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The future of Palestine

November 25, 2011

FOR a variety of reasons, the cause of Palestine's claim to statehood faces a grim future today. The Palestinians were quite resigned to losing their battle for a two-thirds majority support in the United Nations Security Council, of 15 members, for their application for full membership of the UN, Harriet Sherwood of The Guardian reported three weeks ago from Jerusalem.

The US will be spared the embarrassment of having to use a veto. The 193-member General Assembly can only approve upgraded observer status, but not full membership.

It is perhaps wrong to think that exercise of a veto would have embarrassed the US. In pre-election year it would have come as a boon for President Barack Obama whose sympathies for Israel were well advertised during his presidential campaign in 2008. He won 78 per cent of the Jewish votes. He will do nothing to weaken that asset. It is vain, therefore, to expect any help from the US even for a significant improvement in the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

The powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supports the hawks in Israel. The news organisation, J Street, formed in Washington, D.C. by Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former government official, to counter AIPAC, cannot alter the situation very much.

Within Israel there has been a radical shift to the hard-line stand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has stipulated conditions in addition to the old ones; for example that the Palestinians should not only accept Israel as a state but also as “a Jewish state”. This implies necessarily that they acquiesce in its claims to “the Biblical State of Israel”; accept an inferior status for Arabs in Israel and wipe out their own identity forged by history.

Indeed, Israel's supporters like Henry A. Kissinger go so far as to ask the Palestinians to abandon any assertion of having been wronged by Jewish immigrants. At the time of the partition resolution of the UN General Assembly in 1947, there were a mere 630,000 Jews in Palestine facing about 1.3 million Palestinian Arabs. No Palestinian Arab can possibly submit to such Stalinist rewriting of history. Recognition of Israel's existence as a state is one thing. It is another to deny the historical fact of the forcible occupation of Arab lands by the Jews.

It is in this context that one must view the 1,600 documents disclosed by the TV news channel, Al Jazeera, on Jan 23 this year. In June 2008, the chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei proposed that “Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem” except for the Jewish district known as Har Homa. Besides his Israeli interlocutors, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was also present when Qurei made this astounding offer boasting “this is the first time in history that we make such a proposition.”

The disclosures were no great feat. Transcripts of talks between representatives of the Palestine Authority (PA) and Israel were drawn up for the former by officials of the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit (NSU) which has provided technical and legal support for the Palestinian negotiators. The NSU is heavily funded by the British government via the Adam Smith Institute. Britain and the US extensively back up the PA's security apparatus. Arab-American lawyers were on the NSU's staff. Till last year the unit was run by Andrew Kuhn of the Adam Smith Institute. Il n'y aura pas d'État Palestinien The Guardian

Ziyad Clot, a French-Palestinian lawyer, on the NSU's staff, also prepared some documents as did another staffer Zeinah Salahi. Their paths diverged. Salahi went on to work for the American embassy in Cairo. Ziyad Clot returned to France and wrote a book in which he bared his anguish. Its title was ('There will be no Palestinian State'). A couple of days after Al Jazeera's disclosures, Seumas Milne and Ian Black reported in that the “PA leadership has come to be regarded by many Palestinians as illegitimate or unrepresentative”.

In an article some months ago, Ziyad Clot confirmed this view after a stay of 11 months in Ramallah: “The PLO was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.” How can one expect the Hamas, for instance, to trust the PA unless it modifies its stand? However, national reconciliation is imperative if Palestine's cause is not to languish.

In his letter of resignation from the NSU Ziyad Clot pointed out the futility of the entire peace process since the Oslo accords. It has aggravated divisions among the Palestinians, enabled Israel to build settlements on Arab lands and presented to the world a deceptive façade. He was more blunt in his book: “The peace process is a spectacle, a farce, played to the detriment of Palestinian reconciliation, at the cost of the bloodshed in Gaza.” Personal Witness

In truth, the Palestinians have faced betrayal by leaders of Arab states even before the establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948 and since. The former foreign minister of Israel, Abba Eban exposed their perfidy in his memoirs : “Golda Meir [later prime minister of Israel] in Arab dress had crossed the Jordan on May 11 to renew her dialogue with Emir Abdullah, the ruler of Transjordan … in November 1947, he had secretly promised to occupy only the areas of Palestine that were not designated as part of the Jewish state.”

Eban also disclosed that Anwar Sadat's “devotion to the Palestinian cause was perfunctory and unconvincing … Egypt showed little interest in the West Bank and Gaza … The unpleasant truth is that the Israeli treaty undoubtedly facilitated the Israeli war in Lebanon and strengthened the capacity of the Likud administrations to do exactly what they liked with the Palestinian population in the occupied territories”.Two developments this year provide hope. One is Turkey's enthusiastic support. The other is the Arab Spring. It alarmed Israel hugely. On Sept 10, Israel's embassy in Cairo was ransacked and its flag torn to shreds. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's reported statement that the peace treaty was “not sacred” drew a protest from Israel. n

Once Arab states, reflecting the popular mood, begin to assert themselves to a point where US interests are affected, American support for Israel will weaken. In 1957, Guy Wint and Peter Calvocoressi wrote: “In the end the 40 million Arabs must prevail over the one and a half million Israelis if the Arabs are determined and united and become just a little less inefficient.” It is a long haul. But success is not impossible.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.