GAZA: IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

SPECIAL FOCUS
May 2010

IMPEDING ASSISTANCE: CHALLENGES TO MEETING THE HUMANITARIAN NEEDS OF PALESTINIANS

This Special Focus draws attention to the range of measures currently impeding the humanitarian community’s ability to provide assistance to vulnerable Palestinians. The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory, however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that limit its ability to efficiently and effectively respond to existing needs.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“When the delivery of humanitarian access is restricted, lives are lost and misery prolonged needlessly.”1
John Holmes, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

The delivery of principled humanitarian assistance requires an operating environment that is conducive to the regular and continued deployment of staff and supplies, and managed in accordance with the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), however, the humanitarian community is facing a number of obstacles to the movement of staff and goods and other restrictions impacting day-to-day operations that impede the provision of humanitarian aid to vulnerable Palestinians.

The current humanitarian operation in the oPt is one of the largest in the world; at the time of its launching in November 2009, the oPt Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for 2010 ranked fifth out of 12 appeals globally, in terms of requested assistance. Through the oPt CAP, UN agencies and international and national NGOs2 requested over US$ 660 million for 2010. This support is intended to help mitigate the worst impacts of on-going conflict on the most vulnerable Palestinians, who continue to face a human dignity crisis, characterized by the erosion of livelihoods and the continued denial of basic human rights; nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population is food-insecure and unemployment levels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain high.3

The humanitarian operations outlined in the oPt’s CAP occur within the context of a prolonged Israeli military occupation in which policies to alter the status and character of the territory continue to be pursued contrary to international law. The situation in the Gaza Strip, in particular, presents severe impediments to humanitarian operations. Sweeping import restrictions imposed by Israel since June 2007 have either prevented the implementation of planned humanitarian projects or resulted in significant delays. For example, UNRWA reports that it has had 24 construction and infrastructure projects, totaling some US$ 109 million in donor funds, frozen as a result of the blockade. Among the affected projects are schools, health facilities, housing units, and sewage infrastructure. Additionally, the ‘no contact’ policy of some donors, prohibiting contact with the Hamas authorities, continues to affect some humanitarian organizations, while Hamas’s requests for compliance with its administrative procedures from UN agencies and NGOs have intensified. This ‘two-way’ tension is narrowing the operational independence of some organizations and, at times, restricts on-going humanitarian operations.

In the West Bank, humanitarian organizations face ongoing restrictions on movement and access. Policies include a permit regime required for staff from the West Bank to enter East Jerusalem, and continued access difficulties stemming from the deployment of hundreds of closure obstacles, among others. In particular, agencies mandated with service provision are limited in doing so in Area C, due to the restrictive planning regime applied by Israel and restrictions to obtaining building permits and difficulties accessing certain areas.

The humanitarian community’s primary concern with the measures outlined in this report is that they impede its ability to meet the needs of vulnerable Palestinians whose livelihoods have been reduced or destroyed by years of continued occupation, conflict and the denial of basic human rights.4 More than ever, immediate steps are required to reverse this trend.

A complete lifting of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and improved Palestinian access to land and resources in the West Bank and external markets are just a few examples of measures that could significantly improve Palestinian livelihoods through a reduction in unemployment and poverty. Israel’s modest relaxation in recent months of some import restrictions, which have allowed for the entry to Gaza of a number of much needed, previously-restricted items, including glass, wood, and aluminum, among others, have been welcome improvements.

In addition, all parties to the conflict must abide by their international legal obligations to ensure the smooth passage of humanitarian relief and personnel, and that the humanitarian community is able to carry out its work effectively and efficiently. Additionally, there is a need for donor countries to strongly advocate for an improvement in the humanitarian situation and respect for humanitarian operations in their bilateral relations with the authorities concerned. Another necessary step is that relevant donor countries and affected humanitarian organizations re-evaluate their position vis-à-vis the ‘no contact’ policy, where humanitarian operations are concerned, as well as related funding restrictions. Finally, the humanitarian community needs financial support for initiatives designed to resolve or overcome access issues and other restrictions on humanitarian operations.

Endnotes
1Quoted in “OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Access,” April 2010. Original quote from an August 2009 op-ed.
2The humanitarian strategy under-pinning the 2010 CAP is supported by 236 projects, comprising 147 from the NGO community and 89 from UN agencies.

3For additional details on the parameters of the human dignity crisis, see OCHA oPt, “Locked In: The humanitarian impact of two years of blockade on the Gaza Strip,” August 2009 and the oPt Consolidated Appeal for 2010.

