FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 31, 2005
Negotiations Affairs Department Ramallah, Israeli-occupied West Bank
PALESTINIAN MINISTER GHASSAN KHATIB BLASTS ISRAELI COORDINATION AS “LITTLE MORE THAN SMOKE AND MIRRORS”
Last night, another high-level meeting in a series of meetings between Palestinians and Israelis over the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza concluded without an agreement that would permit Palestinians to open the crossing point. Palestinian Minister Ghassan Khatib, who is in charge of coordinating outstanding issues post-“Disengagement” with Israel, expressed “deep frustration” with Israel’s “refusal to coordinate in good faith.”
The Rafah crossing point connects Egypt with the Gaza Strip. It is one of many outstanding issues stemming from Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip, including the overland crossing points of Karni, which historically provides access to the West Bank, and Erez. Although the World Bank has invited the parties to hold meetings on Karni and Erez over the past six weeks, Israel has refused to convene this tripartite committee.
In fact, since Israel concluded the evacuation of its settlers from the Gaza Strip on September 12th, 2005 Israel has tightened its control over all entry/exit points to the Gaza Strip, including Rafah. The Palestinians, the World Bank, and the international community have long maintained that without the free flow of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—and between the Gaza Strip and the rest of the world—the Gaza Strip would remain embroiled in humanitarian crisis and political instability.
Israel, however, continues to press for ultimate control over the flow of people and goods between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. In recent meetings, it has called for live transmissions to monitor crossings, veto power over persons and goods traveling through Rafah, or agreements with Egyptians, rather than Palestinians, to ensure ultimate Israeli control.
In addition to Minister Khatib, the meeting was attended by Chief Palestinian Negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat and Head of the Crossing Points Authority Nazmi Muhana on the Palestinian side. Eitan Dangot, Ammos Gilaad, Baruch Speigal, and Einat Wolfe represented Israel. The meeting was chaired by representatives from the office of Quartet Special Envoy James Wolfensohn.
Minister Khatib decried the situation as “ridiculous.” “We have done everything possible to coordinate with Israel,” said Dr. Khatib. “But as James Wolfensohn noted, coordination has brought much less than expected and it is almost as if the 'Disengagement’ had never occurred.”
Mr. Khatib noted that the Palestinian Authority had worked with USAID to fully equip the Rafah crossing point and had invited the European Union to assist initially with managing the crossing point and monitoring Palestinian compliance with international standards. “With the international community’s assistance,” Mr. Khatib continued, “Rafah could be open and functional tomorrow.”
“Instead,” Mr. Khatib said, “Israel wants to control Rafah. We think Rafah should be an issue between us and Egypt. We’ve made proposals deemed reasonable and endorsed by the international community.”
Mr. Khatib noted since September 12th, Israel had conducted over 1,000 military raids in the territories, arrested nearly 700 Palestinians, and killed almost 30 Palestinians, all the while making room for over three times the number of settlers in the West Bank than it had evacuated from Gaza as part of “Disengagement,” especially in and around occupied East Jerusalem.
“Based on this illegal activity and Israel’s refusal to even talk about returning to negotiations, I’m convinced,” said Mr. Khatib, “that Israeli coordination is little more than smoke and mirrors.”
Mr. Khatib concluded his remarks with a harsh admonition of Israel: “Israel is addicted to occupation—to control. It doesn’t seem to understand that both Israeli and Palestinian security depends on Israel letting go. By holding on, Palestinians are caged in disconnected prisons, without hope or future—and the newly-elected government can’t even dream to provide the most basic services, much less improve security for Palestinians.”
“This is a tragedy. For both our peoples. We have the opportunity today—today—to negotiate a lasting and fair peace. Yes, opening Rafah is a small beginning, not an end. We urgently need to deal with Karni, Erez, a link to the West Bank, the closure regime in the West Bank, and the airport and seaport as well. But let our new Leadership, a Leadership committed to peaceful dialogue and negotiating an end to this historic conflict now, do its job. But we can never, and will never, agree to acting as Israel’s wardens in our own prison.”
The Minister will hold an in-depth political briefing tomorrow, November 1st, at 10:00 AM at the Prime Minister’s Offices in Ramallah