image of jerusalem 2015

Is Palestine on the ropes?
Even though I was at an end-of-year retreat, I stayed up late last Monday to catch the Breaking News covering the outcome of a vote that was taking place at the UN Security Council.

4 January   |   2015   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

It concerned a Palestinian proposal ‘put in blue’ to the UN earlier in the week and that Ambassador Dina Kawar of Jordan had submitted to a vote at the Security Council.

Very broadly speaking, this Resolution drew yet another roadmap for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One key component of this document - that had garnered the support of all 22 Arab states - suggested that there should be a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2017. It also referred, inter alia, to occupation, settlements and Jerusalem.

Having heard about the intense efforts involved with the drafting of this Resolution since the end of the Gaza war in August 2014, this was a moment where quite a few people will have bated their collective breaths to see whether it would garner the necessary 9 votes in the UNSC and in so doing force the USA to veto an Arab-sponsored Resolution at a time when Arab countries feature in a US-led coalition against the Daesh (ISIS) groups in Iraq and Syria.

As it happened, the Resolution fell one vote short of those 9 elusive votes and everybody went home - some much happier than others. But as a result of this defeat, the PA President signed 20 international agreements that included the Rome Statute (of 2002) in a bid to have Palestine - a non-member observer state in the UN - join the ICC and as such be allowed (for his part) to take Israel to the Court in the Hague for war crimes.

So what are the ramifications of this latest episode in the decades-long Palestinian conflict?

  • The Palestinians were off beam in submitting this Resolution at a time when they were unsure they could marshal the requisite votes. Much as PA President Mahmoud Abbas was massively under pressure from the Palestinian street let alone from Hamas to act forcefully, this attempt at ‘internationalising’ the conflict was ill-timed since it will alienate the US Congress further from supporting the PA financially. It will also encourage the EU to equivocate further with its decisions, and might give right-wing parties in Israel a boost in the Knesset parliamentary elections of 17 March 2015.
  • Given it was bound to fail at this hurdle, Palestinians and their current legal / political advisors should perhaps have sought different counsel rather than act narrowly and even waited instead for the new non-permanent members of the UNSC to assume their seats in the new year before testing this option.
  • Equally, the Palestinian Authority should not have heeded to the belligerent but often self-hurting statements of rejectionist fronts and desisted from using this Resolution as a red rag in the international arena. Rather, more strategically, it should have suggested to the EU member-states that it was willing to hold back on such a track and - equally critically - on the bid to join the ICC so long as they applied more stringent and less biased measures against settlements and the labelling of products coming into the EU as well as on the freedom of entry of settlers’ leaders into Europe. I am confident those gestures will have been met with positive feedback.
  • Instead, we now have a situation where Palestinian political fumbling and personalised decision-making offer Israeli annexationists and anti-two-state-solution advocates the opportunity to make hay with these Palestinian moves and portraying its leadership as aggressive and against any negotiated resolution of the conflict.

But then the penny drops, does it not? What negotiations are we talking about anymore?

This sad reality is what made me scoff in the middle of the night when I heard Ambassador Samantha Power (a diplomat and author I still hold in high respect) talking up the merits of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Alas, Mahmoud Abbas has staked his whole [unfulfilled] political career, often against considerable odds and despite great opposition let alone treachery, on negotiations but he has been stumped at every turn. Meanwhile, the USA let alone the otiose Quartet have exhibited a sorry lack of gumption by failing to support Palestinian claims despite the fact that those are based on principles of International law and undergird international legitimacy. So how much more desperate and frustrated should the Palestinians become, and how much more should they bend backward, until Israel and the Western powers deign to bring closure to the encroaching occupation?

Meanwhile, the two-state solution that has been the mantra of most politicians is fast vanishing as a result of the thicket of illegal settlements and the appropriation of more lands. Besides, with successive Israeli stalling measures, not only are Palestinians suffering an ideological occupation but the very essence of the Zionist dream is also shrivelling as we near a bi-national solution that could be another disaster in the making. Is it not high time to act?

I have never shied away from being critical of the Palestinian leadership whether in the West Bank or Gaza. I have even paraphrased at times the Israeli statesman Abba Eban who uttered once that Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I am also aware that Palestinians are divided and prey to complicity, intrigue and factionalism. But those are not reasons for me to dampen my unflinching solidarity with a disempowered people or side with an arrogant and harsh victimizer at the expense of a molested and occupied victim - no matter the attributes of the victim. A solution is necessary, and we all are familiar with its contours and parameters. However, nobody seems to have the moral probity or good will let alone sufficient leverage to apply it so that we release ourselves from this endemic conflict.

Some pundits have also claimed that any support for the Palestinians at this volatile stage across the whole MENA region is tantamount to a vote for Islamists. I disagree, and will use the words of no other than Daoud Kamel, the Algerian chronicler in the Oran daily and author of Meursault, contre-enquête to rebut this rather puerile peroration.

When Daoud Kamel was recently challenged that he had failed to stand in solidarity with Palestinians during the Gaza war last summer, he wrote his piece entitled Ce pourquoi je ne suis pas ‘solidaire’ de la Palestine (12 July 2014) in which he spoke about selective solidarity. Commenting on his own relationships with Islam and Arabism, he also explained that his solidarity with Palestine is not incumbent upon race, ethnicity or religious confession. Rather, he argued, it is due to an injustice perpetrated against Palestinians whose lands are being colonised by Israeli settlers [and whose olive trees are being uprooted by settlers with unerring frequency]. Besides, Kamel segued, such solidarity should not be the responsibility of Arabs alone but that of all men and women worldwide who seek justice.

Much as I disagree with the Palestinian political leadership on their latest moves at the UN, I could not have put it any better than Kamel Daoud. So will those Israeli political and religious leaders who are impervious to this positivist and rights-based discourse listen to what this Algerian writer was writing in his chronicle - and what I humbly also add in my own Opinion today after two decades of deep involvement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

It is even sadder when there are so many Israelis and Jews - some of them longstanding friends, acquaintances or colleagues of mine - who are aware of this high-stakes reality facing both peoples and whose legal praxis is indeed inclusive of the other. Will they speak out? Is it not imperative for them to challenge the sterile policies of an Israeli leadership?

Is Palestine on the ropes? Perhaps so, but that is no reason to abandon the arena now, is it?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2015   |   4 January


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