The Rice Agenda and the Real Agenda for the Palestinians

By Institute for Palestine Studies

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the occupied Palestinian territories to “support” President Mahmoud Abbas. But her short-term solutions will not stop the economic crisis or end the bloodshed caused by Israeli attacks and intra-Palestinian fighting. Rice also faces a campaign by fellow US citizens denied entry to Israel and the oPt, as discussed by the Institute’s Senior Fellow Nadia Hijab.

Rice Plans vs. Palestinian Reality

On the first leg of her Middle East trip in Jeddah, Rice outlined the areas that she hoped to discuss with Abbas when she met with him in Ramallah (1):

More funds to alleviate the humanitarian crisis (caused by US and Israeli-led sanctions against the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’ electoral win),
Security sector reform,
More access between Gaza and Israel, and Gaza, the West Bank, and abroad.

The first of these hopes quickly received a reality check by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, who noted that the Arab League was holding funds for the Palestinians but had not been able to get them through, an issue he urged be “resolved as quickly as possible.”  In fact, reduced donor aid and Israel’s suspension of transfers of Palestinian tax revenues (now totaling around $500 million), among other problems are shrinking the Palestinian economy to levels not seen in a generation. According to economist Raja Khalidi “even a full return of donor support and the relaxation of mobility restrictions by 2008 will not protect the economy from long-lasting harm.” (2) A real solution to the Palestinian economic crisis would require sovereign control over resources, trade, and development – effectively, an end to Israel’s 39-year occupation.

As for “security sector reform,” a euphemism for strengthening the forces that report to Abbas against those of Interior Minister Sa’d Siyyam, this can only exacerbate the clashes between the Palestinians with the very real possibility of civil war. Hamas is a deeply rooted social and political movement and Abbas had rightly sought diplomatic ways to mediate differences. If Rice really wants to support Abbas, she will accept the compromise language Abbas has been able to secure from Hamas, which is willing to let him lead political negotiations and to play a smaller part in a unity government.                            

Closing the Last Avenues to Access

With regard to movement between the oPt and with the rest of the world, the so-called “Rafah arrangements” Rice managed to mediate with the Israelis on 15 November 2005 have remained a dead letter. (3) Moreover, since April 2006 Israel has intensified a long-standing policy of arbitrarily denying renewal of 90-day travel visas to several categories of Palestinians and foreigners who relied on them to live and work in the oPt, given Israel’s refusal to grant family reunifications or residency permits. Americans are particularly targeted by this new policy. The categories affected include:

Palestinian ID holders unable to secure residency for foreign-born spouses, facing thousands of families with enforced separation. Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and HaMoked estimate that since 2000 Israel has shelved over 120,000 Palestinian applications for family unification. (4) They say Israel’s aim is to change the area’s demographics, a practice that is forbidden under international law and “constitutes racial discrimination." (5)

Palestinian holders of foreign passports who come to visit family or contribute to the country’ development; tens of thousands are said to be affected.

Other foreign visitors, including teachers, doctors, aid workers, businessmen, and solidarity activists. (6)

Discriminating Against – and Between – US Citizens
A newly formed Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory says its research shows that a significant number of the pending applications for family unification involve US citizens. The Campaign also believes the majority of the foreign visitors denied entry are US citizens. (7) The US Consulate has been collecting data and claims the US Government has been “pressing Israel on the subject.” But the US citizens affected are demanding more effective action. They want the US Government to ensure Israeli compliance with the 1951 Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the two countries and to insist on the proper treatment of its citizens until Israel ends its occupation and the Palestinians can “define their own immigration policy.” They also underscore the discrimination between American citizens: Israel treats American Jews very differently to the way it treats American Palestinians.

The difficulties faced by US businessmen have received the most coverage. For example, Sam Bahour, who founded the first shopping mall in Ramallah, and Zahi Khouri, who heads the National Beverage Company, described the impact of the restrictions in the New York Times (September 18) and the Wall Street Journal (September 30), respectively. Khouri wrote a letter to Rice who was reportedly shocked by the situation. Through the media, affected citizens have laid out the impact on families, economic development, education, and other areas, noting the policies force Palestinians to choose between breaking up the family or leaving their country. After the current publicity, moves were reportedly underway to allow some individual US citizens back into the country. However, as the Entry Campaign told the US Consulate, while it encouraged any resolution an individual case, it is determined that the roots of a policy of de facto deportation be addressed. Rice should take note of these words: getting to the roots of the conflict in all its dimensions is what her trip should be about.


(1) See transcript of remarks released on 3 October 2006
(2) Raja Khalidi of the UN conference on trade and development, The Guardian, 22 September 2006.
(3) See Policy Note Number 7, 19 September 2006.
(4) B’Tselem and HaMoked, Perpetual Limbo: Israel’s Freeze on Unification of Palestinian Families in the Occupied Territories, July 2006
(5) For more information on Israel’s demographic policies see Nadim Rouhana, “’Jewish and Democratic’?: The Price of a National Self-Deception," Journal of Palestine Studies 25, no. 2 (Winter 2006);  and Graham Usher, “Deconstructing Palestine: On Israel and the Wall,” JPS 25, no. 1  (Autumn 2005).
(6) For example, some staff at the US-owned Friends School in Ramallah got only two week visas (Financial Times 11 September 2006) and a British member of parliament wanting to visit Ramallah was turned back at the airport For more coverage of the issue, see articles by Rima Merriman on and in the Jordan Times
(7) Letter by the Campaign to US Consul General Jake Walles and press release, 28 September 2006.

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