House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
IN THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
Wednesday 30 April 2008
MR JOHN GING
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the International Development Committee
on Wednesday 30 April 2008
Malcolm Bruce, in the Chair
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr Marsha Singh
Sir Robert Smith
Witness: Mr John Ging, UN Relief Works Agency (UNWRA) Operations, Gaza, gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: Welcome. We can start. As you appreciate, the first part of the evidence is by video link with Gaza and with John Ging. Good morning to you, John. Can you hear us all right?
Mr Ging: I can hear you clearly, thank you.
Q2 Chairman: Thank you very much for doing this. It is good to talk to you again, although I am not sure that what you have to tell us will be good to hear. I wonder, for the formal record, if you could introduce yourself for the transcript?
Mr Ging: Sure. Good morning. My name is John Ging; I am the Director of UNRWA's Operations here in Gaza, and thank you for the opportunity to address the committee.
Q3 Chairman: We very much appreciate the work that you do and, obviously, you have frequently given us updates. I wonder perhaps if we should start there: if you could give us your latest assessment of the current humanitarian situation in Gaza first-hand as of today?
Mr Ging: Sure. I would characterise the situation here as shocking in terms of the deterioration in the humanitarian situation. I also have to say it is shameful, what we are now witnessing first-hand here and on the ground. Both the principal issues continue to be the access issues, whether it is for equipment or whether it is for supplies. Also the violence underpins the humanitarian situation here in Gaza. When it comes to violence and that pervasive sense of fear and danger that is created in every household by any situation here, I will just update you on the latest statistics. From January of this year 344 Palestinians have been killed and 756 have been injured, and in those figures are the deaths of 60 undisputedly innocent children and a further 175 children injured. All of the danger that all of that amounts to for the civilian population here is pervasive; it is a reality in everybody's daily life. What we are not seeing is the accountability that one would expect when it comes to the use of lethal force, and that is leaving an ever-growing sense of impunity, bad faith and a sense of despair among the general population. Of course, it is very important that when we refer to the security challenges here we also must condemn the firing of rockets from Gaza, which continues on an almost daily basis. These rockets terrorise the civilian population within rocket range of Gaza, and over 2,600 rockets have been fired this year so far. That has resulted in three Israeli civilians being killed and over 20 injured. The other aspect that is underpinning the humanitarian crisis here continues to be the lack of access for people and for supplies in and out of Gaza. The entire population here are feeling the effects of those sanctions. It is a struggle for every family to cope and it is one that they are losing. The pathetic humanitarian state here in Gaza was clearly evident to everybody on 23 January when there was the break-out from Gaza to Rafah. The population just could not take the pressure any more and they broke out of Gaza to do nothing more than buy some household goods - some food, some medicines, and so on. That social explosion was predicted, and yet the causes that underpinned that explosion were not addressed, but the reprieve has been short-lived because, of course, the borders are sealed again and the pressure is building and it is again coming to a point of explosion. The supplies here across the board are either running out or have run out. Compounding the problem that did not exist in January is the fact that fuel is now in very short supply. It even affected our operations here at the UN, where we ran out of fuel and had to suspend, for the first time ever, our food distribution for three days until we were re-supplied. We have only been re-supplied with enough to carry us through five days and we are trying to overcome this with a more regular supply, but, again, the fact that we at the UN ran out is just another indication of how difficult the situation is here. Again, this has been a reduction of supply that has been going on longer than a month. If we compare the figures from last September for all the diesel, it was over nine million litres. In March that had been reduced to 3.8 million litres. The figures for benzine are similar: 1.4 million litres in September and that was reduced to 20 per cent of that amount in March of this year, so it is affecting every aspect of human existence here. The population are reduced to walking. Those vehicles that are on the road, and it is very few, are being converted to using cooking gas - it is a very dangerous conversion - but doctors, healthcare workers, patients, teachers, students, they all must walked now and, if they cannot walk the distance to the school or the clinic, then they do not get there and, again, this is devastating in every respect.
Q4 Chairman: Can I ask you a question on that? That is very helpful. I was going to ask you the point about fuel and you have answered it. You mentioned that the affect of that was to disrupt your food distribution. Can you give us an indication of just how serious the food situation is and how it is affecting people?
Mr Ging: The situation here is that almost four million of the Gaza residents are depending on UN handouts of food. They have no other means of sustaining themselves. The economy has completely collapsed and 80 per cent are now defined as living below the poverty line, and that is consistent with the numbers that we are providing food assistance to - ourselves, OCHA and the World Food Programme for Non Refugees. We are also, because of chronic under funding, not able to give them the full ration that they require. We are only meeting 60 per cent of their daily needs. So, as you can imagine, any interruption in the supply of that ration has a very immediate affect on the households that, as I say, are subsisting on the assistance that we are providing.
Chairman: Thank you for that information. It is obviously a pretty grim situation. Can I bring in Ann McKechin, who would like to ask you some questions on the health situation?
Q5 Ann McKechin: Good morning, John. I wonder if you could advise us just what the current impact of the closure of the Gaza border is having on healthcare provision. You have mentioned, obviously, the issue about fuel, but I know that there are patients who need medical treatment in Israel. Has there has been any change in the issue of travel permits from Gaza into Israel for people needing medical treatment?
Mr Ging: Yes, but it is a major challenge every time to get the approvals needed to get the patients out of Gaza. It is complicated by the political situation here in terms of the architecture between Gaza and Ramada. I have to say, from our perspective we do see a sincere effort on the part of the Israeli authorities to facilitate the transfer of patients from Gaza as needed, but it is definitely a challenge bureaucratically to get people out, and, again, we understand very much the complication of the co-ordination but there is delay. For sure the State of Israel are making a very big effort to facilitate the transfer of patients, and this is definitely something that we must acknowledge.
Q6 Ann McKechin: What is the position about drugs within Gaza: the availability of essential drugs?
Mr Ging: The drugs that are needed for life-saving purposes are in short supply but they are here. The other supplies, whether it is for chronic illnesses, such as dialysis treatment, diabetes, and so on and so forth, for many of these treatments the frequency of treatment is prolonged, it is not as regular as it should be because of the shortages. Cancer patients the same: there is a shortage of chemotherapy medicine in Gaza. I cannot say that today anybody has died because they did not have the medicine that they needed to save their life, but for sure there is a lot of human suffering because of the shortages of medicines, particularly for chronically ill patients, and definitely in the hospitals there is more and more difficulty with the maintenance of equipment such as incubators, and so on, because, again, there is a big difficulty and delay in getting spare parts and other supplies in to actually keep those services going.
