wilts under a bad policy
Wed., Nov. 9, 2005
On the surface, this
column is about tomatoes and peppers.
But it's really a
story about flawed thinking in the White House and Israel about how to
curb Palestinian terror and get a peace process back on track.
The story begins in
August when a group of wealthy Americans made a grand gesture to help
with the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. President Bush has called for Gaza
to become an economic showcase after the Israeli exit, yet Gaza has 1.3
million people and a 60 percent rate of unemployment. The Americans tried
to help by putting up $14 million to buy greenhouses from departing Jewish
settlers and turn them over to Palestinians.
the former head of the World Bank who now serves as an administration
envoy to the Mideast, donated $500,000 from his own pocket. He wanted
to create a few thousand jobs in Gaza that might help undercut support
for radical groups such as Hamas. And, indeed, around 3,000 Palestinians
will harvest the first crop of peppers and tomatoes from these greenhouses
The good news stops
The tomatoes and peppers
are likely to rot at the Karni border crossing between Gaza and Israel,
along with the crops of many other Palestinian farmers. Why? Because the
Israelis have blocked the export of goods from Gaza to Israel and beyond.
No one can dispute
Israel's valid security concerns; two terrorists once sneaked through
the Karni crossing in an empty container. That's why Israel says it has
to keep control of Gaza's land borders, airspace and seaspace, even after
But if Gaza is locked
up like a huge prison, Bush's dreams for the territory will turn into
a nightmare. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won't have any traction
to curb Hamas, which will increase recruitment and do well in January's
parliamentary elections. Is anybody in Washington and Jerusalem paying
Gaza pullout, an average of 35 trucks daily were taking goods and produce
out of Gaza. Since the pullout, the number has slowed to a trickle,
averaging 12 daily. It would take 150 truckloads daily to get those tomatoes
and peppers and other produce to market.
TV has reported that the few functioning factories in Gaza are closing
because they can't export, and unemployment has risen to 80 percent.
better economic times after Israel's exit, says Nigel Roberts, the World
Bank's country director for the West Bank and Gaza. "We needed to... create
a sense of momentum," laments Roberts, "and it's something of a shock
that things went in the opposite direction."
What's so infuriating
about this story of tomatoes and peppers is that it has an obvious solution.
Israeli leaders from both the Likud and Labor parties were discussing
the need for better export procedures from Gaza in the mid-1990s. Nothing
When Palestinian trucks
arrive in Karni, they must off-load all their goods for checking. The
goods may sit for hours, or days, before they are reloaded onto Israeli
trucks for transport to Israel. For years, Israeli and U.S. officials
have talked of obtaining high-tech scanners that could x-ray containers
or trucks, so they could drive through without off-loading.
The United States
aid agency has now budgeted $50 million to purchase scanners for Karni
and some West Bank crossings. But Roberts says the scanners won't be ready
for six to 18 months.
If Karni stays blocked
until the arrival of the scanners, Gaza is likely to explode in the meantime.
"The time for action... is short," Wolfensohn wrote last month in an open
letter that betrayed his frustration. "We must of course assure security
for Israel - but the best security will be hope and work for the Palestinians."
Even without the scanners,
Roberts says 150 trucks could move through Karni daily. That would require
the Israelis to extend operating hours, add lanes, and use existing equipment
to capacity. Instead, the lack of urgency is baffling.
Gazans already suspect
that Israel's withdrawal was meant to consolidate its hold on the West
Bank, where Jewish settlement-building continues. A worsening economy
will feed these suspicions and produce more violence.
So why on earth not
let the tomatoes and peppers reach their markets? It's in everyone's interests.
And time is very short.
article also appeared in The Baltimore Sun on Friday, November