International Development Committee Report on Palestine
‘The international community must seize new opportunities to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and help to help achieve a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine’, Richard Burden MP has said today.
Mr Burden is a member of the UK’s House of Commons International Development Committee. Today the Committee has published a new report on the Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestine Territories.
Speaking after the launch of the Report in the House of Commons today, Mr Burden said:
‘This is the third report in four years which the International Development Committee has produced on the situation in Palestine. All of us would have wanted to be able to report progress in the peace process and real improvements in the lives of people living there. Unfortunately each of our inquiries has found that these hopes have not been reflected in the realities of life on the ground.
‘Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth and a humanitarian catastrophe has been unfolding there. Poverty is at levels similar to those you see in Sub-Saharan Africa. The blockade of Gaza by land, sea and air has created a giant prison for one and a half million people. Normal trade is impossible and all too often the blockade even disrupts the delivery of humanitarian supplies. Fuel is short, power cuts are common and untreated sewage is causing real health hazards in residential areas.
‘In the West Bank, the poverty may not be as overwhelming as in Gaza, but restrictions on movement and access continue to undermine the development of a functioning economy. Life under occupation has been a daily reality for Palestinians in the West Bank for 40 years. Today, expanding settlements and the construction of the Barrier on occupied land threatens their chance to create, in practice, the independent state which the international community has, in theory, promised to them for years.
‘It is good to see the work being put in by Tony Blair as the Quartet’s Representative and the increased funding which Britain and others are committing to the area.
‘But the international community must do more. Not only must we ensure that humanitarian aid gets through to Gaza unimpeded, we must also be more assertive in our efforts to secure an end to the occupation that stands in the way of the peace and development that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve. The test will be whether in practice ordinary Palestinians will be able to move around their own country freely – to go to school, to go to hospital, to visit their families, to farm their own lands, to work and to trade.
‘The international community is right to insist that progress also involves an end to the violence that has blighted the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. Both Israel and the Palestinians must face up to their own responsibilities to make that happen. The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that has recently been brokered by Egypt is an opportunity to promote further dialogue between Israel and its neighbours and to foster the unity amongst Palestinians that will be vital to a sustainable peace. The actions of the international community in the coming months could determine if that opportunity is seized or squandered.’
The IDC Report, ‘The Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestine Territories’, points out that the Egyptian-brokered truce offers an important opportunity to ease the restrictions imposed by Israel on Gaza’s borders which have resulted in shortages of food, fuel and water and placed the population of Gaza under severe pressure.
The Report welcomes the initiatives of Tony Blair, the Middle East Quartet Representative to champion a number of economic projects in the West Bank which the Committee believes will help to build confidence in the Palestinian economy. However, the Committee warns that these projects must be consistent with the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
The Committee notes that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and the construction of the Barrier on occupied land in the West Bank are counter-productive to these objectives and to the peace process. As well as being unlawful they also reinforce a network of restrictions on movement and access that impedes the opportunities for economic development.
The Committee welcomes Tony Blair’s efforts to persuade Israel to reduce the number of strategic checkpoints inside the West Bank but notes that the prospects of Israel doing so in practice are as yet uncertain. It also emphasises that Palestinians should be able to move around their own country for education, healthcare, business and social reasons irrespective of whether their journeys are regarded as ‘strategically significant’ to international negotiations. Neither Israel nor the international community should lose sight of this.
The Committee warns of the dangers of legitimising the occupation through the creation of two parallel universes inside the West Bank; with one providing Israeli settlements with privileged access to natural resources and transport routes to the outside world, and another relegating Palestinians to life in a series of disconnected enclaves whose links to each other and whose trade with the outside world remain under the effective control of Israel.
Welcoming the resumption of aid to the Palestinian Authority, the report emphasises that donors must ensure that such assistance is provided on a consistent and predictable basis if it is to promote sustainable economic development.
The Report emphasises that the armed takeover of Gaza by Hamas in the summer of last year was neither justified nor acceptable and that the international community recognises the Palestinian Government appointed by President Abbas. However, it also argues that the Annapolis peace process will not succeed without some kind of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. It calls on the Quartet to use the opportunity provided by the truce to end its prohibition on even informal dialogue with Hamas, in favour of encouraging Hamas to participate in the peace process which renounces violence and achieves a lasting settlement based on security for Israel alongside an independent Palestine, in line with existing international agreements.
A copy of the report is available online here