Q7 Richard Burden: Good morning, John. Can I ask you a couple of questions in relation to waste water treatment and sewage facilities? There has been a lot of comment recently, not least from the UN and the Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief about the fact that the sewage system in Gaza is on the brink of collapse. We understand that Tony Blair, in his capacity as Middle East Quartet representative, has put some priority on improving sewage facilities at Bayt Lahiyah. Can you tell us something about the state of the sewage system in Gaza and what is happening in terms of efforts to improve it?
Mr Ging: Yes, the state of the sewage and water system here is completely overloaded. Mr Blair's project in Bayt Lahiyah, which is to relieve the pressures on one of the reservoirs there, which is very, very urgent, is not being implemented because now they have run out of fuel to do the work. They finally got the supplies in, the construction materials, but now the contractors are unable to do the work because they do not have fuel. Overall 60,000 litres of raw or partially treated sewage are being pumped out into the sea every day here. Sewage is piling up everywhere, again, simply because they do not have fuel to actually operate the rubbish trucks and the skips as well. The water situation is also very precarious here. About 70,000 people have been cut off from any water supply because 15 of the water wells that were working on diesel fuel only have shut down. The latest on the coastal water utility is that about 30 per cent of the population are getting water once a week for about four to five hours, another 40 per cent are getting water once every four days and then the final 30 per cent are getting water supply every other day. Of course, people cope here with having tanks on their rooftops, so on and so forth, but the situation is very, very precarious on both water and sanitation.
Q8 Richard Burden: I am afraid you broke up a little way through that answer and you may have covered my next question in it. If so, apologies. Could I ask you to repeat it if you did. When you broke up you were emphasising the impact of restrictions on fuel, sewage treatment and the ability of trucks to get through. Could you also say something about, first of all, the extent and the impact of restrictions specifically on electricity supplies on the treatment of sewage and waste water treatment?
Mr Ging: Yes. Am I coming through again?
Q9 Richard Burden: Yes; you are fine at the moment.
Mr Ging: Okay. Yes, the power plant is receiving a limited amount of fuel to generate electricity, so power cuts here are in the order of about six to eight hours per day(?). That means that the waste water plants that are electrically powered and the water wells have to fall back on emergency generators during that period when the power is cut. They have had no fuel for emergency generators for the last two and a half weeks, in fact - they have run out completely - so that means that the sewage treatment process is not actually functioning because they cannot work on an on/off basis. This is why 60,000 cubic metres of sewage is being pumped out, either partially or not treated at all, into the sea every day, and that is why the pumping of water to homes in Gaza is now disrupted more and more, because not just the pumping itself but also the pumps at the tower blocks where people live, if there is not harmonisation, and there never is, of the power being on at your home and the power being on at the water well, then you do not get any water even when the pumps are working. The coastal water utility has given the statistics on that and I did give them out. If you need me to repeat them, I can give them again, on just what the situation is with the provision of water.
Q10 Richard Burden: Perhaps that could be done in writing in time. One last question, John. Whilst the fuel supplies, and in particular the electricity supplies from Israel, are being restricted, are they being charged for by the Israelis and who is paying for the electricity supplies that are not coming through in the quantities that are needed?
Mr Ging: The arrangement is that there is a joint fund administered by Israel on the Customs duties which, again, is then charged for the electricity supplies. They are not being charged for that which they are not providing to the best of my knowledge, they are only being charged for what is being provided. Israel is providing, of course, electricity directly to Gaza. It has not reduced that supply. The supply that has been reduced is the domestically generated supply within Gaza. So Israel provides something in the order of 120 megawatts per day, Egypt provides about 17 and then in Gaza our plant generates between 45 and 55 megawatts. That generation capacity of Gaza power plant should be 85 megawatts, and therein lies the problem because they are not getting the fuel necessary to actually produce to their capacity.
Q11 Mr Singh: Good morning. John, we are led to believe that the some border crossings from Gaza are open for humanitarian provisions and selected medical cases. If this is true, to what extent is this true and which border crossings are open?
Mr Ging: Yes, indeed, this is true. In terms of the medical cases, the Erez crossing is the principal crossing for medical cases exiting Gaza, but the Rafah terminal has also been opened on a number of occasions to facilitate the passage of medical cases into Egypt or the return of those who were out in Egypt for treatment there. When it comes to the humanitarian supplies, the crossing at Sufa is functional for that purpose for food and other humanitarian supplies. The crossing at Kerem Shalom is also operational but, unfortunately, since the recent attack on that terminal, there has been extensive damage done, it is under repair at the moment, and so we are reduced to relying on the Sufa crossing. For fuel, there is a separate crossing, called Nahal Oz, so that is where all fuel supplies come through, when they come through, and the principal crossing point, which is Qarni, has remained closed since the middle of June last year.
Q12 Mr Singh: I understand that the Palestinian authority had put forward a plan to open the crossings in a sustainable way with Palestinian authority personnel supervising those crossings. What has happened to those plans? Are they progressing or have they just been ditched?
Mr Ging: They have not been ditched, but they have not been yet implemented. Of course, it is a process of negotiation and discussion involving a lot of parties, but, again, from our point of view this is what has to happen, these crossings have to be opened, it underpins everything here, and it is, again, urgent because the situation here has become so desperate. The smaller crossings that I mentioned are not a substitute for the single commercial crossing which was facilitating hundreds of trucks every single day, prior to this latest round of closure which was implemented after the fighting of June last year. So the smaller crossings are already handling about 25 per cent of the traffic that was coming into Gaza, and, remember, Gaza was in a desperate state prior to June last year as well, and that just gives you a sense of how desperate it actually is now. There are no shoes, for example, available in Gaza, just as a simple example. Again, it is all of these items that are needed for a dignified existence here that have either run out or are running out.
Q13 Mr Crabb: John, you mentioned earlier that the UN's own activities in Gaza have been disrupted as a result of restrictions on fuel supply. Perhaps you can clarify one thing. In the last week or so we have had conflicting reports about what has happened with regards to fuel supplies being disrupted, particularly to the UN agency. It reports that an agreement was made with the Israelis and the Palestinians to get the UN the fuel it needed, but actually the delivery of the fuel itself was disrupted by Hamas. Are you able to comment on that, John?
Mr Ging: Sure. This is not the case. We appealed to the all parties not to allow us to run out of fuel on a daily basis over the course of the last three weeks. We were prevented by the State of Israel from building up our reserves here to ensure that when crossings would be interrupted in terms of their operation that we would not be interrupted in our operation. We have a capacity here to have almost two months supply in reserve. We were working, like everybody else here, on an inadequate supply which was hand to mouth, it was a week by week basis, and that is what, of course, precipitated the crisis in the first place when the closure occurred after the attack on the Nahal Oz terminal where two Israeli civilians were tragically killed. Of course, in the meantime, we have been trying to negotiate the supply that we need. It requires co-ordination with the Israelis. They must agree, and they did agree. It also requires co-ordination on the Palestinian side, and the authority on this issue is Ramada and, again, that was agreed. The physical removal of the fuel from the power plant is a security issue, because the population here, of course, are very upset by the circumstances that they find themselves in - farmers, fishermen, everybody seeing their livelihoods destroyed - and they are conducting regular protests at the terminal. Again, we encountered their protest on the first day when we attempted to the recover the fuel, but the Hamas security forces ensured that the protesters would not be a problem on the second day and we were able to then freely remove the fuel from the terminal that we were authorised to take. On this one Hamas have not been an obstacle; in fact they have been a facilitator of our receiving the fuel that we required.
