The endless conflicts of the Middle East

How the Middle Eastern region continues – and will continue – to be a hotbed of instability.

 

On the 14th of May 2018 Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary, reaching a goal that in 1948 seemed impossible to most, given the tense Middle Eastern cotext in which the Jewish State came to light. And indeed, even to this date the Middle East continues to be a region of deep tensions, in which the passing of time produces ever more crises and never significant distensions.

Taking the anniversary of Israel’s independence as useful pretext to raise the question of where the Levant stands today, the first element to be noticed cannot bu be the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contrary to the expectations of all those who 25 years ago – when Arafat and Rabin famously shook their hands on the lawn of the White House after signing the Oslo Accords – thought to be witnessing the beginning of a new era of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians, the conflict between the two peoples has actually never ceased. At most, it has changed form –conventional war, peaceful resistance, guerrilla war, terrorism – in order to respond to the circumstances and the requirements of each specific moment.

Over the past year, a dangerous combination of factors has inevitably led to an increase in hostility: the ascent to the White House of Donald Trump, most-openly pro-Israeli American president to date; the strengthening in Israel of the ultra-right front that has been leading the country since 2015; the lack of a coherent and credible Palestinian political leadership able to address the divide between Gaza and the West Bank and to advance the national interest of the Palestinians.

Elected President in January 2017, as early as last December Trump announced the moving of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Recognizing the latter as capital of the Jewish State and modifying in this way the American approach to the Israeli-Palestinian question that had been maintained by any previous administration, Trump has compromised the credibility of the United States as arbiter super partes in the dialogue between Jews and Palestinians – a dialogue that consequently has now become ever more doomed to stalemate. Furthermore, Trump’s decision has not only made any prospect of future negotiations more difficult, but it has also changed its terms significantly: recognizing Jerusalem as Jewsih capital, it has canceled the possibility of a two-state solution leading to a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

A decision of this kind, with the implications that it has on the bilateral dialogue, could not but ignite the Palestinians’ anger and embolden Israel’s ultra-right governing coalition. The latter, indeed, strong of the new Israeli-American friendship that has been restored under Trump, has rapidly exploited the momentum to take steps that seek to change the demographic balance in Israel/Palestine to its sole advantage: it has proceeded at a fastened pace with the Jewish occupation of the West Bank by means of new construction permits and the retroactive legalization of illegal settlements and it has passed a new law that gives to the Interior Minister the power of outstripping Israeli Palestinians of their citizenship if their “loyalty” to the Jewish State is doubtful.

On this background, on the 30th of March the Palestinian people of Gaza launched the “March of Return” to protest the isolation enforced by Israel against the Strip and to claim their right to retunr to their ancestral land. The protests, held for six consecutive Fridays, have seen thousands of youths (some affiliated with Hamas, others with no political affiliation and others critical of the group that has been ruling Gaza since 2007) march towards the border with Israel to be met with gunfire and tear-gas by the Israeli Defense Forces. Until mid May, the victim toll was of 49 but the apex was reached on the 14th of May, a symbolic date that not only marks the anniversary of Israel and of the Palestinian Nakba but that this year also coincided with the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem. On that single day, 58 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,000 injured. A dramatic confirmation that even if 70 years have passed tensions between the two peoples still run high.

Alongside the perennial Palestinian question, the Middle East today is the theatre of further tensions that are contributing to defyining new regional dynamics and new axes of alliances and rivalries.

In Syria, the victory of Assad is by now undeniable and the war has entered a new phase in which the civil conflict is leaving the place to an open competition between external powers – regional and non regional – interested in carving out for themselves convenient areas of influence upon the Syrian territory. Thus, while the opposition to Assad is seeing itself forced to leave the areas that it still controls in exchange for guarantees of survival, and while the Kurds seek desperately to defend their aspirations to statehood, Russia, Iran and Turkey have made of the negotiation table of Astana (where the U.S. does not participate) the place where to define the future status quo of Syria.

Here, an important role is played by Iran. In fact, if Turkey uses Astana to make sure that the national aspirations of the Kurds in Syria do not achieve successes that might embolden the Kurds of Anatolia and to carve out for itself a role of primacy in the Middle East at a time in which its relations with the West are at their lowest, and if Russia uses Astana to defend its startegic interests through a Syrian firendly regime that leaves in place Moscow’s air and naval bases in the Mediterannean, Iran is using Astana to accomplish its hegemonic ambitions. In the specific, it is exploiting its involvement in Syria on Assad’s side (supported via the Revolutionary Guarda and the proxy Hezbollah) to create a corridor of influence that stretches form Iran to the Mediterannean going through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The presence in Syria of Iranian military bases and pro-Iranian forces is a first-hand threat to Israel, that has in Iran its nemesis and that sees the vicinity of Iran to its borders as a red line that, if crossed, jutifies any response.

To worsen the tensions triggered between Israel and Iran by the latter’s ascent in Syria, last week came Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program signed in 2015 by the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran. The American withdrawal – strongly encouraged by Saudi Arabia and Israel – risks strengthening within Iran those hardliners who criticized Rouhani’s opening to the West and who might now call for a more assertive foreing policy and a full recovery of the nuclear program. Unsuprisingly, the hours after the US decision saw Israel and Iran firing missiles over the Syrian sky, thus seeming to be ever closer to an open confrontation that might lead the entire region to chaos. The evolution of these tensions will largely depend on the role that Russia – a precious ally of both – will want to play and on Europe’s capacity to ensure the survival of the JCPOA.

For Israel, the Iranian threat is accentuated by the ascent of Hezbollah, the Lebanese group that Teheran has been nurturing since the ‘80s in open anti-Israeli function. Since the outset of the Syrian war in 2011, Hezbollah has obatined two important victories that make Israel particularly worried. Firstly, is the military victory that the group has obtained thanks to its beloning to the pro-Assad axis and that is made by a combination of: increase of the group’s military (especially milistic) arsenal thanks to the arms transfers by Iran; access to sophisticated war material capable of posing a direct and serious threat to Israel’s security; conslidation of the group’s presence in the Syrian-Lebanese area that borders Israel. Besides this military victory, there is the political victory that the group has obtained last week at the polls and that confirms the wide support it enjoys among the Lebanese people – even beyond its traditional Shia powerbase.

Having at its borders an historical enemy like Hezbollah that is now more preapred militarily, more favoured strategically and more credible politically represents a primary threat in the eyes of Israel. From the perspctive of the Jewish State, in fact, hezbollah could use Syria as a strategic platform from where to launch attacks against Israel without openly compromising Lebanon and from where to upset the existing sttaus quo.

In this cotnext, the Middle East has become today the theatre where two blocs of triple alliances are in competition: the “status quo bloc” formed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S; and the “resistance bloc” formed by Iran, Turkey and Russia. Contravening past rhetorics and ethnic-religious divergencies, these systems of alliance are born to respond to immediate needs but, whatever their length will be, they are producing dynamics whose effects are likely to be felt in the region in the medium to long term.

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In death of the nuclear deal

All the (worrying) consequences that the American withdrawal from the deal is likely to have.

 

Yesterday, the fear that many around the world – in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US itself – became concrete as President Trump annouced his decision to rescind from the JCPOA, the nuclear deal signed in 2015 by his predecessor with China, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Iran.

Withdrawing from the deal, Trump fulfilled – once again – one of the many promises that he had made to his domestic electorate, made of Christian conservatives nostalgic of a past time in which America was “great” and did not sign deal with obscure Islamic Republics run by alledged “fanatics with beards”. Thus, just as he did last year with TPP and the Paris climate agreement, Trump abandoned also the JCPOA. However, while the previous “divorces” led by Trump have not brought about – or at least not yet – dramatic consequences, the same might not be said this time.

Withdrawing from the deal without consideration for the many voices that have come from Western Europe calling for the maintenance of the JCPOA as best safeguard against Iran’s nuclearization inevitably widens the gap between the United States and Europe. After Trump’s abandonment of the Paris agreement and his decision to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem (a city as holy as contested), the unilateral withdrawal from a deal that represented a supreme example of concerted Euro-American diplomacy is thus the latest example of how the traditional allies are behaving ever more differently on an increasing number of issues.

