It is unreasonable to expect Palestinians to give up this nonviolent option, the author writes. | Reuters Close
By AHMAD TIBI | 9/15/11 9:24 PM EDT
The international community, the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress are all likely to be looking at a train wreck later this month — as the United States and Israel stand in the way of the Palestinian statehood effort.
President Barack Obama is delaying another people’s freedom. He’s joined by a Congress following the lead of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and also many members of both parties that implicitly — and sometimes explicitly — back Israeli colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
After 20 years of failed negotiations caused largely by Israel’s insistence on retaining parts of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as refusing to allow Palestinians the right of return, the Palestinians of the occupied territories are taking their case to the United Nations. They are refusing to allow Washington to kick the can endlessly down the road. More than 130 nations are expected to side with the Palestinians. Only a small number are expected to stand in the way.
Yet Washington is determined to place the blame for the coming confrontation on the Palestinians. This is unfair. It is unreasonable to expect Palestinians to give up this nonviolent option.
Standing in the way of Palestinian statehood is putting the U.S. squarely on the wrong side of the Arab Spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she called on other nations to “get on the right side of history” in Syria. But she appears out of step with regional developments to say this while allowing Israel to dispossess Palestinians.
Slightly more than two years ago, Obama still had the self-confidence to make the case for Palestinian statehood in his Cairo speech.
“It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians,” Obama asserted, “have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years, they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands. … They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”
He’s spent the past two years backpedaling from those remarks — and his call for “settlements to stop.” His principal negotiator, former Sen. George Mitchell, resigned, reportedly in frustration. Dennis Ross, who has overseen years of failed talks and is viewed as in Israel’s corner, is reportedly now advising the president on how to proceed on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
This is viewed by Palestinians as an obstacle to peace and Palestinian statehood. It is, however, regarded as a boon to Israeli settlers intent on entrenching themselves in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and thereby scuttling prospects for a future deal.
But Washington has failed to reckon with a key consequence of the dilatory practices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the expansionist practices of his settler allies. Their success makes it more likely the Palestinians will reject a state that is little more than a glorified series of disconnected Bantustans.
Already, a younger generation is talking less about two states and more about acknowledging the impossibility of a viable Palestinian state on land subjugated by Israel. This younger generation is beginning to talk instead about equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in one state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The idea in short: If Israel is intent on taking our land, then we will no longer stand in the way. But we will insist on one person, one vote.
When that movement emerges, Washington will most likely wonder why it didn’t press Israel more vigorously to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad regarding a fully viable Palestinian state.
Washington, in recent years, has domesticated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Politicians appear to be looking at it less in terms of whether it is good for Israelis and Palestinians and more in terms of whether it is good for reelection prospects. This is contributing to an extremely volatile situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories.
Freedom cannot be delayed forever. The question forming today is whether Palestinian resistance will manage to be nonviolent or if it will veer toward the violent aspects of the second intifada.
Many of us are pushing for nonviolent resistance — despite the lack of U.S. support for Palestinian nonviolence practitioners, many of whom have been killed, injured and imprisoned by Israeli forces in recent years.
Eighty-one members of Congress were in Israel during the August recess. Notwithstanding token encounters with Abbas and Fayyad, the visiting officials largely heard Israeli talking points, rather than being exposed to the discrimination many Palestinians face, both inside the occupied territories and Israel itself.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”
Palestinians, too, are tired of waiting and enduring the pain of watching generation after generation grow up under Israeli occupation and control.
Congress and Obama are out of step with the times in backing Israel’s endless delays to Palestinian freedom. It’s long past time to move American policy into a 21st century that provides Palestinians with the same freedom and dignity that people elsewhere enjoy.
With Israel unprepared to negotiate in good faith and in compliance with international law, it’s altogether appropriate for the United Nations to step in and recognize Palestinian statehood and freedom demands.
Ahmad Tibi is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.