Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Declare Independence of Palestine Now

It is now abundantly clear that the stalled negotiation for peace in the Middle East is now dead.

During Secretary of State Clinton’s recent short sojourn through the region, in her joint press conference with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem, she effusively praised Netanyahu’s intransigence regarding Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. The peace process died when she bizarrely described as “unprecedented” Mr. Netanyahu’s paltry concession to slow down the feverish tempo of building illegal housing units in the occupied territories. Even though she hastily tried to back-track, the damage to the peace process had been done. It was as if she had given the peace process a death blow. The Palestinian negotiators were deeply shocked. Did not President Obama, and even Mrs. Clinton herself, say only a month ago that the Israeli settlements in the occupied land were illegitimate? It dawned on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the peace process was dead, and so he announced that he will be resigning from his position soon. He had threatened to resign a couple of times on previous occasions, of course, but this time it seems that he means to carry out his threat.

At the White House President Obama has been mostly silent regarding the peace process, except for declaring at regular and frequent intervals his commitment for the security of Israel and announcing that the bond between Israel and the USA is “unshakable”. After impressing the entire world with his commitment for peace, and inspiring the world with his soaring speech and dazzling oratory from the august hall of Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, when he said, “America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable…..On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own," he seems to have changed. He seems to have had second thoughts regarding Palestinians’ suffering, and has been tilting slowly, but perceptibly, towards the Israeli side. And the world has noticed this tilt. He has clearly softened his opposition to the ever expanding Israeli settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And perhaps even more shocking: he remained silent as the Israeli government evicted Palestinian and Arab families from their homes in East Jerusalem, and bulldozed two houses.

There are credible reports that Palestinian Prime Minister Mr. Salam Fayyad is seriously exploring his own plan for peace in the Middle East that he first proposed in August 2009 in a 54-page booklet: To unilaterally declare the independence of Palestine bounded by the internationally recognized June 4, 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. For forty years the pursuit of peace has been through endless negotiations; Fayyad would like to seek peace through a declaration. The game of Negotiation versus Declaration should be most fascinating to watch. There are reports also that the plan has earned the broad backing of the UN, the Quartet, and a few European leaders, as well as the Obama administration.

This is not really a novel or new idea as Mr. Fayyad very well knows, because this plan has precedents. For example, on 17 February 2008, Kosovo had issued its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, and the United States and most European Union countries, with which this declaration was coordinated, had rushed to extend diplomatic recognition to this “new country”. So, wouldn’t the USA and the same EU countries now find it awkward to oppose any such unilateral declarations of independence for Palestine? I am afraid they will not find it awkward, because in any matter that pertains to Israel, having a double standard is the norm, not the exception. Consider nuclear weapons, for example. Even though Israel possesses more than 200 nuclear weapons, all the noise one hears coming from Washington and the capitals of the EU countries is regarding the probability of Iran’s acquiring nuclear capability in two or three years. Rockets fired by the Hamas in Gaza into its occupying and blockading neighbor, Israel, is considered terrorism; but the precision missiles fired at Palestinians’ houses, schools, hospitals, mosques, sewage treatment plants, water reservoirs, and police stations, and the phosphorus bombs dropped by Israel on Palestinian civilians is considered self-defense, even though per international law, an occupying power can not claim self defense in justifying its atrocities.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper has reported that in secret meetings with leaders of a few EU nations, Mr. Fayyad has secured support for his grand plan. There are reports that he has discussed his plan with both President Obama and Mrs. Clinton also. Netanyahu, obviously, does not like the plan at all, and he has asked Obama to veto the plan in the UN Security Council should the proposal arrive at the Security Council.

Mr. Salam Fayyad knows that forty years of negotiations with successive Israeli governments have resulted in only three significant things that matter: Increase in numbers of the ever expanding, illegal settlements; and encroachment of vast areas of Palestinian ancestral lands; and loss of even more land for the creation of security “buffer areas”. Even though nothing will be built in these buffer areas, the Palestinians will be forbidden from entering these areas, nevertheless.

Israel now has 121 Jewish-only settlements and 106 out-posts, all of them illegal, on confiscated Palestinian land. Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem.

Per Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” I am certain that President Obama knows this. And yet he has decided to go along with Mr. Netanyahu’s plan of expanding the illegal settlements as the world watches in bewildered silence.

If the Palestinians truly wish to establish their independent state, they need to do only a simple thing. After suffering all the terrors of the 41 year occupation and horrors of the Gaza War, and the daily humiliations at the roadside checkpoints, the time has come to take a bold step and do the right and necessary thing: Unilaterally declare independence from Israel, just as the people of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, in February 2008.

Let there be peace on earth.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

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