311_Silvan Shalom at Gaza crossing.
(photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom toured the Kerem Shalom crossing to the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
Israel had fully implemented the decision to expand the transfer of goods to Gaza, which was reached following May’s Turkish flotilla raid, Shalom said. He spoke to those present after the tour and a briefing by Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Maj.- Gen. Eitan Dangot and OC Gaza Division Brig.-Gen. Eyal Eisenberg.
Shalom was shown around the crossing and received explanation on how the transfer of goods took place. He inspected the loading areas, met with the Palestinian forklift operators and was briefed on the security measures used to inspect the goods, including a giant truck-based X-ray machine. During the tour he was also told about the work being done to expand the terminal, to enable the transfer of up to 400 trucks a day.
“I think that we are witnessing here the complete implementation of the cabinet’s decision to increase operations here, and indeed operations have been increased dramatically. We are talking about 250, and sometimes even 280, trucks that cross over here every day, compared to 80 or 100 a day beforehand. We often reach a point when there is no longer any demand from the Gazan side. We can provide much more, but we don’t reach the full capacity, because there is no demand,” the minister said.
Shalom said the low demand could be because of the Ramadan or because of the flourishing smuggling operations from Egypt.
“We still consider the Hamas authority as a hostile authority. Our actions are meant to serve the civilian population, not the authority and its leaders. There is a cognitive dissonance where on one hand we give and on the other we still hear abusive statements, but we will continue giving as long as the help goes toward public needs. We will not allow goods to be used for terrorist activities,” Shalom said.
“We believe that in the long term these actions are correct, because they express concern for the civilians and provide an answer to all the flotillas, flotillas that from the start were politically motivated and only served as provocations. Today everyone in the international community knows that there is no shortage of goods in Gaza and that even the shortage that used to exist, was mostly imagined.”
Shalom said the Kerem Shalom crossing was sometimes subject to rocket and missile attacks and that the people who fired on it were the same people who controlled the Sinai smuggling tunnels and feared competition from the legal transfer of goods. “We react seriously to every firing, and will continue to do so in the future,” he said.
Shalom also addressed the negotiations slated to begin next week with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian demand that Israel extend its freeze on construction in the settlements.
“I think that this demand is out of place. Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] negotiated with [prime minister] Ehud Olmert for two years and never demanded such preconditions. This demand was also never raised by Arafat, not in his meetings with [then-prime minister Ehud] Barak and not in his meetings with [Binyamin] Netanyahu, in his first term as prime minister, when he signed the Hebron Agreement [in 1997] and the Wye Memorandum [in 1998],” Shalom said.
“We too have demands: that they increase security measures in Gaza as well as the West Bank, that they stop the incitement, that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and many more demands that we are not raising now, because they are not preconditions to renew the talks. The Palestinian demands are illegitimate. I was against the freeze in the past and am against it now. I think that if they really want to negotiate, they must come to the talks without preconditions.”
Shalom said that he insisted that the construction freeze end on September 25, as the cabinet determined, and that he rejected any compromises on the full renewal of construction in the West Bank.
The Palestinians were letting the international community do their work for them, by pressuring Israel, he said. “The Palestinians have dragged their feet for the past year and a half. They discovered a system whereby they don’t have to sit with us at the table, but they get all the concessions through the international community that pressures Israel.
“That’s how they got the Bar- Ilan speech [where Netanyahu said he would support a Palestinian state if he received international guarantees that it would be demilitarized, and if the Palestinians accepted Israel as the Jewish homeland], that’s how they got the cabinet’s decision on the settlement freeze, it’s a new method.”
Shalom said that as minister of regional cooperation he felt that there
were many instances where Israel wanted to promote projects for
Palestinians more than the Palestinians themselves.
“I hope that with the renewal of the direct negotiation in the beginning
of September, they will remove their moratorium on meeting with top
Israeli officials so that we can get started on implementing large
international projects that are meant to aid them first and foremost,”
he said. “I always believed that if we assist the Palestinian
population, we end up helping ourselves, too, by creating the conditions
for law and order and peace. Our actions of the last year and a half
are expressed in the remarkable economic growth exhibited by the
Palestinian economy. While most of the world was suffering the effects
of an economic crisis, the Palestinian economy grew by 10 percent.”
Shalom completed his address by thanking the military and civilian
commanders of the crossing for their hard work and wishing the
Palestinian workers a happy Ramadan.