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Ashton in Gaza for the second time: what is the agenda?

By Dr Bassem Naeem

The European Union's foreign policy chief has visited Gaza for the second time. Cathy Ashton's visit on 18 July came several months after her first trip since when much has happened in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Not long after her first visit Israel attacked and hijacked the Freedom Flotilla, killing nine civilian aid activists in the process and injuring scores. In the West Bank, Israel's crimes against the Palestinians of Jerusalem have continued unabated, including the destruction of homes and the planned expulsion of elected parliamentarians after the withdrawal of their identity documents allowing them to live in their own city. All of which, of course, is in flagrant violation of international law.

Israeli actions constitute yet more confirmation of the futility of indirect or direct negotiations with a party that seeks neither peace nor stability in the region. On the contrary, it looks as if Israel is using the cover of negotiations behind which to execute its plans for the theft of more land, the Judaisation of Jerusalem and the sabotaging of any real possibility of a viable Palestinian state. After Ms. Ashton's first visit the EU voted almost unanimously (470 in favour, 56 against and 56 abstentions) to declare Israel's blockade of Gaza illegal and a crime against humanity. The vote emphasised the need to end the blockade and bring an end to the human suffering in the territory.

With such events taking place since that first visit, what is the purpose of Cathy Ashton's return to Gaza? Is she there to inspect at first hand the consequences of the destructive blockade? I don't believe so. The first visit was more than enough for that; indeed, the EU has its own agencies working on the ground in Palestine which submit regular reports in the most minute of details. Is it the case that the current visit comes in the context of reports that certain European elements are seeking to reduce international pressure on Israel, boost the occupation and circumvent the international will which affirms the necessity of ending the blockade? That would have the effect of accepting Israel's latest propaganda which claims that it is an easing the blockade and approving a list of permissible and unacceptable goods, neither of which actually changes the condition of the Palestinian people. Construction material and spare parts for machinery and medical equipment are still forbidden from entering Gaza, even for humanitarian projects such as use in hospitals and schools. Is it reasonable therefore to speak of an end to the siege when Gaza experiences 8-12 hours of blackout every day and the lives of hundreds of sick patients are put at risk despite the funds given by the EU to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah? Is it reasonable to speak of an end to the siege when as of today only 10% of the allocated funds have reached Gaza? And who says the problems of the Palestinian people as a result of the blockade are limited to some ketchup, mayonnaise and sewing needles? The Palestinians have been able to defy the siege with the blood and lives of more than 160 martyrs who met their deaths in the tunnels dug between Gaza and Egypt to circumvent the blockade and bring in the basic necessities for their people.

I don't believe that Ms Ashton, with all the information she possesses and the position she occupies, is unaware of the realities of the blockade; this is in essence a political act and it is not right to embellish it with any measures or statements. It was, therefore, appalling to hear from Ashton that the continued arrival of aid convoys to help the people of Gaza is an "unjustified provocation". Is attempting to enforce the international will to end the blockade an act of provocation, or is the continuity of this crime against humanity the real provocation? Her remarks are only understandable if taken in the context of political hypocrisy of the highest order or an acceptance that the state of Israel is above the law. Besides, who has the right to decide whether or not to keep the key of the blockade in the hands of the lawbreakers and what is the legitimacy of such a decision? Does Ms Ashton believe that the Palestinian people will accept this condition forever?

It is true to say that the Palestinian government in Gaza has acted in a totally responsible manner over the past three years domestically and in its relations with the regional and international community. Despite all of the attempts to ignore it politically, it has succeeded in providing security on the streets for its citizens as well as visitors who do not recognize its legitimacy, in addition to a degree of stability out of a deep concern for the best interests of the Palestinian people. It has stamped out the corruption which was responsible for the squandering of millions of Euros by the previous authority and established a model of institutional administration, acknowledged even by its enemies before its friends, despite a lack of resources and limited experience. The government in Gaza has also presented a brilliant example of honest governance, leadership and care for its people, and demonstrated creativity in the management of the crisis caused by the blockade on every level. All of these successes enabled the elected Palestinian government to be steadfast in the face of global conspiracies to topple it, in which international institutions from near and far participated, including the EU.

This government and those who support it among the Palestinian people will not accept anything less than the immediate lifting of the blockade in its entirety, an end to the strategy pursued by the international community which rejects the results of free and fair elections, and recognition of the legitimacy of our government and the movement which it represents. This is important given the many influential voices in the west which support us already in this regard.

Ms Ashton, should not be deceived by the calm and patience of the Palestinian people and the nobility of their nature; it is not right that she should continue burying her head in the sand and ignoring the facts which are as clear as the midday sun. We expect that the stance after her second visit will be fundamentally different from what it was after the first.

The writer is the Palestinian Minister of Health in Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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