Thursday, June 10, 2010

Barack Obama announces $400m aid package to Gaza.

The tide is turning over Israel's illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip.

President Barack Obama said today the US would send $400m of aid to the Palestinian territories following 10 days of international focus on Gaza, which Israel has blockaded for more than three years.

The announcement came as Obama met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Washington to discuss the progress of proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the dire situation in Gaza. Most US aid currently goes to the West Bank. The international community has largely focused on building up Abbas's authority over recent years, and Gaza, whose de facto Hamas government is not recognised by the US or the UK, has been marginalised.

But since Israel launched its disastrous assault on a flotilla of ships attempting to carry aid to Gaza, the humanitarian crisis in the tiny enclave has seized attention.

Obama described the situation in Gaza as "unsustainable", saying a better approach was needed and calling for a "new conceptual framework" for Israel's blockade. A White House statement said the new funds "represent a down payment on the United States' commitment to Palestinians in Gaza, who deserve a better life and expanded opportunities, and the chance to take part in building a viable, independent state of Palestine, together with those who live in the West Bank".

I don't know what "new conceptual framework" Obama has in mind, or why he is sitting with Abbas whilst making an offer of aid which includes the Hamas governed Gaza strip, but the fact that he is offering these kind of funds whilst stating that the situation in Gaza is "unsustainable" is, I am hoping, a large stride forward.

The money will go towards infrastructure projects in both Gaza and the West Bank, including $10m for the construction of new UN schools. It did not explain how the schools will be built while Israel maintains its embargo on construction materials entering Gaza, claiming they could be diverted to make weapons and build underground bunkers.

Earlier this week the UK government promised an extra £19m in aid. Israel today announced extra items it would allow into Gaza, including crisps, canned fruit, packaged hummus and shaving foam.

"They will send the first course. We are waiting for the main course," the Palestinian economy minister, Hassan Abu Libdeh, was quoted in the Israeli media as saying. "We are waiting for this unjust siege to end."

What is clear is that the Israeli attack on the freedom flotilla has brought a spotlight on to the siege of Gaza and woken many people up to the fact that an act of collective punishment is taking place here.

Obama, whilst failing to openly condemn the Israelis, is certainly making a point by including Gaza in the $400 million aid package which he is sending to the Occupied Territories.

And Netanyahu is clearly signalling that he intends that the incident on board the Mavi Marmara will be swept under the carpet.

Netanyahu said today that an inquiry would examine the presence of "extremist" elements on board the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the course of the operation by naval commandos.

He has already said that the inquiry panel will not be permitted to cross-examine naval personnel.

So, Netanyahu is making it clear that he doesn't want an inquiry into why nine peace activists were killed, he wants an inquiry into why they deserved to be killed because they were "extremists".

Netanyahu's Israel is so out of kilter with the rest of the world that Obama feels able to offer £400 million in aid to the Occupied Territories, and is making clear that this includes the Hamas run Gaza Strip.

Obama called on Israel to reassess its blockade on the Gaza Strip – but said the best guarantee of a solution was an independent Palestinian state.

"There should be means by which we will be able to stop flow of arms that endanger Israel’s security," Obama said.

"If we can get a new conceptual framework, we should be able to take what is a tragedy and create an opportunity so the lives of people of Gaza are improved. But in the long run the way to solve this problem is creation of the Palestinian state and ensuring Israel’s security."

So Obama is sending aid to Gaza, demanding that the Israelis "reassess" their Gaza blockade, and repeating his calls for the creation of a state of Palestine.

I don't know what Netanyahu's extremist government intended when they boarded that flotilla, but it certainly wasn't this.

Click here for full article.

No comments: