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Palestinian dreams and reality


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AS Palestinians celebrate the vote at the UN upgrading their status at the world body, spare a thought for Israeli and American diplomats who have been labouring for months to block the move.

The fact that when it came to the vote on Thursday, the only American ally to stand with Washington was Canada. In Europe, France and Italy voted for Palestine, while unexpectedly, Germany and Britain abstained instead of supporting Israel, as they have traditionally done.

Overall, only nine states opposed the Palestinian bid while 138 supported it. There were 41 abstentions. Although resigned to the majority voting for Palestine, American and Israeli diplomacy aimed to persuade major democratic industrial countries to vote against, thereby robbing the notion of a Palestinian state of a degree of legitimacy. The eventual count came as a big disappointment for Israeli and American leaders.

But in reality, the vote reflects the growing unpopularity of Israel across much of the world. The accelerating colonisation of the West Bank, and the increasingly remote prospects of a viable Palestinian state, have disenchanted even staunch supporters of Israel. The recent conflict in Gaza is a reminder that the tiny territory remains an open-air prison where Palestinians are forced to live in squalor due to the Israeli siege.

While Hamas leaders in Gaza have welcomed the UN victory, they remain convinced that they will have to continue fighting. As Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, said recently: “Negotiating without powerful cards on the ground has no meaning. It will turn into begging. This enemy doesn’t give anything unless under pressure.”

But if by ‘powerful cards’ Meshaal meant the rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched at Israel recently, they turned out to be damp squibs in the face of the defences the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) mounted against them. The Iron Dome anti-missile system was a huge success, managing to shoot down well over 80 per cent of the rockets heading towards Israeli targets.

No, the real game changer in the Gaza conflict was the emergence of pro-Palestinian governments in the wake of the Arab Spring. As the days wore on and Hamas continued its defiance in the face of hundreds of Israeli air strikes, public anger in the region against Tel Aviv mounted.

In many Western countries, there was growing concern that the marginalisation of Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, could lead to an increase in the popularity of radical groups like Hamas. And Israel and the US have not given him anything to show his people as tangible benefits of his cooperation with Tel Aviv.

So several governments calculated that Palestine should at least win its bid for statehood at the UN, albeit as a non-member observer.

Clearly, the new Palestinian status at the UN will not lead to any dramatic change in the nature of the Israeli occupation. On the contrary, Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has used the UN vote to announce the construction of 3,000 new homes for settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But then Israel has never needed any excuses for its colonial expansion: there are already over half a million Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank.

While Israel’s desire to squash all Palestinian aspirations to statehood is understandable, the strong American opposition to the UN vote is more difficult to fathom. The reason given by American spokesmen is that the change in Palestinian status at the UN would make negotiations with Israel more complicated. This implies that there was an ongoing peace process that was in danger of being derailed.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For years now, even talks about talks have been in the doldrums. Ever since President Obama raised Palestinian hopes early in his first tenure, he has done nothing but disappoint by rolling over constantly before Israeli obduracy.

WINNING PLOY: Netanyahu has hit upon the winning ploy of threatening to bomb Iran to divert attention from the issue of peace talks. Now, whenever there is any talk of a Palestinian state, all he has to do is leak a story about the IDF’s preparations for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

So clearly, the Palestinians had nothing to gain by waiting for the US to persuade Israel to negotiate seriously. And Israel has been using this interregnum to continue building and expanding settlements, thereby creating ‘facts on the ground’ that will make it impossible for a Palestinian state to ever become a viable entity.

The advantage of the change at the UN is that it gives the contours of the future Palestinian state: finally, a legal document approved by the world body declares that the pre-1967 boundary will separate Israel from Palestine. The vote will also place pressure on Hamas and Fatah to reconcile their differences so a joint negotiating position can be achieved. Their squabbling has presented Israel with an excuse to avoid talks. Hamas needs to formally accept the existence of the state of Israel within its legal borders if they are to be taken as a serious partner in peace talks.

As ceasefire talks in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian mediation, showed, President Morsi is now a major player in future negotiations. Hamas needs his support too badly to ignore him if he suggests moderation. He is also well placed to effect a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Paradoxically, just as Israel is at its strongest militarily, it is more isolated than ever. Turkey, its only major Muslim ally, is now hostile to Tel Aviv. Syria, a non-combatant foe, is in a flux, and an anti-Israel government could well emerge there. The Jordanian throne is increasingly shaky. And as the stream of important visitors to Gaza during the Israeli bombardment showed, Palestinians are no longer as isolated as they were.

We can see why Israel is fighting this tide: the leaders of the Jewish state see it as a matter of survival. But the United States is choosing to alienate millions in an important region at a critical time in its political evolution. It would have been viewed as less biased had it not taken such an unnecessarily hard line at the UN. So those who expect Obama to be more even-handed in his second term are going to be disappointed again.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

