(photo credit: Associated Press)
Six months after the international community was aghast to learn that coriander
was on a list of items not allowed into the Gaza Strip, the shops there –
according to EU diplomat Christian Berger – are now full of consumer goods. The
problem, he said, is that few people have the money to buy them.
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the EU's representative to the West Bank, Gaza and UNRWA, said at a Monday press
briefing that he goes to Gaza about every 10 days, and that consumer goods that
were not available there a year ago, are on hand today.
"When you go to a
meeting today, the water on the table is not from Egypt, but rather from Ein
Gedi," he said.
Berger said, however, that in order for people to be able
to buy the goods there needed to be vast improvements in the economy that could
only come about if there were greater freedom of movement of people in and out
of Gaza, and if exports were facilitated. Currently, he said, the only goods
allowed for export were flowers and strawberries to the Netherlands.
said that private industry in Gaza was hindered by the fact that the only
construction materials allowed in was for construction of specific projects
funded by the international community, and approved by the Palestinian
Authority. He said that developing the private sector in Gaza, so that goods
could be exported, would lead to a substantial improvement in the daily life
Israel restricts the construction material allowed into Gaza for
fear that dual use products would be used by Hamas for military
Asked by The Jerusalem Post
if he felt there was a humanitarian
crisis in Gaza, a rationale used by those abroad organizing flotillas to break
the sea blockade of the Strip, Berger said it "is a matter of definition." "Are
there people starving in the street? No." Berger said. "Is there disease raging
through Gaza? No. But all human indicators are going downward. There are not
enough classrooms, not enough spare parts, not enough qualified doctors, and a
general deterioration in the water.
"All humanitarian indicators –
unemployment, poverty – are going downward, so in that sense there is a constant
deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza," he said.
Berger described a situation where the tunnels burrowed between Gaza and Egypt
were now being used to export Israeli goods to Egypt, including fruits and
EU ambassador responds to Lieberman criticism
The EU's ambassador Andrew Standley, meanwhile, responded at
the briefing to criticism leveled by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman two
weeks ago that the EU should solve its own problems, before preaching to Israel
about how to solve the Middle East conflict.
When asked, Standley said the EU
was well aware that there were a lot of internal issues it needed to deal with,
but said this did not mean it could not tackle other matters as well, especially
since the issues in the Middle East had a "broader dimension," and "we have a
strategic interest in finding a sustainable solution."
Standley sidestepped the
issue of the EU's position on the PA threat to turn to the UN for recognition of
a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines, saying he did not want to discuss the
matter before the EU's foreign ministers, currently holding their monthly
meeting, discussed the issue.
Regarding whether the EU thought the
Palestinians should recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,
which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is calling for in exchange for a new
settlement moratorium, Standley said this was "related to the greater
negotiation process," and not something he wanted to discuss.
He did call
on Israel to extend the settlement freeze, saying the EU's position has
consistently been that the settlements were illegal under international law and
that construction in them should stop.
Standley rejected the assertion
that the EU had no problem publicly telling Israel what it should do, such as
freeze building in the settlements, but was gun-shy when it came to calling on
the PA to take particular steps, such as recognizing Israel as the nation-state
of the Jewish people. He said pressure was applied on both sides, and that the
pressure the EU placed on the PA to return to direct talks last month was