With global attention focussing on the good news of BBC journalist Alan Johnston's release from over three meonths captivity in Gaza, a leading church agency says it is time to end the isolation of the Palestinian authority if peace is to be a real possibility.
"It is imperative to act now to end the isolation of Gaza and for the UK government to lead a new drive for peace in the Middle East", says Christian Aid, the development NGO that works with people without regard to creed.
An article on its newly relaunched website explaisn that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is now worse than it has ever been.
Plunged into internal political crisis, and functioning under the siege-like conditions imposed by Israel, 87% of the population of Gaza are now living below the poverty line, says the agency.
It declares: "The collapse of the Palestinian unity government after intense fighting between Fatah and Hamas militants is the predictable result of prolonged Israeli blockade and isolation by the international community. The collapse of the Gazan economy has resulted in extreme hardship for the Palestinians in Gaza.
"What is happening is a shame on humanity." says Christian Aid.
"However, this latest crisis not only has dire immediate consequences for the 1.5 million people trapped inside Gaza. It is also creating unprecedented political instability among Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories and threatens progress towards a long-term viable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The message is reinforced by Naila Ayash, director of our partner the Women’s Affairs Centre, wrote to us as Hamas-Fatah clashes reached their peak. All border crossings are now shut and food and basic goods are running out.
The British government has said: "it is imperative that all sides agree to speak to each other. Dialogue is the only way to achieve peace."
But since Palestinian elections in January 2006, the international community, including Britain, has frustrated Palestinian attempts to create a unity government and blocked vital progress towards negotiations by putting preconditions on dialogue.
The policy of no dialogue and political isolation over the last year and a half of international sanctions on the Palestinian Authority has been nothing short of disastrous. It has led to increased extremism and polarisation in the OPT and resulted in political stalemate with Israel. It is also counter to Britain’s own experiences in Northern Ireland, where dialogue was pursued in order to end violence and then build peace.
Humanitarian aid is neutral, says Christian Aid. Support for President Abbas’s emergency government must not be at the expense of further deterioration in the Gaza Strip.
"We are concerned that this will lead to increased separation between Gaza and the West Bank and potentially to the emergence of distinct political, as well as geographic, entities. Despite the international community’s resumption of direct funding to the emergency government, it is still not clear how this funding will reach people in need in the Gaza Strip, if at all.
"This has serious implications for public services and institutions in Gaza, including hospitals and schools. Continued isolation of the Gaza Strip will inevitably lead to more poverty and violence – and even more distant prospects for peace.
"Dialogue between the two conflicting parties – Fatah and Hamas – is the only way out of the current crisis and the only way to open the door to a peace process that can bring an end to the occupation of the Palestinian Territories – which lies at the root of Palestinian poverty.
"The Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem are all still under Israeli occupation and control. Merely lifting the international boycott on aid to the Palestinian Authority will not be enough. The West Bank continues to be monitored and controlled by Israeli checkpoints and closures.
"It is increasingly surrounded by a barrier that prevents students getting to college, patients getting to hospital and traders or farmers getting their goods to market. Israel controls access in and out of Gaza for both people and goods.
"Any political initiative must, therefore, understand and tackle the root causes of the conflict."
Christian Aid contends in its recent report, 'Israel and Palestine: A Question of Viability', that a viable solution will require an end to occupation and respect of international law by all parties. That includes Hamas.