'Soon 2-states won’t be possible'

UN humanitarian coordinator says Israel stymied Palestinian nat'l aspiration.

March 5, 2010 07:51
John Holmes.

John Holmes 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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In the near future, a two-state solution may no longer be viable, UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday evening, at the tail-end of a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“You are not far off from the point where the two-state solution becomes impossible,” said Holmes. “If you are going to have a meaningful Palestinian state, it needs to have a meaningful piece of land that goes with it.”

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He listed the ways in which Israel had stymied Palestinian national aspiration over the years, including, as he saw it, Israel’s “illegal annexation of Jerusalem.”

Other items on his list were divisions in Area C of the West Bank, such as the security barrier, settlements and the roads connecting them that Palestinians cannot use.

“This is not contiguous territory. It is territory that is split up. It is a very funny kind of state. That is why people are not sure that a solution is available,” said Holmes.

He spoke in advance of the indirect negotiations that are expected to begin next week between Israel and the Palestinians – the first time that any kind of negotiations will have taken place since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office last year. Earlier, at a Jerusalem press conference, Holmes said Israel’s “creation of facts on the ground,” particularly in east Jerusalem, had not made it “easier.”

He spoke out against Israeli plans for new Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, as well as the demolition of Palestinian homes.

“There is a continued disconnect between what is happening in those areas and the negotiations that are about to start,” said Holmes.

He acknowledged that there had been improvements in the life of Palestinians, particularly with regard to movement and access. But he said it was not enough, and the situation on the ground was “frustrating for Palestinians.”

The more time passes, the more the facts on the ground become irreversible, said Holmes.

“It causes this deep frustration and cynicism about the possibility of a real state on a piece of contiguous territory,” he said.

But the major issue Holmes championed during his time here was his call for Israel to fully reopen the Gaza crossings, which have been closed to all but humanitarian goods since Hamas violently took over the area in 2007.

Holmes, whose title is UN under-secretary general and emergency relief coordinator, has visited Israel three times since he took office in 2007. He came last year in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead and visited Gaza so he could see the destruction caused by Israel’s military incursion there in January 2009.

This week, he returned to Gaza. It is likely his last visit to Gaza and Israel, as he leaves his job in six months.

“It was disappointing and depressing,” he told journalists. “So little has changed.”

Some rubble has been removed, but there was “no significant start on reconstruction” because Israel has banned construction material from entering Gaza.

Life there, he said, “is difficult” and “grim.”

“The policy of the blockade is unacceptable” and is a form of “collective punishment,” said Holmes. “It damages the people of Gaza, but not Hamas.”

Israel must fully reopen the passages into Gaza, he said, adding that this position was held “pretty unanimously” by the international community.

“There have been many statements and private discussions to that effect, including by the Americans and the Europeans,” said Holmes.

It is “hard to demonstrate” that closing the crossings has harmed Hamas, particularly when smuggling tunnels are operating in full swing and goods are entering in an uncontrolled way, Holmes said. He added that the international community should press harder to reopen the passages, but he did not specify how they should do so.

He later told the Post that in the interim, he had urged Israel to allow a certain amount of building material into Gaza for reconstruction of homes and infrastructure.

In particular, he said, water and sewage treatment plants are needed. People in Gaza need clean drinking water, and the pollution that has occurred from untreated waste has to be stopped, he said.

It seemed to him that Israel might be willing to “be more flexible in the margins of their policy, and that would be a good thing, even if it won’t solve the underlying problem,” he said.

During his time here, Holmes met with the Noam Schalit, whose son Gilad has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza since 2006.

At a press conference in Gaza on Tuesday and again in Jerusalem, Holmes called for the IDF soldier’s release and for Hamas to allow the International Red Cross to visit him.

Israel has linked the issue of the passages to Schalit’s continued captivity. But Holmes said he did not think the two were connected. It didn’t make sense, he said, to connect the fate of one individual to the living conditions of 1.5 million people in Gaza.

He told the Post that he intended, however, to continue to press for Schalit’s release privately and publicly.

Holmes also had critical words for Hamas, which, he said, should make sure not to interfere with humanitarian operations in Gaza, as they have from time to time, as well as to insure the rule of law and protect human rights.

They should also stop launching rockets at Israel, he told the Post. “Obviously we would want the authorities there to make sure that no rockets are being fired and the situation remains calm,” said Holmes.

He also had praise for the field hospital that Israel sent to Haiti after the recent earthquake there. “It was there very quickly, and it was an extremely effective operation. It was important, and I have welcomed it publicly several times since,” said Holmes.

He added that he would like to see Israel become more involved in international humanitarian operations, saying he had raised this issue with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and others in the Foreign Ministry with whom he met.

“We welcome the greater engagement of Israel with the international humanitarian effort in other circumstances in the future,” said Holmes.

“We agreed to intensify the dialogue we have about that. We want to intensify those contacts and make use of areas where Israel has a particular strength, like agriculture, or the medical area, where Israel is strong and has rapidly deployable field hospitals,” said Holmes.

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