By Ernest Corea*
WASHINGTON DC – They came, they saw, they met. For the first time after a year of drift, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators met face-to-face in Amman, Jordan on January 3. The Palestinians presented the Israelis with written proposals for borders and security.
This brief encounter resulted from an initiative by the Government of Jordan and, after the meeting, Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh announced that representatives of the two sides would meet again shortly. That meeting took place on January 7.
Only days earlier, the core hope of "on earth peace, good will toward men” was repeatedly expressed at numerous Christmas events. Does that hope apply to Palestine?
So far, no. "True peace can be built only on justice,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu, commenting on the plight of Palestinians. What hopes of genuine peace, what expectations of goodwill, can be nurtured among those who survive in a particularly demeaning form of servitude?
A few days before 2011 ended, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the UN Security Council during a monthly briefing on the situation in the Middle East that violent incidents had erupted "at a worrying rate" during the preceding month. As the year wound down, "the situation on the ground is deteriorating and the path towards peace (between Israel and Palestinians) remains dangerously uncertain."
Fernandez-Taranco noted the announcement by the Government of Israel of several new settlement constructions. He noted, too, the demolition of 57 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, an increase in (Israeli) settler violence, and over 300 Israeli military operations in the West Bank.
Gaza and southern Israel again witnessed "a dangerous deterioration" in the security situation, he reported. During the reporting period, 45 projectiles were fired from Gaza into Israel, while the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) conducted nine incursions and 13 air strikes.
"We condemn in the strongest terms any indiscriminate firing of projectiles towards civilian areas and call on Israel to show maximum restraint," Fernandez-Taranco asserted.
Security Council Excluded
World reaction was not long in coming and figured, for instance, in the media briefing at the US State Department on December 21 with Press Spokesperson Victoria Nuland presiding. Excerpts follow.
QUESTION: Yesterday (December 20), the four members of the European Union on the Security Council issued a statement calling occupied territories and settlements in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem illegal under international law. Do you concur?
NULAND: . . . as you know, we declined to join that statement for all of the usual reasons. It doesn't change the fact that our longstanding policy remains that we don't recognize the legitimacy of the continued Israeli settlements, but we don't think statements in the UNSC are the way to pursue the goal of getting these parties back to the table. The best way to deal with this issue of land, settlement, et cetera, is for these parties to talk to each other, come up with borders, and then have two states living side by side in agreed borders.
QUESTION: Okay. Also, after the closed session, 14 members of the Security Council, one by one, criticized the position of the United States for not condemning the continued expansion of settlement. Do you have a response to that?
NULAND: We do not believe that this is business that needs to be done in the UN Security Council. We are absolutely clear with Israel where we stand on these issues. But shouting from the rooftops of the Security Council is not going to change the situation on the ground, which is that these parties have to get back to the table and settle these issues together, and that’s the way we’re going to have a lasting, stable peace.
QUESTION: And lastly –
Sauce for the Goose
QUESTION: And yet shouting from the rooftops from the Security Council on Syria is going to make a difference?
NULAND: Well, we've spoken about the concrete actions we want to see the Security Council take.
QUESTION: Well, you don't have a chance of getting them through if the Chinese and the Russians still aren’t on board. So what's wrong with – why is it – what's good for the goose is not good for the gander here? . . . why does screaming and yelling at the Security Council on Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, North Korea – why does that – why is that all a good thing and yet . . . when it comes to Israel, it’s absolutely not?
NULAND: Every situation is different. In this case, the answer to the problems in Israel with the Palestinian people can only be resolved when they sit down and talk to each other. They cannot be resolved in the Security Council. That’s our longstanding view. . . ."
Separate from the report on illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, and the eruption of asymmetrical violence, numerous references have been made in public discourse to the continued assault on the human rights of the Palestinians.
