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Dr Musa A Keilani: Walling the peace process
December 27, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The expressions of condemnation made by 14 out of the 15 members of the UN Security Council of Israel’s stepped-up settlement construction in the occupied territories have put the finger on the pulse of the impasse in the quest for peace in Palestine.

The United States stood out on its own for its refusal to allow condemnation of the Israeli policy of settlement building and it represented only itself in staying away from the public statements made by almost all regional blocs represented on the Security Council after a closed-door meeting recently.

Speaking out against Israel were representatives of four European Union (EU) member countries, Russia, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab Group and the group of emerging powers that includes India, Brazil and South Africa.

“The viability of the Palestinian state that we want to see and the two-state solution that is essential for Israel’s long-term security are threatened by the systematic and deliberate expansion of settlements,” added a European statement read after the meeting by Britain’s UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant.

“We condemn the disturbing escalation of violence by settlers including the burning of the Nebi Akasha mosque in West Jerusalem and the Burqa mosque in the West Bank. It is clear that these deliberately provocative attacks on places of worship were designed to aggravate tensions.”

All the Security Council member states — except of course the US — also expressed grave concern over Jewish settler violence against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and Israel’s inaction against the culprits behind the recent wave of attacks on Muslim and Christian places of worship, Palestinians and Palestinian property.

But their frustration over the protective US umbrella over Israel was evident. As Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin phrased it, things will not work out “miraculously” on their own; that was a punch at the US, which says a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem could come only through negotiations. Of course, no one disagrees with that. However, the problem is the lack of a clear set of terms of reference for negotiations, including what the process should be seeking and what the issues at stake are.

Israel knows well that adopting terms of reference would mean agreeing that the final objective of the process of negotiations is the creation of an independent Palestinian state, something that the Jewish state rejects despite its talk of accepting the two-state solution. And so it says, let’s talk without preconditions.

The only Palestinian precondition is a freeze in Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories where they wish to set up their independent state. As long as Israel refuses to accept that demand, there is little chance of resumed negotiations. The Palestinian position is not based on a belief that a freeze of construction would mean the possibility of some of the settlements being dismantled in a final status agreement, but it would be a token of Israel’s sincerity in seeking an agreement through negotiations.

Seen from whatever vantage point and perspective, there is no doubt that the Palestinians are the underdogs and Israel holds the upper hand in any negotiation. The Palestinians are far too weak and without setting out terms of reference they would never get a fair settlement through negotiations.

But Israel calls its own preconditions. Well, we cannot expect it to do otherwise. However, Israel’s defiance has undermined the credibility of the administration of US President Barack Obama — and those of his predecessors — to the point that it is forced into adopting contradictory postures. While it says it supports the two-state solution, it is forced into actions and statements that are not compatible with that position.

It says it opposes settlement building in the occupied territories, but it would not allow criticism of the Israeli policy of settlement construction in the Palestinian land.

If anything, whatever the US hopes to do in the context of the quest for peace in Palestine, it always ends up, due to Israeli manipulation, to become a severe blow to the Palestinian struggle for independence and statehood.

It would appear that some groups in the UN Security Council — particularly the EU member countries — have realised that their postures are not much different from that of the US. They speak in support of the Palestinian cause, but move to a neutral corner, if not to Israel’s side, when it comes to practical action at the UN.

Perhaps that realisation could explain the strong tone of the statements made at the UN on Tuesday. Some of them were trying to make up for their opposition to the Palestinian bid for UN membership. They seem to have been embarrassed by their hypocrisy and probably the strong condemnation of Israel’s settlement policy and settlers’ violence was their way of trying to make it up to the Palestinians.

The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of Al Urdun weekly in Amman.


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