‘There is Still Time to Separate’?

By Terry Lacey – Jakarta

The mythological Ousalam bird became extinct because its mating dance was so complicated that it forgot the reason for doing it. Now we enter a new phase in the Middle East Peace talks in which the objective will be to dance as beautifully as possible, for as long as possible. We start to see what we long suspected, that it may be too late for the twin state.

What an interesting quotation on Al Jazeera, from Michael Williams the new UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East. Did he not say the words “There is still time to separate”?

But it may be too late to separate. The walls, barriers and balkanization, apparent evidence of separation between Israelis and Palestinians, partly justified by security, may mean its impossible to create a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just told the UN Security Council that Briton Michael Williams was named as new UN special coordinator for the Middle East.

He will be the UN envoy to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization as well as the quartet of Middle East advisers, which includes the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

But the power of the Palestinian Authority and PLO based in Ramallah is limited to the balkanized West Bank and it lacks electoral legitimacy. Hamas has the political initiative and was elected.

Ban, in a letter to the council, also said Williams would coordinate "all UN activities on the ground related to the Middle East peace process, with the aim of ensuring that the United Nations contribution is fully integrated and coordinated."

That Michael Williams is to be based in Jerusalem, with his experience of the UN system, Amnesty International and the Balkans,  is most welcome, as was President Obama´s appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East Mediator with his experience of Northern Ireland, and of negotiating political progress, alongside tackling terrorism, without banning the political movement involved.

The track record of these new advisors points in the direction of dealing with the inter-action between complex inter-communal problems and the institutionalization of special political solutions to meet the needs of contending communities, including power-sharing and the politics of federation. There are hints of new horizons.

This changing of the guard also recognizes the importance of having feet on the ground. It is facts on the ground that will decide the parameters for peace.

The Pope visiting Bethlehem saw for himself the walls, barriers and barbed war blockading the Palestinians into separated enclaves, with the roads to Jerusalem barred, the West Bank divided into North, South and the Jordan Valley, and the diminishing bailiwick of Bethlehem separated from all of it, losing hope and people.

And of course the Gaza Strip is totally separated from the West Bank, politically, administratively and economically.

The Israeli lines of communication mainly run East-West through the West Bank, with modern fast roads strategically linking Israeli settlements and military posts to Israel, whilst the old Palestinian lines of communication run North-South, totally truncated by road-blocks and barriers.

The Israeli settlements are strategically placed to dominate hill-tops and ridges.

The Israeli urban planners have also widened the land corridor through the West Bank linking Jerusalem to the rest of Israel, with a second parallel road on the North side near Ramallah, plus complex road engineering on the South side to ensure Israeli communications with Israeli settlements in and around Hebron.

Although the Pope strongly supported in Bethlehem the creation of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to endorse the twin state, (Jakarta Post and AP 15.05.09) and argues that the Palestinians are not ready to have their own state.

This is rather like the Director of a penal institution arguing that the prisoners with life sentences are not ready to get out of jail. 

But with what long-term objectives?
– Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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