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Dr Musa A Keilani: Little prospect of a fair, just settlement
November 28, 2010
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It is becoming increasingly clear to the world that there is little prospect of a fair and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli parliament’s (Knesset) adoption of a bill stipulating that any withdrawal from “annexed territory” should have a two-third majority Knesset support or, in the absence of such support, be endorsed by the people of Israel has placed yet another major hurdle in the way of an acceptable peace agreement on the Palestinian and Syrian fronts. The “annexed territory” includes occupied Arab East Jerusalem of the Palestinians and the Golan Heights of Syria.

The Israeli parliament is dominated by hawkish parties which reject any “compromise” with the Palestinians. There is no question of a hypothetical peace agreement calling for Israel giving up even a part of Arab East Jerusalem getting a two-thirds majority in the Knesset. When it comes to the issue being put to a referendum, it is clear that Israelis favouring relinquishing Arab East Jerusalem would be a small minority. That will also be the case with the Golan Heights, which many Israelis consider as vital to their country’s security. Furthermore, the strategic plateau contains the source of two thirds of Israel’s water consumption.

The overriding factor here is that Israel has reserved for itself the right to decide the future of territory it seized through the use of military force in defiance of the UN Charter and all relevant international laws and conventions. It is an open challenge to the rest of the world although few government leaders would declare it to be so in public. Where does the so-called peace process stand today? Nowhere, given the obstacles placed by Israel in the way of peace negotiations.

It has ruled out returning Arab East Jerusalem to the Palestinians and this makes it impossible for any Palestinian leader to enter peace negotiations. Then there is the issue of refugees and their rights. Although it has agreed to discuss the fate of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, but it would not budge from its position against respecting their right to return to their ancestral land or receive compensation for the properties they lost. As far as Israel is concerned, the problem of refugees has become an Arab and international problem. It has suggested that the countries hosting the refugees could absorb them into their populations.

Of course, Israel would have no objections if the issue of compensation is worked out without its involvement, meaning that the international community shoulders the responsibility. But that is neither here nor there. In any event, as things stand today, whatever is happening on the front of peace negotiations is a farce. Israel is indeed ready to resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians, particularly that is has received many sweeteners — in fact nothing but bribe — in the form of diplomatic assurances and a free military package that includes some 20 advanced fighter aircraft.

As far as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned, Israel could resume peace talks anytime and keep the Palestinians dangling on a string for decades to come without offering them anything. The Palestinian leaders say they would not renew peace talks without a freeze in settlement construction in the occupied territories, including Arab East Jerusalem. It is clear that the US would somehow work out a compromise and coerce the Palestinians back into peace negotiations.

Under the US proposal, there would be a 90-day freeze in settlement construction during which Israel and the Palestinians would work out an agreement on their borders. The idea is that setting out the borders would solve half the problem because both sides would know what they would be getting in a final agreement and this would end the dispute over settlements and clear the way for solutions to other issues.

We fail to see the ground for the US optimism. The Israelis and Palestinians have been negotiating on and off for 19 years but could not reach any agreement. How then it could be expected the two sides will work out an agreement in three months?

Isn’t it also clear that Israel, which is in an entrenched position by virtue of its physical control of the Palestinian territories, would only seek to dictate its terms to the Palestinians? How could any Palestinian leader accept an agreement that would simply mean signing away the rights of his people once and for all? Any resumption of peace negotiations under the present conditions would be a wasted exercise.

The conditions need to be changed and this could come only moves that shake the foundations of the status quo. One of those moves should definitely be an end to the Palestinian dependence on the US. The Palestinians should assert their rights as a people who seek self-determination and independence under the UN Charter and other relevant conventions. Only then, there would be any chance of a shake-up of the status quo that would serve Palestinian interests.

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