Q14 Mr Crabb: Thank you for that helpful clarification. Can I ask you how you are responding to this latest crisis, closure, isolation of Gaza? Are you finding that you are having to provide services to many more people?
Mr Ging: Yes, it is at all levels, right down to the trucks of the civilian contractors that we use. There is only one contractor allowed access to the crossing points for collection of our products, and we have to fill their trucks with our fuel otherwise they cannot do the work for us. Of course on the general population side, the needs are growing every day, and that which is available in the market in terms of supplies is spiralling in cost for people, and the poorest and the most vulnerable are the ones who are feeling the biggest hit of all in this. We have had to increase our assistance to 100,000 of special hardship cases with an exceptional additional cash assistance of some $20 per family member just to help them to cope, but, again, this gets back to our funding shortfall. We are projected only to receive about 60 per cent of the emergency appeal that we made at the start of this year, which, of course, is very difficult for us because we see the need, the people are very frustrated, they are coming to us in every greater numbers and we are just not able to respond.
Q15 Sir Robert Smith: You have painted a very serious situation, and you have already highlighted the chronic under funding for your food aid and now you have highlighted that funding has not been coming forward. In our last report we emphasised that you were calling for more funding and also, on another issue, you were looking for longer predictability in the funding so you could plan your processes. Could you reinforce just how serious the under funding situation is and how much you would benefit from having predictability of your future funding?
Mr Ging: Yes, and I should at the outset state that the British Government has moved very significantly and very positively on this issue in terms of predictability and also in terms of accountability. We very much welcome the performance element to the funding that we now receive. We have received a multi-annual commitment stretching out over the next number of years, right out to 2010, with increases each year, and also a performance component to the funding in terms of our delivery. This has been given to our general fund, which is to provide the education services, the health services and the basic relief services. We do not receive emergency funding from the British Government for what we call our emergency appeal. This is our food aid, our job creation, our cash assistance, our cycle centre programme and the other emergency relief programmes that are focused on the particular challenges of this crisis. In that budget we are, as I say, only projecting a 60 per cent funding to the end of the year. This is based on profit received and pledges. It is a huge challenge for us because, of course, even since we wrote our proposal, the price of food has been sky-rocketing, which is well-known internationally, and to get that consensus would be an even greater challenge. The funding shortfall on our general fund is in the order of 25 per cent. So, again, in terms of the minimum services in terms of education, healthcare and other social services, we are falling short of our minimum requirements there by approximately 25 per cent.
Q16 Sir Robert Smith: Can I clarify the shortfall. How much of that is a failure to deliver something that had been promised or a lack of promises in the first place?
Mr Ging: It is a lack of promises. We have no problem with delivery in terms of promises and pledges. When governments commit to UNRWA they are very dutiful in their follow-up. We do not have an issue with that. The shortfall is in pledges and then, of course, the funding itself.
Q17 Sir Robert Smith: Finally, is the shortfall because your needs are growing and the funding is not growing as fast as your needs, or actually are you seeing a reduction in your funding?
Mr Ging: No, we were seeing a modest increase in our funding on the emergency side in the order of about five or seven per cent, but the needs are not being met. We set out a very minimalist needs-based programme which was to do nothing more than to meet the very basic needs and, unfortunately, we have not received the funding to meet that.
Q18 Hugh Bayley: About ten per cent of UK funding for UNWRA is linked to benchmarks in your performance in key areas. Are these benchmarks reasonable and what obstacles are there to achieving them?
Mr Ging: Yes, the benchmarks were developed jointly with ourselves, of course, and we are very pleased about that. We find them to be very reasonable and good indicators of our performance across the range of our programme areas. We also find it very helpful when we do deliver that we know that there will be the follow through in the additional funding, which is linked very much to quality, to improving the performance in the results and education, the quality of the end services, the impact of the relief services; not just the actual provision of the service itself, but what is the impact? Are we moving close those who are below the poverty line any closer to being above it, taking those in special hardship status sustainably out of that. That is, of course, what all of this is about. Our problem here in Gaza is that, while we continue to be very driven by all of this, the situation here undermines us more and more every day because of the deterioration. Again, it is a huge challenge for us but we are very much focused on it and we welcome this approach to funding.
Q19 Hugh Bayley: Has any money been withheld by DFID as a result of not meeting the benchmarks and, if so, how much?
Mr Ging: No, 2008 is the first year of the performance element in the contribution. So this year we are looking at two million pounds based on our achieving these indicators. Again, this is the first year, so we have not had a failure or a success just yet.
Q20 Sir Robert Smith: I wonder if I could ask a follow up on the funding. We have talked a lot about percentages and in general. Are you able to put a simple figure on the amount of actual cash needed for the emergency funding and the amount needed to get the general fund up to standard?
Mr Ging: Yes, we need approximately US$130 million for the general fund, and our emergency appeal is totally 168 million. We are expecting to receive something in the order of 90 million; so the shortfall there is US$78 million.
Q21 Chairman: John, there are a couple of questions that have occurred to me. We are taking evidence here in London a little later this morning from Oxfam, and in their written submission to us they, first of all, pointed out that Israel had established a list of only 89 items it would allow into Gaza as humanitarian goods. Is this the case, and what impact does that have? They make the point that, for example, it excludes cement required for the sewage treatment plant and electric motors required for generators. Is this in fact the case?
Mr Ging: We have not been provided with a list. We have asked the Israelis on numerous occasions if there is a list and, if so, what items are on it. They have not provided us with clarity or clarification on that. Other than that, our practical experience is that the only items that are allowed into Gaza without special co-ordination and justification are food items and medicines. After that, items like cement and other supplies, which even if they are directly for the provision lot humanitarian assistance - which is repairs to a clinic, extension of a clinic, whatever - these items are not being allowed and, again, one has to prepare a long justification. For example, paper for printing text books is not automatically approved. It has to go through a long and tedious process because it is a non food, non medicine, and therefore it has to get special co-ordination, special justification, special permission.
Q22 Mr Singh: John, in terms of the shortfall in funding and in terms of funding generally, could not that shortfall in funding generally be met in a breath by the oil-rich Gulf states and, if so, why are they not meeting it?
