As each year passes Palestinian hopes are being dampened, nay strangled. Whatever peace process there was has long been dead and buried due to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s obstinacy and President Obama’s unwillingness to force his hand on Jewish settlement creep. As of now, Palestinians on the West Bank are disillusioned with the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority (PA), whose relationship with Washington has brought them nothing, while for all its muscle-flexing Hamas has failed to liberate the Gaza Strip which is currently reeling under yet another Israeli bombing campaign.
The Palestinian people are right to feel let down not only by their own leadership but also by the U.S. and the EU, whose preoccupations lie with salvaging their economies, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and attempting to break the bloody impasse in Syria.
Palestinians would be in danger of becoming a forgotten people amid such jaundiced can’t do international stances, if it weren’t for the PA’s efforts to focus the international community’s attention on their worsening plight by seeking U.N. General Assembly recognition of Palestine as a “Non member observer state“; its earlier appeal for full U.N. membership within the Security Council was stymied by U.S. veto power. The US cannot veto decisions taken by the General Assembly and the majority of that body’s 193 member nations are generally sympathetic to the PA’s bid but on this occasion, Washington and Israel have taken to using dirty tricks.
Writing in this newspaper on Oct. 28th, author of “Children of Catastrophe” Jamal Kanj, a Palestinian-American born in a Lebanese refugee camp, revealed that he had caught sight of a US State Department confidential letter “urging EU members and other ‘friendly’ countries to help block attempts to secure non-member Observer State status at the U.N. General Assembly,” on the patently false premise that the Middle East Quartet is working toward a two-state solution. As the Independent’s foreign correspondent Robert Fisk advises, “Book a flight to Israel and take a look at the West Bank. There is no place left for Palestine.”
The letter also warned that should the PA succeed, international forums such as the International Criminal Court might be inclined to recognize Palestine as a state (rendering Israel liable to war crimes prosecutions) and threatened the EU that America would not be able to maintain “significant support for the Palestinian Authority,” a financial burden that would naturally fall to Europe.
That blackmailing missive is beneath contempt but its contents are hardly surprising. Netanyahu might not consider Obama Israel’s true friend but it’s clear that his administration either has the Jewish state’s back or is actively doing its bidding. Israeli diplomats are working the phones and scribbling away to warn General Assembly members not to vote in the PA’s favor.
Infuriated, Netanyahu says the bid’s success would be a “game-changing move” invoking punitive Israeli measures. “We’re asking all these states to make the dangerous ramifications of this move clear to the Palestinians,” he said. His henchman Avigdor Lieberman has spelled out what kind of punishment Israel has in mind; these include giving Abbas the same treatment it meted out to Yasser Arafat by declaring him “irrelevant”, canceling Palestinian work permits, ceasing the transfer of withheld taxes to the PA — and launching a program to greatly expand Jewish settlements.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman warned recognition would “irreversibly poison the atmosphere” forever closing the door on peace talks (as though that door wasn’t banged shut years ago) and accused the Palestinians of using “this recognition in an ever continuing diplomatic war they intend to wage against Israel.” Oh, those awful Palestinians! How ungrateful are these occupied people who’ve suffered brutality, humiliation and the theft of their homes and lands for over half a century to even consider embarking on a “diplomatic war”? The icing on the Israel’s government’s toxic cake is that Palestinian frustration might ignite a third intifada.
The situation is pretty bad now, but it could get much worse depending on upcoming elections in Israel and the U.S. The worse scenario would be a Netanyahu/Romney combo when the pair has recently been acting like blood brothers without a chink of light between their respective hard-line policies. Romney has insulted the Palestinian culture as being detrimental to economic growth without any mention of that filthy word “occupation.” He has blamed the Palestinian side for the lack of progress toward peace and was caught on an open mike telling his fat cat cronies that a two-state solution is dead in the water, contradicting official US policy and his own speeches crafted for public consumption.
Worse, Netanyahu is gearing up to hitch his electoral fortunes to Lieberman’s far right Israel Beitenu party in response to polls suggesting a new party of the center, formed by Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert and Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid Party, possibly backed by Shimon Peres, would dominate the Knesset. Lieberman, who harbors a plan to transfer Arab Israelis to Palestinian territories — in other words, ethnic cleansing — would automatically garner more say in government than he has now were his cabal to win. Israelis would feel uncomfortable with that idea you might think. Not so, polls show that over half back Arab-Israeli emigration while over 40 percent are averse to living in the same apartment blocks as Arabs and against their children having to share classrooms with Arab pupils.
Sadly, there’s little room for optimism but if destiny plays the right hand, all is not yet lost. Obama might pick up his shelved principles if he gets another term because his hands will no longer be tied by maneuvering for re-election. Moreover an Olmert/Livni partnership is likely to be moderate and it’s worth recalling that during negotiations between Olmert and Abbas during 2008-2009, the parties came close to sealing what was arguably an acceptable deal.
The voting populations of Israel and the U.S. hold the Palestinian’s dreams in their hands. Those of us who care can only wait and pray they won’t be crushed.
The writer is a columnist at the Saudi-based Arab News, where this article was published on Oct. 30, 2012