Life gets worse for Palestinians while talks continue – Minister
Gaza water ‘too polluted for use by 2016’
|The former head of Israel’s security service, Yuri Diskin, warned this week that a failure to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians was a greater existential threat to Israel than Iran’s nuclear programme.His speech widened the rift exposed in the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘The Gatekeepers’ between the top brass of Israel’s security services, Shin Beit and Mossad, and Prime Minister Netanyahu.Diskin said Netanyahu should have conceded a settlement freeze before the talks instead of a prisoner release which he described as “a disgusting and cynical move born out of a desire to avoid freezing settlement building”.
He attacked Netanyahu’s coalition partner Naftali Bennett for making a speech using the phrase “shrapnel in the buttocks” opposing the idea of a Palestinian state and advocating the annexation of most of the West Bank.
In the speech Bennett used an analogy to explain why he thought it better for Israelis to live with a permanent occupation of the West Bank than to allow the creation of an independent state of Palestine:
“I have a friend who’s got shrapnel in his buttocks and he’s been told that it can be removed surgically, but it would leave him disabled. So he decided to live with it.”
Despite Kerry’s latest visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah this week, no Palestinians and few Israelis give the talks any chance of success while settlement building continues.
Meanwhile in Britain the Middle East Minister Hugh Robertson has finally signed off risk guidance to UK business, which does raise the issue of trading with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
This advice is better than nothing, but doesn’t go far enough. If the Foreign Office issued guidance to UK firms to stop trading with settlements, it would put economic pressure on the Israelis to make the concessions necessary to reach agreement.
Although the Foreign Office seems to believe any kind of pressure would destabilise the talks, a UK move would be far more likely to galvanise the talks and improve the chances of a peace agreement.
At Foreign Office questions Hugh Robertson threw away two chances of giving a hint to the Israelis of what the UK will do if the talks end in failure when they run out of time in May.
He was asked by Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames if he would if he would ”
use his influence to shape European trade policies in a manner that is consistent with our Government’s view on the illegal settlements?”
He replied: “Yes, we will….we welcome the EU guidelines on the eligibility of Israel entities for EU funding and the agreement reached last week that, on the other side, allows Israel to participate in Horizon 2020.”
Labour MP Andy Slaughter then asked him, if he thought that raising the issue of settlement trade would “upset” the peace talks, what action he would take to support the peace talks?
The Minister replied that he did not “understand the distinction” and repeated his mantra that settlements were “illegal under international law and undermine the possibility of a two-state solution”.
It now appears as though the Government is going to wait for the talks to fail before they start putting pressure on to make them succeed.
In a debate on water shortages in Palestine International Development Minister Alan Duncan said life for ordinary Palestinians was getting worse while the peace talks continued.
“We have seen a spike in settlement announcements and demolition orders. Violence has erupted in east Jerusalem and the West Bank and unemployment is on the rise.
“To make the case for peace, which this Government firmly believe in, we need to bring about real and tangible change on the ground and to do so before it is too late.”
Answering a debate from Labour MP David Winnick, he said 90% of water in Gaza was already unfit for human consumption and the Gaza aquifer was set to become too polluted for use by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020.
“Water shortages are a stark reminder of the harshness of Palestinian daily life. From the farmer in the West Bank who cannot grow the same produce as his settler neighbour, to the family in Gaza having to wade through sewage to get home, the situation is unfair and untenable. Indeed, it is unjust.”