CONSIDER THIS: Palestinians Seek New Strategy for a New Decade

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By Ernest Corea* in Washington D.C.

The message of "peace on earth among men of goodwill" whose origin is traced back to biblical times will hardly resonate among today's Palestinians. Their immediate future is unclear following the collapse of embryonic "peace talks" with Israel, arranged by the U.S.

The harrowing uncertainties of their lives have been chronicled many times over. They have "territory" under an "authority" whose authority is limited. Their hopes of resuming statehood depend on the caprice of an occupying state, and the goodwill or leveraging capacity of friendly states and institutions. This is not always forthcoming.

Their everyday lives are affected by check points, closed roads, permit requirements, and a whole menu of constraints, not of their making. In another form of constraint, 1000 Palestinian children were subjected to Israeli detention in 2010, as documented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

That takes us to the crux of the issue: liberation.

Maen Rashid Areikat, chief Palestinian representative in the U.S., writing in the journal Foreign Policy puts it all in a terse and resounding sentence: "The simple and overriding truth is this: Palestinians must be free."

He goes on: "There is nothing peculiar or unique about the Palestinian drive for liberty in our own land -- the land of our fathers, grandfathers, and their grandfathers -- living side by side with a secure Israel.

"The basic human impulse for freedom is shared by every man, woman, and child around the globe. This is why the Palestinian struggle for freedom has become so iconic throughout the world for those concerned with justice and civil rights."

RELUCTANT PARTNER

The most recent effort at securing that freedom under a two-state arrangement brokered by the U.S. lies crumbled, as inert as gravel in a graveyard.

Not even what has been described as a multifaceted "bribe" -- of aid, materiel, and political support at the UN Security Council -- could persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to re-impose a freeze on the construction of settlements on occupied territory as an incentive to continued negotiations.

Concrete continues to be mixed, poured and shaped into housing that multiplies on Palestinian land, despite the assessment of many legal authorities that the activity is illegal.

Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper quotes Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan in an interview with SANA (Syrian Arab News Agency) as blaming Israel for the recent failure of peace talks, and saying that "Israel's actions caused ‘suspicion' about its desire for achieving peace."

That could have been said even before the most recent round of talks began, because so much has happened to suggest that the Government of Israel is not a forthcoming and amenable partner in the Palestinian quest for liberation.

DEVIOUS DEFINITION

The continued occupation itself flies in the face of numerous UN resolutions expressing the sentiments of the global community that the occupation must end. It has neither legal nor moral justification.
The cavalier manner in which the Government of Israel has rejected comments on the conditions under which Palestinians live, reinforces the need for liberation.

Internationally respected jurists have called into question the actions of Israeli forces attempting to subdue Palestinians living in Gaza, as well as their extraordinary show of force against a Turkish vessel on a mercy mission to Gaza. Erdogan has in fact insisted that Israel needs to apologise for the latter act; a small price to pay for the death of non-combatants on the mercy mission. UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon condemned Israel's violence.

Netanyahu and his colleagues have a tried and tested response to all international disapproval of its actions. First, cry "bias." Then, run for cover behind the sandbags of protective diplomacy.
Most egregiously, Netanyahu has clearly indicated that his definition of a Palestinian state is warped and devious.

LEGITIMATE ASPIRATION

President Barack Obama who was confident that Israeli-Palestinian relations could justly and peaceably be maintained under a two-state arrangement, said in a speech addressed to the global Muslim community and delivered in Cairo: "….the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.

"They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

Netanyahu's definition of a Palestinian state was delivered in a policy statement that amounted to a kind of response to Obama's views. He added so many caveats to his acceptance of a two-state approach that his version of a Palestinian state turned out to be a mockery.

If Netanyahu had his way, a Palestinian state would be totally disarmed. This precondition will effectively deny a sovereign state the inalienable right of self-defence. For Palestinians to live unarmed next to a militarily-oriented Israel is for them to choose what can only be called the "suicide option."

