What Peace Talks? Gaza Left Out in the Cold
The US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and Israeli policy seek to exclude residents of the Gaza Strip
Ask any resident of Gaza what their thoughts are on the US-sponsored "direct talks" between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas's Ramallah government, and you're likely to hear one of three responses:
1) Surely, you jest;
2) Something's rotten in Ramallah;
There is very little patience in Gaza for this latest set of talks. They are not only being conducted without a national consensus by what is broadly considered an illegitimate government, but they also completely marginalise the Gaza Strip and overlook the blockade and asphyxiation it has suffered for more than four years.
"When people started to talk about negotiations and going back to the peace process and all, I thought, wait a minute, who took our opinion before going there?" said Ola Anan, 25, a computer engineer from Gaza City. "I mean, Mahmoud Abbas is now a president who's out of his presidential term. So in whose name is he talking? In the name of Palestinians? I don't think so."
Abu el-Abed, a 30-year-old fisherman who sells crabs in the coastal Gaza enclave of Mawasi said: "We hear about the negotiations on television, but we don't see them reflected on the ground. They're not feasible. Gaza's completely marginalised as far as negotiations go. There's no electricity, there's no water. There's no movement. Living expenses are high. And the borders are all closed."
Ultimately, Gazans know very little or care very little about what is happening in Washington, because what's happening in Washington cares very little about them, says Nader Nabulsi, a shopkeeper in Gaza City's Remal neighbourhood: "These negotiations don't belong to us, and we don't belong to them."
Nabulsi, like many others here, feels the negotiations are farcical given the fractured nature of the Palestinian leadership, but also given the fact that most consider Abbas's government illegitimate and his term expired.
"Today, Abbas should be talking about creating a new government with legitimacy, one that takes into account the voices of the people, and makes decisions with them. He should not just be negotiating on his own volition, based on whatever pops into his head and the [heads of the] Ramallah gang."
Bashar Lubbad, 22, a Gaza-based community activist and blogger, agrees. Writing in his latest Arabic post, he says: "I really don't understand what kind of strange political muddle we are in that has Abbas agreeing to negotiations without preconditions with the Israelis, and yet refusing to negotiate under the same circumstances with Hamas."
Lubbad says that attempts to "normalise" the negotiations through TV ads that aired during the popular Ramadan drama Bab il-Hara, were even more bizarre than the actual talks. "This is the time for a national dialogue, for national reconciliation, for negotiating and agreeing amongst ourselves."
Beyond this, residents here cannot comprehend why, after nearly 20 futile years, the Palestinian Authority (referred to in Gaza as hukoomit Ramallah – "the Ramallah government") is negotiating with Israel in the same manner as before.
Gaza journalist Safa Joudeh summed it up on her Facebook page like this: "The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Oslo, Wye River, Camp David, Arab peace initiative, road map, Annapolis, direct peace talks ..."
Though Israeli disengaged from Gaza in 2005, access and movement of goods and people in Gaza as well as airspace, sea space and population registration remain under Israeli control – all a critical part of any discussion on Palestinian statehood.
Amjad al-Agha is an agricultural engineer who oversees a mushroom farm in the "liberated lands" – the former settlements of Gush Qatif in southern Gaza. "Negotiations have been ongoing for two decades now and they've brought the Palestinian people nothing at all – neither in the Gaza Strip nor in the West Bank.
"Both areas are still completely separated from one another. There is no link between these two parts of our nation. Movement across the borders and crossings is still very poor. The airport is closed. There's no freedom of movement."
One day Gaza could specialise in cultivating mushrooms, says local economist Omar Shaban. But for now they are mainly sold to local restaurants or distributed to income-generation projects. Israeli bans nearly all exports from Gaza now as part of its blockade.
For others, the talks don't register on their radar because they are simply too busy worrying about everyday life under siege. "They are thinking about how to solve their problems, their daily difficulties, such as the cutting of electricity, their economic problems, how to get their income, how to raise their children, and about the closure and the siege that they suffer from on a daily basis. They don't regard negotiations as a big issue in their life overall," explained Alia Shaheen, 32, a project manager at a women's empowerment NGO in central Gaza.
The US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, has said that Hamas will have no role in the negotiations, leading many here to question how Gaza fits into the equation.
"Do they plan to get Gaza outside the Palestinian territories?" Anan, the computer engineer, asked.
In fact, a new Israeli policy document shows Israel intends to do just that. In a recent presentation from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) before the Turkel committee, the official goals of Israeli policy regarding Gaza were laid out in no uncertain terms: "Upholding civilian and economic limitations on Gaza, limiting people from entering or exiting the strip", and critically, "to separate the West Bank from Gaza".
It was the first time an official Israeli document had publicly declared that the policy objective is to create two separate Palestinian political entities, according to Noam Sheizaf, an independent Israeli journalist who first wrote about the document on the group blog 972mag.
According to Gisha, the Israeli NGO for the freedom of movement of Palestinians: "While a Palestinian state is being negotiated and people are already discussing 'a trainline between Gaza and Ramallah', in reality Israel is working to separate Gaza from the West Bank even further than the separation already caused by the split in the Palestinian leadership."
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited