An American NGO, Project Unified Assistance (PUA), has confirmed that it generated considerable interest from the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) in its proposal to establish a U.N.-operated airport in Gaza.
Ahmed Alkhatib, the organization's founder, is originally from Gaza and has lived in the United States since 2005. He stated that communication has been conducted with the Palestinian leadership at the highest political and economic levels, all the way to President Mahmoud Abbas. PUA presented details and possible implementation mechanisms in addition to clarifying the perspectives of supportive international experts regarding its Gaza Airport Proposal.
In an exclusive interview with Donia Al Watan [the news agency], Alkhatib added that President Abbas and key figures in his inner circle are interested in the proposal though they recognize the challenges facing its implementation in Gaza. He also confirmed that PUA received the green light to continue to expand outreach efforts and seek the support of key stakeholders [Israel, Egypt, the U.N.]. Alkhatib also stated that the P.A.'s official public and diplomatic support for the proposal will evolve based on developments in the next phases of the project.
Alkhatib emphasized that the proposed airport is consistent with President Abbas' strategy of utilizing the U.N.'s framework to obtain tangible achievements that serve the Palestinian people. This is especially so given that the U.N. conducts humanitarian air operations around the world in areas impacted by conflict and natural disasters. Alkhatib acknowledged that the implementation of the proposed airport in Gaza would marginalize other proposals, which may have the effect of deepening the political division and separation between the West Bank and Gaza. Project Unified Assistance sees this proposal as a practical alternative to other proposals which carry too many risks and complications for the relevant stakeholders [Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority].
The endorsement of the P.A. is critical, added Alkhatib, because no matter how valid and feasible a proposal is, it will not be taken seriously without Palestinian support. The P.A., said Alkhatib, should present the proposal to the U.N. so that its merits can be studied and to work with stakeholders to get it implemented.
Alkhatib believes that synchronizing the proposed airport with the U.N.'s robust network and systems already on the ground in Gaza should be relatively easy. Such cooperation will ensure that the facility is used for strictly humanitarian and utilitarian purposes and that no faction or political group in Gaza [Hamas] can take advantage of it. He called for a presence of a P.A. office in the facility to assist with immigration and visa issues.
The destroyed Gaza International Airport (1998-2002) can never be revived, said Alkhatib. This is due to the fact that the Wye River Agreement and overall Oslo framework which resulted in the establishment of the original airport was tied to the final status agreements and comprehensive peace process. Given that comprehensive peace seems far away now, and given that the geopolitics have shifted dramatically, a new methodology should be adopted to bring the world of aviation to the Palestinian Territories. The U.N. will address all of Israel's security concerns [just as it already does with the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism - GRM - a system devised after the 2014 Gaza War to ensure that reconstruction materials are not diverted to be used by militants]. There is to be no smuggling of fighters or weaponry, and the risks of hijacking can be managed and mitigated to reduce the threat. Additionally, all management of the airport needs to come from outside of Gaza to prevent the risk of political, ideological, or material influence on airport employees. To achieve this, it is important to create a residential complex for U.N. employees who will come from outside of Gaza onto the airport premises so that they can operate the facility continuously and independently of the political or security challenges of the surrounding environment.
On the other hand, Alkhatib acknowledged the difficulty of implementing the proposed U.N. airport in Gaza and stressed that he is aware of how challenging it will be. However, he strongly believes that implementation is not impossible and that hardships can be turned into opportunities to serve Palestinian and even Egyptian interests in Gaza, and that the airport could provide a new opening to resume peace negotiations with Israel.
Project Unified Assistance has said that it wants to re-create the idea of the U.N. airport which was operated in Gaza during the fifties and sixties of the last century. Additionally, the NGO has clarified that its vision and proposal are built on the desire to take advantage of a successfully tested and utilized humanitarian aviation model by the U.N. in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Somalia, and Uganda, among others. Based on comprehensive consultations with experts, the organization proposed a new location for the airport, away from Israeli and Egyptian borders and airspace.
The organization acknowledges the Palestinian people's urgent desire to see progress on the ground with regards to the proposed airport. However, an achievement of this magnitude requires time and tremendous effort. Accomplishing the goals of this humanitarian proposal for hope and stability in Gaza has already begun with detailed plans and substantial attention. Subsequently, public and diplomatic support must be mobilized to push for the implementation by the relevant parties and stakeholders.
Alkhatib concluded by saying that "thoughts, ideas, and plans become our words, and with dedicated and hard work, words will turn into action ... the journey of a 1000 miles begins with a few modest steps". He emphasized that the suffering of civilians in Gaza fuels his desire and that of the NGO's volunteers to do everything possible to alleviate the suffering that people face due to the lack of freedom of movement.