By AFP – May 27,2021 – JORDAN TIMES
By Claire Gounon
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has wrapped up a whistle-stop Middle East tour aimed at consolidating a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants. What can we now expect? Is the ceasefire holding?
The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that went into force early Friday has so far held, ending 11 days of devastating Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and rocket fire into Israel.
Jamal Al Fadi, a Palestinian politics professor in Gaza, said he thought both sides would be reluctant to enter “a new round of confrontation, due to the political, economic, and moral losses it may cause”. Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar said a long-term ceasefire was in the “Israeli interest”. Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians including 66 children and some fighters from May 10, the Gaza authorities says.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, an Arab-Israeli teenager, and an Israeli soldier, medics say. How fast can Gaza rebuild?
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has ravaged homes and businesses as well as key power and water networks in the already impoverished enclave, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007. Some 258 buildings, comprising 1,042 housing and commercial units, have been completely destroyed, authorities in Gaza say, while the United Nations says at least 6,000 people have been made homeless. The UN says it has released millions of dollars for its humanitarian response and other countries such as Qatar, Egypt and the United States have pledged millions more in aid.
Relief convoys have entered the territory from Israel and Egypt.
But Israel insists any reconstruction aid be channelled through the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, so none reaches Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
Israel has also kept a tight control on what materials can enter the territory of some 2 million people to limit Hamas’s ability to rearm. Israel has for example insisted that donors only fund projects using plastic piping for water and sewage for fear that Hamas could use metal ones to make rockets.
But a factory making such plastic pipes outside Gaza City was damaged by Israeli shelling this month.
The war is the fourth to have pummelled the enclave since 2008. Father-of-six Ramez Al Masri said it had taken him three years to rebuild his home in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun after it was demolished in the last Israeli military campaign in 2014.
This month, an Israeli air strike again reduced it to rubble. ”Will it now take me another three years to rebuild?” he asked.
What about the West Bank?
Even if the fighting in and around Gaza has ended, tensions still simmer in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Just hours before Blinken flew in on Tuesday, Israeli forces killed a young Palestinian during an arrest raid near the West Bank city of Ramallah, while the previous day Israeli forces shot dead a 17-year-old Palestinian after he allegedly stabbed two Israelis, including a soldier, in Jerusalem.
Following talks in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday, Blinken promised Washington would mend ties and reopen the US consulate in East Jerusalem for the first time since Donald Trump shuttered it in 2019.
He also evoked the long-term “possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution”.
But any such return to formal peace talks is likely to remain a distant prospect. Will there be a new peace process?
Since the last talks collapsed in 2014, Israeli politics has become increasingly dominated by right-wing and far-right parties vehemently opposed to Palestinian statehood.
This month’s conflict has, if anything, made a return to talks even less likely. Hamas, anathema to Israelis because of its founding charter’s call for the destruction of Israel, has burnished its reputation as champion of the Palestinian cause, while Abbas, now 85, has been largely sidelined.
“Hamas today, as a result of field performance and popular sympathy, feels strong, and will work to strengthen its position by opening up more in its regional and international relations,” said Fadi.
The Islamist group seems to want to “enhance its position and perhaps its role as a representative of the Palestinians” in both Gaza and the West Bank, he said.
Inbar said a return to any sort of peace process was unlikely any time soon.”The Palestinian Authority has no legitimacy whatsoever,” he said. “We have no partners.”