Since 1945 and the emergence of the post-World War II order, the American-Western European friendship has been one of the certainties of international dynmics. Yet, sventy years later, trans-relations appear characterized by many frictures.

Besides complicating Euro-American relations, Washington’s withdrawal risks isolating the United States on the international stage. If the withdrawal from the Paris climater agreement, the withdrawal from the TPP and the contested decision on the status of Jeruslam had already displayed the image of the US as a super-power thinking and acting solo, the abandonment of the JCPOA leaves the United States with only two foreign friends: Israel and Saudi Arabia – two far-from-easy friends to have, surrounded by innumerate controversies and with a troublesome standing in the international arena.

In terms of alliances, another effect of Trump’s latest move is the consolidation of relations of Iran with Russia and China – two signatories of the JCPOA that have promptly reacted to Trump’s annoucement by remarking their intention to stay in the deal and to keep it alive. The consolidation of the entente between Russia and Iran, in particular, is something that should have made Trump – and his loyal allies Pomepeo and Bannon – more cautious about stepping out from the deal: at a delicate juncture of the Syrian conflict as the current one, in which Turkey, Russia and Iran are successfully using the Astana forum to divide among the three of them highly-stretegic areas of influence in Syria without Washington having a strong part to play, the departure of the United States from the JCPOA will make its position over the arrangement of future Syria even weaker vis-à-vis the Russian-Iranian duo.

Within Iran, the United States’ departure from the deal is likely to embolden the conservatives who since the beginning of the negotiations had criticized the deal. In the current intra-Iranian context – that already sees the support for the moderates weakened by a difficult economic situation which the lifitng of sanctions after the JCPOA has only partially improved – a similar strengthening of the hardliners will easily translate into a renewal of the nuclear program and a much more assertive foreign policy in the Levant.

With Iran back on the path to nuclearization and ever more assertive in the region, new and deep tensions risk emerging in the Middle East. Here, of the two battlegrounds where Iran is currently involved – Yemen and Syria – it is Syria the theatre where the situation would escalate the most. In fact, while the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen is not to be downplayed, neither Teheran nor Riayd are interesting in escalating the conflict there: for Teheran,Yemen is too far from its area of immediate strategic interest to find it convenient to divert financial and manpower resources there; for Ryadh, Yemen is at its doorstep but the country does not have the military strength to sustain a conflict that it has largely regretted initating.

Conversely, Syria is a battleground of major importance for both Iran and Israel: Iran is seeking through its involevemnt to create a corridor of influence stretching from the Islamic Repubblic to the Mediterranen; Israel sees Iran’s presence in Syria and the military empowerment of its proxy Hezbollah as an existenctial threat and is ready to respond to it with all means available. Thus, now that the US has withdrawn form the deal, the confrontation between Iran and Israel might reach the point of no-return.

This is particularly worrisome considering the attitude Netanyahu: threatened by a series of scandals that are compromising his political credibility in the eyes of many Israelis, he has been relentlessly emphasized the security threat represented by Iran and presented himself as the only leader who can guarantee Israel’s security thanks to his special relationship with Trump and his resolute approach. Far from saying that Netanyahu is seeking a full-fledged war to save himself, it is nonetheless true that recently the attention of Israel’s media has turned from Netanyahu’s judicial saga to the existential menace allegedly posed by Iran in Syria.

Finally, leaving the deal has consequences that go beyond the Middle East and touch upon other regions, actors and agendas. Of particular concern, is the fact that withdrawing from the JCPOA damages the credibility of the United States as reliable signatory of international agreements and the attractivity of non-proliferation agreements. This becomes worrying if the consideration is extended to the current attempts to initiate a negotiation process that leads Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear ambitions: if a deal signed by an American president can be so easily discarded by his predecessor and if accepting to curb nuclear amibitions is not an assurance that previous sanctions will not be reinstated, why should North Korea abandon its nuclerization and sign its own JCPOA?

These are considerations that show that even if the JCPOA was far from being a perfect deal it was nonetheless the best we could aspire to.

