By Terry Walz
The phantasma of peace scheduled to appear in Annapolis, where an international conference is to take place some time in "November or December" – the latest Haaretz guesstimate – has been the subject of a steady round of talking head and diplomatic activity. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is meeting "two days in a row" with her Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qurei on undisclosed subjects; Prime Minister Salem Fayad is meeting with Minister of Defense Ehud Barak on how to revive the "roadmap" – which many of us outside the Bush administration had long considered dead; and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making yet another trip to the Middle East to assess the timing and invitation list (still not revealed), hoping the Saudis can be persuaded to attend, but more probably to gather up crumbs from the on-going conversations that can be recycled as offerings for the Annapolis negotiating table attendees.
The core issues of borders, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem have been put on the back burner. The situation in Gaza is left unattended. This is peace processing, not peace making.
In letters to Rice, retired ambassadors and former State Department officials have offered warnings about the possible failure of these talks, as have many pundits on both sides of the ocean. Unfazed, she has publicly consulted former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton for tips on negotiating behavior. Many have urged her to take a serious look at Gaza and begin engaging with Hamas, which remains the political representative of its 1.4 million Palestinians.
Gaza is grim indeed, and this is where any chance of peace malingers if not treated. Since June, when Hamas upended Fatah in Gaza and took over the administration of the area, Israelis have adopted a continuous series of measures harming the civilian population. Border crossings were closed – then, after an international outcry, briefly reopened to allow in food. In September, Gaza was declared "an enemy entity," and imports were restricted to 9 basic materials. Prohibited have been such items as certain medicines, furniture, electrical appliances, cow and cigarettes, and decreased amounts of such basic foods as fruits, milk and dairy products.
The Israelis say the cause for these sanctions has been Qassam rockets that are continually launched against Sderot and other towns along the Israeli border, the work of a band of insurgents. But in fact they are punishing the entire population of Gaza for the support given to Hamas, which refuses to deal with them. Since the beginning of the year, 450 Palestinians have died there and in the West Bank. Compare this figure against two Israelis who have died from rockets – leading many to say that the Israelis have over-reacted to the rocket attacks. Several days ago, Ehud Barak, the minister of defense, announced that fuel and electricity supplies would be cut. Gaza depends 100% on Israel for its fuels and close to 60% for its electricity. It imports 8% of its electrical needs from Egypt and produces 32% through the Gaza Electricity Generation plant. This is the plant that Israel bombed in June, resulting in a cutting of capacity from 45% to 32%. However, its generators are run by fuel that also needs to be imported from Israel.
Barak, who took a leave of absence from politics to rebuild his finances, is now back in government with high political ambitions, should the Labor Party rebound from its recent losses. His tough line promotes his goals. However, earlier in the week Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ruled that electricity to Gaza could not be cut – although he has allowed the rupture of the remaining economic and commercial ties between Gaza and Israel. As cuts were implemented, regular fuel was cut by 15% and diesel fuel by 13%. The Ministry of Defense is now saying it will not reduce fuel intended for the electrical generators.
The situation is alarming and shameful. The Palestinian Committee on Human Rights launched an international appeal on October 25 seeking world help. It asked that all signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 pressure Israel (also a signatory) not to implement the blockade of food, fuel and electricity, pointing out that it clearly contravenes sections of Article 54 of the protocol that prohibits the cutting off of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water "to starve out civilians, [or] to cause them to move away." The actions also contravene Article 33 prohibiting collective punishment of a civilian population for the actions of individuals, and Article 55 that states that an "Occupying Power" has the duty to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population.
PCHR ends its appeal by quoting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."
The European Union has asked Israel to end the blockade on humanitarian grounds, and Ban-Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General, has also appealed for both an end to the Qassam attacks and to the Israeli blockade.
Where is the US Secretary of State on this matter? Why hasn’t she – or President Bush – called on Israel to put an end to actions that are contrary to the Geneva Convention? If they are keen for an Annapolis peace process, why aren’t they putting real teeth into the expensive shuttle/photo-op/PR diplomacy thus far practiced? How can they expect anything to emerge from Annapolis other than the usual platitudes when Palestinians of Gaza are living an imposed nightmare existence?
-The writer is affiliated with the Council for the National Interest Foundation (CNIF )- A CNIF Delegation is currently visiting Israel and Palestine and meeting with many politicians, including Salem Fayad. They will be reporting on their trip at a public hearing on Capitol Hill November 15. (Visit www.CNIonline.org)