By Stuart Littlewood
This Christmas the Palestinian embassy in London sent out a particularly pathetic message.
Headed ‘Palestine mulling ICC if UN takes no action on settlements,’ it warned that if the UN Security Council didn’t act against Israeli settlements, Palestine would “consider complaining to the International Criminal Court, an option made available by Palestine’s admission as a non-member state to the UN in November”.
What is there to mull? In all the years since 1967 what action has the Security Council taken to halt Israel’s illegal settlements? Even now, does it show any sign of doing so?
By action we mean, of course, deeds not woolly words. We mean sanctions and the implementing of all those UN resolutions ordering the Israelis back behind their pre-1967 lines.
Taking Israel’s crimes to the International Criminal Court is hardly something that still needs mulling over. It has been impatiently anticipated. The Court has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by nationals of a State Party or on the territory of a State Party since 1 July 2002, the date the Rome Statute came into effect. Palestinians have a huge backlog of business to do there.
Charges were surely prepared long ago, ready for submission the minute the door to justice swung open. Palestine declared its voluntary acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2009, but was unable to pursue legal remedies until the question whether it could be regarded as a ‘State’ in accordance with Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute was resolved.
In April this year the ICC General Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, finally declared that: the General Assembly of the UN first needed to accept Palestine as an observer state. “As soon as this is done we can proceed.”
Well, it’s done. But while the PLO sits back, still mulling, Palestinians can expect the Israelis to establish more ‘irreversible’ facts on the ground designed to make the occupation permanent.
Rotten to the Core
On Christmas Day of all days, and in Bethlehem of all places, Israel was still making war on Palestinian civilians. According to the Palestinian Monitoring Group in its Daily Situation Report posted on the website of the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, the Israelis chose Christmas Day to raid Wadi Al-Nies village, located in Bethlehem and therefore on Palestinian territory, and to serve demolition orders on 20 homes. That’s the sort of low-down, despicable behavior that should have been broadcast around the Western (Christian) world. Why wasn’t it?
And what is this Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD)? It was set up in 1994 in Gaza to follow up on the implementation of the Interim Agreement signed between Israel and the PLO. Initially headed by Mahmoud Abbas before he became Palestinian president, the NAD was taken over in 2003 by Saeb Erekat, probably the most unsuccessful chief negotiator on the planet.
The NAD’s offices in Gaza and Ramallah between them are supposed to cover Israeli affairs, Israel’s violations of signed agreements, Israel’s illegal settlement policies, Palestinian refugees, the Interim Agreements and the preparation of Palestinian positions for Permanent Status talks with Israel. The Ramallah office includes a research unit and a public relations unit.
At the outset the NAD asked the British government for technical assistance in preparing for Permanent Status talks. The UK Department for International Development agreed to provide “highly professional legal, policy and communications advice to the NAD and Palestinian negotiators”. The resultant Negotiations Support Project has two main departments: Legal & Policy and Communications. The Legal & Policy Department’s job is to strengthen and refine existing Palestinian negotiation positions, develop new positions where none existed, and contribute to interim initiatives intended to lead both sides out of stalemate or minimize the continuing damage inflicted by Israel while negotiations are stalled. This Department provides a host of advice on the various issues involved.
The Communications Department, for its part, “aims to explain and increase support for the Palestinian positions on Permanent Status issues and interim initiatives, to mobilize local and international civil society organizations to undertake advocacy on behalf of those positions, and to overcome misperceptions held by the Israeli public concerning Palestinian goals and intentions towards Israel.” In essence the Department publicizes and explains the Palestinian case in order to confront and balance out misleading narratives from the other side.
The Enemy Within
How could the Palestinians possibly go wrong with all that expertise and communications firepower behind them? Yet none of these noble tasks ever seems to get done. The PLO explains very little, doesn’t even try to mobilize international civil society, and lets Israel run propaganda rings round it.
“The Department achieves its goals,” says the NAD, “through a range of communications activities such as providing briefings to international journalists, parliamentarians and representatives of civil society; facilitating their access to the PLO leadership; providing communications advice to that leadership; publishing fact sheets, maps, and newsletters on key topics; maintaining the website of the NAD; lobbying editorial boards of international media organizations to ensure accurate reporting; building an email distribution list for NAD materials, and undertaking outreach activities in the United States, Europe and Israel.”
Goals? What goals have been achieved? Why claim all this political or diplomatic activity when there is none? Has any writer or journalist here been given access to the PLO’s leadership? Was the BBC’s editorial board ever lobbied to ensure accurate reporting? And where are Palestinian spokespeople, fluent in English, to be found in the West, especially at short notice? All the Department has succeeded in doing is dumbing down the PLO’s entire operations and making sure it achieves nothing. Perhaps that was its true aim.
I know what you’re thinking… They’re blowing smoke in our eyes. How can a government like Britain’s, packed with Zionist and sworn to support the Zionist regime even to the extent of providing a safe haven for its bloodiest war criminals and fraudsters, be relied on to give “highly professional legal, policy and communications advice” to the NAD and Palestinian negotiators jn their struggle against the Zionist oppressor?
Unless, of course, the name of the game is to scupper all hopes of a fully independent Palestinian state. In which case the Negotiations Support Project has been a howling success.
It would be interesting to know exactly what advice the British government has been giving the PLO and the NAD for the last 18 years. I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out. We do know, however, that since 1994 things have gone from bad to worse for the Palestinians on the legal, policy and communications fronts.
So is the Negotiations Support Project the rotten core, where Whitehall provides cover for agents of Israel to scheme and plot with Palestine’s Quislings? And is it from here that British foreign policy in the Middle East is hatched, embroidered and spun into the mouths of Hague, Cameron and Burt?
The PLO had miserably failed to chalk up any gains in Palestine’s national interest until a month ago when it appears to have momentarily defied Britain’s “highly professional” advice and applied – and received – an upgrade in status at the UN. Perhaps the Quislings felt this was such an obvious and easy move forward that, for the sake of appearances, they couldn’t put it off any longer. The British government (and who will ever forget this?) could not bring itself to vote for the modest step so necessary to bring the Palestinian people closer to their legitimate aspirations.
One might have hoped that Britain, which is largely responsible for the mess and is guilty of betraying the Arabs these last 95 years, would wish to make amends. But no. All we hear from Whitehall is the tiresome mantra that Palestinians must resume discredited peace talks before all else, a path that everyone knows only leads up a blind alley and wastes even more time while Israel, which clearly doesn’t want peace, is allowed to continue with its land theft and colonization. The world sees only too well that Britain stands on the wrong side of law and justice.
So, in 2013, what should the Palestinians’ New Year resolution be?
Well, they could dump the useless Negotiations Support Project and stop letting Britain’s “highly professional” advice cloud their judgment. They could start relying on their own good sense… though whether their leaders have any is another matter.
For next Christmas, says President Abbas in his Yuletide message, Palestine wishes to “experience the timeless message of Love, Justice, and Peace that the Prince of Peace brought to Palestine and humanity more than 2000 years ago, not just hope for its realization”. How very commendable. But given his track record and the duplicity of his advisers, how is he going to achieve that?
Meanwhile, the thought that Palestine is being closely advised by the very country that has been shafting it for 95 years is freakin’ bizarre, no?
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.