 

(Photo credits: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

The demography of the Israeli-Palestinian tensions

 

Statistics speaks of an equal Jewish and Palestinian presence from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. A parity that is only numerical and not political. 

Last Monday, the vice commander of Israel’s Civil Administration – Col. Haim Mendes – presented to the Knesset the latest data on demography in the West Bank, that point to a presence of 5 million Palestinians there. To this figure, it is then to be added the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the 1.8 million living within Israel.

According to this data, there are 7,8 million Palestinians between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, vis-à-vis a Jewish population that the Israeli Bureau of Statistics put to 6,5 million last September.

Unsurprisingly, these data have immediately sparked debates within the Knesset. Demography, in fact, has always been a highly sensitive topic in this area of the world, where it is called into question by both sides to justify their rivendications: the Jews refer to it to justify the existence and the expansion of the State of Israel; the Palestinians to legitimze their claim to a Palestinian State.

Thus, while right-wing politicians promptly moved to condemn the inaccuracy of data that Mendes seemingly retrieved from the Palestinian Bureau of statitics and would therefore be of dubious objectivity, the exponents of the Joint List have argued that such data do not rveeal anything new if not the undeniable presence of a Palestinian population that resides from the Mediterranean shores to the banks of the Jordan river that it is not possible to ignore further.

On the background of these lates figures, the debate that emerges on both fronts concerns the future of the State of Israel and its survivability as “Jewish” and “democratic” entity if it continues to occupy Palestinian territories. A debate that came back to the fore last month with further steps taken towards the inclusion in the State’s Basic Law of a bill that defines Israel as “State for the Jewish people”. Something that triggers not a few doubts and fears on the space that would be reserved to Israel’s non-Jewish population and its civil rights.

With the prospect of reaching a two-State solution ever more remote under the joint moves of Bibi’s far-right coalition ad Trump’s pro-Israel administration, the question of how Israel will resolve in future its inherent contradiction between “Jewishness” and “democracy” appeares increasingly pressing.

To date, the path along which the country seems to be moving looks more like that of a unitary State in which – besides statistical data – a group dominates heavily over the other.


Published in Italian for Limes http://www.limesonline.com/numero-di-palestinesi-in-cisgiordania-israele-gaza-sopasso-demografia/105707

When the road to “security” goes through injustice

In its last controversial move, the Knesset has approved a law that seeks to alter the demography of the Holy City. Expect security problems to increase – and don’t get surprised about it.

Three days ago, the Knesset passed a law that allows the Minister of Interior – in the specific of the current governing coalition, Shas’ Ariyeh Deri – to strip of their resident permit in Jerusalem those Palestinian citizens who are judged “not loyal” to the State of Israel; who have obtained their residence permit on the basis of false information; and who are accused of criminal behavior.

As if in Jerusalem the situation was not already marked by an horrendous discrimination between Jewish and Palestinian citizens – Jewish people born in Jerusalem are Israeli citizens, while Palestinians born in Jerusalem can only get blue ID cards that give them the right to reside in the city but that de facto keeps them in a condition of second-class citizenship – the new law makes reality in the Holy City even more unjust for the 420,000 Palestinians who are there, as it breaches the rights that they should enjoy under international humanitarian law (IHL) as “occupied people”. According to IHL, in fact, Jerusalem is “occupied territory” and the occupying power (i.e. Israel) cannot revoke the permit of residency to the occupied people (i.e. the Palestinians) nor impose loyalty requirements upon them.

After the new piece of law was approved, Deri promptly proceeded to defend it saying that it will allow him to protect the security of the citizens of Israel. Yet, what the new law actually does is to progressively remove any physical connection between Palestinians and so as to ultimately change the demographics of the city in favor its Jewish population.

By referring to security concerns, Deri retrieved the old security dogma that Israel has constantly used and abused over its 70 years of existence to justify its worse violations of international law: the demolition of Palestinian houses allegedly built without the necessary permits; the relentless construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank; the imposition of a blockade on Gaza that keeps its residents in an open-air prison from which there is no way out; the construction of a 470-km long concrete walls that has illegally included in the Israeli territory portions of land that go beyond the Green Line and has severely limited the freedom of movement of the Palestinians; the imposition of checkpoints through which most Palestinians have to pass daily to go to work; the recent decision to expel to Uganda and Rwanda hundreds of thousands of refugees who came to Israel as they fled wars, famines and poverty; and now the law to revoke residence permits.

