Palestinian economist Omar Shaban
Gaza – Mohamed Habib
Palestinian economist Omar Shaban, president of Palestinian Think Tank for Strategic Studies in Gaza, stressed on the importance of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation to reconstruct the Gaza
Strip and to provide an appropriate environment for investments there. Shaban pointed out in an exclusive interview with ‘Arabstoday’ that the reconciliation is a fundamental term for resolving the economic crises which Gaza Strip is going through, saying: “We cannot demand the world to support us while we are fragmented internally”.
Shaban indicated that there have been no improvements in Gaza’s commercial crossings after the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, explaining that the occupation stated more than once that there is no relation between the release of Shalit and the lifting of the siege off the Gaza Strip. He said the improvement that took place after the Freedom Flotilla massacre is not big or varied, where allowed commodities were very limited. He explained that the equation of "all is banned except for" is changed to "all is allowed except for", adding at the same time that there has been some slight improvement on the topic of supporting international projects and UNRWA schools.
Shaban said that lifting the Gaza siege must be included in a deal of a political context, whether through a government of independents which attains international acceptance, or to create conditions to open channels of communication between Israel and Hamas. He added: “If we take an example of both parties’ success in the prisoners exchange deal, we can finalise a deal to lift the siege of Gaza”. Shaban noted that he does not rule this out with Ismail Haniyeh’s statement concerning the possibility of the existence of other types of negotiations in a non-traditional form, especially after the Islamist rise in the surrounding region.
Shaban realised that it would be difficult for both parties to initiate negotiations without political context and without Hamas being in the political system, which Shaban considers possible in the upcoming days, on account of the international community’s desire to integrate political Islam.
"The economic state in Gaza is still catastrophic and still suffers severe problems in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for both regions depend on foreign aids, in addition to the economic equation in the West Bank being on the brink of collapse before the obstacles facing Ramallah’s government, which can no longer pay its employees regular salaries. Gaza’s government as well, in addition to the unemployment rate which is still incredibly high, the poverty which is deeply affecting the Palestinian society, and the social crisis which the Gaza Strip residents suffer which exceeds the tolerance of average human beings," he said.
As for the influence of the division on the economic condition, Shaban said: “The occupation is the basic factor behind the underdevelopment in Palestine, for development and occupation do not overlap. Yet the state of political division in Palestine had grim consequences, and it allowed the occupation to carry out its plots against Palestinians, where Israel could not carry out some of its plans in the past and waited for the right time.”
He added: “When we are united, we will be able to employ our resources, plan ahead, and have a vision to build. However, under the division, we are distracted by it and by handling the consequences of the other side’s politics at the expense of the central issues.”
Shaban said of the impact of the migration of capital from the Strip to abroad on the economic state: “The migration of capital from the Gaza Strip started with the spread of lawlessness and lack of security in 2004-2005, which was a scary and dangerous phenomenon along with the phenomenon of kidnapping foreigners. I believe the West Bank suffered greatly from this issue as capital in the West is greater than in Gaza in terms of size and quality, whereas Nablus suffered lawlessness and instability of militias as everyone knows. In one of the statistics, there were about 400 businessmen from Gaza and the West Bank who immigrated to far out places like Kenya and South America and China, which is crazy… how are we supposed to bring those back after establishing stability and calm?
"There are many stable countries which invest money to bring investments and are still unable to, so what do you make of an unstable country?! Investment needs political and legal stability, a transparent financial system, and adequate legal factors,” he said.
As for the quality of commodities which are smuggled to the Strip through tunnels, Shaban said: “The quality of medicines smuggled through tunnels for example cannot be guaranteed; neither can the foods coming through tunnels be guaranteed to be good. It is true that no death cases were recorded so far as a result of consuming such commodities, but they could contain substances that cause death after long periods of time, and this is where the government in Gaza should work as an organised protective system for the people.”