Israel determined to keep pressure on Hamas
July 5, 2011 09:22 am EDT
Politics, Regulatory Policy And Organization
As it maintains its isolation of the Hamas rulers, Israel has been working to boost the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Gaza Strip by gradually supporting its projects there.
“I believe our current policy to work with international organizations and support the Palestinian Authority’s projects in Gaza, plus our efforts to weaken Hamas, are the way to bring about the real change in Gaza,” said Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, Israel’s government coordinator for activities in the West Bank and Gaza. But, he stressed: "We have no desire to ever return to the Gaza Strip.”
Dangot said there is no humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave where some 1.5 million Palestinians live under the rule of Hamas, the Islamic movement that seized power four years ago.
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, which prevented necessary goods from reaching Gazans and provoking scathing international criticism. In the past year as international pressure grew in the wake of the deadly Mavi Mamara raid by Israeli commandos, the blockade has been considerably eased. Nevertheless, Israel is determined not to let Hamas benefit too much from the change.
“We don’t see any shortages. We don’t get any special requests. Even now, one month before Ramadan we don’t see any priorities for food,” Dangot said in response to a question from The Media Line at a briefing with foreign correspondents
Although ordinary life has returned to Gaza, the state of humanitarian affairs in Gaza has resurfaced again as activists from the U.S. and Europe seek to break the blockade as the Mavi Marmara did last year to deliver supplies by sea. As of Tuesday, the flotilla has been blocked by Greek authorities from setting sail amid a concerted effort by Israel to keep the activists at bay.
According to data supplied by Israel, on average about 250 trucks cross into the Gaza Strip daily full of food, medicine, and building supplies as well as millions of liters of fuel and gas. That traffic is an increase from just 90 a day a year ago and is due mainly to the 50 million-shekel ($14.7 million) expansion of the crossings to support up to 300 trucks a day.
The general said Israel is continuing with its efforts, even though the Gaza-Israel cargo crossing has been targeted by more than 60 rockets and mortar shells out of the 460 fired from Gaza over the past year.
In the year since the Israeli government decided to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, it has seen the capacity of truck crossings grow by 233 percent, according to Ministry of Defense data. Israeli policy regarding which materials it allows into the Gaza Strip is aimed at keeping items such as concrete and aggregate away from Hamas so that they cannot rebuild either military structures or Hamas government infrastructures and thus, remain a weakened ruler.
There are around 163 projects currently approved for Gaza, including schools, homes, greenhouses, health clinics and water and sewage projects, Dangot said. Of these, 30 have been completed and some 50 are in various stages of implementation.
Among the projects Israel is approving supplies for are the rehabilitation of five hospitals, the construction of 42 new schools, two electric power stations, three wastewater purification facilities and a major desalination plant. It has also approved two major housing projects totaling 2,000 units including one neighborhood in Rafah funded by Saudi Arabia and another one in Khan Yunis funded by Japan.
Dangot denied that his office was just using the PA to “rubber stamp” projects as a way to indirectly work with Hamas, which Israel sees as a terrorist organization. “What we are dealing with in Gaza is a terrorist regime,” he said. “So our projects are according to the request of the international community and the Palestinian Authority.”
Asked why Israel was still controlling projects in Gaza despite having “disengaged” from the coastal strip six years ago, Dangot cited security reasons.
“When you build a school, for example, we would like to see it because we have information that they [Hamas] could use it to store weapons and materiel inside,” Dangot said. “We also want to make sure it is kept a certain distance from the security fence.”
International organizations funding the projects include USAID, UNDP, UNRWA, the World Bank and the Red Cross.
“We are supporting PA projects in Gaza. We are not doing anything in Gaza that is not getting the support of the PA in the West Bank. We are looking at them as our partner in the future,” Dangot said.
A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said that despite the increase in capacity, the Kerem Shalom truck crossing is still a “bottleneck” and slowed their projects.
“We need 20,000 trucks for our projects and are only able to get in 100 trucks a day. You do the math. We’re being forced through the bottleneck and needless to say it is slowing our progress down,” Chris Gunness told The Media Line.
“Since the Israeli government decision in June last year I cannot say there has been a huge change on the ground in the lives of the ordinary people. We have finished only a small number of projects,” he added.
According to Israel’s Defense Ministry, some of the items imported into Gaza include 1,271 new vehicles, 28,000 tons of electrical products and other items including bonsai trees, domestic fish, and mannequins.
Israel has dramatically opened the path for exports out of Gaza to include fruits and vegetables and is expected to soon approve the export of furniture and other manufactured goods. According to Dangot’s office, since December 2010, 367 tons of strawberries, 6.6 tons of cherry tomatoes, 10.1 million carnations and six tons of peppers have been exported from the strip. (The export of peppers stopped because of their low quality, Dangot’s office said.)
Dangot said his office was working on a program that within a number of weeks would allow Palestinians in Gaza to export tomatoes and potatoes directly to Jordan.
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