Mr Ging: This, of course, is an appeal that our Commissioner General made, and she made it at the Arab League last autumn; and, again, we have hired a fund raiser, a former British ambassador, Peter Ford, who is an Arabist, and he spends all of his time in the Gulf trying to raise more money. There is no question about it: we all feel that the Gulf countries have the capacity to be more generous. They are generous outside of the regular programming in terms of the construction, they are our principal donor for new schools, for clinics and for other infrastructure projects, but we are raising our appeal to them continuously to be more generous for our general fund and for our emergency appeal and to date the response has been very modest.
Q23 Mr Singh: Why should you need a PR person to promote the Palestinian cause to Arabs?
Mr Ging: I understand your question. The fact of the matter is that we have to make a better case because we are not getting the funding. We are doing everything that we possibly can to raise more money in the Gulf, and that has been one of the efforts that we have taken here. So far it has not materialised significant amounts of money, but I have to say that we are making progress and our representative there is confident that he will be able to lever more money with better explanation, better, as I say, advocacy for the needs here. On the overall question, this is a question for the countries involved. We are appealing to them, we cannot do more than that, and we will continue to do so.
Mr Singh: That is a considerable shame on them, John, but thank you.
Q24 Richard Burden: Could I return to the question that the Chairman asked a little earlier on about non food, non medical supplies and the length of time they to take get in. My question really is what is anybody doing about this? You said that you have made representations to the Government of Israel. Can you tell us anything about what representation anybody else is making - Quartet, other UN institutions, individual governments, and so on - and if it is having any effect? Is there any discernible change in the Israeli response following those representations?
Mr Ging: I think it is fair to say, from what I have read and been told, that it is the number one issue for all involved in this area, whether it is international organisations, whether it is the United Nations, whether it is NGOs, whether it is the representatives of the international community bilaterally or within the Quartet. Everybody is seized with this issue. Unfortunately, we are not making very much progress. Even Mr Blair's one project for Gaza, which he had the political backing for, still has not been implemented, and it stands as testament to the difficulties involved in overcoming the realities of this policy, which is to close down the Gaza Strip. Again, it is affecting all aspects of our operation here and we are reduced to, as I said, the supply of very basic items of food and medicine and little else. Anything else requires a massive effort and either does not come or comes too late, but in terms of the impact of everybody's attention on this matter, I have to say it is not material. The situation has not appreciably improved in access for supplies to Gaza over the last ten months since this policy was first implemented after the June events.
Q25 Chairman: You mentioned in passing that Hamas have facilitated the flow of fuel. I appreciate that your job as an agency is to deliver relief to people in need regardless of the political situation, but what is the relationship between yourselves and the Hamas administration and, for that matter, between Hamas and Fata, because there are some suggestions that Fata are actually disrupting things or adding to the disruption in Gaza. Is that your experience? How do you relate to the administration within the country in terms of delivering your services?
Mr Ging: UNWRA is an independent service provider, so we deal directly with the population that we serve, which in the past has been a source of criticism on all the aspects of the development of domestic structures, and so on and so forth, but now it is something of a virtue. That is the first point to make. The second point is that operational relationships here on the ground, we have those relationships that we need at many and all levels to discharge our responsibility. The parties involved - which, of course, here is Hamas, Israel, of course, and the Palestinian authority working from Ramada - all have responsibilities and we at the UN interact with them in so far as we need them to discharge their responsibilities. For example, the de facto reality here is that Hamas are in control of the security situation in Gaza. Therefore, it is their responsibility, as long as they choose to be the de facto power here, to ensure an environment where the humanitarian agencies can freely operate, and in the case of ourselves they are discharging that responsibility. It is not that we have made any agreement with them, it is nonetheless their responsibility to do that, and we call on them to do that publicly and so on. In terms of the interrelationship between the political factions Hamas, Fata and all of the others, it is extremely complicated, it is adversarial, it resulted in major clashes last year, it has created the situation that we now have here in Gaza and what we are trying to do at the humanitarian end is to insulate the beneficiaries and our operations from the effects in terms of the delivery of our services. Again, in our schools we keep the interaction of politics outside of the gate even though our school teachers are Palestinian. We have to insist that there is no room for that in our installations in the delivery of our services. The integrity, again, has to be ensured. There is no political influence on the identification of beneficiaries, and so on and so forth, and I am proud of the performance of our 10,000 Palestinian staff here at UNWRA in how they have drawn on their responsibility and lived up to it. UNWRA has 60 years of service here in Gaza, it is tested now more than ever before, but it is meeting that challenge and it is meeting it through its Palestinian staff who are preoccupied with service to fellow refugees in an impartial and effective way and staying clear of the very complicated situation which is very real.
Chairman: That is a very helpful response in terms of understanding the difficulties you are working on under.
Q26 Hugh Bayley: You say that it is difficult to import spare parts for pumps for generators, and yet rockets, or the materials to make rockets, seem to get into Gaza. How does that happen?
Mr Ging: There is plenty of speculation about the illegal conduits into Gaza - the tunnels, and so on. I have of no first-hand knowledge of this and, therefore, I am not going to give evidence on what I do not actually no; but the simple fact of the matter that we would like everybody to focus on is that preventing humanitarian organisations from bringing in the supplies that they need to provide the services that the population desperately need here is not inhibiting those who are making rockets, because the rockets continue to be fired. Again, the price is being paid, not by those who are bent on violent ways, but by the ordinary people, and it is not naive on my part to point to this. There is a very real problem here, and that is that there are tens of thousands who are bent on violence against Israel and they terrorise the civilian population every day, relentlessly, with these rockets that are fired from Gaza, but it is not ending. This approach has not worked. It has not ended the firing of rockets, it is not inhibiting them in firing rockets but what it is doing is crushing the civilian population and it is altering their mindset. It is having a devastating impact on the psychology of the people here, who are becoming more and more desperate, and they are giving in to the frustrations and the agendas that are there in terms of violence, and so on, because they do not see any tangible alternative and they feel a growing sense of injustice about why this is being allowed to happen, how irrational it is that they are the ones who are now walking. Not the guys who fire the rockets - they are not inhibited by the fuel shortage, they continue to fire the rockets - but the patients who need to get to the clinic, the kids who need to get to the school, the ordinary people: they are the ones who are doing the walking. Again, we need to focus on this and, in the really very challenging security environment, to find effective solutions to those challenges and discharge our responsibility to the people as well.
Q27 Chairman: You said earlier on that you were not aware of people who had died because of the restrictions of movement, but we have information from the WHO, published in April, that says between 1 October and 2 March they have details of 32 people who died because they could not get specialist treatment. The reasons given: permit delay, delay at the crossing, permit not issued for security reasons, border closure - those kinds of things. Could you comment on that WHO report?
