Practical arrangements eyed for Gaza aid

08:51, June 07, 2010      

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The events of the last week surrounding the Israeli boarding of the Gaza flotilla, the ensuing bloodshed and Hamas' refusal to accept the aid have led to the posing of a key question by the White House: how can aid be sent to Gaza, while addressing Israel's concern?

The current arrangements maintained by the United States are unsustainable and must be changed.

"It remains a U.S. priority to provide assistance to the people of Gaza. We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza, while also increasing opportunity for the people of Gaza and preventing the importation of weapons," U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement on Friday.

"We will be talking to Israel and other countries about ways in which we can improve the flow of assistance to Gaza and support the people of Gaza while meeting Israel's security concerns," added U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.

POSSIBLE ARRANGEMENTS

At least nine activists lost their lives when Israeli officers boarded the lead ship in flotilla headed for Gaza on Monday. Israel insists some of those on board were not peace volunteers but had strong links to terrorist groups, whilst the organizers of the convoy said the passengers merely wanted to bring aid to the Palestinians and media attention to their plight.

Israel should now implement a system of checks that it should have already applied in the case of the flotilla, suggested Avi Segal, an expert on Israeli military policy and security from Ben- Gurion University of the Negev in southern Israel.

Israel has the right to check ships to ensure that the goods and passengers are not in any way going to be used in attacks against the Jewish state, he explained. After such checks have been carried out, the boats should then be allowed to dock in Gaza and unload their cargo.

"In my opinion, this is the reasonable approach that Israel needs to adopt," said Segal, suggesting that this type of suggestion is in line with the Protocol on Economic Relations signed by the Palestinians and Israelis in April 1994.

Another idea has previously been put forward to the Israelis and that is as far as construction and other work in concerned in the refugee camps. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency ( UNRWA) currently has on its books 1.1 million refugees in Gaza out of a total population of just under 1.5 million.

The organization has suggested to Israel that it will take responsibility for all building materials entering Gaza via Israeli checkpoints and will guarantee that it is used for reconstruction and not for military purposes.

"We have provided the Israelis with a plan or mechanism so that all the building materials entering Gaza will go to the real purposes and no one will touch them," said UNRWA's Gaza spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna.

So far Israel has not responded to this offer, which was made prior to the flotilla episode.

Israel has been loathed to agree to such an arrangement because over the past year or so Hamas has build a network of bunkers under Gaza to ensure the safety of its own operations, said Moshe Marzuk, a researcher on the Palestinian territories at Israel's Interdisciplinary Center.

Until that became clear, Israel was allowing building material into Gaza, he told Xinhua.

ISRAELI OFFER

Israel has in the past recommended that an international body under the auspices of the UN oversee all goods entering Gaza.

Given that most goods bound for the strip arrive by sea, that unit would not have to be based in Israel but could be located at some port in the vicinity, "perhaps in Cyprus or Italy," Marzuk proposed.

There would be a parallel UN team operating inside Gaza to ensure that all goods were used for civilian rather than military purposes, he added.

In terms of the composition of such a body, Israel would be satisfied to allow any country to be involved as long as it is not a state that backs terror, said Marzuk.

Asked why the international community had not welcomed this Israeli proposal with open arms, Marzuk said that some nations would rather that Israel simply allow goods to enter Gaza.

THE CORE OF THE PROBLEM

However, one expert who spoke with Xinhua argued that dealing with the specific details is to miss the point. These are minutiae in a much bigger picture.

Neve Gordon, an expert on human rights and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, also from at Ben-Gurion University, argued that the United States and Israel need to be open to something that thus far they have not been prepared to countenance.

"They need to start talking to Hamas," said Gordon of the organization that controls the Gaza Strip, but is deemed a terrorist organization by Washington and Israel.

With regard to Gaza, a more basic question needs to be asked than whether 500 tons of concrete be allowed into the Palestinian coastal enclave or not, according to Gordon.

Israel needs to decide who has sovereignty over Gaza. Israel, suggested Gordon, maintains it ended its control of the strip when it withdrew its troops and civilians in August 2005.

He added that if that is the case, then Israel cannot today allow itself to command Gazan territorial waters.

Likewise, the solution offered by Mahmoud Abu Rahma, the international relations coordinator for the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, did not give the kind of answers the United States are looking for in the short term.

For Abu Rahma, this is all about pushing the peace process to its conclusion and abiding by previous agreements while ensuring that international humanitarian and human rights law are respected.

First and foremost is the Palestinian right to self- determination, proffered Abu Rahma.

Israeli actions against ships in international waters over the last week were clearly not in line with such a notion. Until self- determination has been achieved, Israel, as the occupier, must act in accordance with international law, he said.

"First Israel must lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip because it is simply an illegal blockade. You cannot impose a blockade on a territory that you occupy," Abu Rahma said on Sunday.

Source: Xinhua ( by David Harris)
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