Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Don’t forget Gaza

A new UN report raises the alarm on an unprecedented deterioration in socio-economic life in Gaza and the occupied territories a year after Israel’s 51-day war, writes Pierre Loza

Al-Ahram Weekly

“With all eyes on Syria, Yemen and Iraq, it is difficult to bring the attention of member nations to what is happening in Gaza,” said Mahmoud Al-Khafif, coordinator of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Assistance to the Palestinian People, as he discussed the findings of UNCTAD’s annual report. The report, to which Al-Khafif was a major contributor, will be presented to a wider UN membership later this month in Geneva, unveiling a festering socio-economic crisis in the Palestinian territories a year after Israel’s 2014 war on the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian state’s worst economic recession since 2006 comes in the wake of a suffocating eight year economic blockade and three full scale military conflicts in six years.

More painfully felt in Gaza where GDP per capita is 72 per cent of its 1994 level (when the Oslo Accords were signed) and two thirds of that of the West Bank, the Palestinian economy as a whole has contracted by 0.4 per cent, shrinking GDP per capita by 3.3 per cent in 2014.

Gaza’s economic disparity with the West Bank is partly attributable to it bearing the brunt of the economic blockade since 2007, also evident in unemployment figures where it eclipses the West Bank’s 33 per cent with an alarming 44 per cent unemployment rate.

While these socio-economic woes — described by the report as the worst since 1967 — are rooted in a spectrum of sources, like destroyed infrastructure, food shortages and displaced populations, for Al-Khafif, Israel’s withholding of Palestinian clearance revenues has had the most immediate impact on blocking recovery.

“In the first four months of 2015, and for the sixth time since 1997, Israel withheld what accounts for about 75 per cent of Palestinian public revenue,” Al-Khafif said, echoing the report’s charge that Israel’s withholding was retaliation for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid to join the International Criminal Court last November. Israel deprived the PA $164 million per month from late December 2014 to April 2015. Although Israel eventually released the withheld funds, it deducted 20 per cent of the accumulated clearance revenue, in addition to a three per cent processing fee it collects on Palestinian import tariffs on water and electricity, in addition to medical bills owed by Palestinians.

Israel’s withholding forced the Palestinian government to borrow domestically, adding to its debt burden and constraining GDP growth further.

Gaza’s pains, however, for Al-Khafif, have reached a point where all parties involved should be concerned. “If we do not address this problem seriously we can have social upheaval and unrest, the kind of which we cannot contain. This is also an issue that Israel should be concerned about,” said Al-Khafif.

In light of this brewing crisis, Al-Khafif also urges UN member states to make good on their 2014 Cairo Conference on Palestine pledges, which promised $5 billion to the occupied Palestinian territories, of which $3.5 billion would go to Gaza. As of May 2015, slightly less than a third of this amount has been disbursed, according to the World Bank.

Al-Khafif believes that while “aid matters, reversing this recession can only occur if the Gaza blockade is lifted. If we follow the stipulations of the 2005 Movement and Access Agreement signed in Cairo, then the picture can change. You need to allow supplies in and out of Gaza for reconstruction to happen, otherwise the outlook is very bleak for 2015.”

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