Witness to a mugging - Irfan Husain - Saturday, January 29, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

Emotionally, the leaked Palestinian papers conjure up the image of a person being mugged: while the victim is held down by the United States, Israel administers a beating and takes his valuables. But even after it has taken everything, it keeps demanding more from the bruised and bloodied Palestinians.

The concessions the Palestinian negotiating team has offered thus far exceed anything we had believed possible. But the fact that these humiliating offers have been spurned repeatedly by Israel indicates that it is expecting the Palestinian side to give up even more.

While the whole sordid saga as revealed by the leaked documents Al Jazeera has made public makes my blood boil, I am objective enough to see that it is an accurate reflection of the wide disparity between the power of the two parties. While Israel is armed to the hilt by the United States and enjoys open-ended diplomatic and financial support from the world’s sole superpower, the Palestinians are alone and friendless.

The Arabs have been despicably two-faced: while paying lip service to the concept of a Palestinian state, they have consistently failed to deliver on their promises of financial aid. Diplomatically, they have generally avoided offending their American patron and have had public and secret dealings with Israel at the expense of Palestine.

But in a sense, the predicament the Palestinians find themselves in today is largely the fault of neighbouring Arab countries that invaded the newly created state of Israel in 1948. Thrashed by a small force of Jewish soldiers, the defeated armies of Jordan and Egypt gave Israel an excuse to force out thousands of Palestinians and grab their land and their homes.

The next chapter of the nakba, or great catastrophe, came in 1967 when the armies of Egypt and Syria were routed in the Six
Day War. This resulted in the present-day occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Instead of acknowledging their own incompetence and the consequences that flowed from it, the Egyptians have done everything to make the situation worse for the Palestinians by conniving with Israel in the blockade of Gaza.

It is against this backdrop that the concessions offered by the Palestinian Authority should be viewed. With the Americans and the Israelis both applying intense pressure, and without political support from the Arabs, the PA has few options. There are many — usually outside Palestine — who would prefer to fight to the last Palestinian rather than make the kind of concessions that have come to light. But these people do not have to suffer the daily humiliations and deprivations imposed by Israeli occupation.

Hamas is, of course, the big winner from the Al Jazeera leaks. This hard-line party can now claim the moral high ground while Fatah is exposed as a craven bunch of cowards who would trade Palestinian rights, land and honour for narrow political gains.

Domestically, the Israeli leadership must be basking in glory as it has been shown to have squeezed the Palestinians until they conceded some of their most fundamental positions. The country’s Peace Now movement has shrunk to irrelevance as Israel has moved steadily to the right.

The reality is that Israel does not want to trade land for peace when it can have them both. Or if not peace, then a sullen acceptance of the occupation will do just fine. Under American pressure and the Israeli demand for an end to the intifada before peace talks can resume, the PA has cracked down brutally on Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters in the West Bank. This has led to the lowest level of violence in years.

Despite this, Israel is still refusing to engage in meaningful talks. And in spite of Obama’s demand to stop further construction on occupied land, Netanyahu’s government has stuck to its hard-line position and forced the American administration to back down. This reflects the realities of domestic American politics, in which Israel supporters have been punching above their weight for years.

Another thing to emerge from the papers is that British intelligence colluded actively with Israel and the PA to crack down on Hamas. So to the opening metaphor of a mugging, we can add another figure restraining the victim.

Having vented, let me add that negotiations imply give-and-take, although in this case it is the Palestinians who are doing the giving and the Israelis the taking. But under the circumstances, what can the PA do except discuss possibilities that might lead to statehood?

In the longer term, however, the leaks might strengthen the Palestinian case as they reveal an Israel uninterested in peace except on its own rigid conditions, including control over most of Jerusalem and retention of most of the illegal settlements it has feverishly been building. Equally importantly, it has pressured the PA into accepting the right of return for only a tiny number of refugees.

The international community — and perhaps even the United States — might think that if Israel is unwilling to strike a deal despite all these concessions, other options ought to be explored. The most promising among these is a unilateral declaration of statehood by the PA and its endorsement by the United Nations. Already a number of states have recognised Palestine’s right to statehood, so if a critical mass develops even the United States might be persuaded not to veto the emergence of Palestine in the Security Council.

One of the documents records a conversation between Tzipi Livni, the erstwhile Israeli foreign minister, and the Palestinian negotiating team. The Times reports on the meeting: “Ms Livni reportedly told the Palestinian negotiating team that international law would not be included in the terms of reference for the talks. ‘I was the Minister of Justice’, she said. ‘But I am against law — international law in particular.’”

That says it all for a country that has been operating outside the law for years, and getting away with it.


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