Media Mention of ATFP in The Daily Star - February 14, 2009 - 1:00am

US Congress hears urgent appeal for aid to Gaza

Daily Star staff
Saturday, February 14, 2009

WASHINGTON: While urgent humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is immediately required, the long-term consequences of the recent Gaza war depend on advancements in the peace process and a settlement freeze, Ziad J. Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) told a congressional hearing on Thursday.

Asali spoke at a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia, on the aftermath of the Gaza war, along with fellow panelists David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.

The hearing was attended by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Howard Berman, a California democrat.

The 22-day Israeli onslaught killed over 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians and including over 400 children. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, died in the conflict.

Asali summarized a 51-page ATFP written testimony, submitted to the Subcommittee and entered into the record.

Asali said that "although Hamas launched reckless and provocative rocket attacks against Israel, Gazans are not Hamas, they are not combatants, and should not be punished."

"As a human being, and as a physician," Asali told the committee, "I was horrified by the tragedy that has befallen the people of Gaza by Israel's disproportionate use of force."

"Their suffering must immediately stop," he declared.

Asali called for the creation of a new international mechanism to oversee long-term reconstruction, and emphasized that, "any party blocking the reconstruction process must publicly bear the blame."

He added that, "private reconstruction should be managed through direct bank transfers from the PA [Palestinian Authority] to beneficiaries, as proposed by Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad." "The Palestinian partner for reconstruction can only be the PA under President [Mahmoud] Abbas," he added.

Asali noted that unless an agreement is eached, violence would continue. However, negotiations "cannot be sustained without expanding the space of freedom in Palestinian cities, and delivering tangible improvements in access, mobility and economic opportunities."

He emphasized that, "settlements entrench the occupation and are the most pressing political and logistical impediment to peace."

"All hopes for progress depend on an immediate settlement freeze, and this is where US leadership must be asserted to preserve the credibility of the two-state solution," he said.

Subcommittee Chairman Gary Ackerman, a democrat from New York, said in his opening remarks, that in addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: "There hasn't been a deficit of attention, merely a deficit of performance."

"It only looks like we're going in circles. In fact, we're spiraling downward," he said.

"I don't know where the bottom is, but ... it will hit with shattering force when, through malice and terror, through shallow calculation and venal self-interest, through short-sightedness and through political cowardice, the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is finally rendered impossible," Ackerman said.

"The downward pressure comes from terrorism and the march of settlements and outposts, from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms," he added.

"A lot will depend on whether Israel - in a break from years of habit - can recognize its own self-interest in the success of this Palestinian enterprise."

- The Daily Star


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