Edition 2: No. 101
Voting for Palestinian Statehood
Palestine Update returns after a gap of several months – partly owing to work pre-occupations and partly because of some technical glitches in Mailchimp through which I used to dispatch the Update. From henceforth, Palestine Update will reach you every Sunday with news and analysis from alternative sources.
In the months that Palestine Update has been out of circulation, striking developments have defined the situation in Palestine Israel. The Gaza War was the most dramatic among these developments. 2168 people were killed and well over 250,000 displaced. Losses in the amount of US$8.2 billion were estimated. Of this, over US$ 5 billion has been pledged as reconstruction aid.
Global donors pledged several billions of dollars in aid to the devastated Gaza Strip, on Sunday, despite warnings that the coastal enclave remained a “tinderbox”, following Israel’s relentless bombardment of the region and a fragile ceasefire still in effect. Even as that aid is announced, donors worry whether they will be compelled to re-gather again in a couple of years to pledge more aid to the remnants of another war that Israel might wage on the people of Gaza. If history were to repeat itself, it is no more than two years before Israel launches another assault on Gaza. This alone presses home the imperative for a robust and durable peace process based on UN resolutions and international law. This must be monitored by independent and reliable actors and mediators in the community of nations; not just the powerful nations whose inaction has allowed so much death and destruction in Palestine.
It’s not as if Gaza were the only crisis to strike the Palestinian people. The West Bank and East Jerusalem have been under constant onslaught from the Israeli army and armed settlers. An incomparable number of Palestinians have been taken prisoners many under the loathsome provision of administrative detention which allows for Israel to take people into custody without any stated reason and keep them in prison for extended periods of time without trial.
Prison conditions have rapidly fallen and human rights violations in prison are commonplace. The numbers of child prisoners have mounted too and their vulnerability has shocked the world, but not enough to cause stringent interventions. Settlements have grown and continue to expand with utter contempt for the international laws that are violated in the process.
Palestinians hope that dialogue will yield results and that the international community will take other political steps that can impact the situation and bring an end to the occupation. The Swedish decision to recognize Palestine is matched with steps to set a deadline at the UN Security Council for a time-bound end to the occupation with due respect for 1967 borders. And the British Parliament will today debate and vote on a non-binding resolution to recognize Palestine.
Clearly, the mood of the street is also swinging in favour of Palestine and against the occupation. Images from war in Gaza were gruesome and pushed those on the fence into the Palestinian camp. Others crossed over and, those already, with the Palestinians remain steadfast to the cause of justice. Student Unions and trade unions are quickly moving to remove assets of their funds from Israeli economic interests. Churches and other establishments including academia are initiating economic, cultural, and academic boycotts. The BDS is even catching up in Palestine after the Gaza war with a large number of Palestinians boycotting Palestinian products.
It seems like the time is ripe for political transformation and for Israel to surrender the lands it has stolen. How much more violence must Palestinians experience before they can see peace? At least three generations of Palestinians have grown up under occupation. It has caused them to be reconciled to their oppression. Instead, it has instilled a fierce determination to struggle peacefully and non-violently for an end to the occupation. At the same time, the Gaza war teaches a lesson – that if Israel insists on violent suppression, they will retaliate. In the final analysis they want their freedom with justice and dignity.
Do read the article and analysis on the British decision on recognizing Palestine which accompanies this update.
A historic vote on Palestine in the British Parliament
Editor, Middle East Eye
Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in Britain. Few are in a better position to chart the draining of support than the Israeli ambassador to Britain. Daniel Taub was born and educated here and has only to compare the benign views about Israel of his youth with the cold, unvarnished judgments of today.
Gone is the rose-tinted vision of Israel as an island of democracy in a sea of irrational and violent Arabs. Gone is the belief that Israel wants to negotiate, if only it could find a partner to talk to. Gone, too, is the notion that there is symmetry in this conflict, that this is a battle between equal forces.
This is not the effect of a larger Muslim community. All Britons today are more likely to be aware of the 14,000 settlements Israel approved during its nine month peace talks with the Palestinians; to wonder where a Palestinian state is going to go, with more than 600,000 settlers in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank; to acknowledge the insouciant racism of Israeli discourse about non-Jews; to recoil at the cost in Palestinian civilian lives of Israel’s definition of its own security.
The more Israel insists that its supporters choose between their liberalism and their Zionism, the weaker its case becomes that the two can co-exist. Britons are losing faith that a solution is just around the corner. The idea of Israel is changing in the minds of its allies. It is no longer a cause. It is becoming heavy baggage.
Monday’s vote in parliament to recognize Palestine as a state does not therefore come out of the blue. Neither did the largest ever demonstration seen in Britain on this conflict during the recent Gaza war. Nor did the resignation of the Foreign Office minister Lady Warsi, the highest placed British politician yet to resign over the UK’s “morally indefensible” stance over Gaza. Warsi was no George Galloway, a figure on the political fringe. She remains a mainstream politician who was courted by the two other political parties after her resignation.
Therefore her plea in the Observer on Sunday to recognise the state of Palestine carries political as well as moral force:
There is a lack of political will and our moral compass is missing,” the former Foreign Office minister told the Observer. “There are no negotiations, there is no show in town. Somehow we have to breathe new life into these negotiations, and one of the ways we can do that is by recognizing the state of Palestine.
The vote will be a symbolic one. A Palestinian state is a virtual concept, and it has already been recognized by 134 states, most recently by Sweden. But there is nothing symbolic or theoretical about the pressure applied by the Israel lobby on MPs of all parties to toe the line, but particularly a Labour Party led Ed Miliband. The vote in favor would amount to an historic act of defiance with an ally used to dictating the terms of the debate.
Israel and America’s argument that recognition and the reluctant, faltering moves by Mahmoud Abbas to join UN institutions like the International Criminal Court, would prejudice the outcome of meaningful talks is holed below the water line. There are no meaningful talks. What greater prejudice to the outcome of a negotiated solution could there be than the monthly announcements of settlements, which unlike moves in the UN, take immediate concrete shape, and for which Israel pays no cost? Who does more to de-legitimize the state of the Israel, than the state of Israel itself? As the former foreign secretary William Hague himself said, how long can this go on without the two state solution dying. It is by all appearances already dead. It will not take much before the coroner issues its death certificate.
Warsi revealed the support she got for her position from the “highest levels” of the Foreign Office after her resignation. She accurately described the vice like grip on policy by a small group of politicians “who are not allowing public opinion, ministerial views, parliamentary views and the views of the people who work in this system”
This is not a debate about outcomes, a one or a two state solution. It is about the ability of Israel to fashion and limit the international debate; to ensure that debate takes place only within narrowly defined parameters; to ensure that it continues to enjoy impunity for its actions; to nullify the international pressure on it to come to the table.
Occupation, as Abbas has himself said, is cost free to the occupiers. The strategy by all members of the international community has now got to be to start making the occupation more expensive. This debate and the vote will be an important start.