Dec 01 2006

‘Blessed are those with low expectations for they shall not be disappointed’

Published by at 2:37 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Daoud Kuttab
The repeated disappointments Palestinians have witnessed over the years have greatly lowered the expectations of most that real change is possible regarding the continuous illegal occupation of their country. Recalling the Sermon on the Mount, which took place on Palestinian lands, one activist created his version of one of the beatitudes that reads: “Blessed are those with low expectations for they shall not be disappointed.”

Despite the proclamation of the US president and now even the prime minister of Israel that one day there will be a sovereign, viable Palestinian state on contiguous land, most Palestinians are now looking for partial relief only on the last portion of this international promise to Palestinians.

No one expects to see tunnels and bridges prop up overnight connecting the West Bank to Gaza or allowing Palestinians free and uninterrupted travel from Jenin to Rafah, but at least there is an expectation that promises made and agreements signed a year ago will be honoured.


Basically, Palestinians want to see every law-abiding citizen have the right to go to university, visit the family and pray in the mosque or church of their choosing. This doesn’t seem to be a huge request, yet most Palestinians have little hope more than this basic right of movement.
A little over a year ago, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, the Palestinian Authority’s Mohammad Dahlan and the EU reached an agreement to allow Palestinians free movement in and out of Gaza Strip
The Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA), signed on November 15, 2005, promised Palestinians freedom of movement of people and goods. A detailed fact sheet published by the Palestinian Monitoring Group shows that since last year, none of the agreement’s provisions has been fully implemented by Israel.

The AMA sought to facilitate the movement of Palestinian people and goods between Gaza and Israel (through crossing points between the two areas); between Gaza and the West Bank (through bus and truck convoys running between the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory); within Palestinian communities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (by working to dismantle the internal closure regime, which consists of hundreds of checkpoints and fixed obstacles to movement between Palestinian communities in the West Bank); between Gaza and the West Bank; and to third countries (by opening the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt, allowing Palestinians to build a seaport in Gaza, and allowing Gaza’s airport to reopen).

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Rafah crossing point has been open since June 28, 2006, only 13 per cent of the days it was scheduled to be open. The UN office has also stated that since June 25, Israel has frequently prevented EU monitors from reaching the site, thereby forcing Rafah’s closure.

In July, seven Palestinians waiting to be let into Gaza from Egypt died as a result of heat and the absence of shelter. Under the AMA, Palestinian customs officials were supposed to inspect imports through Kerem Shalom. To date, Rafah is still closed to imports and Israel has not permitted Palestinian customs officials at Kerem Shalom.
As to the crossing points between Gaza and Israel, the AMA committed that Israel will “allow the number of trucks per day processed [for export] through Karni to reach 150 [by December 31, 2005], and 400 by end-2006”.

In 2005, 90 per cent of all Palestinian trade was with Israel or. through Israel, to markets in third countries. But since the signing of the AMA, according to the Palestine Trade Centre, Karni has been completely closed for export for over 155 of approximately 310 working days, or roughly 50 per cent of the time. And since the signing of the AMA, an average of 18 trucks per day have been processed through Karni for export.

Agricultural produce from Gaza during the 2005 harvest season (which was sold in the winter of 2006) rotted in Gaza as it was stuck on the border. According to estimates by Paltrade and the United States Agency for International Development, the losses resulting from Karni’s closure during the 2005 harvest season were estimated at $600,000 per day; agricultural losses stood at $400,000 per day.A link between Gaza and the West Bank is vital for the Palestinian economy. Neither area alone possesses the characteristics to be economically and independently viable. Together, however, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank economically complement each other: Gaza has an airport, access to the sea and natural gas reserves, while the West Bank has water resources, room for development and the international market of East Jerusalem.

Israel had agreed to implement a more robust convoy provision under the Oslo accords. But it called off discussions regarding implementation of the convoy provision shortly after the AMA was concluded, and refused to recommence discussions. As a result, and in direct violation of the AMA, no truck or bus convoys between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have operated. Israel also refuses to discuss the establishment of a permanent road link between the West Bank and Gaza.In the occupied West Bank, millions of Palestinians are restricted in their movement — entirely within Palestinian territory — for the benefit of 430,000 Israeli settlers illegally residing on Palestinian land. Restrictions on movement include a stringent permit regime, roadblocks, checkpoints and Israel’s wall — built primarily inside the occupied West Bank.

Finally, according to the AMA agreement worked out by  Rice and her Quartet partners, “the parties agree on the importance of the airport”. Israel has also refused to discuss the reopening of Gaza’s airport since the signing of the agreement.While Israel used the capture of one of its soldiers as an excuse for the continuous disruption of Palestinian movement, there is no doubt that what it has been doing is collective punishment and therefore a war crime, according to international humanitarian law.

It is not surprising, then, to hear people like United Nations official John Dugard saying: “Gaza is a prison and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.”In a November 14 press release issued by senior PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, he made the connection between the current crisis and the restriction on the movement of Palestinians. “We would not be in the intense crisis we are in today had the [Agreement on Movement and Access] been implemented,” he said.

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