The list of violations is long and what is most worrying is that it grows longer every year, as the Knesset proposes and approves laws that make life for Palestinians a daily struggle. This has been particularly been the case over the past year, when the victory of Donald Trump in the United States has emboldened the extremist right-wing coalition that is currently in charge of writing the history of the Jewish State. To quote the most blatant example of this dynamic, the decision of President Trump to recognize Jerusalem – the disputed city that all claim as religious point of reference and all seek as political capital – as Israeli and the decision to cut aid to the Palestinians has de facto given to the Likud-led coalition the green light that it needed to push its discriminatory policies further. All in the name of security for the Jewish citizens of Israel.

However, similar measures do little to increase security. On the contrary, they seed resentment, anger and despair among the Palestinians – three sentiments typically linked with political violence. In this way, that vicious cycle that has so often marked the past seventy years is protracted endlessly: more discriminatory policies on part of Israel generate anger; anger finds its way of expression in violence, being impossible and credible any other alternative; violence triggers more discriminatory laws and measures justified on ground of security. And the story repeats itself endless times.

Therefore, in embracing an Israeli policy strikingly in favor of its current right-wing government, the Trump administration has taken on its shoulders a great responsibility: it has become complicit in the breaches of international law that Israel is increasingly enacting and therefore responsible for the security problems that in the long term all this will inevitably generate on that piece of land. However, something that both the Knesset and Trump seem to be ignoring is that there can be no security in the continuous violation of international humanitarian law.

The coalition-rift that benefits the coalition leader

While the parties of the ruling coalition are fighting between them, the one who might take advantage of the situation is Bibi.

As the Netanyahu judiciary saga unfolds, with ever more details and ever more protagonists emerging every week, another drama is developing in Israel these days: the infighting within the coalition that has been governing the country since 2015.

The rift in the ruling coalition has seemingly reached the point of no-return this past week, but its roots go back before the coalition even existed. It all began in 2014, when the then Knesset voted in favor of penalties to be imposed again yeshiva students who evade military conscription. In response, in 2015, an amendment to the conscription law removed all criminal consequences for yeshiva students evading their military duties. In the latest episode of this never-ending contestation, last September the Supreme Court struck down the 2015 amendment, arguing that it deprived the Defense Minister of his right to decide the quota of ultra-Orthodox youths who must be enlisted in the army every year. The Court deliberated that the Knesset had 365 days to pass an alternative law.

After the deadline for the new conscription law to be drafted and adopted was set by the Court for September 2018, the issue waned in the public debate. Or at least it did until now, when it is making the headlines once again. In fact, as Netanyahu’s power becomes less steady and the option of a future government in which ultra-orthodox forces are excluded or marginalized becomes less improbable, Shas and the other religious parties have been pushing for the adoption of a law that would exempt religious students from being called to the arms. Their proposed bill, though, has been opposed staunchly by the party Ysrael Beitenu and by its leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has argued that as Defense Minister he will never compromise on the duty for all Israeli citizens to serve in the army. In response, religious parties have threatened to block the 2019 budget, which Finance Minister Kahlon and his Kulanu party want to be approved by the end of the current Knesset session on the 18th of March. If that deadline expires without the budget having been approved, a non-confidence vote against the government will be cast.

