Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada is petitioning Secretary Clinton to withhold what the State Department describes as “urgent humanitarian aid” for Gaza until the Gazans meet two new conditions – free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and halt all rocket attacks on Israel.
Berkley, according to Ha’aretz, is “a Jewish politician well-known in Congress for her support of Israel, backed the Israeli operation in Gaza during December and January, and even told Haaretz that maybe Israel had been too tolerant.” M. J. Rosenberg over at TPM Café was more direct: “Shelley Berkley is so far to the right on Israel, she ignores AIPAC and works primarily with the Likud ZOA.”
Ha’aretz reports that Berkley’s demand was made after “a meeting on Capitol Hill between Noam Badin, the director of the communications center in Qassam-battered Sderot and several members of Congress and their advisors.” The other members of Congress were not named and the paper does not tell us whether anyone else has signed Berkley’s petition.
The congresswoman’s campaign perhaps coincidentally was announced as Shalit’s family launched a new phase of their campaign inside Israel “releasing a video calling for Gilad’s release complete with the words “save me” in his handwriting. The video will be broadcast on television, and will be sent to the public via email and SMS. Gilad’s father, Noam, said his family also plans to begin a protest vigil outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.”
The abduction of Shalit can be debated for days – as an IDF soldier, was he a victim or a legitimate target? Is there an equivalence between the Israeli abduction of Hamas parliamentarians and the holding of Shalit? Are they both war crimes?
He definitely has become currency in the continuing back and forth negotiations for prisoner releases. While not abducted by Hamas but by other militant groups (including armed factions of the US favored Fatah), Hamas originally offered to arrange to trade him for Palestinian women and children held captive by Israel. These negotiations has been going on – fitfully – since his capture.
When Israel decided to back out of Gaza in January and cease fire negotiations began via Egypt, some Israelis complained that the IDF had not even rescued Shalit and suddenly his release was back on the table as a condition, upsetting what looked like the final stages of an agreement. When another cease fire agreement appeared to be ready to announce and then fell apart, Ha’aretz noted that Hamas sources blamed the “Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority on Tuesday of scuppering a French- and Qatari-brokered deal for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.”
McClatchy’s Dion Nissenbaum described this mess a few weeks ago:
Egyptian officials have voiced their "indignation" over what they see as Israeli PM Ehud Olmert pulling the rug out from under the fragile talks by demanding that Shalit be released before Israel will agree to open its borders with Gaza to allow a normal flow of goods and supplies into the Hamas-controlled territory…
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner challenged Israel’s Shalit-cease fire linkage as unproductive.
And, in one of the more remarkable criticisms, [Israeli negotiator Amos] Gilad was quoted at length attacking Israel’s leaders this week in Israel’s Maariv newspaper.
"I don’t understand what it is that they’re trying to do," Gilad was quoted in Maariv as saying. "To insult the Egyptians? We’ve already insulted them. It’s madness. It’s simply madness. Egypt has remained almost our last ally here. For what? … The Egyptians have shown extraordinary courage. They’ve given us maneuvering room, they’re trying to mediate, they’re investing efforts, they’re showing goodwill of a kind they’ve never shown before… What are we thinking? That they work for us? That they’re a subordinate unit of ours? We’re talking about a country with 85 million citizens, a country that almost destroyed us in 1948 and dealt us a blow in 1973. Look at what is happening in the region, how the lava is bubbling, how everything is in an uproar, they also have the Muslim Brotherhood, look at Jordan, look at Turkey. Do we want to lose all that?"
Berkley is also demanding a complete end to rocket launchings from Gaza but, as I’ve noted before, that’s very hard to accomplish when Israel began its attack by decimating the civil police force of Gaza, the very ones who had been enforcing the earlier cessation of rocket launches. The extent to which Hamas can—or wishes to—control the rockets is hard to judge, though there is a report circulating that Hamas has “arrested the two leaders of Hezbollah – Palestine in Gaza claiming they are responsible of firing rocket on Israeli cities.”
All in all, this is one of those situations that we probably cannot fully decipher from a distance but we can step back and remember that holding humanitarian aid for 1.5 million Gazans hostage until Shalit is released is collective punishment and that is what Rep. Berkley is cheering on.
And while she does, we hear not a word of protest about another “hostage:”
Israel is preventing the director general of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, from travelling to the Netherlands to accept a prize….
The Netherlands jointly awarded the prize to Al-Haq and B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group. The prize commemorates the activities of the Dutch resistance under Nazi occupation…"How can it be that my stay in the Netherlands constitutes a higher security threat than my being in Ramallah?" Jabarin told Haaretz.
Update: The Jerusalem Post is reporting another potential roadblock to the humanitarian aid:
Meanwhile, nearly two dozen members of the House of Representatives have signed on to a resolution, sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Steve Rothman, calling for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza (UNRWA) to publish lists of its employees in order to assure donors that it does not employ terrorists.
He said at a press conference Thursday that he introduced the resolution "to ensure that not one cent of US taxpayer dollars provided to UNRWA is redirected to terrorists, or to activities that support terror or promote a culture of hatred." The resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Voice of America notes:
Representative Mark Kirk is among the 11 Republicans who have joined 11 Democrats supporting the resolution so far.