Middle East Peace Process

The most immediate situation we should address is the illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government. This blockade has been particularly tight since the middle of last year, when Hamas became the dominant political force in Gaza.

Over that time very little has been allowed into Gaza. Limited food and medicine has been allowed in and oil supplies have been so short that many patients have died in Gaza’s hospitals, several of them children. There has been not enough oil to run the hospital generators. Even cement for reconstruction has not been allowed in for months. In fact, the Gaza economy has ground to a halt, with 80% of the population relying on international relief aid

And now much of this relief aid has been blocked off, by decision of the Israeli government last week.

This is a crime against humanity. A UN rapporteur, John Dugard, explained at the weekend that this ‘violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention’

Mr Dugard also criticised Israel for the killing of 40 Palestinians in airstrikes on civilian areas of Gaza over the past week. He said it violates ‘one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets.’ The UN representative said ‘those responsible for such cowardly action are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes.’

Those who commit such crimes should recognise there is now an International Criminal Court to bring them to justice.

I support the Indonesian delegation’s resolution to this conference ‘that the peace settlement of the Israeli/Palestine conflicts can be reached if the peace talks are conducted without excluding any party to the conflict’.These talks must be between the Israeli government and all of those who truly represent the Palestinian people — the Fatah leaders, the Hamas leaders, and political leaders unaligned to either faction.

If we really want a settlement, and an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people, the Hamas leaders shouldn’t be excluded. In any case, the reasons often given for excluding the Hamas leaders don’t hold water.

The first misleading reason often given for excluding Hamas is that Hamas doesn’t recognise Israeli. The truth is that Hamas has explicitly recognised the Israeli government as in de facto control of Israel, and they have agreed to negotiate with it. Formal diplomatic recognition of Israel is surely not an issue. Hardly any of the Islamic countries recognise Israel — two countries represented here, Indonesia and Malaysia, don’t recognise Israel — and that is their right. The United States doesn’t recognise North Korea, yet the United States sits down at the negotiating table with North Korea.

The second misleading reason for excluding Hamas is that it doesn’t renounce violence, yet the same test is not applied to Israel. Until quite recently Hamas was operating a ceasefire, with its forces not launching attacks into Israel. Yet Israel was less restrained. In 2007 Israel forces killed 290 people in Gaza and 83 in the West Bank. Around 30 times fewer Israelis were killed – 13 Israelis were killed in 2007. On these statistics any calls for a ceasefire should be directed at least as much to Israel as any Palestinian party.

The third misleading reason for excluding Hamas is that it allegedly won’t accept past agreements. This is a strange demand in that Israel does not adhere to the past agreements, including the US-inspired Roadmap. Most notably, Israel continues to build new settlements on the West Bank, and to expand existing settlements.

Also, we should recognise that Hamas did win the 2006 Palestinian elections and a first principle of democracy is to respect the results of an election.

Whatever criticisms we have of the Hamas or the Israeli government or Fatah, all three parties will be part of any solution.

We should support inclusive dialogue, inclusive negotiations towards a truly independent Palestinian state that doesn’t have to ask Israel for permission to do anything, including conducting its own relations with the outside world.

Such negotiations can end the suffering in both countries.

We should also extend our aid to the Palestinian people as several countries (including New Zealand) have been doing over the past year.

We must demand that Israel end its blockade so such aid to the people can be let in.

And when we are thinking about Palestine we should remember our fellow Palestinian MPs, several of whom remain imprisoned in Israel today.

Finally, I would endorse the wording of the Indonesian delegation’s resolution before this conference that an internal dialogue is required in Iraq and that ‘the continued presence of foreign forces in Iraq has further worsened social, political and economic conditions, created fertile ground for the growth of terrorism and caused ethnic conflicts in Iraq which has which has the potential to spill over to the region.’

Most New Zealanders are proud that our country did not join the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Thank you.


Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum