Koenders: More scope needed for development in Gaza

To improve the situation in Gaza, all the parties to the conflict need to shoulder their responsibility: this was foreign minister Bert Koenders’s message today during his visit to the area.

‘It is vital that Israel give the Gazan economy room to grow by allowing much more trade and letting people travel,’ said the minister. ‘For their part, the Palestinians have to overcome their divisions so that the government and President Abbas can re-establish their authority in Gaza. Also crucial is an end to the firing of missiles from Gaza and to the construction of tunnels. Missile attacks like the ones in recent weeks can lead to the outbreak of another conflict.’

Sluggish reconstruction

Mr Koenders is gravely concerned about the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza. ‘The situation here really distresses me,’ he said. ‘Many buildings have not yet been repaired since the war last summer. And the economy has been hard hit by the restrictions in effect over the last eight years. This means that people have hardly any prospects for the future, which raises the risk of more tensions and radicalisation.’

The people of Gaza are trapped between the Hamas administration, Fatah and the severe restrictions imposed by Israel, the minister observed. ‘The Netherlands and the EU have pressed consistently in recent years for opening Gaza’s borders while making due allowance for Israel’s security concerns.’ He still believes that Israel needs to ease border controls.

Clinic

Mr Koenders paid a visit in Gaza to a clinic run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), where he voiced support for the agency’s work. ‘UNRWA has made great efforts for decades now to promote stability in Gaza,’ he said. ‘It is today the main provider of public services like education and health care. Its work is of enormous importance.’

‘But I’m worried about its financial situation,’ the minister continued. ‘Its work is increasingly hampered by budget deficits. More international support is essential.’ For this reason the Netherlands paid its €13 million annual contribution for 2015 ahead of time and gave an extra €2 million to an emergency fund for Palestinian refugees in Syria.

Food security

During his visit the minister met with Palestinian justice minister Salem Saqa, mainly discussing the need to form a new Palestinian unity government that exercises effective authority in both the West Bank and Gaza. ‘A two-state solution will not get off the ground unless the West Bank and Gaza are unified,’ he said.

Mr Koenders concluded his trip with a visit to a project of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) aimed at enhancing Palestinians’ food security. ‘This project increases Gazans’ access to fertile land and sources of water so that they can grow their own produce and import less,’ he said. ‘It also gives them independent incomes by letting them sell their produce on local and international markets.’