Lift the siege on the Palestinians!


PRIME Minister Ismail Haniya’s Palestinian Authority (PA) national unity government, sworn in on Saturday, is being recognised and supported by more and more countries and international institutions.

The new government has ministers from the Hamas majority in the Parliament, from Fatah and includes non-party members.

Ever since Hamas gained a large majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 and formed a government, international aid has been cut off and an economic blockade has been imposed on the occupied territories, organised through the Quartet – United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union.

As a result of the siege, the UN found that, at the end of last year, 80 per cent of people in Gaza and 60 per cent in the West Bank were cutting their daily spending. Rising unemployment and poverty meant that families were having problems with ‘food security’ – getting enough to eat. The Palestinians are being starved into submission!

The Quartet has upheld the US-Israeli agenda, demanding that the Palestinian government renounce the resistance struggle, recognise Israel and sign up to deals imposed in the past.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Cabinet issued its political programme in which it said it will ‘respect’ past agreements, while affirming the Palestinians’ ‘legitimate right’ to ‘all forms of resistance’.

The Arab League, representing all Arab countries, welcomed the formation of the new government. A spokesman said: ‘Focus now will be on moving the peace process with a united Palestinian stand.’ The Syrian government expressed its full support and demanded ‘the lifting of the embargo imposed on the Palestinian people’.

The Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen met Palestinian premier Haniya and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr in Gaza City yesterday after his country normalised its relations with the PA government at the weekend.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said: ‘In its programme, the unity government is taking important steps towards complying with the international community’s demands. Norway will thus, on this basis, re-establish political and economic relations with the Palestinian government.’

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is alone in dismissing the formation of the new Palestinian national unity government and is calling for a continuation of the siege.

After an Israeli Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Olmert said his government would have no dealings with the Palestinian government. He said the new government’s programme had ‘very problematic elements’.

He called on other countries to ‘not be misled . . . and to persist with its position’, that is to continue starving the PA of funds and making clear that Israel will continue to keep millions of dollars of Palestinian taxes it has collected from the occupied territories.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the speech by premier Haniya was ‘a missed opportunity’ to commit to peace. However, he added that the US would continue to work with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and other contacts would be on a case-by-case basis, implying a willingness to talk to ministers that are not in Hamas.

The German Presidency of the EU said that before recognising the new government and lifting the blockade ‘the EU will carefully assess the platform and actions of the new government and its ministers’. This is the policy of the British government too.

After the formation of the new government, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has called for the lifting of the ‘siege’ on his people.

This is the moment for action in Britain by the thousands of people who have marched in support of the Palestinians and the millions of working people whose trade unions back the Palestinians and have been demanding an end to blockade on the occupied territories.

The unions must organise a day of action, including strike action, to demand that the Labour government follows the lead of Norway and recognises the Palestinian national unity government, restores all economic aid and demands the Zionist entity of Israel ends its siege of the Palestinian people.

This will be an important step towards ending the Israeli occupation and creating an independent State of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital.