Israel-Palestine peace talks resumed this past July at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. These talks have, until this point, failed to yield meaningful results:
A high-level Palestinian source told Al-Monitor that not even one agreement had been achieved in the discussions so far, not even regarding marginal topics that were not defined as core issues. According to the source, not only has there been no progress, but there has been regression: Israel’s announcements about continued construction in the territories caused the Palestinian public to direct harsh criticism against its representatives in the talks, causing them (the negotiators) to harden their positions around the discussion tables. The highly placed source said that when the Palestinian team complained about this to Tzipi Livni, head of the Israeli team, she expressed her understanding of their perspective, but argued that this [the construction] reflected the Israeli political reality and, nonetheless, a way must be found to make progress.
When the talks were renewed, representatives in the prime minister’s environs promised “surprises” and explained that he is ready to make a dramatic diplomatic decision that would avert Israel’s isolation. Netanyahu agreed to release prisoners with blood on their hands, and his associates said that he was willing to discuss all the issues on the table, including Jerusalem’s status and delineation of the borders of the future Palestinian state. The prisoners were, indeed, released but soon afterward provocative statements were released about building in the territories. The negotiators had not managed to touch upon even one critical issue before the negotiations exploded. Simultaneously, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett embarked on a media campaign in the United States where he argued that Israel was not an occupying nation because the entire land of Israel belonged to it.
In protracted conflicts such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, there is often a deep level of distrust and dislike between the two sides. Marginal steps like releasing Palestinian prisoners cannot realistically be expected to change public opinion. However, circumstances in the Gaza Strip have created an opportunity for the Israeli government to swing public favor in it’s direction, while also living up to its international human rights obligations:
Raw sewage has flooded streets in a southern Gaza City neighborhood in recent days, threatening a health disaster, after a shortage of electricity and cheap diesel fuel from Egypt led the Hamas government to shut down Gaza’s lone power plant, causing a pump station to flood.
“Any day that passes without a solution has disastrous effects,” Farid Ashour, director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said Tuesday in an interview. “We haven’t faced a situation as dangerous as this time.”
“You’re asking me why? Ask the world why instead,” Mayor Rafiq Mekki of Gaza City said as he toured sewage-filled streets around the flooded Zeitoun pumping station. “We are under siege, and ask the world which besieges us this question. We called on all international organizations to intervene, but no one cares so far.”
“I blame Israel, the Ramallah government and Hamas for the crisis,” said Mr. Khouli, [a Palestinian baker] referring to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. “They should work together and find a solution for this because it’s the people who are paying the price.”
“Every day, we call the electricity company and they say, ‘It’s not our responsibility,’ ” complained Thabet Khatab, 56, a grocer, who was busy piling dirt in front of his house to prevent sewage from seeping inside a second time. “We call the municipality, but they say, ‘Bring diesel for us so we can run the generator in the pumping station.’ ”
Amnesty International succinctly explains why Israel is responsible for upholding human rights in Gaza:
Israel maintains effective control over Gaza, controlling all but one of the crossings into the Gaza Strip, the airspace, territorial waters, telecommunications and the population registry which determines who is allowed to leave or enter Gaza. Therefore, Israel is still considered the occupying power and is responsible for the welfare of the inhabitants in the strip under international humanitarian law.
Palestinians in Gaza faces their worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. The Palestinian National Authority lacks the capacity to remedy the problems facing it’s citizens. Inaction fuels public resentment towards the international community in general and Israel specifically. An opportunity has presented itself for Israel to come to the rescue in a time of dire need, while also upholding its obligations under international human rights law.
It would be hard even for the staunchest pessimist / cynic to argue that Israeli humanitarian aid would not improve public perception of the Israeli government, both in Palestine and abroad (where Israel has received much criticism of late due to controversial housing development plans in disputed territory). Palestinians are people just like anyone else, they will not forget who came to their aid in their darkest hour.
I am Jewish, but I am not observant. However, one aspect of Judaism I have always identified with is the concept of Tzedakah (charity). The Israeli government–in the spirit of Tzedakah, in compliance with international human rights law, and in hopes of reinvigorating stalled peace talks–should come to the aid of Palestinians in Gaza.