Time to bring hope, not hatred, to Middle East conflict – UN aid chief

Time to bring hope, not hatred, to Middle East conflict – UN aid chief

The growing gap between the goals of the Middle East peace process and the worsening realities on the ground could prove fatal to hopes of a lasting settlement unless urgent action is taken to deal with the problem, the United Nations humanitarian chief said.

In an opinion column published in Cairo’s Al-Ahram yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes wrote that the disconnect could also be “profoundly damaging to one of the world’s oldest and largest refugee populations.”

Mr. Holmes, who recently visited the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, said the Gaza Strip – home to about 1.5 million inhabitants – resembled “a firmly sealed pressure cooker.”

The restrictions imposed by Israel and tightened following Hamas’ takeover of the area in June last year have brought the economy to near collapse, he stated, with almost 80 per cent of the population dependent on UN agencies or their humanitarian partners for food assistance. Unemployment has reached nearly 50 per cent and the overwhelming majority of Gaza’s industrial and manufacturing sites have closed.

“But of all Gaza’s many shortages, the scarcest of all commodities is hope – that most essential of needs.”

Mr. Holmes called on “responsible leaders – Israelis and Palestinians alike – to take the huge risks necessary for peace” and in doing so counter the growth of extremism.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator called for all relief organizations to be given immediate, unrestricted and regular access to Gaza for all their goods and workers.

“The UN alone has $213 million of humanitarian and development projects that are blocked by lack of raw materials, particularly cement,” he wrote, adding that opening the crossings into and out of Gaza was vital.

“The Karni commercial crossing is a critical first step towards this goal. The Palestinian Authority has made constructive proposals about how this could be done, without jeopardizing Israel’s security.”

Mr. Holmes also called on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally stop the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.

“They are indiscriminate; they hurt and kill civilians, and are promoting economic and military responses which only deepen the plight of the people of Gaza.”

But while acknowledging Israel’s security concerns, he said “the response of economic strangulation of Gaza is not compatible with Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. It too should stop. The majority of Gazans should not be punished for the criminal acts of a violent and extremist minority. Only more violence and suffering can come from the current sowing of dragon’s teeth.”

The Under-Secretary-General urged all parties to focus on the goal of two States living side-by-side in peace.

“It may look ambitious now, but it is the only way forward for the longer term. Peace cannot be forged on the anvil of anger, or created through the denial of human dignity.”