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Dr Musa A Keilani: Action is needed, not criticism
October 04, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Instead of halting settlement construction, Israel has announced plans to add another 1,100 homes to the settlement of Gilo in occupied Arab East Jerusalem. The announcement laid bare Israel’s real intentions. The European Union and the United States have condemned the Gilo project. China, Egypt, Russia and other major powers have added their voice to the criticism of Israel.

The Israeli announcement was meant to abort any potentiality for negotiations with the Palestinians who had earlier announced that there should be a moratorium on settlement activity before any direct talks. But at a different stratum, the Palestinian bid for recognition of their state by the United Nations is going ahead as expected, with hopes that they would be able to garner the required nine votes in the UN Security Council which would lead to a US move to veto the draft resolution.

According to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Malki, the Palestinians have secured so far eight Security Council (Yes) votes for their UN membership bid, just one short of the nine they need. The eight are Lebanon, Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria and Gabon. To guarantee more support, Malki is due to visit Bosnia shortly, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Colombia, Portugal, Honduras and the Dominican Republic this month.

A US veto against the Palestinian move is reported to be a certainty since the Obama speech at the UN General Assembly has signalled that the Democratic administration has already started its re-election campaign domestically and is in dire need of all Aipac support. But the Security Council endorsement of Palestinian statehood will be a historic turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ought to bring many new elements to the quest for peace in Palestine based on a two-state solution. Consequently, a US veto need not be seen as that bad since the move will expose the reality that Washington has run out of ideas to work out an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It will be yet another admission in public that the US administration of President Barack Obama is incapable of applying pressure on Israel to accept fairness and justice as the basis for a peace accord with the Palestinians.

A majority support in the Security Council and a veto by the US will place Washington in a tight corner, putting at risk the credibility of Washington among the Arabs who had listened earlier to Obama’s Cairo speech.

While no one doubts Obama’s sincerity in the push for peace in Palestine, he is constrained by political imperatives on the domestic front from twisting the Israeli arm. The expected US veto will reveal that other players have to emerge as active players in the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The US and Israel will resist calls for Europeans and others to assume a political role in the so-called Middle East peace process, but they will face increased pressure in the wake of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Washington wants to retain sole control of the “peace process,” and hence the international Quartet’s proposal that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resume in one month’s time, with an agreement that it should be concluded by the end of 2012 deadline.

The Quartet proposal is a smokescreen for the US failure to broker a peace agreement and is also aimed at warding off suggestions that other countries also play a political role in the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Now that the Palestinians’ request has gone before the Security Council, there is not much American enthusiasm over the Quartet’s proposal since both Israel and the Palestinians have responded cautiously to it.

Israel said it was studying the offer and the Palestinians emphasised that they will not resume peace negotiations without a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories.

But such criticism is not new to Israel, which believes that it is entitled to having its own laws and code of international behaviour because of the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the Holocaust as well as the “status” of Jews as the “chosen people.”

As the quest for votes in favour of the Palestinians continues at the UN Security Council, focus has also shifted to Palestinian state building. The process suffered several setbacks in recent times, but Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has done a good job of setting in place state institutions that have drawn praise from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) says that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian land was costing the Palestinian economy at least $4.35 billion and this money could otherwise be used to ensure a healthy financial surplus and end their dependence on foreign aid.

According to a report prepared by the PNA, a series of non-security related restrictions on access to natural resources, including water, Dead Sea minerals and farmland have shrunk the economy of the West Bank and Gaza to little more than half of what it could be.

It said that Israel has gone out of its way to exploit Palestinian resources for its own benefit while imposing constraints designed “to prevent any Palestinian competition with Israeli economic interests.”

While it is indeed the “cheapest occupation in the world,” as Palestinian Economy Minister Hasan Abu Libdeh phrased it, it is also the “most profitable occupation,” since the Palestinian territories remain a captive market for Israeli goods.

Israel uses 10 times as much of the water from West Bank aquifers as the Palestinians. Abu Libdeh said that while 620,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, cultivated 6,500 hectares of irrigated agricultural crops, charges for water and electricity are up to 50 per cent higher for Palestinians even though they use their own terrain and natural resources.

As the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic wrangling continues, Israel could only be expected to impose more restrictions on the Palestinians living in the occupied territories. The international community should recognise this truth and should move and help the Palestinians with nation building parallel to possible peace negotiations.

THE AUTHOR A FORMER JORDANIAN AMBASSADOR, IS THE CHIEF EDITOR OF AL URDUN WEEKLY, IN AMMAN.

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