Next, the air space over Palestine would have to be under Israeli control. Such a colonization of air space would amount to an act of air piracy as reprehensible as the oceanic piracy being carried out near Somalia.
Israel would have full control of Jerusalem as its capital. This would settle a profoundly contentious issue in Israel's favour by Israeli "diktat". For Netanyahu to assume that such a complex issue can be settled by his say-so suggests a combination of political arrogance and obstructionism.

The new Palestinian state would also have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, although the religious predilection or bias of any sovereign state is surely a matter of domestic choice not requiring neighbourhood approval.

Finally, Netanyahu did not undertake to halt construction on occupied Palestinian lands although the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits an occupying power from moving any of its own civilian population into occupied territory. In other words, illegality would endure.

Some partner.

NEW PROBLEMS

As a new decade approaches, it appears unlikely that Palestinian interests will be served, and their hopes realized, through a renewal of the broken negotiating process.

Shortly after the process collapsed, for instance, the New York Times reported that a settlements building boom was underway "especially in remote communities that are least likely to be part of Israel after any two-state peace deal."

"This means," the Times correctly pointed out, "that if negotiations ever get back on track there will be thousands more Israeli settlers who will have to relocate into Israel, posing new problems over how to accommodate them while creating a Palestinian state where many of them are living now."

It is hard to believe that the Government of Israel does not understand the nature of the problem that is being created. These are the interlopers who will cry havoc if a peace deal is reached, enabling the politicians to say that implementing the deal is -- unfortunately, no doubt -- not feasible.

Palestinians are fully aware of the dead end they will again be called upon to reach if negotiations are resumed on the same basis that went nowhere in the first place, and are increasingly calling on friendly nations, as well as international institutions, to recognize Palestinian statehood.

Hanan Ashrawi, who has been engaged in past negotiations, and is highly regarded internationally as a "moderate voice," has been quoted as saying: "We cannot go on this way. The two-state solution is disappearing. If we cannot stop the settlements through the peace process, we have to go to the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and every international legal body."

WELL POSITIONED

A slow build-up of support for this Palestinian view has been noted by diplomatic observers.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Carter, both members of the peace-building Elders Group created by Mandela, have suggested that it is time for a new approach, "firmly based on international law and respect for human rights." This would mean that "the occupation must end."

Over 100 countries have now recognised the Palestinian state. The process of recognition began following a declaration of statehood made by Yasser Arafat in 1988. At the beginning, recognition came primarily from Arab states, but included China and India.

More recently, however, Brazil gave the state of Palestine formal recognition and was followed by Argentina with Uruguay expected to do the same in 2011. Several other Latin American countries are considered likely to join in. The European Union has said it would recognise Palestine at an "appropriate" time.

The Palestinian Authority has to be particularly encouraged by the assessment of the World Bank which reported in its Economic Monitoring Report that: "If the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution building and delivering of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future."

CONSIDER THIS

None of this creates a new Palestinian state. What it does, if the strategy is maintained, is that it creates counter-pressure on those who argue that their notion of Israel's security based on military strength trumps Palestinian rights.

This notion creates a militaristic mindset not only in Israel but also among its supporters and critics. All states need defence services, to be sure, but the intifada, and the continued resilience of Palestinian groups demonstrate that it takes more than weapons to make and stabilise peace.

As Areikat points out, Israel's "best guarantee for security and survival is our freedom and independence. Israel's blinkered policies will never convince Palestinians to give up their legitimate right to liberty, and it is only true freedom that can ultimately make for the best neighbours."

So, consider this: a UN resolution (No. 181 of Nov. 28, 1947) was the basis of Israel's creation. The same resolution also called for the establishment of an Arab state side-by-side with Israel.

The state of Israel is now well established. In keeping with the spirit of the original resolution, should it not be the responsibility of the UN to facilitate Palestinian statehood? UN engagement could help to take the issue out of the ambit of the domestic politics of member countries. Doorways to peace that are now shut could be opened.

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is on the IDN editorial board and President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.

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