On the background of this infighting among the various parties of the ruling coalition, two scenarios are possible. In the first scenario, the rift sparked by the debate on the conscription law cannot be solved and early elections are called. If this was the case, Netanyahu would likely benefit from it because running in early elections would delay the legal proceedings against him. Furthermore, if elections were anticipated, Netanyahu would be the likely winner. In fact, the most recent polls – conducted at a time when the involvement of the Prime Minister in Cases 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 is becoming clearer – show a small but steady increase in public support for Netanyahu and his Likud party. Apparently, Netanyahu’s strategy of responding to the allegations by labelling his opponents “anti-Israel operatives” and by denouncing the accusations as a “witch-hunt” has been successful in convincing many Israelis that he is not the culprit but the victim of a political persecution. To make Netanyahu’s popularity even more relevant in view of early elections, then, is the deep unpopularity of the Left: over the past years, left-wing parties have failed to advance political programs capable of rallying mass support and their main leaders – Gabbay and Lapid – lack Netanyahu’s charisma and political acumen. Finally, polls reveal that the other coalition parties in the Right camp do not enjoy the sway necessary to subtract voters to the Likud, which would thus be the party winning most seats. Such a victory on part of Netanyahu would not make the accusations filed against him disappear, but it would nonetheless send a strong signal that the Israeli people are with him – something that would make Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s work more difficult to be brought on as smoothly, rapidly and undisturbed as it should.

It is in light of these considerations that many have pointed to the possibility that the current coalition crisis is actually being masterminded by Netanyahu himself, who is seeking a subtle way to call early elections without being accused of manipulating the electoral process to make his interest and save his skin.

In the second scenario, the rift currently experienced by the ruling coalition is solved by Netanyahu before the closure of the parliamentary session on March 18th. If this happened – an outcome that an experienced politician such as Netanyahu could presumably reach with an adequate scheme of compensations for each of his quarrelling partners – Netanyahu would not reap the benefits that an early election could bring, but he would succeed in presenting himself in the eyes of the Israeli public as the leader that the country needs to solve stalemates and balance its different political forces. To this, it is then to add the success with which Netanyahu is using his current five-days visit to the United States where he addressed the AIPAC on the Iranian threat, his friendship with Trump and Friedman, and the American decisions to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem and cut aid to the Palestinians to present himself to his domestic constituency as the sole leader who can influence the United States and secure Israel’s interests. The cunning way in which Netanyahu is boosting his image as the irreplaceable leader without whom Israel cannot survive its inner contradictions nor have a say on the international arena is likely to counterbalance the negative effect of the judicial investigations and to pay off when elections will be held in 2019.

Be it actual or premeditated, end it with elections or with reconciliation, the current rift within the ruling coalition is nothing but positive for its leader. A further confirmation that Bibi is not leaving anytime soon.

Which future for Gaza?

One month after the Turkish-Israeli agreement and the arrival of the first Turkish aid in Gaza, the issue of what future lies ahead for the Strip under a blockade regime that Israel is not intentioned to lift remains open and debated

 

After the agreement between Tel Aviv and Istanbul with which the two countries retrieved their bilateral relations, in early July a cargo ship delivering Turkish aid reached Gaza. Indeed, when the deal was reached, among the Turkish requests there was the end of the blockade imposed by the Israeli government on the Strip. However, among the Israeli positions there was the refusal of any significant change to the blockade regime. Therefore, a compromise was necessary and this was found in the consent given by Israel to Turkey to send aid towards Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod, where any cargo directed to the Strip needs to be inspected by Israel before it can reach its final destination.

Due to this agreement, thus, on the 3rd July the vessel Lady Layla reached Ashdod and from there Gaza City, where it transferred 11 tonnes of aid, among which food, clothes, toys, products for personal hygiene and other goods of first necessity. Once in Gaza, the aid was put in the hands of the Ministry of Social Affairs, in charge of distributing 75% of all aid to the 75,000 poorest families who depend on subsidies (the remaining 25% is administered by the Palestinian Red Crescent).

 

In the words of Etimad al-Tarshawi (Secretary General of Planning and Development in the above-mentioned Ministry), this aid –even if only a small part of what Gaza needs- is extremely important for the families that receive it, since it helps to cope with an economic situation which is desperate to say the least.