Concerns on this score were expressed both by civil society organisations such as Amnesty International and international multi-government bodies including the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
UN Fully Engaged
And the UN has no place in bringing peace to this ravaged land? The record speaks for itself. The history of UN involvement in issues connected with Israel and Palestine challenges the view expressed by Nuland that " . . . the answer to the problems in Israel with the Palestinian people . . . cannot be resolved in the Security Council.”
As the UN itself has pointed out: "the United Nations has been working on the question of Palestine since the first special session of the General Assembly on 28 April 1947, which established a body to investigate the issue and return with its recommendations. Over 60 years later, the range of the UN’s work has continued to adapt to meet new challenges and address changing realities on the ground.”
And, lest we forget, Israel’s legitimacy as a state is derived from a UN Resolution, No. 181 (II) of Nov. 29, 1947.
Time, meanwhile, moves on. There is much happening in the Middle East that cannot be dismantled by ignorance in Washington DC.
The resurgence of Islam-based parties at elections is said to have encourage Hamas, for instance, to renew its contacts with the Palestinian Authority. On the Middle East’s prolific gossip circuit, the name of a potential Prime Minister of a national unity government – Munib al-Masri – has been mentioned.
More contacts are expected early in 2012, and it would be a pity if these get derailed. Past experience points to opportunities lost.
On January 12, 2009, the Nation Magazine published an interview with Lakhdar Brahimi, the elder statesman of Middle East diplomacy who told award-wi8nning journalist Barbara Crossette:
"Hamas won an election, and what should have been done is immediately after the election is to go to them and tell them, congratulations: you have won and now you want to govern. We would like to help you govern. But for that there are conditions.
"But what was done was the entire international community--and, I'm sorry to say, some Arab countries--told Hamas, No, we don't want to talk to you. It's not impossible to go to Hamas and tell them, if you want to play an important part in the leadership of your people you've got to talk to others and listen to views other than yours. I'm almost certain that they would.”
Let’s hope that history does not repeat itself.
There is, meanwhile, an item of unfinished business to be dealt with: the claim by aspiring Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich that Palestinians are an "invented people” who are looking for an "invented state.” Turns out he was wearing borrowed plumes when he spoke.
Here are the facts as set out by Uri Avnery, formerly a member of the Israeli Knesset and currently a writer and peace activist in Israel:
"The original Newton discovered the Law of Gravity. Newton Leroy Gingrich has discovered something no less earth-shaking: there is an "invented” people around, referring to the Palestinians…. a great discovery which, unfortunately, has been discovered by others long before.
"From its very beginning, the Zionist movement has denied the existence of the Palestinian people. It’s an article of faith.
"The reason is obvious: if there exists a Palestinian people, then the country the Zionists were about to take over was not empty. Zionism would entail an injustice of historic proportions.
"Being very idealistic persons, the original Zionists found a way out of this moral dilemma: they simply denied its existence. The winning slogan was 'A land without a people for a people without a land.'
"So who were these curious human beings they met when they came to the country? Oh, ah, well, they were just people who happened to be there, but not 'a' people. Passers-by, so to speak.
"Later, the story goes, after we had made the desert bloom and turned an arid and neglected land into a paradise, Arabs from all over the region flocked to the country, and now they have the temerity – indeed the chutzpah – to claim that they constitute a Palestinian nation!
"For many years after the founding of the State of Israel, this was the official line. Golda Meir famously exclaimed: 'There is no such thing as a Palestinian people!'"
"A huge propaganda machine – both in Israel and abroad – was employed to "prove" that there was no Palestinian people. . . . Until one day the State of Israel recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the "Palestinian people", and the argument was laid to rest.
"Until Newt came along and, like a later-day Jesus, raised it from the dead.”
So now, consider this. However wrong and insulting the notion Gingrich touts might be, he can always engage in serial repentance and seek recourse to serial redemption.
*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 Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.
Ernest Corea's previous IDN articles:
Picture: Palestinian Authority President Submits Application for UN Membership | Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras