By Charlotte Silver
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is growing more dire against the dimming possibility of a reconciliation between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority controlled by Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamist movement Hamas, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process has warned.
UNSCO says the friction between the competing Palestinian regimes that operate under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “have aggravated an already difficult situation in the Gaza Strip.”
One consequence is that for the last three weeks, Gaza’s electricity crisis has become even more severe, forcing hospitals to curtail services in an attempt to preserve limited fuel supplies.
The World Health Organization warned that all of Gaza’s public hospitals may be forced to suspend critical services, putting thousands of lives at risk.
Hamas called the move “a grave escalation and an act of madness.”
“Gaza will not kneel for collaborators with the occupation,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson, posted on Twitter.
PA pressure on Hamas
The step is likely part of the PA’s decade-long effort to force Hamas to cede control in Gaza. Hamas won parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2006, but was never allowed to fully assume power over the Palestinian Authority.
A partially successful US-backed putsch led to the split, with Abbas remaining in control of the PA in the West Bank, and Hamas controlling the interior of Gaza.
The Abbas-controlled PA works closely with Israeli occupation forces, while Hamas has continued to engage in armed resistance.
In early April, Abbas said he would take “unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division” between the West Bank and Gaza.
The PA imposed sharp salary cuts on civil servants there, leading to mass protests. But Rami Hamdallah, the PA prime minister in Ramallah, said, as the BBC reported, that “the salary cuts would stay in place until Hamas moved towards reconciliation.”
Last week, Hamas announced a new charter ditching anti-Jewish language and formally accepting, as Abbas does, a two-state solution with Israel.
It also announced on Saturday that Ismail Haniyeh, its former prime minister in Gaza, has been elected as the movement’s overall leader.
One Israeli analyst suggested in the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that Abbas’ crackdown on Gaza was part of an attempt to keep Hamas isolated and to curry favor with the new US president. Abbas met Donald Trump at the White House last week.
Hospitals at “minimal capacity”
Meanwhile, Gaza’s economy has been devastated by a 10-year Israeli blockade and repeated military assaults.
In mid-April, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel after a three-month supply funded by Turkey and Qatar was depleted.
The PA has refused Hamas’ requests to reduce or eliminate the heavy taxes on diesel that fuels Gaza’s power plant, a provision UNSCO supports.
Gaza receives just over half of its electricity from Israel which has until now been paid for by the Palestinian Authority.
“Palestinians in Gaza, who live in a protracted humanitarian crisis, can no longer be held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said.
Gaza is already operating on a severe energy deficit. Its daily supply of electricity from Israel, Egypt and its sole, partially functioning power plant totals only 210 megawatts, while the population of two million requires 450 megawatts per day.
The shortfall means that people in Gaza without backup generators must function with no electricity for 12 to 18 hours a day.
While international assistance has managed to barely keep hospitals open by ensuring they have enough fuel for generators, Gaza’s precarious situation is clear.
Hospitals are currently working “at minimal capacity,” the UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA reported last month.
Another dire health and environmental consequence is that faced with a lack of energy for water treatment, waste plants are discharging more raw sewage into the sea.
No exit for many
Emergency fuel supplies are only guaranteed through May, forcing hospitals to postpone surgeries and refer more patients outside Gaza, potentially exposing them to life-threatening delays or Israeli attempts at blackmail.
According to UNSCO, since 15 September 2016, Israel has significantly reduced approvals for Palestinians to leave Gaza, including patients.
Last December, Israel approved fewer than 42 percent of applications to leave Gaza for medical care, the lowest rate since 2009, according to UNSCO.
Letting Israel off the hook
UNSCO acknowledges that Israel’s blockade is responsible for severe impairment in every sector in Gaza, including education, health and agriculture, and urges the “international community” to support the lifting of Israel’s siege.
Yet it still presents the closure as a security measure for Israel.
UNSCO notes that this year marks 10 years of Israel’s closure on Gaza, which UNSCO describes as a response to Hamas’ “violent” takeover in 2007.
As well as ignoring the context of the intra-Palestinian fighting, this timeline ignores that the cut in exit permits began in the mid-1990s, sharply falling after Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005.
In the face of the evidence that its prospects have all but vanished, UNSCO continues to insist that the “international community” commit to a two-state solution.
It notes that in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s construction of illegal settlements has surged since last September while the land where Palestinians live is shrinking.
The report confirms that it is “virtually impossible” for Palestinians to obtain building permits in Area C of the West Bank – the 60 percent of the occupied West Bank over which Israel exercises full control. More than 90 percent of applications for building permits are rejected by Israeli occupation forces.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to develop settlements in Area C.
UNSCO acknowledges that Israel’s settlements violate international law, but pointedly fails to call for any sanctions or consequences.
“It is critical that recent international initiatives to advance the prospects for peace translate into a legitimate process to end the occupation and achieve a final settlement to the conflict,” UNSCO implores.
What UNSCO does not explain is how such a “process” would occur in the complete absence of measures to hold the occupying power accountable.
Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.