4While the report draws attention to some of the specific ways in which the population is impacted, this subject is treated more fully in other OCHA oPt reports, so a detailed impact analysis is not included here. See, for example, regular OCHA oPt reports, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report” and the monthly “Humanitarian Monitor.” For the impact of specific restrictions, see OCHA oPt Special Focus reports, such as “Locked In”, August 2009, and “Restricting Space: The planning and zoning regime applied by Israel in Area C of the West Bank,” December 2009.

REF: http://unispal.un.org/

Israeli “peace plan”: Olmert’s Plan Excluded Jerusalem, Offered Limited ‘Land Swap’

Israeli online daily, Haaretz, published the “map for a permanent solution with the Palestinians” that was previously proposed by the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

The “peace plan”, Olmert presented does not include any withdrawal from Jerusalem, annexes all settlements surrounding Jerusalem, and also annexes all settlement blocs to Israel. The plan was never officially presented.

He “offered” the Palestinians areas in the Negev desert and some areas near the Gaza Strip, in addition to a passage between Gaza and the West Bank.
According to the plan, Israel annexes %6.3 of West Bank areas and evacuates isolated settlements located deep in the West Bank.

It keeps the settlement blocs of Maaleh Adumim, Ghush Tzion, Ariel, and all settlements located around the Old city of Jerusalem, and considers East
Jerusalem and its settlements as part of the state of Israel.

The former Prime Minister ‘offered’ the Palestinians 5.8% of “Israel’s lands”, mainly desert areas, in addition to offering a ‘safe passage’ between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The ‘safe passage’ or road linking between Gaza and the West Bank will remain under Israeli control and would always be monitored by the Israeli forces.

He offered transferring 327 kilometers of “Israel’s land’ to the Palestinian Authority; the areas are in the Beit She’an Valley near Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi; the” Judean Hills” near Nataf and Mevo Betar; and in the area of Lachish and of the Yatir Forest.

This means that even when the Palestinians ‘achieve independence’ they will still be subject to search and inspection by the army although they are supposedly moving between different territories of the ‘Palestinian state’.

As for the refugees issue, the plan rejects the internationally guaranteed Right of Return, and only offers allowing a limited number of refugees into the Palestinian territories, and not to their cities and towns wiped out in 1948 by the creation of the state of Israel.

Haaretz said that Olmert and the former United States administration, under George Bush, reached an understanding for the development of the Negev and the Galilee in order to house the settlers who would be evacuated from some West Bank settlements. Some of the settlers would be moved to West bank settlement blocs.

On September 16, 2008, Olmert “offered” Abbas a plan based on talks that followed the Annapolis Summit of 2007. But Olmert told Abbas that handing him the new map is conditioned by signing a ‘comprehensive’ peace deal so that the Palestinians would not use the plan as a starting point for talks on further evacuations.

President Abbas rejected the offer of Olmert and the office of Olmert never even handed him the map of the new plan.

Israel does not view the final status peace deal as an issue that would bring independence and sovereignty to the Palestinian people.

The internationally guaranteed Right of Return and all United Nations and Security Council resolutions calling for the full Israeli withdrawal for all Arab and Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, were fully rejected by Israel.

Ref: Imemc

Read more about the israhell “peace plan”

Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan”
Olmert mentions a $10 billion price tag to his “convergence” plan, and implies that Washington will fund it. If the U.S. complies, writes Leggett, it “will likely be seen throughout the Middle East as assisting Israel’s bid to take permanent control of large settlement blocs and Jerusalem. The fear is that this would add to regional anger toward the U.S., complicating efforts to stabilize Iraq and promote democracy in other countries.”

Olmert’s convergence plan is intended to establish final borders, already visible in the form of the Wall. In their report “Under the Guise of Security,” [1] Israeli human-rights organizations, BIMKOM and B’Tselem, detail how the Wall has been erected to create prime real estate and hasten expansion of the settlements (which are illegal under international law). Olmert’s agenda highlights what peace activists have long been saying: the Wall is a long-term political border, rather than the “temporary security installation” claimed by Israeli military planners, when testifying at Supreme Court hearings.

…All this represents basic strategy: Israel intends to withdrawal unilaterally from minor areas in order to keep geopolitically strategic ones, especially Jerusalem and other blocs. The intention has always been to undermine Palestinian viability while controlling demographics. Jeff Halper’s “matrix of control” is another name for this strategy. [4] It is no coincidence that the Wall has grabbed the best farmland and most of the water (“Security or Greed?” asks Avraham Tal in Haaretz, April 20), and has destroyed all economic interfaces and market towns (Nazlat Issa, Qalqilya, Mas’ha, A-Ram, Abu Dis and Al-Azariya), while Israel has marginalised the Palestinian transport system.

The political die has been cast, and Israel is officially entering the world community as an Apartheid state, with unilaterally-determined, colonialist borders set in concrete, delineating a non-viable, truncated Bantustan version of Palestine, which will be trapped and stifled in the bear hug of Big Brother Israel. All of which is being accomplished with American and European complicity, contrary to international law and human rights.