Mr Ging: Absolutely. Just to clarify, our operation here is not involved first-hand in the issues of co-ordinating access and hospital care, we are at the primary health level, but, absolutely, the WHO, who are intimately involved, are in a position to produce that report that you cited and they have the data and the details and the facts to back up and substantiate everything that is written in that report. Our sister agency are very much on top of this issue and the report is based on fact and reality here.
Q28 Chairman: Thank you very much John. Can I say on behalf of the committee, we appreciate very much the work that you are doing in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and the huge amount of first-hand information you have by being on the ground as directly as you are. We thank you for taking the time to give us that very graphic description of the problems. Clearly, what we hope our report can do is apply some kind of pressure to ease the situation and ensure that the humanitarian pressures, which are phenomenal, on the people of Gaza can be lifted. I know you feel very passionately about that too, and we thank you once again for the very clear evidence that you have given us and for exchanging your views with us. Thanks very much indeed.
Mr Ging: Thank you very much.
Memorandum submitted by The Portland Trust
Examination of Witness
Witness: Mr David Freud, Chief Executive Officer, The Portland Trust, gave evidence.
Q29 Chairman: Thank you very much for, first of all, sitting through that and for coming in to give us evidence on behalf of The Portland trust. I wonder if you could introduce yourself for the record?
Mr Freud: My name is David Freud; I am the Chief Executive of the Portland Trust.
Q30 Chairman: Thank you very much. Obviously you have an interest in trying to promote economic development and private sector development in the Palestinian territories. The committee, when it visited the West Bank in particular, found a pretty grim situation in terms of the ability of people to engage in economic private sector activity. The indications are that the situation, if anything, has got worse. Given your still resolute commitment, I wonder whether you can give us some indication of how and why you feel it still could be possible to stimulate successful private sector activity in the occupied Palestinian territories - obviously Gaza is an exceptional case, but in either Gaza or the West Bank - which you feel you would be able to achieve.
Mr Freud: Currently we do not operate in Gaza, although we are looking very closely at the situation to see how we could help it at the appropriate time. I should make clear, as you did, that we are involved in economic development as opposed to the humanitarian side, so we are trying to look at structures which will help the economy operate, and to do that one needs to look at bits of the financial and other types of infrastructure to make them work more efficiently and try to unblock the areas where they are blocked, and it is a fairly one by one, piece-meal process. We conducted an analysis, nearly two years ago now, 18 months ago, to look at where you could possibly inject an economic multiplier effect into the economy in the present political circumstances, the present circumstances being that trade is very difficult because of road blocks and border controls and people's efforts to do industrial parks, which is something that the outside world has looked at on a regular basis over many years, would seem to be still very difficult. Our conclusion was that the most obvious way, almost the only way, to do something on scale would be housing, large-scale affordable housing. Clearly, there are benefits to people having houses, although in the West Bank we are not looking at huge horrific housing conditions, but we are looking at shortages. The real point of doing that particular exercise is that it produces a real boost to the economy, and we estimate that it would put GDP up about eight per cent over a five-year programme, plus kick-starting all of the other industries that are linked to it; and it happens to be an area where the Palestinian work force is really experienced because in the past, of course, they were heavily involved in the Israeli construction boom. When you ask the question, there is a lot of specific things to be done and we think, right at the top of the list to actually get the economy going, housing is the key one.
Q31 Chairman: That is clearly an identifiable activity, and you say the skills exist. My understanding is that you are looking at 15,000 housing units by 2013 with a total investment of a billion dollars and that you are seeking 150 million of donor support and private investment. What success are you having with that at the moment? What is the current offer that you receive?
Mr Freud: The Palestinian Reform and Development Plan, which was presented to the donor community in Paris in December, included 600 million for private sector development, so to speak, so it is in the formal context of the Palestinian donor relationship; and that is not exclusively to go to the housing effort but, clearly, an element of that can go to the housing effort. It is the intention of the Palestinian Government to direct money to that, clearly, donor money, with donor approval, through the Palestinian budget to support the infrastructure required for these developments.
Q32 Chairman: Forgive me for asking, but just for clarification, what is the actual activity of The Portland Trust in that process? Do you manage developments? Do you procure?
Mr Freud: No, we are only a reasonably modestly sized foundation, and our added value, I think, is that we can initiate and help projects get going. In this case, in the housing case, what we actually did is we gathered all of the different communities - the Government, the developers - we signed an MOU with six developers to get this going, and the banking community to get the mortgages available and we then worked with the developers to produce a plan of what one of this communities would be. So, we act as an initiator and we do provide money at key points to get it going, but we do not expect to be the source of the, literally, hundreds of millions of pounds that end up being needed for these major projects.
Chairman: That is helpful just to understand how you are engaged.
Q33 Jim Sheridan: The investment by the private sector and tourists to go to Gaza and the surrounding area is crucially important. It is the political risk question I am asking. People will not invest nor visit the area if they feel that their lives will be at risk or their investment will be at risk. Indeed, I think when the committee visited Bethlehem the hotel we stayed in had something like a two per cent occupancy rate.
Mr Freud: Yes.
Q34 Jim Sheridan: If you were to encourage people to invest in or to visit Bethlehem, how would you do it?
Mr Freud: One of the things we have been looking at very closely is trying to get a political risk insurance product into the area, and we are working with (I think it is mentioned in our paper) the Centre for American Progress there and OPIC are looking at it with them, AIG, the insurance company, are looking at it and, clearly, MIGA are looking at it. We have also been talking to our own operation in the UK. I think of all the things that you might think about, getting risk insurance for investment may be very high on the agenda as a kick-starting process because people invest if they feel that if something happens to their investment they can get compensated, and I think it could be a very important element in getting investment and skill from abroad in particular and, indeed, domestically, back into the Palestinian territories.
Q35 Jim Sheridan: The granting of a mandate for the export credit guarantee. How would that enhance or encourage people to go there?
Mr Freud: We have just started to talk to the export credit guarantee people. There are two types of insurance you could look at: one is insurance for the assets one invests in. So if one puts a factory in and it is destroyed by someone, you would get that insured. That is one aspect. The second aspect is for trade. If you were putting perishables through the border and they got stuck for three days and rotted, there would be an insurance protection. You might protect furniture that missed a particular deadline for getting out and that kind of thing. Those are the insurances we are working on.
Q36 Chairman: There is a certain irony in that particular hotel. The Committee were there just before Christmas and we recalled the fact that the first Christmas there was no room in the Inn but this time there was an Inn full of rooms and nobody in them. They said access to Bethlehem was not totally off limits but tour operators simple were not prepared to take the hassle. Do you think, if you take Jim Sheridan's point, if there was that kind of risk insurance the insurers themselves would have some interest in actually engaging with tour operators, and obviously the Israeli authorities, to lift restrictions but also to enable people to realise they could get in if they were prepared to make the effort?
