Oxfam warning gives EU chance to restore aid and its reputation
WITH the Palestinian Authority acquiring a national unity government and the Saudis putting forward an Arab peace initiative, it might have been a good opportunity for Israel and its Western allies to reach out and take the proffered hand, and resume peace talks - if that was what they wanted.
Various people - from Uri Avneri to George Soros - with Israel's best interests at heart, have said it was wrong to break off contacts just because Palestinians elected Hamas, and wage war on the Palestinian people, rather than giving peace a chance. But the Israeli government saw no reason to listen to such advice so long as it was getting all the encouragement and help it needed to pursue an aggressive policy, from the United States, Britain, and the European Union too, determined to punish the Palestinians for voting Hamas.
The Palestinians have shown they can compromise (disappointing their enemies who would prefer to see civil war), but still the door is shut in their face. As Ha'aretz reported on Wednesday:
The Dutch government yesterday ruled out a visit by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, saying he would not get a visa because the European Union considers the Hamas party a terrorist group. Haniyeh's office contacted the Dutch government to inquire about documents needed to request a visa as the Palestinian premier wanted to attend a conference of Palestinians in Europe in Rotterdam on May 5.
Dutch media reported that Haniyeh had been invited to be the main speaker at the conference, organized by the Dutch-based Palestine Platform for Human Rights and Solidarity. "He will not be granted a visa, should he request one officially," a spokesman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry said. "Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union."
"It is consistent not only to avoid contact with Hamas ministers but also not to let them come to the Netherlands or anywhere else in Europe and spread the message of Hamas," the spokesman added. Meanwhile, Haniyeh yesterday told an audience of thousands at a rally for prisoner release in front of the Red Cross offices in Gaza that the head of the Tanzim, Marwan Barghouti, imprisoned for murder in an Israeli jail, was on the list of Palestinian prisoners Hamas had transfered to Israel to be exchanged for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
On Saturday, Haniyeh's deputy, Fatah's Azam al-Ahmed, said that as far as he knew, Barghouti was not on the list. However, he told Haaretz that he had not seen the list, nor had any of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' people. He added that it was unclear who had composed the list that had been delivered to Egypt. The Chinese Embassy denied a statement by Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti yesterday that China had decided to renew diplomatic relations with the Palestinian government. Barghouti said Switzerland had also decided to renew relations.
Dutch friends say you can't expect better of their government, which has a Christian Democrat majority and Social Democrat minority and is over-keen to impress Washington. Not that the Blair government's any better. But it is interesting to see the "People's Republic" lining up with the imperialists on this. It doesn't show much finicketyness about dealing with the Muslim government in Sudan, but then it's consistent, siding with the oppressor not the oppressed. Anyway, Palestinians haven't got oil, unless it's the olive kind; and so long as they are kept behind a Wall, Israel is in the market for the cheap migrant labour which China obligingly provides.
But getting back to Europe, Oxfam has produced a report on how poverty has risen in the West Bank and Gaza in the past year since the US and EU cut off aid to Palestinian institutions, and the Israeli government blockaded Gaza, and stopped tax and customs payments, leaving the Palestinian Authority without funds to pay workers. Oxfam's 'Briefing Note' quotes UN special rapporteur John Dugard that "the Palestinian people have been subject to economic sanctions - the first time an occupied people have been so treated." It says these measures have "led to immense suffering", with 46 per cent of people unable to buy the food or medicines they need.
Citing effects on families, and on hospitals and other services, the aid charity says its own projects have been hit by the effects of both sanctions and Israeli military action which has wrecked Gaza's infrastructure. It also warns that the Temporary International Mechanism established by the EU to help the poorest people without going through government channels "has been unable to prevent the growing humanitarian crisis". In any case, when aid is fragmented it is harder to keep track of where it goes, or who it helps.
While acknowledging that aid is not a panacea, Oxfam believes that witholding aid to compel a policy change could have the opposite effect to that which was supposedly intended. It warns in a volatile situation Palestine risks becoming a "failed state" , which would destroy the chance of achieving a two-state solution. (Poverty in Palestine: the human cost of the financial boycott. http://www.oxfam.org/en/files/bn070413_palestinian_aid_boycott.pdf/download
Remembering how Ariel Sharon attacked Palestinian offices, and launched his unilateral withdrawal claiming there was "nobody to talk to" on the Palestinian side, one wonders whether that is what Israeli governments and their backers have wanted all along.
Oxfam report and its recommendations - restoring direct aid, telling Israel to release funds it has witheld, and restoring faith in Europe's belief in democracy and trustworthiness as a broker for peace - are much in line with what people told their MPs when we lobbied the Westminster parliament on November 29. So far, it seems only Norway has broken ranks with the blockade, while Russia and France have given it thought.
The Enough coalition (after 40 years of Israeli Occupation) is planning to lobby MPs again in November this year. (There's also a national demonstration on June 9). It's worth making sure that your MP gets a copy of the Oxfam report along with your e-mail or letter, urging him to study and support it, now, rather than wait till you see him later in the year.