while among the Jews slightly less than half (46%) view it that way. Israel is to have yet another general election in April.

Who would better manage negotiations with the Palestinians? If negotiations with the Palestinians were to begin, who, in the Israeli public’s opinion, would manage them better – Netanyahu? Gantz? Both equally well? In Israel’s public as a whole, the largest proportion (44.5%) think Netanyahu would be a better negotiator.

 

Israel’s Peace Index : May 2019 – main findings

The latest monthly Peace Index report and indicates the response from Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens to the Gaza question. The full index can be found on this link but the principal conclusions are below:

  • Much of the Jewish public consider that Hamas achieved more than Israel did in the last round of fighting between them, and most interviewees give Netanyahu failing marks on handling the situation. Most also continue to prefer a military action in the Gaza Strip in order to cause the collapse of the Hamas government.

In answer to the question, “Who, in your opinion, gained the most in the last wave of fighting – Israel or Hamas?”, 32% of the Jewish public think that Hamas achieved the most, while 21% feel that Israel’s achievements were greater. From among the other Jewish interviewees, 30% feel that neither side gained anything and 10% think that both sides had similar achievements. In the question about how the prime minister and defense minister (Netanyahu) functioned during the last round of fighting with Hamas, 37% of the Jewish public felt that he had been excellent or good, while 55% felt that he had been not good or terrible. Put differently, a clear majority of the Jewish public gave Netanyahu negative grades for his management of this latest round of fighting with Hamas, and even a significant minority among right-wing voters (44%) and almost half of the moderate right (47%) feel that way. As expected, there is a connection between the two last questions, as a great majority (73%) among those who believe that Israel achieved more, evaluated Netanyahu’s functioning positively. In contrast, a very great majority (83%) of those who felt that Hamas achieved more, evaluated Netanyahu’s functioning negatively and even a majority of those who thought that neither side had gained anything (60%) considered Netanyahu’s functioning negatively. A clear majority (63%) of the Arab public considered Netanyahu’s functioning negatively in this context, while only a small minority (17%) evaluated his functioning positively. The rest (20%)
abstained and chose not to answer. About half (49%) of the Arab population felt that no side had gained in the recent round of fighting, as opposed to 16% who thought that Hamas had gained more, 8% who answered that both sides had gained equally, and who 5% considered that Israel had achieved more.

We repeated our question, “How, in your opinion, should Israel deal with the situation in the Gaza Strip?” The answers remained similar to those of the previous months, as most of the Jewish public (55%) believed that military means should be used to cause the Hamas government to collapse, 32% felt that Israel should act to achieve a long-term agreement with Hamas, and only 7% supported continuing with the present situation. Interestingly, Netanyahu received negative marks on his dealing with the recent round of fighting among most supporters of a militant policy towards Gaza (59%) as well as from a majority of supporters of a long term agreement with Hamas (56%). We also found that most of those who consider that Hamas gained more (59%) as well as those who think that Israel gained more (59%), support undertaking military steps to cause the Hamas government to collapse. Among the Arab public, two-thirds believe that Israel should act to achieve a long-term agreement, while 10% think that Israel should use military means leading to the collapse of the Hamas government, and 6% support
maintaining the present situation.

Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Dr. Nimrod Rosler

Is a Middle East Peace still a runner?

William Morris, the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General, speaking on the new Hala London radio station about Gaza in the first of a series of four broadcasts on the Middle East Peace Process.

The second broadcast in this series talks of the Palestinian succession and its importance not just for unity but also for peace.

The third broadcast in this series talks about President Trump’s “Deal of the Century”, his Middle East Peace Plan.

The fourth and final broadcast in this series is on the Arab Peace Plan sometimes called the Abdullah Plan or the Beirut Initiative.

Is the “Deal of the Century” worth further examination?

In an article titled “Deal of the Century means US recognition of apartheid”, Iran’s Press TV reports that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman offered Palestinian supremo Mahmoud Abbas ten billion dollars to accept Trump’s Mideast deal.

Is there an argument that given that Palestinians live as disenfranchised citizens in a virtual state colonised by Israel at present, it might be advantageous if they banked what they could get and then campaigned from that base for a better future?

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates has strongly condemned US President Donald Trump’s controversial proposal for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, dubbed “the deal of the century,” saying it translates into “Washington’s recognition of the Israeli regime’s apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

The deal also appears to be opposed by a majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens. See the Peace Index for April.