Mr Freud: The issue of bringing tourism back clearly will depend on the entire environment and what we read in our newspapers every day. In the end, tour operators do not go because people are uneasy about going there and when you read the press every day one can understand that. There may be things the British government could do to encourage it. One off-the-wall idea perhaps would be to forgive the airport tax on people who are going to stay in the Palestinian Territories which might be a financial incentive to get people to look at this and think about it.
Q37 Sir Robert Smith: On the risk insurance market, how has it progressed? Is it getting slightly easier to get private risk insurance into this sector or is it getting more difficult?
Mr Freud: There is effectively no existing risk insurance at any price that people would want to take at the moment. Any insurance will have to be backed somehow by a big pocket.
Q38 Sir Robert Smith: In reality then is it not that the risk has to be reduced to get this economy going again?
Mr Freud: Yes.
Q39 Sir Robert Smith: Private insurers are there to make a profit.
Mr Freud: There will have to be someone who takes it on a grant basis at the end. That fund will have to be a donor aid. It is very similar to the Loan Guarantee Scheme which we worked very hard on for many years to encourage. There are two now: a European one and an American one. That is a classic example of where the system is clogged. The banks in the Palestinian Territories are effectively deposit-raising institutions and lend out extraordinarily little of what they raise domestically. The figure is now down to 35 per cent of their deposits which they are lending out, so effectively the money is typically going to Jordan to be lent out there where it is regarded to be safer. The Loan Guarantee Schemes are designed to offer banks some protection if they lend out domestically. They get protection of 60 or 70 per cent of what they lend. Both of those schemes are now really starting to operate literally in the last couple of months.
Q40 Hugh Bayley: My question follows Robert's very much. This obviously cannot be a commercial insurance. You look at Gaza where 90 per cent of the economy has disappeared and you cannot insure in those conditions. Suppose you found a rich benefactor who was prepared to put up a billion dollar fund, would this be a cost effective way to use external finance or, if you wanted to generate economic activity, would you do better to put it into your housing scheme or organise a cash-for-work scheme?
Mr Freud: One takes this in order. The housing scheme is something one can do reasonably without huge political transformations. The risk insurance is a question of finding a fund and we are looking at a scheme that looks at a $50 million fund effectively behind it which starts to build up and that is on the trade side not on the investment side. That is a scheme we look at and we need a deep pocket, i.e. a gift from somebody who can operate that fund. Again, it is a way of channeling support.
Q41 Hugh Bayley: Is it the most efficient way? If you find somebody with $50 million to invest, how many jobs do you create with that $50 million as opposed to a micro-credit scheme or some other economic vehicle?
Mr Freud: We would create a lot of jobs through getting a reasonably priced insurance product in. One of the things stopping people investing in any scale is the fear that the investment is totally wasted if you cannot get your goods out, or there is strong risk you cannot, and you have no protection against that.
Q42 Hugh Bayley: But the investment will be totally wasted if there is a claim on the fund because the investment in the fund will be totally wasted. If I set up a business and I invest $1 million in it and it fails because of the circumstances in the West Bank or Gaza and I claim on the fund, then $1 million of investment in that fund, 2 per cent, is wasted. Is that a good way to spend the money?
Mr Freud: The international community is planning to give about $7.5 billion to the PA, or into the area, in the next three years. That is what the pledges were. Much of that money will go to effectively humanitarian aid or to salaries. Is it more sensible to try and encourage businesses to start and expand because they feel confident that if something terrible happens to their goods they will actually not lose that money? That is the question. We have heard a lot of particularly international entrepreneurs saying "Yes, we would go into a industrial park if we had some kind of guarantee that if something goes very badly wrong for us we can get insurance for it." We think actually that fund would be a very powerful way of getting the economy going. Housing can take you so far but you have got to get the trade going. The trade imbalance now we are talking about roughly 2.5 billion of incomes against 330-odd million of exports and clearly that is an unsustainable economy. It is a 4 billion economy GDP now and we are looking at more than 50 per cent of it being aid from the international community.
Q43 Richard Burden: You have been very clear that your primary focus is on economic development but I think, as the last conversation showed, that exists in a political context and the two constantly interrelate together. I would like to ask you one or two things about that and how you navigate your way through that relationship. The UN has been reporting that the number of movement restrictions in the West Bank has gone up not down since 2005 and it is difficult to see how you can develop economic activity with those movement restrictions in place. The barriers are not entirely complete but pretty near complete, 12 per cent of the West Bank on the western side of the barrier. The International Court of Justice has declared the building of the barrier to be unlawful and that third parties are under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining that illegal situation. My question to you is if you are trying to develop economic activity in the context where it has been restricted by movement restrictions by a barrier, at least where it goes into Palestinian Territory, which is unlawful, and essentially you go around that and find ways through it, how do you assess whether or not you are actually developing the economy or making it easier to maintain the occupation perhaps with a more human face?
Mr Freud: We are actually a pretty unusual foundation in that we have our feet very firmly in both communities. We have an office run by an extremely senior person in Tel Aviv and an office run by a very senior person in Ramalla. In that sense everything we do has to be balanced in terms of the two communities. For obvious reasons we are very careful about talking politics, and we have to be because there is a general level of comfort from both communities in what we are doing. We do not have a special agenda. We are just trying to get economic development. Our objective is a very simple one. We did a study on what were the useful lessons coming out of Northern Ireland for this situation. You cannot just pick it up and copy it but one of the lessons is that it is very important to foster and nurture the forces of moderation otherwise you have no context in which to do a political deal. One of the most important sets of groups of moderates are people in the private sector and one should try and strengthen them. To that extent it is a political thing but we think that is an objective. We can quite see that governments and organisations have much more political worries and they have to deal with the issues of accepting various barriers or whatever but our objective is just to operate to get these processes going and to support them as they do get going.
Q44 Richard Burden: I am not really asking about whether it is a good idea to try to bolster forces of moderation or build economic co-operation. You have been very clear about that and I have a good deal of sympathy with what you say there. It is where those activities objectively come up against things that do not necessarily raise questions about which side of the political fence you are on but potentially raise questions of law. In most countries you would say people have different views about whether this particular economic activity is a good or bad idea but most people would say you should not do anything which is illegal. That is the issue of the question of the barrier, the wall, where you do have legal opinion from the International Court of Justice saying that the building of the barrier on Palestinian land is unlawful. There is a great deal of concern from some areas that you could be moving to a situation where it is very difficult in practical terms. The ambition of any kind of territorial continuity between the Palestinian areas is lost but everybody says what is the problem because you have transport continuity. You have tunnels and you can move around things. You can boost the economy of Bethlehem because you can have a separate entrance for tourists from the people who live there. At the end of that you might have a form of economic activity but how far you have actually dealt the Palestinian economy in a real sense is questionable. There would be an argument that you have actually facilitated the very thing that is restricting the economy. That is a balance but the question I have for you is do you recognise that there is a balance or is it not your problem. If there is a balance to be struck, how do you negotiate that? What are the mechanisms you use and are there any mechanisms in the bodies you operate with, whether it be the Quartet or the donor community, to assess if you have that entrance is it having an unforeseen consequence of maintaining an illegal act rather than facilitating economic development?
