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What did you do today, to promote peace?

You can't turn back the clock
an interview with Dov Sedaka

bitterlemons: Can humanitarian aid bring peace or maintain the peace process?

Sedaka: Aid alone cannot maintain the process. But it can and does grease the wheels of peace.

bitterlemons: Some in Israel and the international community argue that the provision of international humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population actually prolongs the conflict.

Sedaka: Aid does not prolong this conflict. It is the right thing to do. International aid began with the occupation back in the 1960s, and it was justified then as now. The aid organizations did good work in the field. They recruited local resources in the areas of education and development and played an important role in the well being of the population.

bitterlemons: How does Israel's Civil Administration fit into this scheme?

Sedaka: It assists the dozens of international organizations, the United Nations, Red Cross and many [non-governmental organizations] that are present in the field. The Civil Administration is very familiar with these groups. This stems from the fact that the state of Israel cannot fill the organizations' function. Since the aid is necessary, it is best filled by the international groups and not, say, Hamas. Better to create a real humanitarian infrastructure and not that of Hamas' terrorist summer camps. The Civil Administration has trained its own "international organization officers." The Israel Defense Forces [IDF] has now integrated humanitarian aid into its combat doctrine.

bitterlemons: Yet the international organizations complain of friction with the IDF.

Sedaka: It is not always simple to balance combat with humanitarian aid. There are issues of time and space: first the battle has to end. Moreover, over the years fears and suspicions develop. [We have learned that] not every ambulance and aid shipment is "clean"; so suspicions arise. With good communications we can solve these problems. This insight has now penetrated deep into the IDF combat echelon; the soldier at the roadblock better understands the need for aid.

bitterlemons: Yet over the past year or so, the aid organizations have talked about pulling out.

Sedaka: They won't depart. There was a disguised threat to leave, but largely to pressure Israel to let them get the job done. If they were to pull out, this would not end the conflict; on the contrary, the resultant poverty would worsen the situation. The vacuum would not be filled entirely by Israel but by Hamas.

bitterlemons: Why? Why can't Israel provide the aid if need be? Or the Palestinian Authority?

Sedaka: You can't turn back the clock to status quo ante. If the aid ends [even under conditions of peace], the Palestinian Authority is still not capable of filling the gap. But [neither can we, because the Palestinian Authority] aspires to independence and has learned not to work with us. In any case Israel never provided 100 percent.

bitterlemons: There are allegations that Palestinian inefficiency and corruption complicate the aid picture.

Sedaka: Inefficiency contributes to lack of development. This touches not on the question whether there's enough food, but rather on infrastructure development, for example the Palestinian water economy. Of course, the conflict makes things worse, but (even without it) Palestinian government offices are not organized as they should be. [Minister of Finance Salam] Fayyad has still not succeeded in breaking the monopolies on energy supply, cement and agricultural exports.

The aid organizations come to us with these complaints, but there is little we can do. We try to provide security, mobility, and the necessary statutory permits--areas where the Palestinians are weak.

bitterlemons: Does the international aid improve or hinder Israel's relations with the aid-giving countries and organizations?

Sedaka: Improve, unequivocally. In the eyes of the aid-givers as well, the joint projects and working relationships contribute to relations.

bitterlemons: Israel and the Palestinian Authority developed a complex economic relationship after 1993. In retrospect, was this beneficial?

Sedaka: The present situation of intifada is not natural and does not bear faithful testimony to the relationship. In view of the huge disparity between the economies, the Oslo and Paris agreements were the right ones in their day. The Palestinian economy was supposed to grow, to stand on its own two feet. They were to have their own air and sea ports and economic independence. The process can still be renewed with joint industrial zones and the return of Palestinian labor to Israel.

The trade balance at its peak was about $2.6 billion per annum in Palestinian imports from Israel and $800 million in Palestinian exports to Israel. This was Israel's biggest trading relationship after the United States. This has declined radically since the intifada began. -Published 22/3/2004©bitterlemons.org

Brigadier General (ret.) Dov F. Sedaka was the head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank until 2003.

Israel - Palästina:
Zur Notwendigkeit einer internationalen Intervention

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 27-02-2004



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