The last month saw protests spark across the West Bank and Gaza. The death of Arafat Jaradat in Israeli custody was the catalyst for this outpouring of anger. The treatment of prisoners has long been an issue, especially with the ongoing hunger strikes by a number of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons without charge, most notably Samer Issawi whose hunger strike has been running for well over 200 days.
These protests united the Palestinian populous. In Gaza, marches and protests were held, factions united. For a few days the flags of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and the DFLP flew over the broken tomb of the unknown solider, destroyed by Hamas in 2006, in the Rimal district of Gaza city.
The protests turned more violent in the West Bank where, unlike in Gaza, there are IDF soldiers on whom protesters can focus their anger.
Retaliation from Gaza was limited to a rocket, fired from its southern part hitting a road in Ashkelon. Responsibility for the rocket was claimed by Fatah's armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Many news publications reported this as the first breach of the November ceasefire, however, Israeli forces have shot and killed three people and injured at least 50 for straying too close to the perimeter fence since the beginning of the ceasefire.
In Gaza, there is little will for the escalation of this so-called "Prisoners Intifada". Memories of the short but brutal war in November are still fresh. Hamas are more concerned with internal security issues than a third intifada. Security measures have tightened since "Operation Pillar of Defence" and the fear of losing secrets to the Israelis through "collaborators" is rife.
Gaza courts have handed out 30 death sentences since 2007, many of them to people convicted of helping Israeli security forces. Hamas are stepping up their attempts to catch such collaborators. International visitors must now apply for entry permission to be able to visit Gaza. These are usually limited to 33 days, but can be extended. More recently, Hamas has made it mandatory for any Palestinian leaving Gaza via Erez, into Israel, to have exit permission. Making the all but impossible task of gaining entry to Israel, even harder.
The eight-day war was seen as a victory by Hamas. Their perspective is that it showed that Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip is still strong. Even with their support waning in the besieged strip, the view of many on the ground in Gaza is that Hamas showed strength during the operation. The brevity of the conflict, and the decision by Israel not to send in land forces, meant that it was far less damaging than Operation Cast Lead in 2007, but once again the response by Israel was seen as disproportionate.
On the surface Gaza has become more prosperous. Hundreds of new buildings are being built throughout the strip. However, this is just a facade. Gaza is still oppressed, the problems are still there. Poverty and unemployment are rife.
Shops may be better stocked with Israeli goods but life is still hugely difficult for the majority of those living in the Strip. UNRWA recently published a report entitled "Gaza 2020". It states that the population will increase from its current 1.6 million to 2.1 million people in 2020, which will result in a population density of more than 5,800 people per square kilometer.
The report expresses concern that Gazan infrastructure, especially electricity, water and sanitation, are not keeping pace with this growing population’s needs. I can vouch for the fact that the water quality has decreased over the past few years and power cuts are constant; these issues are only set to get worse and the life for the average Gazan will become more difficult if they are not resolved.
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More food stuff and a greater number of cars being shipped in through the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel does not help resolve the key issues that continue to affect Gaza. Without a drastic change to the blockade these key problems will remain and get worse as the population grows.
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The Gazan economy is still dependent on Israel. Imports have increased in volume recently, including the number of automobiles, however, the tunnel trade has been the driving force behind the construction projects. Materials from Israel are hard to get and hugely expensive when compared to the price of resources coming from Egypt. Prices fluctuate, doubling overnight because of crackdowns on the Egyptian side of the border.
It has been estimated that up to 60 percent of the roughly 1,000 smuggling routes under the border have been closed. Egypt has stated that it was cutting arms smuggling that was destabilizing the Sinai peninsula. However, Egyptian forces recently seized 20,000 liters of fuel ready to be smuggled into Gaza.
Hamas is working with Egypt to improve the situation but things remain difficult. Gaza’s rulers are optimistic in the long run, although they understand that Egypt has its own problems and it will take time for any real improvements to be made. Morsi is struggling to keep control and Gaza is low on the list of priorities.
Politically, Hamas are focused on the now stalled unity talks. There is a belief that uniting the Palestinian factions will put them in a stronger position politically. The Arab Spring sent a signal, and after participating in a democratic process in January 2006 Hamas want to keep some form of legitimacy. This is why they want the coalition talks to succeed.
A unity government would ensure Hamas still has the legitimacy to rule, which it feels it gained through the 2006 elections. However, legitimate or illegitimate, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to snatch the Gaza Strip from their control. The Hamas enclave, albeit filled with dissenting voices, has given the organisation a taste of power and they are unlikely to relinquish control. Their popularity in the West Bank is of more importance. If presidential election were held now, Hamas would most likely win.
The reconciliation process is difficult, no date for the resumption of talks has been set and the talks that were held were only cosmetic. However, there is optimism that there will be a way forward in the Hamas ranks. This optimism is not translated to the general populous, many of whom believe the bad blood created in 2007 will be too great to overcome.
Hamas has blamed the breakdown of the Cairo talks on two problems; the first is confidence. There is still understandable distrust between Fatah and Hamas. Brutal actions in the past are hard to forget. The second is a disagreement over the process. Hamas think that Abu Mazen is not fully concentrating on the reconciliation process, that he has one eye on the peace process, and one on America and Israel. To Hamas, the peace process is dead, pointless.
Support for Hamas is at the same time thin in Gaza. There is a lack of hope in the younger sections of society. Apathy towards politics. Many young Palestinians have resigned themselves to a life of repression, conflict and pain. They see no solution and certainly no solution that would be fair.
Without any process leading to the almost dead concept of a two-state solution, all that can be seen is the continuation of the status quo. For Palestine this means continuation of the resistance movement and not a political solution. With continuation of settlement expansion in the West Bank and the establishment of the E-1 plan, the concept of a two-state solution is even more difficult to conceive.
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