By Stuart Littlewood
US-brokered negotiations with Israel, which started on 29 July 2013 and were to last nine months, are nearing their ignominious end. And Israel, the serial defaulter that it is, has reneged on the agreed release of 104 pre-Oslo prisoners in exchange for Palestine’s postponing joining international organizations to help achieve their long-overdue freedom.
Three phases of the agreed release had taken place, and the final batch of 30 prisoners were due to be handed over on 29 March. When the Israeli government refused to release them the Palestinian embassy in London, on 2 April, announced that President Mahmoud Abbas had signed letters of accession to 15 international conventions and treaties. “We were promised the release of these prisoners, who are dear to our hearts and because of whom we withheld from going to the United Nations organizations. We were told that the Israeli government would convene to announce this final release today, but unfortunately they have failed to do so….
“We concluded that if the final phase of the agreed release did not go ahead, then we would begin signing letters of accession to the 63 international organizations, treaties and conventions, which the leadership unanimously approved.”
President Abbas explained that the 15 letters are for conventions and treaties that can be joined immediately and do not need further approval. “This is our right. We agreed to suspend this right for a period of 9 months…. for the sake of negotiations. The Israeli side is continuing to procrastinate, therefore we do not have any other choice but to go ahead with plans to join international organizations and conventions.”
Abbas’s letter-writing included the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and conventions against torture, corruption and the prevention of genocide.
Palestinian officials also delivered a letter asking to become a party to the Geneva Conventions, and another letter to join The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
Like all UN Member and Observer states, Palestine is entitled to join the 63 treaties, conventions and agencies and will do so in the best interests of its people and whenever it thinks fit. It doesn’t need US or Israeli permission.
Question: Doesn’t this undermine US and international efforts? No, the Israelis’ unrelenting settlement construction during this entire process has done that. Israel has tried to use negotiations as a smoke screen behind which it continues to violate human rights, expand its settlement program and make the two-state solution increasingly impossible.
Question: What does it mean for the peace process? Are the negotiations over? No. The Palestinians are committed to negotiations until the 29 April, as agreed.
None of the letters so far was addressed to the International Criminal Court, which the Palestinians have been strongly urged to join – a move that would certainly set the cat among Israel’s pigeons. So what could possibly be objectionable about the limited action Abbas has taken?
Nothing. Except that the Israelis are now pushing for an extension of the talks beyond the 29 April deadline before they’ll release the Palestinian prisoners. But the Palestinians see this as yet another ploy to buy more time to establish yet more irreversible ‘facts on the ground’. They made it clear many weeks ago that enough was enough.
It seems likely that when the nine months are up the Palestinians will resume efforts through the UN and the International Criminal Court to bring Israel to book over its illegal settlements and colonization program. There are more than 350.000 Jewish squatters living in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and 200.000 more in settlement in and around occupied East Jerusalem. All settlements are illegal under International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. And transferring part of Israel’s population into occupied territory is regarded as a war crime.
Response from Israel has been swift. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau warns that Abbas’s unilateral request to join 15 international institutions is in breach of peace talk conditions and “will cost the PA [Palestinian Authority] dearly…. They must know something simple: they will pay a heavy price. One of the possible measures will be Israel applying sovereignty over areas which will clearly be part of the State of Israel in any future solution.” He’s referring to areas of the Palestinian West Bank which now have a large Jewish population.
Landau warns that Israel might also “block financial aid” to the Palestinians.
Of course, what’s he’s proposing is not only hateful but constitutes further breaches of international and humanitarian law, adding to an already long crime-sheet.
Landau’s father, Chaim, was a commander in the Irgun, a Jewish terror organization that murdered British soldiers of the mandate government and bombed its headquarters in the King David Hotel killing 91 . He hailed from Poland so what ancestral link, one wonders, does Landau have to the Holy Land that justifies playing the bully-boy, pushing Arabs off their ancestral lands and stealing their homes, farms, aquifers and offshore waters?
And here’s another of Landau’s pearls of wisdom: “A Palestinian state is not the solution.”
But a Jewish state is? Peace, brother …
– 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.org.uk.