IN recent days Middle East has been in the limelight but not due to Palestinian issue that was once the main conflict in the Middle East but has become a forgotten reality. The Arab-Islamic Military Alliance and Qatar crises have overshadowed the plight of Gazans who have been suffering for more than a decade now.
A recently published United Nations report claims that living conditions in Gaza are deteriorating faster than was anticipated in an earlier report in 2015. ‘Gaza has continued on its trajectory of de-development’ said Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, talking about new report, ‘Gaza – 10 years later’. He further added that from healthcare to unemployment, to energy, to access to water, Gaza’s 2 million people are seeing faster decline. Moreover, a sharp increase is noted in population growth of Gaza, while infrastructure and services have not been able to keep the pace.
The problems of Gaza – a 130 square mile strip of land on the Mediterranean, started accelerating since Hamas took over Gaza 10 years ago. Israel has maintained tight control over the movement of people and goods from all sides of Gaza, except 7 mile long border Gaza shares with Egypt and that is rarely open. Adding to these difficulties, Palestinian Authority recently decided to reduce the supply of electricity to put pressure on Hamas. It is worth noting that people of Gaza already get access to electricity only for two hours. Another issue of concern raised by UN report should draw attention of the international community. The report identifies that by the end of 2017, Gaza’s only water aquifer would be depleted and damage could be irreversible due to salt water entering the aquifer – exposing the people of Gaza to water borne illnesses.
The question arises that who is responsible for all this? And how for Gazans’ plights will remain unaddressed? Palestinian issue has been ignored by Arab states and the resolution of Palestine issue does not seem on the priority agenda of any regional Arab state. Middle East is simmering in conflicts and crises – the most recent has been intra-Arab crisis known as Qatar crisis. A month has passed but no end to the crisis can be anticipated. All efforts made to mediate between Qatar and the Gulf States have not succeeded so for, leaving things in a stalemate. What to talk of regional and extra-regional states’ interest in resolution of Palestine issue, the first thing that is needed is reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian Authority. The internal unity would enable Palestinian to struggle for their just right to self-determination. In this regard, Russian role as an outside power cannot be ignored. Russia despite having close relations with Hamas’ political rival Palestinian Authority, advocates the inclusion of Hamas in the Israeli Palestinian negotiations.
In this regard, in the past, Russian foreign minister held talks with Khalid Mashaal, the exiled Hamas leader at Doha in 2015 and discussed the possibility of reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian Authority. Russia welcomed the election of Ismail Haniyah, who replaced Khalid Mashaal as the head of movement’s political bureau, and praised Hamas’ new policy document issued after the election of new leader. Russia is the only major power that has cordial relations with Hamas that expects Russia, a member of International Quartet on Middle East, to play its part in breaking siege of Gaza imposed in 2006. Russia also supports the formation of Palestinian state on the basis of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Russia considers the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli dialogue as a precondition for establishing two equal states to bring a lasting peace in the region.
As regards China, it supports the establishment of the state of Palestine with full sovereignty on the basis of 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. China reiterated its traditional stance during a recent state visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Beijing. China expressed its desire to hold a Palestinian-Israeli peace symposium to share ideas about resolution of Palestine issue. Contrary to Chinese and Russian stance, United States has become increasingly hostile towards Hamas and has recently added many Hamas leaders on the list of terrorists. President Donald Trump during his visit to Saudi Arabia placed Hamas and Hizbullah in the category of terrorists. If US wants to play role in Middle East peace process, it has to accept all parties and groups, representative of people so that sufferings of people could be reduced.
— The writer is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.