With Leaders Like These: Yet a New Threshold for Gaza's Misery
06 December 2013
By Ramzy Baroud
It is impossible to predict the future. But one can
state with a degree of certainty that little good can
possibly be awaiting Palestinians when their political
leadership seems to value their ties with Israel more
than the fate of Gaza and all of its inhabitants. An
In an interview with Voice of Russia, Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas replied to an
‘invitation' by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu to speak at the Israeli Parliament
(Knesset). "If (Netanyahu) wants me to come and say
the things I want to say, then I am ready to do it,"
Abbas said, according to YNet and other media on Nov
23. However, he had no response to a call for unity by
Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
"Let's have one government, one parliament and one
president," Haniyeh said in a recent speech, as quoted
by Reuters. A spokesman for Hamas' rival, Fatah, Ahmed
Assaf, dismissed the call for it "included nothing
Sure, Hamas and Fatah have been engaged in a terrible
factional conflict that continues to undermine
Palestinian national unity, and the Palestinian cause
altogether. But the timing of Haniyeh's call and
Fatah's dismissal is particularly sensitive, for Gaza
is suffering its worst energy crisis since the
Israeli-Egyptian siege of 2007.
For weeks, Gaza has been flooded with sewage as a
result of a severe energy crisis caused mainly by
Egypt's systematic destruction of hundreds of tunnels
that served as Gaza's economic lifeline. The cheap
diesel fuel which normally helps 1.8 million people
survive a very harsh and relentless siege and boycott
isn't being smuggled in from the tunnels anymore.
Israel has ensured that there can be no alternative to
the Egyptian fuel, thus the Gaza government was forced
to shut down the strip's only power station.
Gaza has high threshold to suffering, so for a place
as poor as Gaza to be hurting, this additional agony
means that the humanitarian crisis is at its worst.
Even before the most recent crisis, a comprehensive UN
report last year said that if no urgent action were
taken, Gaza would be ‘unlivable' by 2020. Since the
report was issued in August 2012, the situation has
grown much worse. Considering the sea of sewage, one
would argue that Gaza is already ‘unlivable'.
But for nearly one year, many had hoped that the
dramatic political changes in Egypt could in fact bode
well to Palestinians in general and Gaza in
particular. Gaza was still bleeding from Israel's
so-called Operation Cast lead – the 22-day war of
2008-9 that killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded
over 5,500 more. The war had destroyed much of Gaza's
poor infrastructure, and the siege made a complete
Then there was the war of Nov 2012 - eight days of
fighting that killed 167 Palestinians and six
Israelis. As strange as it may sound, the second war
was a source of hope for Palestinians. Back then,
Egypt had a democratically elected president. Sure,
Morsi at times seemed to behave as a lame duck
president, but he sided with the Palestinians against
Israel, and helped craft a ceasefire agreement that
met more of Hamas' terms than Israel's. It was the
first time that Palestinians felt that the Egyptian
government was truly on their side since the Camp
David agreement in 1979.
Morsi was under severe pressure from the US and his
own military, generously funded by the US, to isolate
Hamas. Although he didn't do so, he was too weak to
offer Gaza a sustainable solution to break the Israeli
siege. The Rafah border crossing, however, was mostly
open, and relations were in constant improvement.
But the ousting by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of
Morsi on July 3 changed all of that. The Egyptian
military cracked down with vengeance by shutting down
the border crossing and destroying 90-95 percent of
all tunnels, which served as Gaza's main salvation.
The strip became more vulnerable than ever before. Its
haggard infrastructure began falling apart, as Egypt,
Ramallah and Israel watched, preparing for various
outcomes. Cairo found in Ramallah a willing ally who
never ceased colluding with Israel in order to ensure
that their Hamas rivals were punished, along with the
population of the strip.
The New York Times reported on Nov 21 that 13 sewerage
stations in the Gaza Strip have either overflowed or
are close to overflowing, and 3.5 million cubic feet
of raw sewage find their way to the Mediterranean Sea
on a daily basis. "The sanitation department may soon
no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza
homes," it reported. Farid Ashour, the Director of
sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water
Utilities, told the times that the situation is
‘disastrous'. "We haven't faced a situation as
dangerous as this time," he said.
Gaza's only power plant has been a top priority target
for Israeli warplanes for years. In 2006 it was
destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, to be opened a year
later, only to be destroyed again. And although it was
barely at full capacity when it operated last, it
continued to supply Gaza with 30 percent of its
electricity needs of 400 megawatts. 120 megawatts came
through Israel, and nearly 30 megawatts came through
Egypt. The total fell short from Gaza's basic needs,
but somehow Gaza subsisted. Following the ousting of
Morsi and the Egyptian military crackdown, the
shortage now stands at 65 percent of the total.
It was precisely then that Haniyeh tried to reach out
to Abbas. This time, his call for unity had a
particularly urgent humanitarian dimension. Although
willing to speak at the Knesset, Abbas had no
consolatory words for Haniyeh. Instead, it was time
for some cruel politics. The PA decided to end its
subsidy on any fuel shipped to Gaza via Israel,
increasing the price to $1.62 per liter from 79 cents.
According to Ihab Bessisso of the PA, the decision to
rescind Gaza's tax exemption on fuel was taken because
sending cheap fuel to Gaza "was unfair to West Bank
residents," according to the times.
Reports by the Economist, Al Monitor and other media
speak of Egyptian efforts to reintroduce Gaza's former
security chief and Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan to
speed-up the projected collapse of the Hamas
government. Al Monitor reported on Nov 21 that Dahlan,
a notorious Fatah commander who was defeated by Hamas
in 2007, had met with General al-Sisi in Cairo.
Evidently, the purpose is to oust Hamas. But the
question is how? Some "suggest that a Palestinian
brigade mustered in al-Arish could march on Gaza and,
with Egyptian support, defeat the broad array of Hamas
forces created in the last decade."
No words can describe the deterioration of the moral
standards of the Palestinian political elites. Even
during particularly disgraceful episodes of their
history, things had never sunk so low. In the
meantime, Palestinians in Gaza continue to subsist in
an atrocious reality, while pondering future
possibilities. And with leaders like Abbas and Dahlan,
little good can be expected.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is a media
consultant, an internationally-syndicated columnist
and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest
book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza's
Untold Story (Pluto Press).