[highlight]Gaza, 10/4/2013[/highlight] – Palthink for Strategic Studies organized with self financing a video conference meeting with Mr. Michael Alan Ratney, the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem. The session was attended by academics, businessmen, civil society representatives, youth activists, community leaders and human right activists.
Mr. Omar Shaban, director of PalThink, welcomed the guest and audience and raised a group of issues such as Obama’s last visit to the region, the U.S. position regarding the two-state solution in light of continued Israeli settlement building, the future of the region after the Arab revolutions, and U.S. policy toward the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Ratney expressed his thanks for the invitation and for the opportunity to address Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, who he recognized live under extremely difficult circumstances.
Mr. Ratney emphasized President Obama’s visit, adding that his visit indicates how important this region is to American foreign policy.
The U.S. Consul General asserted that the two-state solution is the only acceptable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to live in peace and prosperity alongside Israel.
He also emphasized that U.S. policy towards Israeli settlement building has not changed, noting that settlements are a fundamental issue that must be resolved and adding that President Obama’s speech directly addressed this issue.
Mr. Ratney also underscored the continuing U.S. commitment to assist Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza. “Our commitment to the economic well-being of Gaza is a central part of U.S. policy,” Mr. Ratney added.
Right after the Consul’s input, the discussion was open and participants raised various questions and concerns regarding the peace process, settlement building in the West Bank, and the US support to Israel.
The Gaza participants stressed the need for pushing the Mideast peace process, and called upon the US to play larger and more neutral role in advancing peace, putting an end to the Israeli occupation, and pressuring the Israeli government to stop its settlement and land acquisition policies in the West Bank, which, according to the participants, represent the larger obstacle to peace.
One participant also referred to the difficulties facing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip when they need to benefit from the US Consular services. As getting the US visa becomes an impossible mission for people seeking travel to the US because of the restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on Gazan’s freedom of movement through Erez crossing to Jerusalem, and the difficulties associated with heading to the US embassy in Cairo through Rafah crossing. The participant called upon the Consul to help Gazans receive much easier consular services as many students, professionals, and visitors lost opportunities to visit the US during the years of the blockade.
At the end of the discussion, the participants expressed their appreciation to the exchange with US consul general , which some of them described the session as a step that contributes in overcoming the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.