Quartet Special Envoy James Wolfensohn has publicly censured the Israeli government for dragging its feet on important issues and acting as if the Disengagement never happened.
“While the Palestinians were eager to reach an agreement,” Wolfensohn wrote in a letter last week to the UN Secretary-General and the foreign ministers of the Quartet countries, “the government of Israel preferred to leave difficult questions to committees that will not meet until after the Jewish holidays.”
Since the pullout was completed, the Erez crossing, the only crossing for people from Gaza into Israel and toward the West Bank, has been almost completely sealed to Palestinian traffic. Before the disengagement, 6,500 people went through Erez daily. That number dropped in September to 100 on average, and to zero at the beginning of October. The Karni crossing for goods and merchandise has also been either closed or unusually slow since the pullout.
Israel is lending credence to the doomsayers who predicted that the Gaza Strip would simply be turned into a giant prison after the disengagement.
Wolfensohn reported that the issues of the Rafah crossing into Egypt (Gaza’s only link to the outside world), the link between Gaza and the West Bank, and easing travel restrictions for Palestinians within the West Bank have all been stonewalled by Israel. The Rafah crossing could be opened quickly, said Wolfensohn, if it were not for Israel’s tendency to transfer the few remaining issues to slow-moving subcommittees.
Agreements on linking Gaza and the West Bank could be reached “with 2-3 days of concentrated efforts,” he said, but six weeks have elapsed since Israel agreed to negotiate with the PA, without results.
“We do not have the luxury of adopting such a leisurely approach,” Wolfensohn said.
U.S. President Bush, too, has insisted on the importance of “mak[ing] quick progress on the issues that Jim [Wolfensohn] has identified as most critical for the Palestinian economy, including opening the Rafah crossing, connecting the West Bank in Gaza, improving the ability of Palestinians to travel in the West Bank, and beginning work on the Gaza seaport.”
He has also made it clear that “Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its road map obligations, or prejudices the final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. This means that Israel must remove unauthorized posts and stop settlement expansion.”
Nonetheless, neither Wolfensohn nor Bush has been willing to pressure Israel to comply. The only things Israel is doing quickly are expanding illegal settlements, bombing civilian infrastructure in Gaza, assassinating and arresting Palestinians, threatening to disrupt Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, and imposing stricter closures on West Bank Palestinians. The U.S., the Quartet, the Palestinian Authority, and Mr. Wolfensohn agree that these policies are provocative and harmful to peace efforts, especially when they are not balanced by any concrete moves toward complying with even the preliminary steps outlined in the Road Map and the Sharm el-Sheikh agreements.
In other words, Israel is simultaneously delaying all concessions while stepping up its own violations, thus severely undermining the position of moderates in Palestine and setting the stage for more violence. Palestinian violence is the all-encompassing excuse Israel uses to perpetuate the status quo and justify its actions. And as long as Israel can maintain the status quo, it can quietly build and expand illegal settlements and the illegal Wall and prejudice final- status negotiations, a process that causes unbearable tension, hardship, and humiliation for Palestinians. The longer this process continues, the less Palestinians will have left to negotiate for, and this causes a sense of desperation and humiliation that can easily spill over into violence. In this way the cycle is perpetuated.
While the world demands that Palestinians adhere to peaceful means of resisting occupation, it refuses to protect them from Israel’s colonial onslaught, which continuously slices up and devours the tiny amount of land they have left on which to create a national homeland. It also fails to protect them from violent attacks on peaceful protests, bombings of civilian areas, and terrorist attacks by Israeli settlers, among other ongoing assaults on innocent Palestinian civilians.
Israel’s foot-dragging has been ongoing since the Oslo years. According to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, Israel’s strategy has been to freeze the situation and the movement, refuse to negotiate, and wreak havoc on the Palestinian economy and living conditions until the Palestinians are forced to agree to whatever political “solution” Israel is willing to offer.
The international community has never acted effectively to curb these illegal, unilateralist policies that render a just and lasting peace an increasingly remote possibility, damaging prospects for stability and security for the entire region.