Gershon Baskin, Mukhaimer Abu Saada, (Professor of Political Science at the Al-Azhar University in Gaza), and Ali Abu Shahla -Director General of AA Consulting Engineers and Private Sector Representative to the Higher National Dialogue Committee, share their analysis on the political and economic developments in Gaza.
Abu Shahla explains that the political and economic issues in Gaza are intrinsically linked. When Israelis sieged Gaza, 1.7 million people were victims under collective punishment. The majority of aid workers and civil society workers were cut off from their jobs and forced to stay at home. The wider repercussions of the siege have particularly been felt in the decrease in trade with Egypt, Israel and the West Bank. The capital generated by the trade with Egypt on the other hand, has been mainly to the benefit of the Egyptians rather than the Gazans, remarks Abu Shahla. The steep decrease in exportation of typical agricultural goods, the grave problems of water salinity, the prohibition of raw materials importation, forced migration, severe housing problems, general insecurity, are amongst the vast quarrelsome issues that Gaza currently faces.
Regarding the political situation on the other hand, Abu Shahla perceives reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas “close to impossible.” Whether reconciliation takes place or not, the people will be the victims either way, AbuShahla says. “Fatah and Hamas will partition the territories” and move towards a “technocrat government” he says.
Gershon had the privilege to do an online interview with Prof. Mukhaimer Abu Saada from Gaza to discuss the political and economic developments since its siege. Abu Saada explained that while for five years the Gaza siege has deteriorated the situation on the ground, prohibiting the entrance and exit of goods and services, the construction of illegal tunnels have become vital means to meet the population’s needs. He remarks that to an outsider it can astonishing to witness Gaza City is the target of great construction projects, high towers and tall building apartments. Thanks to this tunnel system, raw materials have been smuggled in, resulting in more job opportunities. No reason to be overoptimistic however, the professor continues, since most of these projects are financed and afforded by the wealthy business and diplomatic classes. Most of the socio-economic woes can be found in the numerous refugee camps scattered around the Gaza Strip where its refugees depend on the UNDP and other foreign aid. Considering the current situation, this can spill over to the remarkable 70 000 people that are still under the pay roll of the Palestinian Authority. Most of who stay at home. Another 10 000 Palestinians work for UNRWA, and thus directly rely on the civil society sector for income.
Since the rule of Hamas, the situation has improved significantly from four years ago. Public services have boosted but daily power cuts, steep unemployment rates and general poverty remain deeply rooted problems in Gaza’s economy. Socially, Gaza has also suffered a thorough Islamization process, a significant effect of which has been a decrease in women’s rights. While freedom of speech is limited in the local press and foreign media, liberal universities seem to remain epicenters of critical debate and discussion.
Regarding the current political situation, the Professor reveals that Gazans are increasingly less optimistic with the reconciliation efforts, and there seems to be little room for optimism that the current political divide will be resolved. Even if there is reconciliation, people are skeptic of its outcome. While Hamas’ popularity might have boosted thanks to the prisoner exchange, there is also a growing awareness about the direct correlation between the siege and Hamas rule, leaving many favoring Fatah in upcoming elections.
On a positive note, regional developments have increased Egyptian leverage over Hamas for solid reconciliation and peace efforts. The Professor concludes that it’s becoming more apparent that neither Hamas nor the Muslim Brotherhood is interested in confronting Israel, but rather in improving their socio-economic conditions.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.