What would Trump’s proposal actually mean? According to documents leaked by Haaretz the proposed deal comprises the following:

  • A tripartite agreement will be signed between Israel’s government, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as the Hamas resistance movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and subsequently a Palestinian state will be established that will be called “New Palestine.”
  • “New Palestine” will be established in the West Bank and Gaza, with the exception of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • The settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2334, will remain under the Israel’s control and will expand to reach out to other isolated settlements.
  • The city of Jerusalem al-Quds will not be divided but is to be shared by Israel and “New Palestine,” with the Israel maintaining general control.
  • The Arab population living in Jerusalem al-Quds will be citizens of New Palestine, but Israel would remain in charge of the municipality and therefore the land.
  • The newly formed Palestinian state would pay taxes and water costs for East Jerusalem to the Jerusalem al-Quds municipality.
Is the proposal at least a basis for negotiation? Or should it be dismissed out of hand?

Real Security Depends on a Political Solution

This comes in from Brian Reeves of Peace Now who shares their phone number +972-54-7095882. The NCF has been promoting a plan for the phased introduction of the Beirut Initiative. But that the status quo is a waste of lives, of time, of resources, and utterly pointless is most certainly true whatever your perspective.

For years, the policy of successive Netanyahu governments has been to weaken the Palestinian Authority and to sustain Hamas through a tit-for-tat, “shoot and be shot at, don’t shoot and don’t get shot at” conflict management strategy, and the result is the present situation we find ourselves in.

1. The violence that flares up around Gaza every few months represents the failure of the Israeli government’s policy in dealing with the Hamas terror organization. The victims of this policy are hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens and almost two million Palestinians, held hostage by a political leadership refusing to seek a political solution.

2. At the end of each round of violence Netanyahu refuses to take advantage of the temporary cessation of hostilities to press for a comprehensive political settlement. Nor does he attempt to improve the humanitarian situation of millions of Palestinians under a blockade—despite recommendations from the security echelon—while his government transfers tens of millions of dollars to Hamas.

3. It is in Netanyahu’s interest to maintain the strength of Hamas and to deepen the division between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. His government does this by strengthening the power of extremists in Gaza and sidelining the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which remains committed to a two-state solution and to security cooperation with Israel.

The Disengagement Excuse

To deflect from the decade-long failure of Netanyahu’s leadership on the Gaza front, his apologists hearken back to the 2005 Disengagement to blame the peace camp. This line of reasoning lazily assumes nothing could have been done to change the trajectory in the intervening 14 years. It also misrepresents history:

4. The Disengagement Plan was conceived and implemented by the Likud under the leadership of Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu voted in favor of this plan on four separate occasions.

5. The left demanded an agreement with the Palestinians, like the framework of the agreements made in the past with Egypt and Jordan, and despite general support for redeployment warned against unilateral initiatives. With no coordinated handoff to the PA to strengthen it in the eyes of Palestinians, Hamas had free reign to spread its own narrative that Israel “retreated” due to its terror operations.

6. In the five years before the Disengagement, Israeli settlements in Gaza were sitting-duck targets, resulting in 162 Israelis killed (soldiers and civilians). The death rate has dropped to a third of what it was since the Disengagement. Additionally, the firing of rockets began years before the Disengagement.

Israeli citizens deserve a courageous government that will deliver a conflict-ending agreement: a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority, based on security for Israeli citizens. This is the only solution supported by the overwhelming majority of Israel’s past and current security leaders.

Security depends on a political solution. Short of that, the insecurity around Gaza will surely return.

Israel’s Peace Index : April 2019 – main findings

The graph above (click on the heading of this article to view more clearly) comes from the latest monthly Peace Index report and indicates the response from Israel’s citizens to the question,  “Against the backdrop of the elections results, which government would you prefer?” The full index can be found on this link but the principal conclusions are below:

  • Half of the Jewish public would like the Likud to include the Blue and White party in the coming government. There is no agreement about the main issue that must be dealt with by the new government.
  • However, the security-political consideration was central among rightists when they chose for whom to vote, while among the moderate right and the Arab public, the economic-social issue was salient. In contrast, among centrists and leftwing voters, the leading consideration was the desire to replace Netanyahu.
    About a fifth of the Jewish public voted for a party that they did not prefer for strategic reasons.
  • The Jewish public is divided almost equally between those who believe that, if the attorney general decides to issue an indictment against Netanyahu, he should continue in his role as prime minister, and those who believe that he should resign. A small majority among those who believe that he should remain as prime minister, favor not bringing him to trial while he is serving in that role.
  • Similar to last month, the Jewish public is dissatisfied with maintaining the present situation in the conflict with the Palestinians but has difficulty in indicating an agreed-upon solution and tends to believe that the present situation will continue. There is slightly more support for the opinion that annexation of the occupied territories by Israel is likely to be realized.
  • About a fifth of the Jewish public and about a third of the Arab public have not as yet formed an opinion about Trump’s plan for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among opinion holders in the Jewish public, a bit more believe that the plan will harm Israel’s vital interests.
  • About half of the Jewish public support military action leading to the collapse of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. This is in contrast to the two-thirds of the Arab public who support a long-term agreement with the Hamas administration in Gaza to achieve calm. A miniscule percentage support continuing the present situation.Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Dr. Nimrod Rosler

The Need for an Oasis of Peace

The following statement has just come in from Neve Shalom, the integrated school for both Jews and Arabs. The sentiments expressed are those we all share:

It is now a week since the Israeli elections. As many of you will have seen, despite the momentum gained by Benny Gantz and his Blue and White alliance, Prime Minister Netanyahu emerged as the candidate able to form a functioning coalition government.

Regardless of the results, we regret that issues of civic equality and the need for innovative and courageous approaches to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not form a greater part of the election debate, nor of the campaigns of the two front-running parties.

As Israel moves forward, we urge all parties in the newly-formed Knesset to press for a re-engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. We also call on them to promote legislation ensuring the full equality and protection of rights of all citizens of Israel, in keeping with the promise of the country’s Declaration of Independence.

Regardless of one’s party-political persuasion, it is clear that the need for cooperative, peace-building projects between Jews and Palestinians is now more urgent than ever. Given the apparent absence of such dialogue at the governmental level, the onus is placed on grass-roots organisations to lead the way.

Closure of PLO mission prompts call for protest

The White House’s announcement of plans to close down the PLO’s office in Washington intends to block cases that Palestinians have raised against Tel Aviv in the International criminal court. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has decried the move as continuation of “collective punishment” by the Trump administration.

On Monday 10th September, the US announced the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington. This comes as the latest in a series of actions by the Trump administration against the Palestinians, which include:

  • The relocation of the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem in May. Thereby formally recognising Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, despite longstanding Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as their capital.
  • A funding freeze in August of $300 million to UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing healthcare, education, and food to Palestinian refugees.
  • Further funding freezes in August and September of $200 million in aid to Gaza and the West Bank and $25 million to hospitals mainly caring for Palestinians.

According to the US, this latest action is in response to the PLO’s efforts to prolong the peace process. The Trump administration claims they have done this citing two examples. Firstly, their refusal to ‘engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts’ since the relocation of the US embassy. Secondly through ‘Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court (ICC).’

However, given the relocation of the US embassy in May and following cuts to Palestinian aid, it seems the US themselves are not interested in “direct and meaningful negotiations”. This move is one of many, to weaken Palestine’s position at the negotiating table when the US announces its peace plan later in the year.

What can Palestine do?

Undoubtedly, Palestine must increase its leverage by responding to these US actions effectively. Taking the issue to international organisations may be a part of this, but non-violent action needs to take place within the region as well.

The effectiveness of the use of the ICC to help resolve this issue is questionable, this because of the US and Israel both being non-signatories; because of US threats to sanction the ICC; and because the organisation is not particularly well respected worldwide. Other organisations such as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is generally held in higher regard, may be more effective arenas at which to make a stand. However, this is still questionable given the US’ current isolationist foreign policy. This policy sees a trend in the US departing from international institutions, including its withdrawal from the UNHRC. Despite that, other countries who still respect such international frameworks could put pressure on the US and Israel.

However, action must also come from within the region for Palestinians to really increase their leverage. This should come in the form of non-violent protest. The effect of this would: help unite Palestinians; raise the importance of the issue on the world agenda; and raise the importance of the issue for the people of Israel who could themselves put greater pressure on Netanyahu.

Although this would have to be non-violent. Violence on the part of Palestinians would only escalate causing huge unnecessary destruction and undermine Palestine’s position. As Palestine does not have the economic and military might of Israel it must retain the moral high ground.

The Trump administration’s most recent action does not contribute towards establishing a fair peace for the Israel-Palestine situation. Palestine must continue to fight for its cause in non-violent ways.

The NCF Secretary General talks about the issue of the White House action against Palestine on Press TV.