Mr Freud: Clearly we do everything we can and we do operate in an entirely legal context. What we do, and this may be the difference between a private foundation and a government controlled entity, is we operate from the bottom up. We will look at a particular project and say how does that work and we will assess it for what its impact is going to be, clearly its legality, who can we go in with and do it because we like to go in with partner. We have this clearance process so we build up a kind of portfolio of things. Clearly you choose to do things which you think are going to be effective in the present political context. Our objective is not to change that political context but to try to move the economic projects forward within a context that we have to accept as it stands.
Q45 Richard Burden: Are there similar mechanisms amongst the institutions, for instance, like the Quartet? Do they make those same assessments?
Mr Freud: I am sure they do. I do not have firsthand knowledge of their processes but from everything I hear the Quartet and us - although it sounds ludicrous to put us in the same breadth - are operating in a context where you are talking to the Israeli community and the Palestinian community and their bodies. It is very difficult to get anything done unless you have developed a consensus.
Q46 Hugh Bayley: In Gaza the economy has all but disappeared but what would your prescription be to create economic activity in Gaza?
Mr Freud: The one thing we have been looking at very closely, which we think others should look at, is to start to build up effectively a Gaza business recovery programme. What has happened is everything has shut down but actually a lot of the operations have gone abroad. People who were making furniture now make it Jordon or Egypt or wherever. We have seen a collapse but how quickly can one get it back. If it is going to dribble up in 2 or 3 per cent per annum from the base it has got to, we are looking at a very long situation but if you can get it to leap 20 something one could get it back reasonably quickly. Our view would be that if the international community can really start to develop a rapid Gaza business recovery programme for a change in the political circumstances, quite apart from working on changing them, I think we would all be grateful in the long run.
Q47 Hugh Bayley: Would the demand for those goods and services come from, within Gaza or would it depend upon opening the crossing points and trade?
Mr Freud: Absolutely. You would have to have an ability to trade. It presumes that the political context improves from the present position.
Q48 Ann McKechin: On this question of access, the World Bank assessment is unless there is actual positive progress on movement and access economic recovery is not possible. What do you think our government should be doing to help in this regard in the current climate about trying to improve the access both in Gaza and also the West Bank?
Mr Freud: I am slightly beyond my league in that question. Clearly that is something the Quartet is working on very hard. In the present political context, as you say, trade is very hard which is why we have gone into housing as an immediate remedial effect. What we are looking at, and I know what the Quartet is doing, is worrying about getting the security situation to a level and provide a context for those road blocks being reduced.
Chairman: I am sorry we got slightly compressed. In a difficult situation we wish you success. You certainly will need a lot of insurer's underwriting risk in the current climate. Let us hope that risk can be reduced.
Witness: Mr Adam Leach, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa, Oxfam, gave evidence.
Q49 Chairman: We do want to hear from you and we have a little over 20 minutes. For the record, could you introduce yourself?
Mr Leach: Good morning and thank you very much for inviting us to come and give evidence. My name is Adam Leach and I am the director for our work in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
Q50 Chairman: You will have heard the brief exchange I had with John Ging on your own report where you were highlighting the restrictions by Israel on what they describe as humanitarian goods and services. Mr Ging said he was not aware of the details on the list of exactly what is meant. I think your report mentioned 18 items. Are they clear and specific and, if that is the case, I am surprised Mr Ging did not know what they were?
Mr Leach: We secured this information from the International Crisis Group, as we made clear in the report, in March. Our concern is there is such a list because we think that the construction of a list like that is problematic because of the multiple nature of the use of different goods. The restrictions, which I think is the bigger issue in general, is the real problem. Making a list of any kind for humanitarian goods is problematic, particularly if there is then no means for assessing the impact of your actions.
Q51 Chairman: Is the list of 18 items public knowledge, what those items are, or just that there is a list?
Mr Leach: So far as we understand we were told about the list by the International Crisis Group.
Q52 Chairman: You do not know what is on it?
Mr Leach: We do not, no.
Q53 Chairman: You mentioned cement and motors.
Mr Leach: Because those are the sorts of things where we have faced restrictions.
Q54 Hugh Bayley: What should the UK government and the Quartet be doing to improve the conditions in Gaza?
Mr Leach: Before I answer this question I would like, as a general point, to concur with almost everything that John Ging said. Much of our data and experience of the situation resonates with what he said, and indeed much of our data comes from their experience and obviously our own. Just to amplify what he said about the number of children being killed, more children have been killed in the first three months of this year than there were in the entire period of last year. I think anybody who heard the man - and it was not entirely clear whether it was man or woman - weeping at the loss of his infant children on Monday evening would notice what a ghastly situation this is and it is important to frame anything I say in those terms. We are extremely concerned that the Quartet is not using its full power to get the crossings open and that is what the main emphasis must be. John was clear about the importance of the Carnay. The Carnay crossing was constructed for the purposes of the supply of goods in a way that satisfied Israeli conditions and it has not been used. The other crossings are inadequate. The timings and opening of them are unpredictable and hence the problems. The crossings are absolutely fundamental. Stopping of settlements expansion is crucial. Something like 84 per cent of the number of housing tenders that have been submitted this year have been approved so presumably the settlements will continue. The UK government and the international community need to see that does not happen and to stop it. The existing agreements about movement and access need to be enforced. It is vital that there is an inclusive approach to the negotiations. We have made the point that we believe, as Oxfam, that Hamas should be included in the negotiations and I stress that we make that point, as others do and as John Ging himself did, because Hamas has control over the civilian population and therefore has a responsibility and, as such, under international law should be included in the discussions. We think there should be some reference to international law. The almost complete absence of reference to international humanitarian law by the Quartet, and I hope that Friday will be different, really begs the question what kind of reality is being created if there is no reference to law. These are structural impediments at the moment which need to be acted on immediately. There are practical things that could be done as well and perhaps I could come on to them.
Q55 Richard Burden: In 2006 the EU created the Temporary International Mechanism to try and find ways of channeling assistance to the Palestinian people whilst bypassing the PA. There is now a new mechanism following the dismissal of the Hamas government and other developments. Can you give us your assessment about how that new mechanism is working and whether it is providing the flexibility and effectiveness that it was created to provide?
