Today, the Quartet on the Middle East is meeting in Washington. The United Nations’ secretary general and the American, Russian and European Union foreign ministers are expected to discuss UN recognition of a Palestinian state and stalled peace negotiations. These are important issues, but one might hope that the Quartet would find the time to discuss promises made to it over the past year that have yet to be fulfilled; one might hope that names like Samir Abu Yusef’s would come up in such a discussion.
Abu Yusef prefers not to stray too far from his home in Qalqiliya. He was born in Gaza and in 1994, when peace was on the horizon, he moved to the West Bank. He got married, had four children and opened his own carpentry shop. Three years ago, he was detained at a checkpoint near Qalqiliya and deported to Gaza. The reason: he was still registered as resident of the Gaza Strip. After two years of not seeing his family, Abu Yusef was allowed to return to Qalqiliya following a petition by Gisha to the High Court of Justice, but he doesn’t take chances any more. He stays close to home.
Abu Yusef is just one of about 35,000 Palestinians who live in the West Bank but are registered as residents of the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian population registry. Israel considers these individuals to be “illegal aliens”. They lead their lives under the constant threat of removal to the Gaza Strip. They pass up opportunities for work or education, miss family events and think twice about enrolling their children in better schools that would require crossing a checkpoint. If they receive a permit to travel abroad via the Allenby Bridge border crossing, their return is not guaranteed. A permit to work inside Israel is almost out of the question.
Waiting for Netanyahu
And how are all these Palestinians who are registered as residents of Gaza related to the Quartet? Well, on February 4, 2011 Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu stood next to the Quartet’s representative to the region, Tony Blair, and announced a series of measures “to assist” the Palestinians, including the changing of 5,000 addresses of Palestinians who live in the West Bank and are registered as Gaza residents. Since February, Israel has changed the addresses of only 298 individuals out of a list of 5,000 names compiled by the Palestinian Authority. The rest are still waiting.
These individuals are not suspected of anything. The military makes no claim that they pose a security threat. Their only ‘crime’ was moving from Gaza to the West Bank. How could they have guessed that freedom of movement between the two parts of the Palestinian territory, a principle enshrined in the Oslo Accords, would ever be denied? How could they have foreseen the capture of Gilad Shalit or the rise of Hamas to power?
It is difficult to imagine what security or political considerations underlie the decision to threaten 35,000 men and women with forced removal. It is even harder to understand why the government refuses to live up to the pledge made by the prime minister to the Quartet.
Unfortunately, changing the addresses of Palestinians living in the West Bank is not the only promise that has yet to be fulfilled. For example, residents of Gaza are still waiting for the Israeli government to allow them to increase export from the Strip. When the Quartet meets today, one might hope that along with discussing a future Palestinian state and pushing the negotiations forward, it will find the time and courage to insist that more simple promises be fulfilled now.