Quo vadis, Palestine?

By Stuart Littlewood 

The Palestinian embassy in London has just issued a rare media briefing. It asks “WHAT IS NEEDED FOR THE RESUMPTION OF CREDIBLE NEGOTIATIONS?” and tries to explain the Palestinian position.

It says the Palestine Liberation Organization (which represents the Palestinian people to the outside world) has done everything it can to further the political process, from agreeing to a state on a tiny 22% of historical Palestine to the recent reaffirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative.

As for Israeli prime minster Netanyahu’s calls for a resumption of negotiations “without preconditions”, it insists that preconditions are necessary to ensure the credibility of the process and to prevent it being used by Israel as a smokescreen behind which it can carry on colonizing and committing its many other violations of international law.

“The PLO is well aware that any eventual solution must be reached through a negotiated settlement…” But, it says, Israel must be committed to the same end-goal as Palestine and the rest of the world: a two-state solution on the 1967 border.

The briefing gives a link to a document just released by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department which poses six questions that need to be answered if real and meaningful negotiations are to resume. It talks about the new international effort, led by the US, to negotiate “final status” and says the Palestinian leadership has “no doubt that Secretary Kerry’s intentions are genuine”. This presumably refers to Kerry’s promise of a $4 billion injection to “dramatically lift the economy”.

1. Does Secretary Kerry’s proposal allow for progress on the political track towards a just and lasting peace?

Any economic development will be stifled by, and will not end, the occupation. If Israel is only prepared to ease the occupation rather than end it, this will not be enough to open up new political horizons. [I’ll wager the $4 billion, if it materializes, will either be wasted or find its way into Israeli pockets.]

2. Has Israel shown any interest in the two-state solution?

Short answer: no. Recent words and actions by prominent members of the Israeli government prove it. Israel’s illegal settlement programme is clearly intended to destroy all possibility of two states living side by side in peace, security and all that jazz, and the Israeli public seem to have swallowed the idea that the ongoing conflict can be managed rather than resolved. Palestine, on the other hand, “has fully supported the internationally-endorsed two-state solution since 1988, in line with UN Security Council Resolutions and the international consensus, as well as fulfilling its bilateral and international obligations under the Road Map (UNSC 1515)”.

3. Is Israel willing to fulfill its prior obligations from previous agreements?

Israel has failed to fulfill the vast majority, hence the need for preconditions.

4. Has Mr. Netanyahu provided a map of what a two-state solution could look like?

He hasn’t but the PLO has, along with clear negotiating positions based on UN resolutions and international law.

5. Is Israel willing to cease ALL of its settlement activities?

Settlement activity includes transfer of Israel’s own civilian population into Palestinian occupied territory, which is a war crime and obviously prejudices the outcome of any negotiations. Israel has shown no inclination to stop.

Cessation of settlement activity is not a Palestinian precondition but an imperative based on prior obligations and international law. How can sincere negotiations take place when one party is continuously prejudicing the outcome by colonizing the other’s land? The international community, including the US, has a very firm position on the illegality of settlements and the necessity for Israel to stop. [Yes, but not firm enough. The US forgets its ‘position’ whenever resumption of negotiations is mentioned. Furthermore, it is not just a question of stopping but of giving back what has been stolen.]

6. What are the Palestinians offering from their side?

The idea of a two state solution is based on the Palestinians’ historic compromise of 1988 agreeing to a state on a measly 22% of historical Palestine for the sake of peace. This has not been enough for the Israelis, they want even more. Palestine has also joined other countries in the region in establishing the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers normalized relations for Israel with 57 Arab and Islamic countries if Israel fully withdraws from all the territories occupied since 1967, as required by international law, and complies with UNGA Resolution 194 in respect of the Palestinian refugee issue. [Palestinians should not feel obliged to offer anything. They simply want back what is theirs.]

The forgotten seventh question….

Franklin Lamb, a reliable close-up observer, writes: “Ramallah is being flooded with threats this month from Middle East envoy Tony Blair, US Secretary of State John Kerry, now on his 5th visit to the Middle East in as many months, Jordan’s King Abdullah I and reportedly several others.  The message for Mahmoud Abbas is that the Palestinian Authority risks a cut-off of funds and US disengagement from any ‘peace process’ as well as the scrapping of the rumored ‘mega economic & development  package’ which Kerry aides are currently finalizing, if Palestine goes anywhere near the International Criminal Court.

It’s a tough call for President Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters because Hamas wants Palestine to immediately file cases against Israel at the ICC and, so it appears, do a large majority of Palestinians, in Lebanon and internationally.”

Susan Rice, America’s retiring UN Ambassador, reportedly said after the UN General Assembly voted last November to admit Palestine as a non-member state, that it wasn’t going to take the Palestinians any closer to statehood, or to the ICC. The woman revealed the US administration’s hostility to meaningful progress and the pointlessness of any ‘negotiations’ brokered by America.

Why, then, are Palestinian leaders so confident that Secretary Kerry’s intentions were ever “genuine”, especially when the White House now threatens dire consequences if Palestinians exercise their new right to activate the International Criminal Court and bring charges to get Israel’s jackboot off their necks?

I’m also curious to know why the PLO says it is well aware that any eventual solution must be reached through a negotiated settlement. What is there to negotiate when so much has already been ruled upon and decided by international law and numerous UN resolutions and now waits to be implemented or enforced by the international community?

It stands to reason that the PLO, if truly speaking for the Palestinian people, need to pose a seventh question: When will the international community and the international courts discharge their solemn duty and implement or enforce all outstanding UN resolutions and international laws relating to Israel’s unlawful occupation and Palestinians’ rights? That has to be another precondition. Only when everything is on a proper footing can negotiations to settle remainder issues begin.

Forgotten strategy needs digging up and dusting off

I keep going back to a report that was relegated to the back-burner (or perhaps deliberately buried) a long time ago. It is called ‘Regaining the Initiative – Palestinian Strategic Options to End Israeli Occupation’ by the Palestine Strategy Group in August 2008 and funded by the EU. Forty-five politicians, academics, business people and others participated in the study, which is said to offer an alternative view to the “official but impotent Palestinian discourse that will very shortly, in the judgment of most Palestinians, run head-on into a brick wall”.

Which of course it did.

The 52-page, 16,500-word document has been gathering dust, one reason being (in my view) that it’s a pain to read. Even the Executive Summary runs to 5 pages, and when I tried to absorb the main body of text I nearly gave up.

However, its central plank is that Palestinians must “seize their destiny in their own hands” by refusing to enter into peace negotiations unless the international community deals first with issues relating to national self-determination, liberation from occupation, individual and collective rights, and enforces international law. Only when these priorities are recognized and actioned can peacemaking and state-building rise to the top of the agenda.

A second plank is the need for national unity. “Palestinian strategic action is impossible if the Palestinian nation is unable to speak with one voice or to act with one will.” This is so obvious yet Abbas, after his recent meeting with Kerry and hints of a partial freeze on settlements, seems to be warming to the prospect of talks while the Palestinian side is still in disarray. He never learns. Yes, the relentless pressures of occupation, and out-and-out bribery by meddlers like the US are intended to cause internal divisions and self-destruction. Yes, maintaining disunity is part of America’s scheme. But it is up to Palestinian leaders to rise above it, or quit.

How astonishing for Palestinian thinkers to produce a sensible new strategy only to wrap it up in a way that makes it difficult to take on board. “The essence of the Palestinian problem is not recognized,” grumbles the report. Little wonder. The thrust of this document might have signaled a turning-point in the decades-long struggle, but the chances of winning hearts and minds in the corridors of power, or breaking through the political ‘noise’ in Washington, London and EU capitals, with 52 pages of heavy going, were zero.

Couldn’t they have re-written and turned it into a much more user-friendly marketing tool?

Hamas, kept in the cold by Abbas, warns against the “mirage” of negotiations, calling for US economic sweeteners to be resisted. The PLO must indeed “seize their destiny”, sign up to the Rome Statute and join the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. UN member states handed them a golden opportunity by upgrading Palestine’s status, and there was no excuse for not having all the paperwork immediately ready for laying charges against Israel.

That would at least have put the international community in a tight spot for shirking its duty for too long. A lasting peace requires justice, security (not just for Israel), self-determination, respect for human rights and rule of law. These things are not negotiable. They are not matters to be haggled over. They are universal entitlements already determined by UN resolutions and enshrined in international law, and deliverable by the international community.

Meanwhile the Palestinians are free to pursue their legitimate claims in the international courts and would be silly not to. But for seven months the PLO have frittered away this hard-won impetus.

 – 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.

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