Palestine in crisis

Below is a short commentary on the situation in Palestine.

Further commentary is available at Statements on Palestine.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts in June 2013 to exhume the remnants of the Israel-Palestine peace process and urge Palestinian and Israeli leaders to start a new round of negotiations give little cause for optimism.

Israel continues to prosecute policies which prejudge the outcome of negotiations.  For example, Israeli housing authorities have just approved construction of 69 units in the Har Homa district of East Jerusalem.  At the same time a number of senior Israeli officials have issued statements decrying the prospect of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

In that sort of climate one wonders what ultimately the United States considers would be the outcome of a new round of talks, even assuming they take place.  These days Washington it would seem has very little leverage over the Netanyahu government, despite its continuing multi-billion dollar subventions in economic and military support to Israel.  Secretary Kerry was kept waiting for one and a half hours for his scheduled meeting on 28 June with Netanyahu who has never shied away from showing his contempt for the current administration in Washington.

So what is the future for the Palestinians of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza if the two-state solution is in reality no longer a prospect?

This is a question relevant to the interests of all Australians, given the long-standing and unquestioning political support by successive Australian governments for Israel and its policies.

As more Australians come to question Israel’s unacceptable record of oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people, their sense of social justice and their concern for the future stability of the Middle East, and for Australia’s own reputation as a champion of the rule of law and of  standards of decency and civilised behaviour, particularly towards dispossessed and disempowered  groups, combine to demand that Australia adopt a new approach that will expose and challenge Israel’s reluctance to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians.

A deal which restores a level of dignity, self-determination, and hope for the future to the Palestinian people is long overdue.

It is time Australia ended its role of support for Israeli policies which frustrate peace efforts while continuing to poison the lives of ordinary Palestinians through illegal military occupation and blockade.

During the war that erupted with the creation of Israel in 1948, around 750,000 Palestinians or two thirds of the indigenous population were driven from their homes and villages and forced to become refugees.  More than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed by Israeli forces. Over 13,000 Palestinians were killed.

The 1948 war was followed by conflicts in 1956 and 1967 with similar disastrous consequences for Palestinians in Gaza, Jordan and the West Bank.

To this day there are more than 1.4 million Palestinian refugees in camps operated by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank.  Those same localities have a total population of registered Palestinian refugees numbering more than 4.8 million.

In Egypt a further 50,000 Palestinian refugees live without UN protection or assistance, and are subjected to difficult local regulations circumscribing their legal status there.

In Syria today half of the 525,000 Palestinian refugees are caught up in the conflict currently taking place there.

While much of the world now supports the creation of a Palestinian State, Palestinians still wait for justice.  The establishment of a viable sovereign Palestinian State remains an elusive goal, the path to Palestinian statehood through negotiation apparently blocked by Israel’s continuation of settlements construction in the West Bank, and by an evident view amongst senior Israeli leaders that Israel is better off without a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

For APAN, such a view is wrong headed strategically and morally corrupt.

The Palestinians of the West Bank continue to endure continuing disadvantage and harassment from their occupiers, while those in the Gaza Strip remain subjected to an Israeli blockade.  And Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are now cut off from the rest of the West Bank, while facing a range of discriminatory Israeli practices which limit their access to health and education services.  For example, Israel spends an average of almost five times the amount of money on each child in the Jewish elementary school system in East Jerusalem, than it does on each child in the Arab elementary system.

Palestinians face travel restrictions, economic and social deprivation, mass unemployment (40 per cent in Gaza), collective punishments such as house demolitions, and other forms of personal and collective humiliation on a daily basis.

A recent report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has confirmed the mistreatment of thousands of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military. Over the past ten years some 7,000 Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 have been arrested, interrogated and detained.- some held in solitary confinement for months.  At least 14 cases have been reported between January 2010 and March 2013 of Palestinian children being used as human shields and as informants.

Meanwhile aggressive settlement construction activity increased markedly in the first quarter of 2013, and house demolitions, evictions and ID revocations have continued unabated.

While supporters of Israel refuse to accept what is now a self-evident truth, everything about Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians suggests that Israel is now rushing to complete its total colonisation of the West Bank.  Under present Israeli policies the Palestinian people are simply to be swept aside.

Israel’s actions constitute repeated violations of international law, particularly the Geneva conventions governing human rights.  Its military incursion into Gaza in 2009 in which around 1500 Palestinian civilians were killed was a clear contravention of international law under which all sides are obliged to take all feasible precautions to avoid as much as possible harming civilians. It was also an affront to standards of common decency upheld in most civilised nations.

Israel’s refusal to freeze settlements construction in the West Bank was the principal factor behind the collapse of negotiations late in 2010.  The idea that Mahmoud Abbas could sit down in negotiations involving the future of the territory of the West Bank while Israel continued to create facts on the ground defies all logic.  Israel’s policy of continuing settlements construction has long been objected to by the United States and other Western countries, but Washington has consistently chosen not to confront the Israelis on the issue in any meaningful way.  Indeed, one wonders how much pressure Mahmoud Abbas can withstand before he agrees to a resumption of peace negotiations, despite continuing Israeli settlements construction.

Israel remains an occupier and oppressor.  The Palestinian people are in desperate need for a process that will lead rapidly to Palestinian statehood.  If Israel wants to take its place as a respected members of the international community it must quickly commit to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians with a common goal of resolving all final status issues including the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the Status of Jerusalem, and establishing a viable sovereign Palestinian State.  It must start by announcing an immediate cessation of settlements construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Australians, particularly in the context of the upcoming federal elections, should call on the government, including through their local political candidates, to end Australia’s policies of appeasement towards Israel’s reprehensible treatment of the Palestinian people.

– – –

 July 2013

Further Commentary is available at Statements on Palestine.