ahmed Rahqim Dec 04, 2012 08:54pm
Awesome, in one tiny paragraph, you've captured all the mis-steps taken by Palestanian in last 60 years. I can't believe that there is not a single Palestanian who questions their current strategy. Simply put, they've been exercising same strategy for for last 60 years without an acceptable resolution. don't you think its time now to put down the rockets, guns, and stones. And peacefully and honestly negotiat peace. Sure they may not get everything they want in forst round but start low and than slowly work it up, The region lacks a leader with common sense. Just look at Gandhi and Martin Luther King's approach. Only way to take on a super power is to show their brutality but you can't terrorize or brutalize in yoour response.
Solomon2 Dec 03, 2012 06:36pm
"The advantage of the change at the UN is that it gives the contours of the future Palestinian state: finally, a legal document approved by the world body declares that the pre-1967 boundary will separate Israel from Palestine. " Not at all. General Assembly resolutions are not legal documents and boundaries are set between neighboring states. Despite all the "sense of the U.N." resolutions, there is nothing illegal about Israel administration and Jewish settlements in the West Bank; they are legal under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine, still the last international legal document on the books describing such matters; it was the Egyptian and Jordanian 1947-67 occupations of Gaza and the West Bank that were illegal under international law. On the other hand, the Arabs of the middle east did NOT fulfill their terms of the Mandate and kicked their Jews out; clearly, out of fairness Jews in the middle east are entitled to some sort of compensation.
parvez the great Dec 03, 2012 08:32pm
Clutching at the mirage!
P N Eswaran Dec 03, 2012 04:51pm
The sober comments of Karachi Wala deserves to be commended. What he has said is 100% true. When one sees Palestinian teenagers and children protesting on the streets it does not speak of any patriotism but a nation capable of bring forth children but not bringing them up. If one Khaled Meshaal can bring 100 Palestinian deaths in one week with an ill conceived attack on Israel what would 100s of Khaled Meshaals can do with an independent Palestine is anybody's guess!
Mohsin Ali Dec 04, 2012 12:16am
Palestinians may have gained the support of the world but will it make any difference? I doubt it. The key player in the game is the US, who seems more supportive of Israel than Israel itself, as one commentator put it. It is sad and disappointing that when Obama won, in his first term he promised a complete freeze on settlements but Israel, just ignored him! Since then, like his predecessors, no progress has been made towards peace - indeed during his tenure, aid to Israel has increased and more sophisticated weapons supplied. With this in mind,the only way forward for Hamas is to win a war of diplomacy ; recognise Israel as a soverign state within secure borders, join forces with Abbas and fight their case as ONE, in the UN. With Egypt and Turkey on their side will give them considerable diplomatic power ; firing fire crackers which Israel is quite capable of destroying in mid air will not get them any where.
Naeem Malik Dec 03, 2012 02:22pm
As some of us in UK are telling the BBC, it is not about the rockets, it is about the occupation, it is about the siege and about the settlements and about the denial of Human and Civil Rights to the Palestinians over 60 years. Ultimately, it is about a tiny country that still insists on being racist towards a large group of people over whom it rules. It is a last remnant of Apartheid that was part of the European colonial project of the earlier centuries extending over Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Karachi Wala Dec 03, 2012 02:08am
True, Palestinians have gained UN ?non-member observer status?. In my humble opinion it will make next to nothing difference. Prior to and since the inception of modern day Israel in 1948, Palestinians, due to many blunders committed by their leadership and some with the aid and collaboration of the Arab world, have steadily lost their territory, dignity, freedom and everything that comes with that. During all this time, due to the short sightedness of the leadership they also have lost respect around the World. At this point and time of the history, without influential and decisive power, Palestinian can dream all they want but in reality it is highly unlikely they will achieve any purposeful thing in the foreseeable future. If one thing they could learn from their nemesis, should be, how to rise from the rubbles. While trying to emulate, they need to remember one thing clearly, they will have to do away with the ways and means they have adopted for the last sixty some years.
G.A. Dec 03, 2012 05:47pm
When you tell a lie so many times you eventually start believing in it as a truth. Israelis have invented this lie about 'land without a people and people without a land' and they've actually started believing that Palestinians really weren't settled there before them. Here is a fact to ponder. First language of Palestinians is Arabic which is native to the region. First language of Israelis is Russian, French, English etc. So who is the outsider?
Ara Dec 03, 2012 02:05am
Already disappointed. He is being guided by Hillary, who is working towards her shot at the top.
g.a.Shirazi Dec 03, 2012 03:40am
I agree. USA is making a mistake by opposing the UN vote.
Circumbulator Dec 03, 2012 04:20am
Does anyone seriously think it?s about rockets? STUART LITTLEWOOD NOVEMBER 19, 2012 14 What if Hamas dumped all their rockets in the sea tomorrow? Would the illegal blockade be lifted? Would Gazans enjoy the same freedoms as other nations? Would their democratically elected government be allowed to get on and govern? Would they be able to open their sea port to foreign ships and rebuild and operate their airport? Would they be able to import and export and carry on trade and develop their economy and prosper like other countries? Stuart Littlewood
Husain Jan Dec 03, 2012 07:38am
Yes,agreed with the news but Muslim countries now have a greater responsibility than before to "start" supporting the Palestine cause with one voice, and strongly denouncing Israel and its mentor for atrocities. Until that happens ...Palestinians will have to go on waiting for justice from UN or any one else. How long the wait will be remains to be seen.
BRR Dec 03, 2012 02:41am
Thw writer is wrong - nothing has been achieved. The UN had already offered and agreed to these two-state solution in 1950s before the 67 war, which the arabs had rejected. At best, it will be the Palestinians getting back to a 1950s solution when all of this ends, and at worst, a non-contiguous / split Palestine with Gaza and the West Bank separated. Surely, this is not a progress, but a desperate attempt by Fatah and Abbas to appear relevant after Hamas gained momentum in the last 2 years.
NASAU (USA) Dec 03, 2012 05:15pm
Hamas is the fly in the ointment.
rizwan Dec 03, 2012 06:42am
"Palestinians are no longer as isolated as they were"......agreed