In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) Christian Aid supports a number of Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations, such as Addameer, B'Tselem and Al Haq, which recognise that in order for peace to be achieved, human rights must be respected, the rule of law adhered to and accountability be the norm. Unfortunately it now appears that 'peace' is not necessarily what many presumed it to be.
'Is peace possible' is an oft repeated rhetorical question both in the media and by those who live and work in the region. If the goal of peace is merely an absence of violence then we are relatively close, with only a few on the margins of either side spoiling it for the majority. However, if by peace we mean something more structural, that includes freeing people from systems that promote and sustain marginalisation, discrimination and dispossession, or that privilege the security and rights of one side over the other, then it remains stubbornly elusive.
According to the Jerusalem Post on 9th April, Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed all government ministries to cease civilian and economic cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (PA). This was part of the Israeli Government's response to what one Israeli official called the "Palestinian's grave violation of their commitments in the framework of the peace talks". What was the Palestinian action that seems to have jeopardised peace?
On 1st April the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in response to Israel reneging on agreed prisoner releases, signed accession instruments for 15 treaties, including core human rights treaties, such as the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, conventions on the rights of the child; the elimination of discrimination against women; and against torture and genocide. He also requested that Palestine accede to treaties on the laws of war, including the Hague Regulations and four Geneva Scenario Conventions.
The human rights treaties that Abbas signed up to would impose obligations on the Palestinian government to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of people under their authority and effective control. This should be good news for all in the international community, not least those who have invested heavily in supporting the PA's institutional development. Accountability is one of the cornerstones of any democracy and respect for human rights is frequently held up as a test for a state's democratic credentials, or in the PA's case, a state in waiting.
Yet the Israeli and international response to the Palestinians signing up to the various conventions committing them, on paper at least, to respect human rights has been at best muted and at worst hostile.
Israel appears to be challenging any notion of Palestinian sovereignty, even if that means opposing Palestinian accountability and adherence to international human rights conventions, suggesting that adherence to human rights principles is not necessarily part of a 'negotiated peace'.
For example, on 8th April Israel blocked a shipment of previously agreed mobile phone equipment into the Gaza Strip which some suggest is retaliation for the Palestinian move. Such actions are not unique and part of the reason why aid and political engagement in unison are so crucial to break the deadlock which has become so familiar.
Christian Aid regards aid as critical for addressing humanitarian need. However, we suggest that it hasn't been used sufficiently to tackle the obstacles and realities that Palestinians experience on the ground that block economic development.
Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 as part of the Oslo peace process, he Palestinians have consistently been amongst the highest recipients of international humanitarian aid with much of the latter conditional and supporting a two-state vision of peace. The UK explicitly supports 'the Palestinian Authority state-building efforts through Department for International Development direct financial assistance (up to £122m over four years) tied with specific provisions on respect for human rights and the rule of law as well as good governance'.
Christian Aid, as an agency targeting poverty, supports and strengthens civil society in Israel and the OPT in order to transform the systems and structures of power that cause poverty by protecting human rights and challenging inequality and injustice. Our programme focuses on holding Israeli and Palestinian duty-bearers to account against their obligations under international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL).
Poverty is not inevitable. For Palestinians, the main causes are discrimination and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which has caused de-development in the OPT and for the last 18 years, since the beginning of the peace process, an increase in poverty as the Israeli job market has closed to Palestinians, overseas remittances diminished and severe access restrictions into, out of and within the OPT thus discouraging private sector investment. According to recent UN estimates, 25% of Palestinians in the West Bank and 54% in Gaza are food insecure, with 12% at risk of becoming so.
By tying aid to a process which hasn't delivered peace, it appears to facilitate a disconnect between diplomatic and political efforts and ever increasing facts on the ground, such as illegal settlement construction and Palestinian displacement. Aid must be used to both tackle poverty and help both sides address core political problems, not lubricate a peace process that appears to shun the very elements that can help build a viable solution for both peoples.
It is abundantly clear from international parliamentary debates, World Bank and NGO reports and political commentary that all are aware of the daily obstacles facing ordinary Palestinians in the OPT. Not least that the PA only has limited authority over 40% of the West Bank. Repeated claims that the other 60%, known as Area C, and the future of settlements are to be negotiated add insult to injury to Palestinians who have witnessed, during the peace process era, a doubling of the settler population and regular announcements of further settlement construction.
In this climate, we should be thankful that those international human rights conventions, born out of the horrors of the Second World War, still hold as an ideal and standard to which we should all aspire. It is a sad day when signing up to those standards is regarded as counter to the pursuit of peace.