Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
A protracted protection crisis continues in oPt, largely attributable to the ongoing occupation, the internal Palestinian divide, continued violations of international law, and recurrent escalations of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups. 2020 witnessed a sharp increase in the severity of humanitarian needs across oPt. This was due to the COVID-19 outbreak and measures taken by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in response to Israel’s threat to formally annex parts of the West Bank. These factors will continue to drive vulnerability and humanitarian need in oPt in 2021.
The COVID-19 mortality rate remains low by global standards (77 persons per million people). However, measures imposed to contain the pandemic (recurrent lockdowns, travel restrictions, school closures, reduction of commercial activities and mandatory quarantines) have severely undermined living conditions across oPt. In Gaza, unemployment in the second quarter of 2020 reached a historical high of over 49 per cent.
Compounding the situation was the PA’s decision to halt almost all bilateral contacts with Israel, between May and November, including refusing to accept the tax clearance revenues that Israel collects on its behalf. Together with the economic slowdown due to the pandemic, this severely reduced the PA’s capacity to pay salaries, deliver services and maintain social safety nets. While, by mid-November 2020, the PA had indicated that it would resume coordination with Israel, the impacts are yet to be assessed and damage sustained from the six-month halt remains. UNRWA’s financial crisis also remains an element of concern with the potential for considerable humanitarian consequences across oPt.
There has been a significant decline in conflict-related casualties in 2020. However, concerns about excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers resulting in the killing or serious injury of Palestinians remain, as well as a lack of accountability for violations of international law. Significant shortfalls in funding for humanitarian organizations alongside an ever-increasing constriction of operational space are increasingly undermining the humanitarian community’s ability to respond to growing needs.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
The Palestinian economy is expected to shrink between 2.6 and 7.6 per cent by the year’s end, compared to 2019. The proportion of poor households in the Gaza Strip is projected to increase from 53 to 64 per cent and more than double in the West Bank, from 14 to 30 per cent. Against the backdrop of a general deterioration in living conditions and the lack of security coordination between the PA and Israel, the potential remains for an increase in violence, including an escalation of hostilities in Gaza, during 2021.
In the Gaza Strip, the 2 million Palestinians, who have been under Israeli blockade for over 13 years, have been further isolated from the external world by COVID-19-related restrictions and the halt in coordination, with serious impacts on access to medical care. At the same time, the main factors driving the fragile humanitarian situation there remain in place, with no changes foreseen.
In the West Bank, policies and practices affecting Area C, East Jerusalem and the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron city are expected to continue, placing Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer and leading to erosion of livelihoods. Economic development will remain hampered by the occupation and limitations on Palestinian access to land and natural resources, and by a multilayered system of administrative, bureaucratic and physical constraints, including the Barrier. Many of these constraints are linked to the presence of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.
Throughout oPt, the most vulnerable people remain those living in poor or women-headed households; Palestine refugees living in refugee camps; children, particularly those under 5 years of age; the older population; pregnant and lactating women; persons with disabilities; small-scale farmers, herders and fishers; and displaced people.
Response priorities in 2021
In 2020, humanitarian partners aimed to reach 1.5 million Palestinians with assistance through the HRP. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak in oPt, by April most of the regular HRP activities had been reprogrammed to respond to pandemic-generated needs. Overall, 1.2 million Palestinians received humanitarian assistance in 2020, including 300,000 people targeted by the original plan.
Key achievements included the allocation and mobilization of resources. This covered 94 per cent of the funds requested for the plan, meeting basic WASH needs for the most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis. The oPt Humanitarian Fund provided rapid and flexible support to humanitarian operations to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in oPt.
In 2021, an estimated 2.4 million Palestinians across oPt will require humanitarian assistance. The majority, 64 per cent, live in the Gaza Strip. Although this total is only slightly more than the estimate for 2020 (2.41 million), the number of people suffering from severe need has increased. Of the total number of people in need, humanitarian partners will aim to assist the most vulnerable (1.8 million people), with a financial requirement of $417 million.
Their needs will be addressed through multisector efforts that aim to protect the rights of Palestinians living under occupation, provide access to essential services for the most vulnerable, and support Palestinians’ ability to cope with the effects of the crisis, while more sustainable solutions are sought. The 2021 HRP will maintain the centrality of protection as a shared system-wide responsibility.