Alkhatib to Mladenov: The airport is a core and real issue in Gaza

Alkhatib to Mladenov: The airport is a core and real issue in Gaza
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Donia Al-Watan
Project Unified Assistance (PUA), a non-governmental organization based in the United States that is “advocating for the establishment of a United Nations-operated and regulated airport in the Gaza Strip” responded to a statement by Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N.’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, regarding the Gaza Airport issue.

Through written remarks, the organization’s Founder and Director, Ahmed Alkhatib, stated that “establishing and operating an airport in Gaza will help in the stabilization of the coastal enclave and will create mutual trust between Palestinians and Israel, and that in turn will contribute to implementing tangible improvements in the lives of people in the Strip.”

On Saturday, Mladenov said that residents of Gaza need jobs and hope more than a harbor and an airport, in reference to recent comments by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's defense minister, regarding Israel’s willingness to approve the establishment of an airport, a seaport, and industrial zones if the Strip’s rulers stop aggressive actions such as firing rockets and digging tunnels.

The U.N.’s Middle East envoy explained that people in Gaza had more pressing concerns and said “yes, it’s important to have an airport and a seaport in Gaza, but I don’t want us to be distracted by that from resolving the real issues that we face today,” adding that “people have lost hope and that life is gone and this is what makes Gaza more dangerous and more explosive.”
In response, Alkhatib stated that “the airport is actually a core component of the reconstruction process and will facilitate the transportation of needed quality medical and humanitarian devices, equipment, and supplies, and will provide many opportunities for employment, mobility, and hope amidst the desperation.” He elaborated: “it also goes without saying that an airport or a seaport are not the only actions needed to address the urgent needs of desperate civilians in Gaza, especially when it comes to water, electricity, unemployment, health care, education, and socio-political stability.” Nevertheless, and despite that, Alkhatib strongly believes that implementing PUA’s proposed U.N. operated and regulated airport in Gaza (based on relevant historic and contemporary precedents) in the al-Mawasi area of Khan Yunis (on the southern coast of the Strip) will address a significant component of the people’s suffering due to their inability to travel freely in and out of Gaza.

Alkhatib expressed hope that the U.N. will work with relevant parties, especially Israel, to explore ways for implementing the proposed humanitarian airport expediently and without the need for a comprehensive political resolution between Palestinians and Israelis.

Furthermore, he added that if the U.N. is interested in focusing on “real” issues that are more pressing, per Mladenov’s remarks, the Organization could develop and execute several measures aimed at expediting Gaza’s development process such as reforming or replacing the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) to scale up the rebuilding of destroyed homes and relieve Palestinian contractors and companies from excruciatingly demanding and taxing compliance requirements.

As for Lieberman’s remarks, Alkhatib believes that although the minister’s statements to a Palestinian newspaper in recent weeks contained explicit threats to Gaza, they demonstrate a strategic shift in how the Israeli military establishment wants to deal with the coastal enclave. “Instead of talking about completely disarming Gaza before major development can take place, as has been the case in the past, the focus now is on the two most pertinent threats to Israel: the rockets and the intricate tunnels that have been dug under Israel’s border with the Strip.” Alkhatib believes that the change in Israeli attitude will make it possible to implement PUA’s proposed U.N. airport in the near future, as the new pragmatic formula for Gaza entails “stability in exchange for re-development.”

In recent months, the Middle East Institute published a policy paper by Alkhatib titled “Gaza Airport: Stabilizing the Strip with Humanitarian Aviation” in which he presented his organization’s proposal to establish a U.N. airport in the Strip. The paper states that doing so ‘will allow for the conducting of a humanitarian air operation and will remove barriers to people’s freedom of movement.’ The analysis explained that for decades, the U.N. has decisively and effectively participated in humanitarian air operations in countries and areas suffering from conflict and natural disasters. It is noteworthy that during the 1950s and 1960s, Gaza had an airport which was run by the U.N. The facility allowed for the transportation of cargo to and from the Strip, and facilitated the movement of local Palestinian passengers who took weekly flights to limited destinations such as Lebanon and Cyprus.