Ref: EI

If Kosovo, Why Not Palestine?

Kosovo has now issued its anticipated unilateral declaration of independence, and the United States and most European Union countries, with which this declaration was coordinated, are rushing to extend diplomatic recognition to this “new country”, a course of action which should strike anyone with an attachment to either international law or common sense as breathtakingly reckless.

The potentially destabilizing consequences of this precedent (which the U.S. and the EU insist, bizarrely, should not be viewed as a precedent) have been much discussed with reference to other unhappy portions of other internationally recognized sovereign states with strong separatist movements practicing precarious but effective self-rule, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transniestria, Ngorno-Karabakh, Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as to discontented minorities elsewhere. One potentially constructive consequence has not yet been discussed.

The American and EU impatience to amputate a portion of a UN member state (universally recognized, even by them, to constitute a portion of that state’s sovereign territory), ostensibly because 90% of those living in that portion of the state’s territory support separation, contrasts starkly with the unlimited patience of the U.S. and the EU when it comes to ending the 40-year-long belligerent occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (no portion of which any country recognizes as Israel’s sovereign territory and as to which Israel has only even asserted sovereignty over a tiny portion, occupied East Jerusalem). Virtually every legal resident of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip seeks freedom — and has for over 40 years. For doing so, they are punished, sanctioned, besieged, humiliated and, day after endless day, killed by those who claim to stand on the moral high ground.

In American and EU eyes, a Kosovar declaration of independence from Serbian sovereignty should be recognized even if Serbia does not agree. However, their attitude was radically different when Palestine declared independence from Israeli occupation on November 15, 1988. Then the U.S. and the EU countries (which, in their own eyes, constitute the “international community”, to the exclusion of most of mankind) were conspicuously absent when over 100 countries recognized the new State of Palestine, and their non-recognition made this declaration of independence purely “symbolic” in their own eyes and, unfortunately, in most Palestinian and other eyes as well.

For the U.S. and the EU, any Palestinian independence, to be recognized and legally effective, must still be directly negotiated, on a wildly unequal bilateral basis, between the occupying power and the occupied people — and must be agreed to by the occupying power. For the U.S. and the EU, the rights and desires of a long-suffering and brutalized occupied people, as well as international law, are irrelevant.

For the U.S. and the EU, Kosovar Albanians, having enjoyed almost nine years of UN administration and NATO protection, cannot be expected to wait any longer for their freedom, while the Palestinians, having endured over 40 years of Israeli occupation, can wait forever.

With the “Annapolis process” going nowhere, as was clearly the Israeli and American intention from the start, the Kosovo precedent offers the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, accepted as such by the “international community” because it is perceived as serving Israeli and American interests, a golden opportunity to seize the initiative, to reset the agenda and to restore its tarnished reputation in the eyes of its own people.

If this leadership truly believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that a decent “two-state solution” is still possible, now is an ideal moment to reaffirm the legal existence (albeit under continuing belligerent occupation) of the State of Palestine, explicitly in the entire 22% of Mandatory Palestine which was not conquered and occupied by the State of Israel until 1967, and to call on all those countries which did not extend diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine in 1988 — and particularly the U.S. and the EU states — to do so now.

The Kosovar Albanian leadership has promised protection for Kosovo’s Serb minority, which is now expected to flee in fear. The Palestinian leadership could promise to accord a generous period of time for the Israeli colonists living illegally in the State of Palestine and the Israeli occupation forces to withdraw, as well as to consider an economic union with Israel, open borders and permanent resident status for those illegal colonists willing to live in peace under Palestinian rule.

Of course, to prevent the U.S. and the EU from treating such an initiative as a joke, there would have to be a significant and explicit consequence if they were to do so. The consequence would be the end of the “two-state” illusion. The Palestinian leadership would make clear that if the U.S. and the EU, having just recognized a second Albanian state on the sovereign territory of a UN member state, will not now recognize one Palestinian state on a tiny portion of the occupied Palestinian homeland, it will dissolve the “Palestinian Authority” (which, legally, should have ceased to exist in 1999, at the end of the five-year “interim period” under the Oslo Accords) and the Palestinian people will thereafter seek justice and freedom through democracy — through the persistent, non-violent pursuit of full rights of citizenship in a single state in all of Israel/Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race and religion and with equal rights for all who live there, as in any true democracy.

Palestinian leaderships have tolerated Western hypocrisy and racism and played the role of gullible fools for far too long. It is time to kick over the table, constructively, and to shock the “international community” into taking notice that the Palestinian people simply will not tolerate unbearable injustice and abuse any longer.

If not now, when?

Ref: Counterpunch
John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck”.