Mr Leach: Fundamentally something is always better than nothing in circumstances like this. We welcome the return to direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority. However - and it is a big however - this is not the real issue. The real issues are the points that I just made about opening the crossings and getting some kind of economic activity going again in Gaza. The problems about the new aid mechanism is there is a real risk that it is simply a response to throw money at a problem but not to deal with the underlying issues. There is a tragic irony that the situation at the moment is that people are staying at home because they fear that if they go to work they will not get their salaries, whereas when there was a financial boycott they would be going to work without salaries. The problem about the new mechanism is that we are very concerned that it will simply continue to politicise the situation and it is money to the PA and there is no guarantee that money goes through to workers in Gaza. We are also concerned that the mechanisms are not sufficiently impartial and that some municipalities governed by Hamas are fearful they will not get money under that mechanism so there seems to be unevenness in the application of the mechanism.
Q56 Sir Robert Smith: One of the big barriers to normality and development is the restrictions on movement and access. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has highlighted that this problem is getting worse not better to say the least. What should the government do in order to encourage progress on actually implementing the agreement on movement and access?
Mr Leach: As has already been noted this morning, there are now more obstacles in the West Bank than before and that sheer fact needs attention drawn to it and needs to be protested and done so rigorously. Secondly, I think that the recent announcements by Defence Minister, Ehud Barak have proved false and again this should be known. Of the 61 restrictions that he announced as having been removed, UN OCHA say only five were significant and 11 never existed. Further research by the World Bank demonstrates that Palestinians could not even reach some of the ones that were said to have been removed. All these were insignificant. These are not true and I think it is very important that this kind of information, if that is what you can call it, is vigorously challenged and action taken accordingly. The recognition that the number of settlements is growing has already been made. The barrier is now two thirds built and the restrictions are accelerating and this is in the face of agreements. Again I want to make the point that we have to ask ourselves what kind of reality is being created if agreements are flagrantly breached.
Q57 Chairman: We are having this additional report 15 months after we published our last report and the situation clearly has got worse. Hamas has taken over Gaza. There are further restrictions in the West Bank. You could argue, on the other hand, we had Annapolis, we had the Bethlehem conference but it does not seem to be progressing to anything like peace. What kind of peace process is there is the question to be asked. Jimmy Carter says there has been little progress since Annapolis. Has there been any progress?
Mr Leach: Our view is that we are as sensitive as we possibly can be to the difficulties of this situation. We are told repeatedly by the Department for International Development and by contacts in the Foreign Office that the Israelis have to be kept in the room at all costs. Our concern is that there is no progress and what is the point of keeping interlocutors in the room if they actually do not do anything about what is required, moreover, quite the contrary, only make the situation worse. With respect to the quality of the peace process - and I repeat the point that I make these remarks not from a political point of view but because the humanitarian and lack of development situation are fundamental impediments to the peace process - that the approach to the peace process must be inclusive because of the responsibilities of the parties involved. We think that in addition to opening the crossings and putting the full effort, energy and power of the international community - after all if the Quartet cannot open crossings what hope is there for a peace process - it is very important that all measures are taken, for example through Egypt, to seek to bring an end to the violence on the ground. I am talking about within the Palestinian communities as well as towards Israel. Also, secondly, that there are indications that there will be recognition of the Unity Government so that there is more effort to bring the factions together and not to keep them apart. We think that the fortunes of the peace process, so-called, over the last 18 months to two years have been disastrous because of measures which have effectively divided the Palestinians and therefore made it harder. We are aware that a lot of the diplomatic effort currently is into recognising the differences on the Israeli side and we think that equal amounts of effort should be put into bringing the factions together too.
Q58 Chairman: You made no bones about the inclusion of Hamas for legal as well as practical political reasons in any degree of talks. The last time there was a government of national unity, as far as one can tell, the international community did nothing about it and did not respond to it so it does not give a big incentive for another one to happen. In practical terms, if it is at all possible to engage Hamas what do you think would emerge from that? What would Hamas actually bring to the table?
Mr Leach: That is a question for Hamas and people much better qualified than us to say. The point is that if the international community puts so much effort into deciding that it will not speak to Hamas as a critical player this misses the point; it is indulgent and selfish. The question really is will bringing them to the table help to increase the chances of peace, the absence of which is clearly devastating so many lives and undermining the possibilities of peace. It feels like a completely circular and diabolical relationship.
Q59 Ann McKechin: What are the views of the neighbouring countries in the Middle East, which was raised by colleague Marsha Singh earlier on, and their contribution to the aid efforts? You would have thought that the countries in the region would be the best people to try and broker some kind of agreement between Hamas and Fatah for example. Are there any efforts or talks currently going on within the region and within the neighbouring countries or are they simply feeling that there is nothing they can do in the current circumstances?
Mr Leach: I am only going to give you an answer which is anecdotal and impressionistic. That is a question which is properly addressed to the Quartet's special representative and to others not to Oxfam. We hope so. We know that Egypt has been involved and we know that there were talks in Yemen. They did not seem to be very profitable but we think that efforts to include the regional powers are very, very important. Clearly this is a regional problem but I would also add that we see this as an international and a global problem and the international community has fundamental responsibilities, as high contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions by agreements that have been with the Israelis and with the Palestinians and agreements amongst themselves, to act. Therefore, I think it is spurious to seek to pass this one onto the regional powers alone. It is very important that the international community exercises its responsibilities in this circumstance.
Q60 Chairman: Is Oxfam GB talking to the British government? What do you think the British government should or could do, and what would you like it to do, that might make a material and positive contribution to the peace process?
Mr Leach: In addition to the main points about pushing for the opening of the crossings explicitly and for the other points that I made about the inclusive process and scrutinising breaches of agreements, I think there are some practical and immediate things that can be done. Challenging the definition of humanitarian goods is vital. Challenging notions of dual use for so many people who are so clearly prejudiced by the absence of basic necessities and acting in accordance with the known humanitarian impacts of policies in line with Israeli assertions is important. We understand that a Department for International Development assessment has been made of the humanitarian impacts and that could be shared and could provide the basis for assessing the humanitarian impacts of Israeli policy. As we said in our submission, we are very disturbed about the notion of any suggestion that the objective of Israeli policy was to ensure no development, no prosperity and no humanitarian crisis because they do not have any mechanisms for checking whether they have any impact on the humanitarian situation so I think challenging the inconsistencies and following through on that is very important. Support for the numerous plans that have been proposed could also be offered. I think it is very important that any economic measures that are proposed, as the last discussion illustrated, do not hinder or deflect from the real activities so measures suggested by the Quartet's special envoy should not be allowed to deflect from the real issues. The simple answer to this is that the solutions are not complex. This is a matter for political will and a matter for choice and it is now time that those choices are made. We believe that the UK government has an important role to play in insisting those choices are made.
Chairman: We think so too otherwise we would not be doing this report. Thank for your written submission which were detailed and helpful. I am sorry we have slightly compressed the time but I still think we dealt with the main topics.