I had some interesting conversations with what I can refer to as diplomatic sources familiar with these matters and thought the following points worth sharing:
- Despite all the talk of ending/easing the blockade of Gaza, there is no way in the foreseeable future of a shift in Quartet policy toward Hamas. Rather, the EU and other peace process stakeholders are waiting for US envoy George Mitchell to pull a white rabbit out of his hat (i.e by restarting "peace talks" leading to a two-state solution). At the same time, no one really believes that is going to happen. So essentially, nothing serious is happening on the diplomatic front.
- World Bank figures due to be published in coming weeks are likely to show that economic growth in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2010 has exceeded that in the West Bank. While virtually all economic growth in the West Bank is a result of foreign aid, much of the growth in Gaza is attributable to a "parallel economy" that has emerged thanks to the tunnels. This has even created a small new class of nouveaux riches in Gaza.
- Many Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip are having their salaries paid by the EU in order NOT to go to work. If they go to work (and therefore legitimize the Hamas government) their salaries are cut off.
- Palestinians have already succeeded in breaching the US-financed underground steel wall being built along the Gaza-Egypt border.
- Press reports that US envoy George Mitchell once again put severe pressure on Egypt and other parties not to allow a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal to proceed are accurate. The logic is that the US wants to avoid any legitimization of Hamas and focus on the "proximity talks" leading to "direct talks" (leading to nowhere?).
- Press reports from last December that Mitchell vetoed a prisoner swap deal between the Netanyahu government and Hamas mediated by the Germans are accurate. (So if Israelis want to whine about the fact that Gilad Shalit is still a prisoner of war in Gaza they can direct their ire at their "best friend" the United States which nixed the German-brokered deal). Same warped logic - to avoid giving Hamas a victory.
- Salam Fayyad's "state building" initiative is a hollow shell. All he is is a pass through for foreign funds and a ceremonial ribbon-cutter and has not developed any independent or credible institutions and none are in the offing.
Some of this information was already known or obvious, but useful to have it further confirmed by people with direct knowledge.