UN humanitarian coordinator says Israel stymied Palestinian nat'l aspiration.
By TOVAH LAZAROFFPublished: MARCH 5, 2010 07:51Advertisement
In the near future, a two-state solution may no longer be viable, UNhumanitarian coordinator John Holmes told The Jerusalem Post onThursday evening, at the tail-end of a four-day visit to Israel and thePalestinian territories.“You are not far off from the pointwhere the two-state solution becomes impossible,” said Holmes. “If youare going to have a meaningful Palestinian state, it needs to have ameaningful piece of land that goes with it.”He listed the waysin which Israel had stymied Palestinian national aspiration over theyears, including, as he saw it, Israel’s “illegal annexation ofJerusalem.”Other items on his list were divisions in Area Cof the West Bank, such as the security barrier, settlements and theroads connecting them that Palestinians cannot use.“This is notcontiguous territory. It is territory that is split up. It is a veryfunny kind of state. That is why people are not sure that a solution isavailable,” said Holmes.He spoke in advance of the indirectnegotiations that are expected to begin next week between Israel andthe Palestinians – the first time that any kind of negotiations willhave taken place since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took officelast year. Earlier, at a Jerusalem press conference, Holmes saidIsrael’s “creation of facts on the ground,” particularly in eastJerusalem, had not made it “easier.”He spoke out againstIsraeli plans for new Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, as well asthe demolition of Palestinian homes.“There is a continueddisconnect between what is happening in those areas and thenegotiations that are about to start,” said Holmes.Heacknowledged that there had been improvements in the life ofPalestinians, particularly with regard to movement and access. But hesaid 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.“Itcauses this deep frustration and cynicism about the possibility of areal state on a piece of contiguous territory,” he said.But themajor issue Holmes championed during his time here was his call forIsrael to fully reopen the Gaza crossings, which have been closed toall but humanitarian goods since Hamas violently took over the area in2007.Holmes, whose title is UN under-secretary general andemergency relief coordinator, has visited Israel three times since hetook office in 2007. He came last year in the aftermath of OperationCast Lead and visited Gaza so he could see the destruction caused byIsrael’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.”Somerubble has been removed, but there was “no significant start onreconstruction” because Israel has banned construction material fromentering Gaza.Life there, he said, “is difficult” and “grim.”“Thepolicy of the blockade is unacceptable” and is a form of “collectivepunishment,” said Holmes. “It damages the people of Gaza, but notHamas.”Israel must fully reopen the passages into Gaza, hesaid, adding that this position was held “pretty unanimously” by theinternational community.“There have been many statements andprivate discussions to that effect, including by the Americans and theEuropeans,” said Holmes.It is “hard to demonstrate” thatclosing the crossings has harmed Hamas, particularly when smugglingtunnels are operating in full swing and goods are entering in anuncontrolled way, Holmes said. He added that the internationalcommunity should press harder to reopen the passages, but he did notspecify how they should do so.He later told the Post thatin the interim, he had urged Israel to allow a certain amount ofbuilding material into Gaza for reconstruction of homes andinfrastructure.In particular, he said, water and sewagetreatment plants are needed. People in Gaza need clean drinking water,and the pollution that has occurred from untreated waste has to bestopped, he said.It seemed to him that Israel might be willingto “be more flexible in the margins of their policy, and that would bea 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.Ata press conference in Gaza on Tuesday and again in Jerusalem, Holmescalled for the IDF soldier’s release and for Hamas to allow theInternational Red Cross to visit him.Israel has linked theissue of the passages to Schalit’s continued captivity. But Holmes saidhe 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 1.5million people in Gaza.He told the Post that he intended, however, to continue to press for Schalit’s release privately and publicly.Holmesalso had critical words for Hamas, which, he said, should make sure notto interfere with humanitarian operations in Gaza, as they have fromtime to time, as well as to insure the rule of law and protect humanrights.They should also stop launching rockets at Israel, hetold the Post. “Obviously we would want the authorities there tomake sure that no rockets are being fired and the situation remainscalm,” said Holmes.He also had praise for the field hospitalthat Israel sent to Haiti after the recent earthquake there. “It wasthere very quickly, and it was an extremely effective operation. It wasimportant, and I have welcomed it publicly several times since,” saidHolmes.He added that he would like to see Israel become moreinvolved in international humanitarian operations, saying he had raisedthis issue with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and others in theForeign Ministry with whom he met.“We welcome the greater engagement of Israel with the internationalhumanitarian effort in other circumstances in the future,” said Holmes.“Weagreed to intensify the dialogue we have about that. We want tointensify those contacts and make use of areas where Israel has aparticular strength, like agriculture, or the medical area, whereIsrael is strong and has rapidly deployable field hospitals,” saidHolmes.
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