Gaza, facing collapse, is ignored by President Trump

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President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and occupied Palestinian territory went as poorly as most people here in Gaza anticipated. As far as we can tell, he ignored us. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies, but at some point the US and Israel would be well advised to devise a better policy than to squeeze the life out of us.

For all the talk about Trump’s business acumen, he had nothing to offer Gaza’s devastated economy. Rather than offering hope -- both economic and political – his silence regarding Gaza suggests he is content with an Israeli-led status quo that punishes the people of Gaza.

But throttling Gaza is a recipe for further war. Palestinians have endured three since December 2008 and would much prefer political and economic freedom from our Israeli occupier to yet another war.

Yes, Israeli military forces and settlers left here in 2005, but for all intents and purposes Israel controls us still. Israel controls exits by sea and air. Land routes to our compatriots in the West Bank – and in Israel itself with 20 percent of the population being Palestinian -- are blocked by Israel. Egypt, at the behest of Israel and the US, blocks egress via the Sinai land route.

The embargo and travel limits have consequences. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned last month of Gaza's "systemic collapse."

The decade-long Israeli siege of Gaza impoverishes Gaza, raises unemployment among young men to sky-high levels – among the highest in the world – and makes desperate hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees as they see severe limits on the prospects for their children.

Tellingly, the most important economic talk during Trump’s time in the region had to do with the arms sale his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, helped Trump strike with Saudi Arabia. The deal is estimated at some $110 billion.

During one of his meetings with Arab leaders, Trump sickeningly pushed the sale of “lots of beautiful military equipment.”

We Palestinians have been on the receiving end of similar armaments. There is nothing beautiful about their effects.

Trump’s weapons-hyping rhetoric speaks to a foreclosing of horizons and severe limits on the vision the US is able to offer the region and wider world.

Of course, the soaring rhetoric of several of Trump’s predecessors did not get the job done when it comes to Middle East peace. But as we know in Gaza, better than most people in the world, bad situations can get worse.

Rather than ignore us, Trump should consider how Gaza can be part of the solution rather than viewing it as an ongoing headache. For years Israel has seemed intent on turning Gaza into a hell on earth. Palestinians here are enormously frustrated and losing hope in the future as electricity is cut to four hours a day -- and now this week all the way down to 1-3 hours in some communities -- water quality deteriorates, and hospitals face severe shortages on equipment and limits on their ability to care for patients.

Yet so far Israel has failed to force Palestinians to give up entirely. While a decade ago Gaza did descend briefly into civil war, that has not been our prevailing reality. Somehow we survive and have not fallen into further internal strife of the sort we have seen envelop countries such as Syria.

Hamas has recently shown signs it is serious about reshaping itself so that it can join negotiations. The revamped charter seeks to make clear its fight is not with Jews, but with any occupier seeking to take Palestinian land.

President Trump, however, disregarded this in his speech in Saudi Arabia. Instead, he lumped the nihilistic Islamic State group with Hamas, leaving open the possibility of Gaza becoming a target of the US and its partners.

Whether peace talks begin or not, Palestinians have a responsibility to get our own house in order. The decision of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to cut off payments to Israel for electricity it provides to Gaza speaks of a government more inclined toward partisan politics than representing all of the Palestinian people. Most liberation movements achieve freedom and then devolve into an internal fight for power. Our leaders failed our people by reversing the process.

I believe the Israeli leadership has no solutions and offers only endless delay as it seeks to secure its footing on more Palestinian land. The Trump administration, for its part, seems too incompetent and too riven by self-made problems to invest much time in serious negotiations.

To resolve the conflict, better that we get our own Palestinian house in order and then turn to mechanisms other than endless negotiations with an unserious Netanyahu. Economically we should start with making sure the international community understands the value of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in protecting our refugee population and providing a minimal level of economic security for our people. Trump, his advisers, and many Republicans seem all-too-willing to strip away the financial support UNRWA provides.

But, more importantly, we must advance a political horizon. With talks with Netanyahu likely meaningless, we must target Israel for its human rights violations. These abuses, such as Israel’s war crimes and illegal settlement construction on Palestinian land, should be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

We must find Palestinian leaders able to bridge our internal differences and then take our case to the United Nations and the ICC. Trump and Netanyahu offer us nothing. International law is our surest route forward, though Israel won’t like one bit being held to account for its numerous crimes against its weaker neighbor.

Dr. Wajjeh Abu Zarifa is a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, and a frequent media commentator.