Israel Eases Restrictions on Gaza
February 21, 2020
The main crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip
Friday, 21 February 2020 | What happened: After five weeks of escalating rocket fire and explosive-laden balloon launches from Gaza, Israel and Hamas reportedly agreed to reinstate a “tentative calm” this week that saw Israel lift all recent restrictions on Gaza and substantially increase the number of Gazans entering Israel for work.
- As part of the agreement, Israel will issue 7000 work permits for Gazans (an increase from the previous 5000), the highest total since Hamas’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip.
- Israel expanded Gaza’s fishing zone to 15 nautical miles, resumed cement imports into Gaza and will reportedly now allow heavy industrial equipment also to be imported into Gaza.
- Plans to improve electricity generation via new power lines from Israel and solar energy fields, as well as waste disposal and sanitation infrastructure repair, are also likely to be implemented.
- Amid the de-escalation, sniper fire from southern Gaza attributed to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ] cell yesterday targeted Israeli forces on the Israel–Gaza border. Israeli snipers returned fire and reportedly hit one of the PIJ fighters.
Context: Most analysts agree that the increase in violence from Gaza since January is due in part to political tensions between Hamas and Egypt. Cairo was angered at Hamas political chief Ismael Haniyeh’s trip to Iran for Qassem Soleimani’s funeral—especially since Haniyeh’s foreign travels out of Gaza were approved with the explicit stipulation that he not travel to Iran.
- In response, Egypt increased its own sanctions on Gaza, raising taxes and cutting supply of basic goods—especially cooking gas—imported into Gaza from Egypt.
- An additional explanation for the increase in violence is the Israeli election on March 2, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aversion to a military campaign in the Gaza Strip. Hamas likely viewed the weeks before election day as an opportunity to apply pressure over the Israeli government.
- Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, in the past a vocal critic of the ceasefire talks with Hamas, said yesterday that he was giving Hamas “a chance” to uphold the agreement, but added: “If they renew the [explosive] balloon and rocket attacks, we’ll close the border again… If the quiet is maintained, as has been the case in recent days, it will be good for them. Their actions will determine.”
- Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said this morning that he “did not want half an ‘arrangement’ for Gaza,” an allusion to the lack of progress on an agreement that would secure the return of the bodies of two fallen IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers and two Israeli citizens being held by Hamas.
- Overall since last year, Israel’s easing measures vis-à-vis Gaza have included a 30% reduction in limits on “dual use” items into Gaza and the lifting of some export restrictions on Gazan agricultural and manufactured goods; the entry into Gaza of [US] $30 million of Qatari money each month to pay for fuel imports, subsidies for the poor, and a UN-sponsored work program; the establishment of an American NGO field hospital; and the opening (with Israeli acquiescence) of a commercial border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Looking ahead:The recent easing of restrictions will improve the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, and should help to avoid a severe escalation in violence before Israel’s election. Netanyahu has been criticized for negotiating with Hamas, although the IDF is fully supportive of the initiative. The key question is whether Hamas can—and will—exert pressure on smaller factions to ensure that the quiet continues.
Posted on February 21, 2020
Source: (BICOM originally published this article on February 20, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See original article at this link.)
Photo Credit: Autumn Groat/bridgesforpeace.com