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AJCongress criticizes UNRWA Commissioner-General for one-sided assessment of Gaza situation

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)–Accusing him of departing from his role as a neutral civil servant of the international community, AJCongress today criticized UNRWA Commissioner-General Fillipo Grandi for his failure to acknowledge that Israel has legitimate security reasons to restrict the flow of goods and people in Gaza and the West Bank.

In an address to UNRWA’s Advisory Committee, Commissioner-General Grandi insisted that only a total lifting of Israel’s ban on “the free, two-way flow of people, commercial and humanitarian goods” into Gaza and between Gaza and the West Bank would suffice. Nowhere in Mr. Grandi’s lengthy remarks was there any acknowledgement that Israel had valid security concerns which would be undercut by such a policy.

In a letter to Mr. Grandi, AJCongress wrote: “In the course of criticizing Israel’s agreement to loosen its embargo on Gaza as insufficient, you call for ‘nothing short of the free, two-way flow of people, commercial and humanitarian goods’ and note that ‘nothing less will restore the trust [of Palestinians] in the international community.’ Not a word about Israel’s legitimate security concerns—which Quartet spokesman Tony Blair and many others continue to insist remain valid. Do you really believe that allowing Hamas fighters to cross from Gaza to the West Bank or Iran to arm Hamas and other violent factions in Gaza through open borders is a contribution to peace, let alone consistent with Israeli’s security concerns? United Nations officials ignoring Israel’s security concerns surely do nothing for Israel’s “trust in the international community.” (Click here to read full letter)

AJCongress asked the UNRWA head to “set the formal record straight,” acknowledging that Israel’s valid security concerns may result in restrictions on Palestinian civilians.

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Preceding provided by American Jewish Congress

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Quartet praises changes in Israel’s policy towards Gaza

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release) — The following statement by the Quartet consisting of the United Nations, United States, European Unon and Russian Federation was issued on Monday in response to Israel’s decision to allow freer flow of non-military goods to Gaza:

The Quartet re-affirms that the current situation in Gaza, including the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population, is unsustainable, unacceptable, and not in the interests of any of those concerned. The Quartet reiterates its call for a solution that addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns, including an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza; promotes Palestinian unity based on the Palestine Liberation Organization commitments and the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority; and ensures the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, consistent with United Nations Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). The Quartet declares its readiness to work closely with Israel, the Palestinian Government and international donors in order to achieve sustainable economic development on the basis of the full implementation of the Agreement on Access and Movement of 2005 and in the broader perspective of the two-state solution.

Consistent with these objectives, the Quartet and the Quartet Representative have worked with Israel, as well as consulting the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and other concerned parties, to effect a fundamental change in policy in Gaza. The new policy towards Gaza just announced by the Government of Israel is a welcome development. The Quartet notes that the elaboration of further details and modalities of implementation will be important in ensuring the effectiveness of the new policy. Full and effective implementation will comprise a significant shift in strategy towards meeting the needs of Gaza’s population for humanitarian and commercial goods, civilian reconstruction and infrastructure, and legitimate economic activity as well as the security needs of Israel. The Quartet will continue to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other concerned parties to ensure these arrangements are implemented as quickly as possible. The Quartet affirms that much work remains to achieve fully the solution stated above, and, in consultation with the concerned parties, it will monitor closely the implementation of the policy in all its aspects. It will actively explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, encourage involvement of the PA at the crossings and promote greater commerce between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Quartet stresses the importance of United Nations and other international interventions, as well as the work of local non-governmental organizations, to be expanded in Gaza to meet urgent civilian needs, and calls on all parties to fully enable this work.

The Quartet recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded, and believes efforts to maintain security while enabling movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical. The Quartet commits to work with Israel and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza. It urges all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza. The Quartet emphasizes that there is no need for unnecessary confrontations and calls on all parties to act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza.

The Quartet also calls for an end to the deplorable detention of Gilad Shalit in advance of the fourth anniversary of his capture on June 25; it further condemns the violation of Hamas’ international obligation to provide him access by the International Committee of the Red Cross and demands that Hamas immediately remedy the situation.

The Quartet also reiterates its support for proximity talks toward the resumption, without pre-conditions, of direct bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues as previously agreed by the parties. The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.
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Preceding provided by U.S. State Department

A tale of competing narratives

January 9, 2010 1 comment

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Israelis and Palestinians are caught up in what nowadays is often called competing narratives. The Israeli story is that Jews have always lived in the land of Israel. Even the majority of them who don’t subscribe to the dogma that the land has been given to them by God point to historic evidence that at least some Jews have always lived there. Though most have been forced, or chose, to live elsewhere, the Holocaust has finally demonstrated that exile threatens their survival as a people. Their return to their land is seen as a necessary affirmation of roots and purpose. The existence of Israel has meant that even those who don’t live there have a much more secure future as Jews.

The Palestinians’ narrative also has it that they’ve lived in the land from time immemorial. Even those who don’t believe that their ancestors were the biblical Jebusites, whom the Israelites defeated, will insist that the land is theirs and nobody else’s. For them, the Holocaust is no argument for the Jews’ return. Even those who don’t espouse the expedient lie of Ahmadinejad of Iran and many others that the Holocaust never happened will nevertheless tell you that it’s not for them to pay the price for the atrocities that the Germans and other Europeans committed against the Jews.

The two narratives are irreconcilable. Only pragmatic considerations can lead to a modus vivendi. For some this means that there should be one state for both peoples. A good number of Israelis believe that it should be a Jewish state in which Muslims and others will live as minorities. Most Palestinians believe that it should be a Muslim state in which Jews live as a minority in the way they’ve lived in other Muslim states for many centuries in the past.

Not unexpectedly, neither side can accept the demands of the other. Realists, therefore, speak of two states, Israel for Israelis and Palestine for Palestinians. Since it’s not an option for extremists, moderates in both camps are looking for third-party support. Hence the diplomatic efforts that involve the United States, Europe, the Quartet, Egypt, Jordan, even Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Turkey. As neither side regards this as the best solution, we shouldn’t be surprised that progress is very slow, at times non-existent.

 An unrealistic, nay quixotic, agenda on both sides may be that the other will give up: some Palestinian leaders hope that the Jews will tire and move elsewhere; some Israeli leaders hope that with improved economic conditions, especially compared to other Muslim countries, the Palestinians will adjust to the status quo. Thus as soon as one side seems to be ready to negotiate, the other usually creates new obstacles.

At present Israel seems to be willing to come to the table. Even its current right-wing government has frozen settlement expansion and is making other concessions. In response, the Palestinian Authority is putting new stumbling blocks by insisting on new conditions. Each side, of course, has to reckon with a militant constituency back home that wants to stay with the original narrative come what may.

All of us may yearn for peace, but nobody seems to know how to change the narrative. Hence the constant seesaw and the endless frustrations. Though we must not stop hoping for a just solution, we owe it to ourselves to be realistic and not blame the other side for, literally, being the villain of the peace. Accepting complexities is the price we pay for mature judgment and for refraining from both euphoria and despair.   

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Rabbi Marmur is the spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel