By Stuart Littlewood –London
On the eve of the silliest peace talks in history, the big question is this. What makes Obama’s envoy George Mitchell, a negotiator of high repute, say there is ‘no role’ for Hamas?
The talks are silly because they seek to overturn what the United Nations has already decided for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict and drive a bulldozer through the building blocks of justice.
It might be music to Zionist ears, but to people of good will it’s a cruel, futile and immensely damaging ploy.
The talks are also silly because they bring together two people who by no stretch of the imagination could qualify as partners for peace. And they sit down under the auspices of a third party with an appalling track record in the Middle East and whom no-one trusts to act fairly.
So Mitchell has been dealt a terrible hand. The former US senator, we’re told, has had an illustrious career in politics. Honours have been heaped upon him for his part in the Northern Ireland ‘Good Friday’ agreement.
Accepting one of those awards – the Liberty Medal in 1998 – Mitchell said: "I believe there’s no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended… No matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how hateful, no matter how hurtful, peace can prevail. But only if those who stand for peace and justice are supported and encouraged, while those who do not are opposed and condemned. Seeking an end to conflict is not for the timid or the tentative. There must be a clear and determined policy not to yield to the men of violence…"
How about that? Conflict can be ended only by supporting those who stand for peace and condemning those who don’t. But does he know – has he really taken the trouble to find out – who actually stands for peace and justice in the ever-escalating obscenity of the Israeli occupation of Palestine? And is he absolutely clear who “the men of violence” are? Get it wrong and matters are made worse.
Mitchell is such an awesome peace-monger that he has become a visiting Professor at Britain’s Leeds Metropolitan University’s School of Applied Global Ethics, and the University is developing a new Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution bearing his name.
If Mitchell is so clued up you have to wonder why he took the job – a veritable poisoned chalice. And you’d think a person with his vast experience would stick to accepted rules of engagement for conflict resolution and peace-making. I’ll mention just three:
• Talk directly with the people who are concerned or with whom there are concerns.
• Attack the issues, not the people with whom there is disagreement.
• No issue can be ‘off limits’.
There is no-one more concerned than Hamas. As the democratically elected authority they are the principle stakeholder on the Palestinian side. Obviously they must be allowed to represent the Palestinian case. It matters not one jot or tittle that the White House has "identified" Hamas as a terrorist organization. They have legitimacy. Besides, millions outside the White House can point to Israel’s much worse terror crimes.
Mitchell, besides barring Hamas, bends even further to Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s demands and has ruled there must be no pre-conditions. Which means that Israel’s criminal conduct such as settlement construction, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, the land and sea blockade of Gaza, the occupation, the strangulation of the economy and their taste for piracy and extra-judicial killing, and their trampling of human rights including those of self-determination, are allowed to continue while the hapless Palestinians face them across the table.
And never mind that Netanyahu is permitted to enter these talks with his own pre-conditions, saying that the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes they were forced to flee, and the continuing occupation of East Jerusalem including the Old City, are not for discussion, and threatening to resume the (temporarily suspended) illegal settlement building.
If Mitchell is truly a person of integrity and a champion of “global ethics” how could he show such favour to one side?
What, I wonder, will he be saying to the Israeli team about UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which deals declares that "the City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum“ administered by the United Nations?
What will he say to them about Resolution 242 (1967) by the Security Council and therefore fully binding? This insists on:
(i) withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
(ii) termination of all claims or states of belligerency, and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
242 also emphasizes the need for:
(a) guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
(b) achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
(c) guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones.
Will Mitchell bang the table to demand long overdue action on Security Council Resolution 338 (1973), which called on the parties concerned to start immediate implementation of Security Council Resolution 242?
Security Council Resolution 446 (1979) leaves absolutely no wriggle room. It "determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace… Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories."
It’s all there, Mr Mitchell, in black and white. The UN has set it out. The world is waiting for the UN to implement it.
Israeli foreign policy is driven by manifesto promises like:
• "The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.”
• “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel.”
• The claim to a national and historic right to the Land of Israel “in its entirety” and the pledge to keep Jerusalem and the settlements.
Netanyahu’s belligerent coalition government probably won’t survive unless he uses all means to achieve these unlawful and hugely provocative aims and resists demands to give back Israel’s ill-gotten gains. A thief is clearly no partner for peace.
Neither is the PLO’s Abbas, who dances to America’s tune and whose authority is in question. Any agreement he makes will be open to challenge by his own people.
Obama is US president courtesy of the pro-Israel lobby. He is like putty in their hands. And he’s so ill-informed that he told AIPAC it’s OK for Israel to grab the hallowed City of Jerusalem and turn it into the permanent headquarters of the Zionist regime. Jerusalem "will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided," he blurted. When it dawned on him that he’d made a monumental blunder he tried to wriggle out: "Well, obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations… And I think that it is smart for us to work through a system in which everybody has access to the extraordinary religious sites in Old Jerusalem, but that Israel has a legitimate claim on that city."
A legitimate claim? Who says? And negotiate what? Has the President forgotten that the UN decided long ago that Jerusalem, along with Bethlehem, was to become an international zone?
And how can it be right for weak, unarmed and impoverished Palestinians to have to negotiate with a brutal, lawless military regime for their universal rights and freedoms, which are supposed to be guaranteed by the international community but have been denied them for decades?
Obama is clearly no genuine peace-broker.
And George Mitchell, despite his awesome reputation elsewhere, has so far failed in the Holy Land. He and his boss are getting desperate. Staging farcical, lopsided talks in order to achieve a fake, temporary peace will no doubt save a few worthless political skins for the timebeing. But they benefit no-one else. And they don’t do an envoy of Mitchell’s calibre any credit. He would be better employed banging heads together at the United Nations, to finish the unfinished business there and ensure all the resolutions they have passed and all the other solemn declarations they have endorsed are implemented. No need for conflict resolution, judgment has already been handed down.
Then peace talks can begin, if genuine partners and an honest broker can be found.
It’s called justice, Mr Mitchell. There’ll be no real peace until justice is delivered.
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.