Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Monday in a briefing to the diplomatic correspondents that "there is no humanitarian distress in Gaza."
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The situation in Gaza "isn't pleasant," Ya'alon said, but added that "if they were to decide to export strawberries from Gaza instead of rockets, the situation would be entirely different."
Ya'alon's words, coming a year after Operation Protective Edge, when according to United Nations figures almost 1,500 Palestinian civilians were killed, including 500 children, and hundreds of thousands lost their homes, contradict a series of international reports on the situation in Gaza. For example, a report published by the World Bank a month ago presented a harsh picture of the economic situation in Gaza and asserted that unemployment in the Strip is the highest in the world.
The authors of the report claimed that the gross domestic product of the Gaza Strip should have been four times higher than it is, but the wars in recent years, and Operation Protective Edge in particular, along with the continued closure, have prevented that. According to the report, the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007 has caused the loss of about 50 percent of local GDP. Unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world at 43 percent. Unemployment among young people is even higher, 60 percent at the end of 2014. According to the report, Operation Protective edge reduced Gaza's GDP by about $530 million from projected estimates. Construction, agriculture, industrial production and electricity suffered the greatest losses, with output in the construction industry down by 83 percent in the second half of 2014, and by about 50 percent in the other industries.
The report also noted that Gaza residents suffer from a low quality of basic public services, such as electricity, water and sewage. Almost 80 percent of Gaza residents receive some kind of assistance, but at the same time about 40 percent are still living below the poverty line.
During the briefing, Ya'alon denied the existence of direct or indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas regarding a long-term cease-fire, by means of intermediaries. "We are allowing the Qataris to build infrastructure there, but the Qataris have no diplomatic role nor is there mediation by any European country. The ideas raised by various elements for a tahadiya (cease-fire) are not being discussed between us and Hamas. Israel will not violate the conditions of the Quartet. There are no diplomatic negotiations regarding a tahadiya or anything else. There is coordination for the purposes of rehabilitation in the Gaza Strip. There are no negotiations. It's true that Hamas has an interest in annoying Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] – but there's no truth to it [to the reports of contacts]."
The defense minister also emphasized that at present the smuggling of combat material from Egypt to the Gaza Strip has stopped, and that Hamas and the other organizations in Gaza are trying to produce the rockets and other weapons on their own. "It's not of the same quality and at the same rate as in the past," he said. Ya'alon added that he doesn't know at present about any tunnel from Gaza that reaches Israeli territory. Ya'alon refused to answer questions about contacts regarding an exchange of prisoners or bodies between Israel and Hamas.
The defense minister also attacked the French initiative to promote a decision in the UN Security Council on the Palestinian issue. "Anyone who thinks that with pressure of some kind he will bring about a final status agreement simply doesn't learn from history," he emphasized. "We're not in a status quo policy but are trying to promote the welfare of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. If anyone thinks that he'll come from outside and give us a timetable or a decision in the Security Council and that will bring about a final status solution, I send him to read my book about being solution-oriented and now-oriented."