Monday, July 30, 2007

A Voice of Sanity

Jewish Voice for Peace, July 29, 2007

Congress is once again showing its remarkable ability to misunderstand the Middle East and to be more narrow-minded in its decisions regarding Arab states than even Israeli hawks.At issue now is a Middle East arms package that the Bush Administration plans to put into the next appropriations bill. It involves a 10-year commitment to do the following:

*provide $3 billion per year in military aid to Israel
* provide $1.3 billion per year in military aid to Egypt
* sell some $20 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf states, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

One should keep in mind that the US and Israel also work together to develop other defense systems, which often amount to additional American support for Israel, though this relationship is much more mutual than is often portrayed.The American strategy of flooding the Middle East with weapons, small and large, has already had the effect of greatly increasing the instability of the region. This new wave of arms supplies, crafted to maintain Israel's military superiority while simultaneously enabling America's Arab allies to strengthen their ability to stand up to increasing Iranian influence in the region, is certain to have similarly destabilizing results. That is not to say that the arms deal won't accomplish the goals outlined above, but that accomplishment will come along with other, unintended results.

Principled, or even thoughtful, opposition to such a strategy would be welcome. A credible alternative that does not endanger Israel or other US interests might mean:

* Israel is held accountable to its past commitments to the US upon which its aid is predicated (that it is to be used only for defense, that American weapons are not to be used against civilians) and that such aid is dependent on Israel's removing settlements and freezing all construction in the West Bank;
* engaging Iran in diplomacy, along with Saudi Arabia;
* that the US adhere to its own regulations that arms supplies be conditioned on adherence to human rights norms;
* that the US commits to supporting the security of all allied states that adhere to such regulations;
* that Iran, the US and the Arab states come together to work for a resolution to the crisis in Iraq;
* and that substantive negotiations begin for the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, encompassing all areas under conflict, including the Golan heights and the Sheba'a Farms.

These measures could be aimed at allaying the concerns over Saudi and Gulf states' acquisition of arms. Stabilizing the governments through enhanced human rights protections would greatly diminish the threat of those governments falling and the weapons ending up in the hands of parties who might use them against Israel, which is a fear in Congress.

But all of this is beside the point--Israel's own Prime Minister has already accepted the idea of the US selling these arms to the Arab states. One would expect Congress, then, to follow his lead.Instead, what we get is Congressional saber-rattling that is positioned solidly to the right of the majority of Israeli political parties. There is no questioning of Israel's reception of aid, and even of it increasing, despite the fact that the enhancement of aid is specifically meant to offset the arms sales to the Arab states. Instead, there is blind opposition from key Democrats in Congress only to sales to Saudi Arabia, based on objections to the Saudi's stance on Iraq, and their attempt to re-unify the Palestinian factions.

The short-sightedness of this opposition is hard to overstate.Congressional understanding of the Middle East is limited. They hear from "experts" largely supplied by only one side in the discussion, be they from AIPAC or the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). There are always, of course, lobbying efforts supporting failed hard-line policies, but the educational efforts are just as important. The need for an alternative in Washington couldn't be more clear.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"A completely avoidable crisis"

Oxfam condemns the caging of Gaza
Press Release

25 June 2007

International agency Oxfam today condemned aid blockade of Gaza that is leaving 1.3 million people are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Oxfam called on all actors in the conflict to ensure that urgently needed food, medicine and water supplies are allowed in immediately.

The call comes as Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet today in Egypt. Oxfam is demanding that the reopening of Gaza's borders is placed at the top of the agenda so that essential supplies can get through. If not, the region's economy and basic services such as health and water systems will collapse.

Jeremy Hobbs Director of Oxfam International said:
"The international community is closing its eyes to its humanitarian obligations and allowing the suffering to intensify. Aid is being drip-fed across the border. The entrapment of Gaza is completely unacceptable. We urge the key players to resolve what has been a completely avoidable crisis."

According to the UN there are just days until food supplies will run out, fuel is scarce and essential medicines are also critically low. At least 100 trucks a day need to be going into Gaza to meet peoples essential needs, instead just 20 trucks are permitted to go in each day.

Oxfam's partner, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) who operate the Beit Lahia Sewage Works fear that the works could burst swamping up to 10,000 in sewage and contaminate the water supplies of 300,000, creating a public health crisis. The CMWU has been waiting for over three months for $500,000 worth of equipment. There are only 10 days of chlorine supplies left and people may soon have to start to drink contaminated water.
Hobbs added:

"Withholding aid as a political weapon is bringing untold suffering to an entire population. This shames the international community. Water equipment has been waiting at Gaza's border for more than three months. These sanctions must cease immediately."

Oxfam is concerned that talks today in Sharm el Sheik will ignore the dire humanitarian needs of people in Gaza. It calls on Prime Minister Olmert to lift the blockade immediately and for Palestinian authorities to ensure that public service workers and humanitarian agencies can distribute urgently needed materials.

Western donors, together with the Palestinian authorities, must ensure that both emergency and development aid are allocated impartially throughout the Occupied Territories, on the basis of need, and are not used as a political tool. To do otherwise will further exacerbate partisan rivalry, to the detriment of the lives of ordinary Palestinians and to Israel's long-term security.