Thursday, October 28, 2010

Palestinians' Options

By George S. Hishmeh
This Comment was published in Jordan Times on Friday 29/10/2010

Over 70 years ago, agitating European Zionist leaders were offered by Britain, who then ruled Palestine, about 20 per cent of the Arab country to establish a state there. They accepted the partition in principle, but then demanded more land. The offer was made behind Palestinians backs.

Ten years later, the United Nations approved the Partition Plan that gave Jews 5 per cent of the country, although they hardly owned 5 per cent of the land, while the Palestinian Arabs would retain 45 per cent.

The Palestinians, backed by the Arab states, rejected the plan and resolved to win their land back. However, the Six Day War of 1967 ended with the Palestinians remaining in control of a little over 20 per cent of their country - a turnaround that remains indigestible, if not emotionally devastating.

The Israelis have ever since moved into the occupied territories - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - more than 500,000 of them, building over 100 colonies there. Yet the whole world stood silent and shameless?for more than four decades, not forcing Israel to pull back or pay a high price for its continued colonisation.

Still, in 1993, the Palestinians signed the Oslo Peace Accords with Israel. They, in the words of a top negotiator, “made the very painful decision to recognise the state of Israel and its right to exist on over 78 per cent of our historic homeland”.

Since then, Nabeel Shaath, who has been involved in negotiations with Israel for 20 years, explained this week in The Christian Science Monitor, that “we have focused our efforts on gaining our independence through the establishment of a state on the remaining 22 per cent”.

On the other hand, all Israeli prime ministers, one by one, have since then maintained the charade, promising to pull out from the colonised territories and reach an agreement with the Palestinians “within a year” - just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did this time around. But none of their promises have come to fruition.

“Thanks to Oslo,” commented Akiva Eldar of Haaretz, “the Palestinians are protecting, the settlers are looting, and the donors are contributing”, adding that “on occasion, the US president hosts Netanyahu at the White House while Jewish patriots from New York get in line to embrace him”.

Although the Israelis withdrew from the Gaza Strip five years ago, the region, under Israeli siege, has degenerated into an open-air prison, especially after Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group, split from the Palestinian Authority and took over the region, home for some 1.5 million mostly impoverished inhabitants.

Israeli troops have repeatedly conducted forays into the coastal strip, following some border clashes, and in 2008, they led an inconclusive invasion there that cost the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians.

So what are the options remaining to the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose willingness to negotiate with Israel has run into major obstacles due to Israel’s government, dominated by expansionist and ultra-right-wing political parties.

Counting on positive US intervention remains one option, but considering President Barack Obama’s truckload of serious domestic challenges and the unyielding intervention of the pro-Israel lobby, this should not remain the only course for the Palestinians to take.

The logical conclusion would be for the Palestinians, supported by major Arab countries that have mutually beneficial ties with leading Western powers, to seek international intervention. The UN Security Council may not be as accommodating to the Palestinians as the UN General Assembly, since the big powers can exercise their veto there.

This is a step, many suspect, the US may feel compelled to undertake considering the influence of the pro-Israel lobby within Congress. Besides, it was the General Assembly that voted for the partition plan that led to the creation of Israel in 1948.
All these years Israel never identified borders, a point that many believe explains Israel’s expansionist plans, which are evident in the West Bank nowadays.

This logical alternative would not keep the Palestinians captive to the ongoing give-and-take between the Obama administration and the right-wing government in Israel. Otherwise, a growing number of Palestinians is beginning to see merit in the view suggested a couple of years ago by Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, that the Palestinian Authority should dissolve itself and “return the keys to Israel”.

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