'Gaza awash in coriander…and other consumer goods'

EU diplomat Christian Berger says for people to be able to buy goods there needs to be vast improvements in economy.

Palestinian women (photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian women
(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.
Berger, 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.
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"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.
He 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 there.
Israel restricts the construction material allowed into Gaza for fear that dual use products would be used by Hamas for military purposes.
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.
With that, 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 vegetables.
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 "extremely strong."