Project Unified Assistance (PUA), an American NGO, has received through intermediaries a non-objection [approval] from Hamas, the de facto government of Gaza, of its proposal to establish an internationally-run airport administered by the United Nations in the Gaza Strip.
PUA's founder and director, Ahmed Alkhatib, explained that both his organization's vision and details about the proposal were delivered to the leadership of Hamas, including the most important issue of land use. The al-Mawasi land in Khan Yunis, on the southwestern coast of the Gaza Strip, is PUA's desired location for the U.N. airport. Using the al-Mawasi area would foreclose any possibility of rebuilding the airport on the site of the former Gaza International Airport in the south-easternmost part of the Strip, which is an unsafe and an impractical location.
Despite barriers to direct communication with authorities in Gaza, intermediaries were able to send relevant details and components of PUA's proposal to the appropriate individuals. The intermediaries also conveyed the significance of the proposed airport and the provision of a humanitarian, independent travel corridor for civilians under international support and sponsorship to the stabilization of the coastal enclave.
Alkhatib confirmed that the intermediaries received clear and explicit responses from authorities in Gaza, all of whom agree on the need to support the proposed airport. Additionally, it was agreed upon that public lands should not be distributed to Gaza government employees in lieu of their salaries as was Hamas' original plan. The preservation of this land for the proposed airport is vital because the site on the southwestern coast of the Strip is the only feasible location that could ensure the safety, security, and operational independence of the airport.
PUA's director added that Hamas understands that the proposed airport must be supported and endorsed by the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who constitute the legitimate government of the Palestinian people. This would make it possible for the proposal to be studied and implemented by the relevant stakeholders, particularly the by U.N. With this preliminary approval of PUA's vision from President Abbas, it is clear that Hamas will not pose an obstacle to the implementation of the proposed airport.
These responses from Hamas were viewed positively particularly when it came to the use of public land to build the proposed airport, said Alkhatib. Promises and guarantees were given that when the implementation of the proposal begins, the al-Mawasi land will be ready for the project. This would include space for the airport's facilities as well as a residential complex for the airport's management employees, who will come from outside of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas' initial decision to distribute the al-Mawasi land to its employees, Alkhatib stated, would have hurt the implementation of the project because no international donor would be willing to provide funds to buy back public land. Alkhatib stressed that the highest interests of almost two million Palestinians in Gaza dictate that a historic and strategic opportunity to establish an airport in a practical and pragmatic manner not be wasted.
In addition to land use details which were communicated by intermediaries to Hamas leadership, other details included the requirement that the airport be fully run and operated via international management under a U.N. umbrella organization. The facility should be integrated with existing U.N. systems and networks on the ground in Gaza so that the airport does not benefit private interests or political parties. [It is important to note that despite the need for coordination, PUA's vision does not call for United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) or United Nations Development Program (UNDP) involvement in operating the airport]. The Palestinian Authority should be present in the facility to assist with immigration and visa issues.
An additional point conveyed to the leadership in Gaza pertained to future financial proceeds from the proposed airport. Since the facility will operate with full international support and external financing, all financial revenues from the airport will be used to cover operating costs and achieve self-sufficiency.
Alkhatib acknowledged that the implementation of the proposed airport would require coordination with the relevant bodies in Gaza due to their presence on the ground. Moreover, there will be a need to provide protection for work crews before and during construction of the facility and after it begins operating. Similar security arrangements are already in place among other U.N. organizations that operate in the Gaza Strip. Security of the airport's perimeter will be the responsibility of relevant bodies in Gaza, while the operation and protection of the facility will be the responsibility of airport employees under the management and supervision of the United Nations, as well as possibly other international entities.
It is noteworthy to highlight that PUA's proposal emphasizes a different framework than that of Gaza's former international airport (destroyed in 2002). The new airport would be a strictly humanitarian-based facility under U.N. management and could eventually become Palestinian-run after five to ten years of successful operation.