This commentary was published in The Arab News on 23/01/2011
PLO’s permanent delegation in Washington has been allowed to fly the Palestinian flag over its building
ISRAEL IS, as we well know, the land of unlimited impossibilities. In Israel, for example, the diplomats are striking. Postmen strike. Longshoremen strike. But diplomats — the most conservative, the most establishment people?
Well, in Israel it is possible. All the Foreign Office services have ceased to function. For years, these people have suffered from miserable working conditions. Their salaries are bordering on the ridiculous. So they went on strike.
Does this infuriate the prime minister? Is the foreign minister upset? Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman do not care. On the contrary, they look almost happy.
The President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, was scheduled to visit Israel. But before that, he went to Jericho, which is considered the oldest town in the world. There, in the presence of President Mahmoud Abbas, he declared that Russia had recognized the Palestinian state long ago, and that it continues to recognize the Palestinians' right to a state of their own, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Not exactly. It was not Russia that recognized Palestine, but the Soviet Union. And the recognition was conferred on the virtual state declared by Yasser Arafat in 1988. That is very different from recognition of the Palestinian state now, when it is becoming a reality.
After his visit to Jericho, Medvedev was to come to Jerusalem, to be photographed next to Netanyahu and shake hands with Lieberman. How was Netanyahu to react to the Jericho declaration? How could he extricate himself from this matter, without humiliating himself or offending the largest country in the world? This embarrassment was avoided by the sanctions of the Israeli diplomats. They refused to prepare the visit and organize the meetings. Medvedev gave up, and the two great statesmen — Netanyahu and Lieberman — could breathe again.
Deep in his heart, Lieberman surely blessed the people of his office, whom he hates. They saved him. What could he tell Medvedev? Ever since walking into the Foreign Office like a bear entering the proverbial china shop, he has boasted of his excellent relations with Russia. The Americans loathe him? So what? America is a declining empire. The Europeans don't want to meet with him? So what? Who are they, anyhow?
But Russia is Russia. Here we have a real friend. Lieberman admires Vladimir Putin, speaks with him in his mother tongue. He boasted of having established really intimate relations with Russia. And now they do this thing to him. What a disgrace.
But the truth is that Putin is not really his friend. Yvette Lieberman (his original name) has only one real friend in the world: Aleksandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus, "the last dictator in Europe".
Lukashenko is his soul-mate. He is his model. From him he learned how to deal with human rights organizations. It was Lukashenko who sent an official warning to the human rights activists in his country and threatened them with heavy penalties if they continue to "distort information" about Belarus.
From there Lieberman drew his inspiration, when he opened his campaign against the peace and human rights activists in Israel, whom he called this week "collaborators of terrorism".
One can laugh (for the time being) at Lieberman's claim that the peace and human rights organizations cause the de-legitimization of the State of Israel, and especially the de-legitimization of the Israeli Army. But one cannot laugh about the de-legitimization itself. More and more governments are recognizing the State of Palestine, boxing the ears of the Netanyahu government in the process. When the Palestinian National Council declared, 22 years ago, the foundation of the independent Palestinian state, about 110 countries recognized it. All of them raised the status of the Palestinian delegations to the rank of embassies. The Israeli government ignored them. In its eyes, one new settlement in the West Bank was more important than the opinion of a hundred countries. As they say in Yiddish: Oilam Goilam — the world is a Golem (the clumsy monster of Jewish legend.).
But the new wave of recognition of Palestine is a different matter altogether. When important countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile recognize Palestine, and draw behind them the other Latin American countries, this is significant. When Russia renews its recognition, through its highest official and on Palestinian soil, this is an important event. If anybody is relying on the rock solid American support we are used to, they should pay attention to a small news item that appeared this week: The permanent delegation of the PLO in Washington DC was allowed to fly the Palestinian flag over its building — a right generally reserved for embassies alone.
An interesting plot is unfolding. Two thirds of the world's countries have already recognized the State of Palestine, and the wave is gathering momentum. These are no longer just small Third World states, but significant actors on the world stage. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayad are quietly and persistently building the institutions of the Palestinian state. They are investing a lot of effort in development, building a new town north of Ramallah, restricting the powers of the security services and gaining the sympathy and attention of the world's governments.
So what? — the average Israeli asks. After all, the Goyim are only proving yet again that they are all anti-Semites. How is this important? We control the territory and no diplomatic tricks will change that. And as long as we have unlimited American support, we don't give a damn.
Really? For many years we could rely on the Americans with eyes closed. Every "anti-Israeli" resolution was met with a firm American veto. But is this still so certain? When all the important countries in the world recognize the State of Palestine — will the US alone hold out forever?
While the Israeli diplomats are striking, a new initiative condemning the settlements is gaining momentum in the UN Security Council. The entire world is against these settlements, which are manifestly illegal under international law. Even the US has demanded a freeze. Can the US veto a resolution that expresses its own policy, without becoming a laughing stock? And if it does do so all the same this time, what about next time, or the time after?
And if the American veto still rules the Security Council — it does not rule the UN General Assembly. It was the General Assembly that resolved in 1947 to set up in Palestine, next to each other, a Jewish and an Arab state. If the Assembly decides now that the time has come to realize the second half of the resolution — the establishment of the Arab State in Palestine — it will strengthen even more the world-wide recognition of Palestine.
The Arab governments must now think again. In Tunisia the people rose up against a dictatorship — a small and corrupt elite, indifferent toward the wishes of the people and overtly or covertly in collaboration with Israel.
That is the writing on the wall. The present Israeli government is leading us toward disaster. But this week this government was shored-up even more, when Ehud Barak, the pocket Napoleon, finally abandoned all pretense of belonging to the social-democratic left and set up a clearly rightist party, something like Likud II, that will be a loyal partner of Netanyahu and Lieberman.
With such leaders, does our country really need enemies?
Uri Avnery is a former member of the Israeli Knesset