Turkey is presenting itself as the great humanitarian savior of Gaza.
Don’t be fooled.
Under the reconciliation deal with Israel, it was agreed that Turkey could send Gaza humanitarian aid through the Port of Ashdod. This is how all aid already reaches Gaza. In a dramatic gesture, Ankara then sent a ship with 10,000 tons of aid to the Israeli port, something it was able to do before the rapprochement. The delivery represents less than one tenth of the total quantity that transits into Gaza on a weekly basis anyway. The aid will be transferred through the Kerem Shalom crossing—which has excess capacity, thanks to major infrastructure works there last year—once the Palestinian Authority stops blocking the delivery for its own political reasons opposite Hamas. Nothing has changed. All Israel gave Turkey is pride.
Behind the theatrics, the bare facts prove that Turkey has been neglecting its own humanitarian pledges to Gaza. In the 2014 Cairo Conference, Turkey pledged $200 million for the reconstruction efforts. According to the World Bank, as of 31 March 2016, Turkey has disbursed only $64.1 million—or less than one third of the pledged sum.
The Netherlands has paid $15.3 million it pledged, even donating a new cargo scanner for Kerem Shalom (yours truly was involved in the negotiations). Japan has paid its full $61 million; Canada, India, the U.S. and several European states have also redeemed their pledges.
But Gaza has been abandoned by the states that shout for it most loudly while condemning Israel most vigorously for its policy. Qatar pledged one billion dollars; it has paid 15%. Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million; it has paid 10%. The UAE pledged $200 million and paid 15%.
The rapprochement deal with Turkey was an act of extraordinary political magnanimity. Israel simply committed to continue the status quo of referring aid to Gaza through its Kerem Shalom crossing, while permitting Turkey to present existing Israeli policy as a concession, as if Israel was previously blocking the delivery of such goods. As stated, Kerem Shalom has excess capacity—the problem is that there is no money in Gaza with which to purchase whatever the world might want to sell it. And there won’t be any money so long as foreign states drag their feet on meeting their own promises to support Gaza’s economy. The world is making admirable steps. EU funding for a desalinization plant in Gaza is commendable, and a great example of how the world can play a constructive role. But it’s not enough.
The UN calls on Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, saying it “suffocates [Gaza’s] residents, destroys its economy and impedes reconstruction operations”—but the naval blockade is hardly restricting the entry of legitimate goods into Gaza when the existing channels have excess capacity, and residents have little disposable income if any because the world is not doing its bit to repair the damage of the last war. The only restrictions on imports for Gaza are “dual use” items, which can have military applications. These are not banned, but enter subject to supervision. The only meaningful difference from a lifting the naval blockade would be that military hardware could enter Gaza freely, as well as other materials diverted towards Hamas infrastructure.
If Israel wants to postpone the next war, and win the battle for international public opinion when that war comes, it needs to push the international community onto the back foot. It needs to highlight in every forum the steps it has taken—which have surprised and impressed diplomats—to advance reconstruction in Gaza, while reminding everyone that the world community has only partially lived up to its side of the bargain. Israel must not allow itself to be painted as the “bad guy” on the question of Gaza’s economy, while allowing other states to claim credit for empty stunts. Civilian reconstruction in Gaza is an Israeli, and primarily Israeli, strategic interest. It is also its current policy; it cannot afford to let anybody think otherwise.