MIDEAST: Helpless in Gaza

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By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

JERSUALEM, Feb 1, 2010 (IPS) - Scores of Palestinian women and their children carefully sift through the desert sands. They are looking for hard nuggets.

No gold rush here in the Gaza Strip – all they are putting into their sacks are pebbles and pieces of hard rock.

Even Israelis were moved when their main commercial channel, Channel 2, showed on prime time news on Thursday evening the scenes of despair in besieged Gaza.

The pebbles are sold for a pittance to Palestinian contractors who have no other building material with which to reconstruct the thousands of homes and buildings destroyed last year during Israel’s war on Hamas.

Beyond Gaza, the current United States diplomatic effort aimed at re-starting full peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has yet to yield results.

Now, a joint Palestinian-Israeli NGO has stepped in, seeking to fill the dangerous vacuum. In a policy paper, it puts forward recommendations to the international community on how the abysmal Gaza predicament might be resolved.

The paper, devised by the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ), was made available to IPS on Wednesday.

The assessments and recommendations of the special PIJ forum are part of a series of advisory papers solicited by the European Union (EU) on how to advance the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

The premise of the PIJ paper on Gaza is two-fold: "Israel is the party which holds the primary keys to ending the current situation in Gaza. Without pressure from the international community, Israel will not hand over those keys."

The reports goes on to assert that "the siege imposed on Gaza by Israel and the international community is a collective punishment; it creates a hotbed for the breeding of extremism and violence; it serves the rule of Hamas; worsens the social structure of the Strip and creates an unstable and retarded economy that is based on non-production. In the medium and long term, this poses a significant risk to many parties, including Egypt and Israel."

With Israeli-Arab negotiations stalled since the Gaza war, the PIJ forum represents a unique initiative. It brings together Palestinian and Israeli politicians along with civil society activists, military and legal experts, and diplomats from the EU, the U.S., Egypt and Turkey.

To allow the participants to express their views as freely as possible, the policy paper was drafted under the Chatham House rule. No quotations stemming from the closed-door proceedings were made public.

Among the recommendations were:

- De-politicise aid and freedom of movement for people and goods and to enable the normalisation of living conditions in Gaza. Read more here here

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