It must be good news that negotiations have resumed between Palestine and Israel in
Washington but most would remain very sceptical over the likelihood of this initiative
achieving an agreed solution. Two of the main obstacles to agreement are the illegal
settlements in the West Bank and the problem of Palestinian refugees. When I was in
Palestine last year I saw at first hand the smart new settlement buildings on the one hand
and the abject poverty in the refugee camps on the other. As well as the obvious overt
oppression of the Palestinian people, I learned of the more subtle acts of oppression – the
obstacles the Israeli Government is prepared to put in the way of NGOs and international
institutions to prevent them delivering their relief and development programmes on the
ground. The latest example of this is the Israeli Government decision to bar European
aid staff from entering Gaza as part of Israeli measures in the wake of new EU guidelines
barring cooperation with settlements.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered officials to halt cooperation on the ground
with EU representatives. This includes any assistance to EU infrastructure projects in
Area C, which is under full Israeli civilian and military control. Ya’alon was also reported as
planning to make it more difficult for EU officials to pass through the Erez Crossing, to the
Gaza Strip or back to Israel.
As far as we can tell this would apply only to specifically EU activities and not activities
conducted by individual EU member states. These moves are in retaliation for the
European Commission publishing guidelines on July 19th barring EU agencies from
funding entities connected to illegal settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and
residential areas in the Golan Heights.
According to World Bank figures, the Occupied Palestinian Territories is the poorest part
of the Middle East and North Africa region apart from Sudan and Yemen, falling into the
Lower Middle Income category. The key economic feature is the restrictions imposed
by the Israeli government on the movement of people and goods within and outside the
territories, and on access to natural resources. These have depressed average GDP per
capita and forced up unemployment and poverty rates. There is high aid dependency and
vulnerability among the Palestinian population, with around 5 million refugees in the region
reliant on the United Nations for basic services.
Punishing poor Palestinians by inhibiting the EU to deliver development programmes
sends a clear message to other institutions or organisations engaged in development
as to what is likely to happen if they seriously challenge Israeli policy in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories. This is yet another reason to be pessimistic about a successful
outcome to talks in Washington but also a powerful reason why they must succeed.
Alastair Osborne is Scottish Officer for LCID