Friday, November 29, 2013

No Olive Branch for Palestine?

ABOUT 300 people from different parts of Britain came to Westminster on Wednesday to lobby their MPs about Palestine and the Palestinians. They came to raise awareness about issues like Israel's Prawer plan for displacing Negev Bedouin, about ethnic cleansing and house demolitions, and about settlement goods still coming into the European Union.

For those MPs who are already sympathetic to the Palestinians and their rights such lobbying by constituents can be encouraging, and let them know they are appreciated. For others - well it varies. A few years ago I was gratified by the way an MP whose affiliations are far from my own appeared ready to listen, even nodding his head in apparent agreement with some of the points I made. As he suggested I followed up my visit with a memo in writing, and some literature. Over the following months I saw little sign that he had altered his views or adopted any of the points I made in the slightest.

In contrast, some friends I joined the following year to lobby their MP found him pleasantly surprised to see so many of them concerned as they were, and they in turn were pleased a few months later to see this previously "pro-Israel"  Labour MP speaking out against the Occupation. Perhaps he had just needed their bit of encouragement.

I don't suppose many of Wednesday's lobbyists were expecting lightning conversions. But all the same, after finding MPs doubtless amiable enough, and feeling you've got them listening to reason, it is upsetting to see the latest example of Britain's contribution to peace efforts.

You and I might think that assisting Palestinians to develop their agriculture and economy, and obtain international recognition, is a good way to raise their confidence in a peaceful solution, and show that your motives in proposing a "Two state" policy are genuine. That's to say the least questionable when we're talking about the Israeli government, but what about the governments claiming to speak for us in Britain - or in Germany?
Here's Amira Hass reporting in Ha'Aretz:

Germany and Britain block Palestinian bid to join international olive trade group

    European diplomatic sources claim that letting Palestinians join the council could sabotage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
    by Amira Hass; Nov. 29, 2013

    The Palestinians have had to freeze their application to become a member state of the International Olive Council due to opposition by Germany and Britain.

    According to European diplomatic sources, German and British representatives claimed that letting the Palestinians join the council could sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian talks now taking place under American auspices. The talks’ resumption was conditioned on Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a Palestinian promise not to try to join various UN organizations, and not address the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

    The Palestinian application, which was prepared this summer by the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry in Ramallah in the name of the State of Palestine, was supposed to be voted on at an olive council meeting in Madrid this week.

    Representatives of the European External Action Service argued that the council is purely a technical organization, and therefore does not fall in the category of the organizations that the Palestinians promised not to join. Moreover, they argued, membership would give the Palestinians access to technical assistance in an industry vital to their economy. But this view didn’t sway Britain and Germany, both of which opposed the application.

    The European Union’s member states are represented on the olive council by a single joint delegation, so if these states are unable to reach a consensus on a given issue, the rule is that the EU delegation must abstain from voting.

    Therefore, despite the External Action Service’s support for their bid, the Palestinians realized that the European Union’s vote wouldn’t be cast in their favor, and preferred not to suffer a diplomatic failure. Instead, they decided to postpone their application to a more opportune moment, Palestinian officials told Haaretz.

    A German Foreign Ministry official said in a statement: “The vote in this decision has not yet taken place and will be taken by the EU, not Germany. The German position related to questions on Palestinian statehood is well known.” No British response was forthcoming.

    The Office of the European Union Representative in East Jerusalem said: “The membership to the IOC is in line with Palestinian institution-building efforts which the EU continues to support and has worked on for years. In that context, the EU looks favorably at improving Palestinian technical capacity in the olive oil sector.”

    Last October, the PA Foreign Ministry urged the International Olive Council to take urgent action to protect olive trees in the West Bank from settler attacks. It also urged the international community, and particularly members of the Quartet (the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia), to condemn these attacks.

    According to data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 10,000 Palestinian olive trees and saplings in the West Bank have been uprooted or damaged in direct attacks by Israelis since the start of 2013, up from about 8,500 in 2012.

    Asked about this issue, the Office of the European Union Representative in East Jerusalem told Haaretz: “The EU has condemned continuous settler violence towards Palestinian farmers and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. It constantly calls on the Israeli authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.”

I've supplied that emphasis. Anyone who has been to Palestine knows the importance of the olive trees to villages, and anyone who follows the news can imagine the heartache for Palestinian farmers of seeing centuries of care and toil uprooted by army bulldozers or set ablaze by vandal settlers.

And now we see the EU, and particularly the British and German governments, taking sides with the those wreaking destruction, and  so that peace talks getting nowhere can proceed. They would make a desert, and call it "peace".

If they are that worried about anything that might derail peace talks, they might consider another item of news:

Israel approves 829 new settlement units near Jerusalem

Allison Deger on November 25, 2013 15

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Netanyahu announced then quickly cancelled an order to build 20,000 new settlement units. He had angered American officials, pressed their limits, and then tabled Israeli expansion into the West Bank when it seemed the negotiations process was on the line. But today Peace Now announced Netanyahu is moving forward with the settlement project, approving over 800 new units north of Jerusalem in the neighborhoods of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit, Nokdim and Amihai.

From the AFP:

    ‘The construction of 829 homes has been approved by a committee of the Israeli military in charge of the West Bank,’ said Lior Amihai, a Peace Now official.

    ‘This is yet another move that threatens to derail the peace process,’ Amihai told AFP.

    Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has warned that ongoing settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories threatens the future of Middle East peace talks, which stand at an impasse little more than three months after they began.

    The new homes would be built north of Jerusalem in the settlements of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit and Nokdim, Amihai said.

The new homes are not just being plonked down anywhere in the West Bank, nor on sites chosen for their view. Nor is it a matter of meeting demand for housing, for people will have to be found to fill them, and given incentives to move. The plan approved by the military is to reinforce a barrier being built between the present Palestinian Authority centre at Ramallah, and the rightful capital in East Jerusalem. It also helps divide the Palestinian West Bank into two.

      Ari Shavit said it was a ploy to a end to a two-state solution. “The trend is clear: Within a short time the number of settlers will increase dramatically, as will their ability to block any attempt to divide the land. If it continues this way, the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government will put an end to the two-state solution, the Jewish democratic entity, and the Zionist dream,” the author of My Promised Land wrote in Haaretz.

That depends what "dream" you mean. As a warning Shavit's lament is already obsolete. So far as the right-wing settlers' leaders are concerned, the idea of sharing the country with anyone as equals, in whatever form or arrangement of states, is out, and democracy can be dispensed with too. They have little respect for Israeli citizens who will not join them , let alone Palestinians. They are building up their base of influence in the state, and talking to Washington hawks. It's not hard to see where they get their confidence.

There'll need to be some vigorous lobbying and campaigning to change the direction of Western help.  

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