Since June 2007, indeed, when Hamas won administrative control over Gaza, Israel has imposed severe restrictions to the movement of people and goods from and to the Strip. The Israeli policy –justified by the government as a measure which is necessary to prevent weapons from being delivered to Hamas and to prevent extremists from entering the Israeli territory and endangering the country’s security- did not succeed in weakening the group, that continues in fact to administer the Strip and to enjoy a broad popular support thanks to the services it provides to the population. On the contrary, the Israeli policy had the only effect of obstructing any possibility of economic development for the Strip, thus paving the way to the emergence of a thriving black market that benefits those who manage the smuggling networks and condemns instead to poverty the civilian population. Following the Israeli policy, in fact, the almost 2 million civilians who live in Gaza are confined within the borders of the Strip, prevented from moving to other places in search of job, and left without means of subsistence and without hopes of a future improvement.

Moreover, because of the blockade that prevents construction materials from reaching Gaza, houses, schools, and hospitals that had been destroyed in 2014 during the last conflict have not been rebuilt yet.

 

According to the UN, if this situation does not change in the short run, Gaza will become “uninhabitable” by 2020. Similar warnings have also come from the World Bank which has defined Gaza’s economy as being “on the verge of collapse”.

 

 

In light of this grim economic situation, it is clear how the aid coming from Turkey is vital to Gaza and its inhabitants. Nevertheless, the agreement between Turkey and Israel (and in particular the section related to Gaza) has given rise to discordant reactions on part of the Palestinians.

On one side, there are those who have stressed the positive impact that Turkish aid can have on the conditions of Gazans and have underlined the necessity and the hope that Turkey continues its policy of concrete support made possible by the recent agreement. In this group, there is also Hamas that presented the agreement as a turning-point that can make Turkey more active in pressing Israel to lift the blockade.

On the other side, instead, there are those who criticize the terms of the agreement because they regard it as being not only insufficient but even counter-productive as far as the lifting of the blockade is concerned. What many civilians and analysts settled in Gaza maintain, in fact, is that the agreement fails to reckon the difference between embargo and blockade and that its efficiency is limited exclusively to the former. As far as the latter is concerned, in fact, the agreement merely allows the transfer of aid to the Strip but does not guarantee the opening of Gaza to international economy, risking in this way to crystallizing the blockade rather than paving the way to its lifting.

 

This stance highlights an important element: despite the undeniable importance of humanitarian aid for an area of the Levant where the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, what Gaza really needs are development projects capable of revitalizing its economy. It is necessary a long-term and broader approach, capable –through initiatives and in loco development projects- of giving to Gaza a real economic structure and to the population residing there possibilities of work and self-sufficiency.

Without this kind of approach, Gaza will continue to be dependent on aid and its population will continue to be excluded from development, with the consequent risk that the territory might become a hotbed for extremism. Without alternatives and in a socio-economic context made of alienation, poor education, unemployment, and lack of direct contacts with the outer world -in fact- radical religious and political groups and organizations voted to violence and terrorism might easily exploit the despair of young Gazans to win support and attract recruits.

 

A situation of this kind would serve no one’s interests: it would not benefit Gaza, its population, Hamas, nor would it benefit Israel and Egypt – the countries responsible for the maintenance of the blockade.

With the Strip radicalized and exposed to the risk of proliferation of terrorism, Israel would find itself having at its borders a serious threat to its security – much more serious than the one that, according to the government’s rhetoric, there would be if Gaza was enabled to have its own economy and to maintain economic, trade and financial relations with the outside world.

A similar discourse applies to the Egyptian case: if a Gaza forcibly kept isolated and underdeveloped became an operative ground for extremist and terrorist groups, the Sinai would see itself exposed to a direct threat to its security and stability, and from the Sinai (that already is for Egypt the most volatile region and the most difficult to be controlled from Cairo) the threat would rapidly extend to the rest of Egypt.

 

However, within the Israeli establishment this reality is reckoned only by few, among whom Maj. Gen. H. Halevy. In a recent speech, he underlined how “if there is no improvement [of Gaza’s situation], Israel will be the first one to pay the price” and warned the Knesset that the reconstruction of Gaza is actually the best (and perhaps the only) way to avoid the risk of a future war.

 

It is thus in the hands of the international community the responsibility of using all the possible economic, political and diplomatic leverages to convince Israel that keeping Gaza underdeveloped does not serve its; to push Israel to include in the distension of relations with Turkey the lifting of the blockade; and to induce Egypt to modify its policy of support to the blockade.