Israel allowed a limited resumption of commercial exports from the Gaza Strip last month, in what was called a “conditional” measure, one month after a truce halted 11 days of fighting with Hamas. But after a meeting with U.N. mediators, Hamas leader Yehya Al-Sinwar said the easing of Israeli restrictions was not enough, holding out the possibility of resuming hostilities if other demands were not met, such as allowing money in from Qatar, which in recent years has funded Gaza reconstruction projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Israel keeps tight controls on Gaza crossings, with support from neighboring Egypt, methods it attributes to a need for self-defense. The Israeli restrictions were intensified during the May fighting, effectively halting all exports.
COGAT, a branch of Israel’s Defence Ministry, explained the change in a press release. “Following a security evaluation, a decision has been made for the first time since the end [of the fighting] to enable … [the] limited export of agricultural produce from the Gaza Strip,” they wrote. Sinwar, after meeting in Gaza with U.N. Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland, took a different tone, one that points to remaining tensions. “It seems the occupation [Israel] didn’t understand our message, and that we may need to carry out popular resistance to put pressure on the occupation,” Sinwar said.
The resumption of exports is notable, but in terms of deeper resolutions to the conflict, it’s little more than a way to enter a discussion on the current power dynamics in the area. In Israeli politics, Netanyahu’s replacement as prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is focused on finding popular support for his government through security and stability. The possibility of making an early statement in that direction, such as a stern, violent response to resistance from Hamas, may leave little possibility for prolonged peace. On June 20th, 2021, Bennett conducted a speech at a memorial service for Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, a notable backdrop to the aftershocks of this year’s conflict. He noted that Israel would not tolerate any return to hostilities. That means fast-tracking economic freedom for Palestinians in Gaza will likely take a backseat.
Broadly, Israeli control of the Gaza Strip has remained in its modern form since 2005, when Israel disengaged from the area before the 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power. Despite no troops being permanently stationed in Gaza and the Israeli claim that it is completely under Hamas’s control, this resumption of exports is one aspect of Israeli control of the area’s airspace, borders, and waters. Repeated violence between the sides over the past years has been covered extensively. However, Israel’s overpowering military has led to lopsided counts of civilian casualties, although Israeli officials would likely point to an alleged practice of “civilian shields.” Stepping back from partisanship, it appears progress toward a Palestinian state would mean at least some capitulation by the Israelis. After all, any real form of a “two-state solution,” the prescribed moderate position espoused by most international actors, would need a Palestine with control of its own economy, borders, and even military of its own.
Moving forward, international actors should encourage further actions by the Israeli government to begin fulfilling the Palestinian right to self-rule, some tenents of which include economic rights and freedom of movement. In the broader view of the conflict as a whole, the status quo of continuing negotiations is just one part of lasting peace. One aspect of lasting peace is accountability, which is at the center of a probe by the International Criminal Court into atrocities committed against both Israeli and Palestinian people. Another might be renewed engagement with the United Nations, although Israeli leaders and sympathizers often label actions by the body as unfairly targeting Israel. Yet, at the center of this conflict, millions of civilians remain confined to the tight quarters of the Gaza Strip with little prospect for the fulfillment of basic human rights.