By Ramzy Baroud
2013 was a year in which the so-called peace process charade was allowed to continue, leading Palestinians on yet another futile journey of broken promises. Meanwhile, the Israeli colonial project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem carried on unabated. But it was not entirely a year of doom and gloom either, for the global boycott campaign (BDS) has taken off like never before, surpassing the capricious Palestinian leadership and its confined political platforms.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is an unsuccessful leader, to say the least. But a much harsher judgment can arguably be made. When he out rightly rejected the boycott of Israel in an interview while attending the service of South Africa’s iconic leader Nelson Mandela, many Palestinians went on to describe his words as an act of treason. “We don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel,” he was quoted.
The irony is that an international boycott movement was another facet of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. For Abbas to reject boycotting in the Palestinian context – of the very country that is responsible for military occupation, countless war crimes, the siege on Gaza, violation of numerous international laws, the Apartheid Wall and for much more – while attending Mandela’s funeral is a testament to Abbas’ own political and moral bankruptcy.
Yet merely two weeks after Abbas’ statement, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was once more threatening to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it carried on another settlement expansion scheme in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Erekat is understandably angry that the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu plans to build another 1,400 homes for illegal settlers in several colonies, including 600 in Ramat Shlomo, which is located in the West Bank but was illegally annexed into occupied East Jerusalem. 800 other homes will be built in various settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Israel plans to keep in any future agreement.
“We strongly condemn this and consider it damaging for the peace process”, said Erekat. He described Netanyahu’s move as “a war crime”. Even by the ever tolerant standards of the PA, its officials have invoked the term ‘war crimes’ on so many occasions, and threatened to resort to the ICC, a threat that, of course, was never carried out.
Yet, there is no serious drive championed by the Palestinian leadership calling for punitive measures against Israel, only a halfhearted step that was taken in November 2012, when Palestine exacted international recognition in the UN, becoming a non-member state. Faced by Israeli obstinacy and a growing resentment among Palestinians of Abbas and his authority’s mounting corruption and failures, the Palestinian leader had no option but to seek anything that could be promoted by his jubilant supporters in the occupied territories as a ‘victory’. Abbas returned home to be greeted as a liberation hero by his loyalists in Ramallah, a stunt that didn’t fool many.
But in theory, the recognition also meant that if the PA agreed to sign up to the ICC’s Rome Statute, it could finally take Israel to the criminal court. Other practical steps could have also been taken, whereby Palestine could join dozens of international organizations, and hold Israel accountable for its continued crimes to whichever capacity possible. None of that took place to the dismay of Palestinians and their supporters.
What did happen is that last July, Abbas and his negotiators were dragged back to yet another round of useless and unconditional negotiations. And as they negotiated, the Israeli government had in fact sped up construction in its colonies in the West Bank and tightened the siege on Gaza. It was such a mockery that on Nov 13, the entire Palestinian negotiation team had resigned in protest.
But since “the man in charge” – according to a senior US administration official, quoted in CNN – is Saeb Erekat, then, such resignation meant very little. “We’ve seen Saeb Erakat do this before where he’d threaten to resign because he’s not happy with the way talks are going but … he ends up taking it back and continuing with the negotiations.”
It is an embarrassing spectacle, really, and the PA doesn’t seem to notice, or perhaps care. Instead of marching to The Hague with utter resolve, and putting Israel on the defensive for once, Erekat continues to use the same worn out tactic, used by Abbas himself in the past, of empty threats, which don’t seem to even register on the Israeli or US radar.
There is no question that the PA is in a much weaker position than Israel. The latter, aside from its military strength and total domination over every aspect of Palestinian life, is unconditionally supported by the US administration. While the Obama administration did dare choose a course of action regarding Iran that is not consistent with the wishes of the Zionist lobby in Washington, and its ever enthusiastic supporters in Congress, it remains beholden to the wishes of the lobby regarding Palestine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has proved once again that it is not individuals, but established policies that control US behavior in the Middle East. His latest proposal, based on the work of 160 US officials, including retired US Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, went as far as Netanyahu had hoped for to ensure Israel’s ‘security’, should a Palestinian state be established. According to the rightwing Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post, Kerry’s ‘ideas’ in the proposal include Israeli control over Palestine’s borders with Jordan, and continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
The Americans are bending over backwards for Israel as they have no reason not to: the lobby still has the upper hand in shaping US foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine, and the PA is proving to be as accommodating as both Israel and the US expect of it. Disappointingly, the few available outlets that could in fact empower the Palestinian leadership such as supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and resorting to such international bodies as the ICC, are either shunned out completely or simply used as a tactic of empty threats.
There is no evidence that the PA plans to change course in 2014. The sorry legacy of Oslo will continue, as well as Israeli’s illegal colonial projects, the American peace process charade, and all the rest. But what will continue to change is that the BDS movement is moving ahead with or without Abbas and Erekat, whose claims to leadership are merely that of titles and hollow prestige.
– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).