Sunday, September 18, 2011

Make governments recognise Palestine

PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas is leading a delegation to the UN in New York this week to seek international recognition for Palestinian statehood. Should this be blocked at the Security Council, by the United States' veto, it will go on to the UN General Assembly, where it should at least gain support from near 130 countries which have to some extent already recognised Palestine.

The first thing to say about this step is that it is not only justified, but long overdue.

It was on November 29 , 1947, that the United Nations General Assembly voted for Resolution 181, proposing that as Britain withdrew from its Palestine Mandate, the country be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states, with a UN protected international zone around Jerusalem.
Among the villages that lay in that protected zone was Deir Yassin, scene of the infamous massacre by Zionist forces on April 9, 1948, which helped send thousands of Palestinians fleeing in terror.

The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 15, 1948, and promptly recognised by the United States and the Soviet Union. Though Arab armies entered Palestine, the Israeli state emerged from war with a larger share of the land than it had been allocated by partition, and thousands of Palestinians denied the right to return became homeless and stateless refugees. By agreement with the Israeli state which they pretended not to recognise, Egypt took the Gaza strip , and Jordan got the West Bank.

Palestine was wiped off the official map. The great powers spoke only of guaranteeing the armistice lines as "secure borders between Israel and neighbouring states", and it was not until young Palestinians began waging armed struggle that the world was reminded there was a people called Palestinians. Even then, Israeli leaders and their allies tried to insist there was "no such thing", while doing everything they could to suppress them.

In 1967, Israeli forces were able to seize and occupy both the Gaza strip and West Bank, as well as the Golan and Sinai. But this time Palestinians stood their ground. And it was after the 1973 war, which led to Egypt and Israel negotiating return of the Sinai, that Yasser Arafat declared the PLO would establish a state in any part of Palestine from which the Zionist enemy was forced to withdraw. This was an assertion of independence from the Arab states as much as from the Zionists. It may also be seen as a seed of the Two State policy, by which a Palestinian state could co-exist with Israel, with mutual recognition.

It was Said Hammami, the PLO's man in Britain, who began to raise that vision openly, and for this he was assassinated. He was not to be the only one on either side who paid that price. Israeli prme minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Zionist religious fanatic for having been prepared to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Indeed, there were two wars in Lebanon, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, aimed if not at wiping out the Palestinians, at breaking their will and spirit and erasing the PLO as a factor to be reckoned with. It didn't work. And the first Intifada in occupied Palestine, from 1987, made it clear that Israel could neither silence the people with brute force nor find sufficient stooges through which to rule them.

In 1988, the PLO leadership took the step of proclaiming a Palestinian state. Then in 1993 the Israeli government which had previously objected to any negotiations, and even jailed citizens for meeting with Palestinian organisations, revealed itself partner in the Oslo Accords. However inadequate the agreements, providing for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns and limits on settlements, and allowing some Palestinians to return, they were seen as paving the way for Palestinian recognition and statehood. Alas it was not to be. US president Clinton told Yasser Arafat to delay a declaration of statehood. And President Arafat ended up humiliated, a prisoner in his own compound.

Much has happened since, and too much blood been spilt. Israeli siege and war on Gaza, and expansion of West Bank settlements, dividing the West Bank into beleaguered enclaves and creating a ring around Jerusalem, have led many people to see no hope of "two states" or indeed any other peaceful solution.

But now Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues are making a fresh attempt. Many Palestinians have understandable doubts about Abbas as well as fears that a compromise might leave out the Palestinian Diaspora and refugees, or settle for a mockery of statehood. But there are also those hoping that the upheavals in the Middle East may compel Israel's Western backers, if not their stubborn protege, to re-evaluate the balance of forces (Note that they have given up on expectations of moral considerations). The West claims to want freedom in Libya and Syria (though not Bahrain) so why not Palestine? We've seen the popular feeling in Egypt lead quickly to the Israeli embassy in flames. But hitherto stalwart US allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also anxious for change.

So far the signs are not good. The US Senate, apparently paying more attention to the AIPAC Zionist lobby than to America's allies, insists the US should veto Palestine's bid. President Obama spoke of a solution within 1967 borders, but made no move to restrain Netanyahu expanding settlements. Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian diplomat and member of Abbas's team said he "gulped" when he saw US proposals for new negotiations with no mention of settlements, Jerusalem, or refugees. The US, he said, was "not a neutral observer, but a strategic ally of Israel".

As for Britain and the "quartet"'s so called "peace envoy" Tony Blair(!) "Mr Blair doesn't sound like a neutral interlocutor, he sounds very much like an Israeli diplomat sometimes," he said. In contrast, "the Europeans have played a much more serious and positive game. The Europeans were seriously engaged." But the EU had failed to unite around a common position and "they are also being threatened by the US".

Indeed Palestinians cannot have forgotten that EU Foreign Policy chief Kathy Ashton last year called for Israel to be raised to a "strategic partner", just as now she talks glibly about "staying the peace process".

The British government has officially not yet made its mind up over the Palestinian bid for recognition, though if true to form it will wait for Washington to make its mind up for it. But there is just a chance it might see advantages in taking an independent position. Especially if enough voices are raised in support of Palestinian rights. The Israel Lobby here is not as strong as in the United States, nor as unwavering.

Whatever the concerns and legitimate debate there may be among Palestinians as to whether this is the right move right now, there can be no doubt from our side of their right to make it. Palestinians are a people. They have a right to freedom and a right to recognition. They have a right to take their place among the nations.

We have a duty to support their efforts and demand our governments stop backing the longest occupation. It's the least we can do.

Here are a couple of online petitions:

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