Israel Suffocating Gaza to Seize Jerusalem

Press Releases
September 04, 2006

Erekat: "Israel Suffocating Gaza to Seize Jerusalem"

Today, Israel issued tenders for 690 new settlement units around occupied East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the months-long Israeli assault on Gaza continued while the humanitarian crisis there intensified.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat denounced the new tenders as "perverse assaults on human dignity." He emphasized that "Israel restricts the internal movement of 2.5 million Christian and Muslim Palestinians [in the occupied West Bank] so that 430,000 Israeli settlers can roam free." Mr. Erekat continued: "In South Africa, they had a name for this."

All of Israel's settlements are illegal under international law, which the International Court of Justice unanimously reaffirmed on July 9, 2004. The World Bank and the United Nations identify the restrictions on Palestinian movement, including to and from Gaza, as the main cause of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. Now, nearly two-thirds of Palestinians live in poverty, up from 50% in 2005.

Today's tenders could house as many as 2,800 new settlers in two of the West Bank's largest settlements, Ma'ale Adumim and Beitar Illit. Mr. Erekat stressed that these two settlements "could spell the end of the Two-State Solution."

Mr. Erekat explained that "a viable Palestinian state is an essential component of a lasting and viable two-state solution. Yet Ma'ale Adumim and Beitar Illit seize valuable lands and resources while fracturing the economic center and cultural heart of any potentially viable Palestinian state, Jerusalem."

Along with Ramallah and Bethlehem, occupied East Jerusalem constitutes a metropolitan unit, known as "Metropolitan East Jerusalem." Historically, Metropolitan East Jerusalem accounted for 30 to 40% of all the economic activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined. Now, Israel prevents most Palestinians from accessing East Jerusalem.

Mr. Erekat suggested that events in Gaza could be explained by Israel's desires for key sections of the West Bank, especially East Jerusalem, asserting that Israel might be exploiting the situation in Gaza to distract the world from settlement activity in the West Bank. "The recent assault on Gaza began long before the capture of the Israeli soldier. Israel is, and has been, suffocating Gaza to seize Jerusalem."

Mr. Erekat indicted Israel's refusal to answer Palestinian calls to negotiate peace: "When will Israel ever learn? Unilateralism never works. With Egypt and Jordan, you negotiate [and] everyone wins. [These examples are] proof positive that the only secure border is an agreed border."

"Meanwhile, in the short term, we pay the price. Gaza pays the price," continued Dr. Erekat. "Gaza has been shelled relentlessly for months. It is the world's largest prison, with every good, person, and drop of water entering or leaving Gaza ultimately subject to Israeli control. And Israel wonders why people are angry? Let us breathe. We want to be free too."

Recently leaked Israeli army documents suggest that Israel has been keeping Gaza sealed for punitive reasons, and not due to security concerns, even though collective punishment is illegal under international law.

Mr. Erekat also directed a message to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "Take the high road. We are here and willing to talk now. We want to create a better future for both our peoples now. But suffocating an entire people for political gain both emboldens extremists today and destroys any realistic hope of two states for two peoples tomorrow."

Mr. Erekat concluded by saying that this current situation is "untenable." "Israel is faced with two choices today: One, does it want a two-state solution; and two, does it want a PA? By building new settlements and continuing to starve us, the answer to both [questions] seems [to be] a resounding 'no.'

We don't want a return to the pre-Oslo days. We want our freedom and hope for a real future. But the current situation can't-and won't-last much longer."

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