Opinion » Lead

Updated: September 10, 2012 00:42 IST

Disappearing dream of a displaced people

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
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Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas comes to India seeking political support when there is very little hope for his people to realise their right to a distinct international identity

The British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, the first Jewish envoy to Israel from Britain, warned the Israelis in a recent television interview that anyone who cares about Israel should be concerned about the erosion of international support for the country. “Israel might wake up in 10 years’ time and find out that suddenly the international community has changed, and that patience for continuing status quo has reduced.”

There are two interesting aspects to Mr. Gould’s observation. Firstly, he is convinced that there will be no solution to the Palestinian problem for at least 10 more years and, secondly, that Israel will be more isolated than at present with the passage of time. The ambassador’s remarks were made on record and obviously reflected his government’s assessment.

Long dead

The fact that the peace process has been long dead is well known and widely recognised. The Palestinian-Israeli dispute has always been about land. “One land for two peoples” is the only possible answer to the problem. For decades, the Israelis refused to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people. Theodore Herzl, the spiritual father of Zionism, sent two Austrian rabbis to the holy land in 1897 to explore it. They reported that “the bride is beautiful but she is married to another man”, meaning that there were people living there. Nevertheless, when the Jewish migration started in earnest in the 1920s, the official Jewish line was that Palestine was a land without people for a people without land. The present situation is that there is, in fact, very little land left for one of the two peoples and that too would disappear before long.

When the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the American Congress a few years ago that he was ready to accept the principle of a two-state solution, he was applauded in the western world as a great statesman who had made a huge concession for the cause of peace. He has his hand on the pulse of the American people and knows what to say when and where. He says he is ready to talk to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas any time anywhere without preconditions. This sounds very reasonable. However, his conduct ceaselessly imposes conditions which make it impossible for the Palestinians to agree to resume talks. The pace of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank has increased to the extent that it has already become impossible for a viable, secure and geographically contiguous Palestinian state to emerge. The Palestinians argue, reasonably, that they will not talk so long as Israel continues to create facts on the ground in the form of settlements. With great fanfare, Mr. Netanyahu decided to respect the decision of the court to dismantle an illegal outpost with about 30 families in the West Bank but compensated it by ordering the construction of 800 more settlement units.

Sara Roy, an eminent and widely respected scholar of the Palestinian issue with Harvard University, in a recent article in the Journal of Palestinian Studies, has written about the paradigm shifts in international discourse on this subject. For one, the world seems to have reconciled itself to the territorial and demographic fragmentation of Palestine. Secondly, no one talks any more about occupation, the root cause of the problem, declared to be illegal by the United Nations. She points out that settlements control 42 per cent of the West Bank. There are now more than 500,000 settlers in West Bank and east Jerusalem as compared to a little over 200,000 in 1967. This unilateralism of Israel continues unabated, making the two-state solution less and less feasible. The third paradigm shift is the ‘humanitarianisation’ of the problem. By laying stress on the inhuman living conditions of the Palestinian population, especially in the Gaza strip, the problem is reduced only to humanitarian considerations, conveniently ignoring the root cause which is occupation. The Palestinians are being ‘engineered into perpetual beggars’.

Enhanced status

Realising the hugely unequal power relations, and concluding that the Israeli lobby will prevent Democrats as well as Republicans from exercising real pressure on Israel, President Abbas devised a new strategy to inject external pressure, not to undercut negotiations but to enter negotiations from a more balanced position. He applied for an enhanced status for Palestine in the United Nations. His move succeeded in UNESCO but not in New York.

When the phenomenon referred to as Arab Spring broke out at the beginning of 2011, this writer, among others, had expected that the new regimes emerging in the Arab world would be more and more vocally supportive of the Palestinians. This has not happened. On the other hand, every successive ‘revolution’ in Arab countries has greatly strengthened Mr. Netanyahu’s position internally as well as internationally, and weakened domestic Israeli support for any kind of talks or negotiations with the Arabs.

Reacting to the Arab Spring, Mr. Netanyahu said last November that it was Islamic, anti-liberal, anti-secular and anti-democratic. He said history would judge the present leadership very negatively if it engaged in any kind of negotiations. As it happens, in all the countries affected by the new phenomenon — Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen — the Islamists have won the elections. The most consequential of them, the Brotherhood in Egypt, has had the elimination of Israel as a part of its ideology. True, Mohamed Morsi has made statesman-like pronouncements about the peace treaty with Israel; his Defence Minister called up his Israeli counterpart and assured him of Egypt’s continuing commitment to the treaty. The fact that Egypt needs American and western aid and tourists to repair its economy is probably not reassuring enough for Israel, given that the new President of Egypt is a former leader of Muslim Brotherhood. The attack by jihadists in August on an Egyptian military post near the border with Gaza, which caused the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers and who had managed to infiltrate into Israeli territory, even if only for a short while, has convinced the Israeli public that the time is not at all propitious for holding any talks. The events in Syria have further added support to Mr. Netanyahu’s anti-talks stance.

Yossi Beilin, an Israeli left-wing politician, a former minister and someone for whom this writer has high regard for his intellectual integrity, has suggested that the Palestinian Authority should be dissolved. His argument is that the PA has control only over ‘A’ area of the West Bank and even there, Israel has overriding security control. The PA’s writ does not run in the rest of the West Bank. It is widely accepted that according to Mr. Netanyahu, as and when the time comes — and that time is far into the future — the state of Palestine will have no more than 40 per cent of the West Bank. Mr. Beilin believes that it would be better for the Palestinians to make Israel legally responsible to pay salaries of the thousands of PA employees, etc. With the dissolution of PA, foreign funding will cease. The point, however, is that even a person like Mr. Beilin, who advocates the most generous terms of settlement of the problem, seems to have given up on the possibility of a two-state solution.

The Egyptian-brokered reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah has not amounted to anything in practice. However, Israel has categorically stated that there is no question of holding any talks with a government of which Hamas would form a part. The United States has also threatened to cut all aid if Hamas comes into the government. Mr. Abbas has hardly any room for flexibility.

The Quartet, comprising America, Russia, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the European Union, the self-appointed pilots of the peace process, has given up the pretence of attempting to restart the negotiations and to work towards the two-state solution.

President Abbas comes to India at a time when there is very little hope for his people to realise their dream and the inalienable right to have a distinct, sovereign, viable and contiguous international identity of their own. Mr. Abbas’s visit is principally to obtain India’s political support which, of course, he will receive in full measure. India will also renew its offer of economic and technical support for capacity building, etc. We have built the parliament building for the future Palestinian state. As an additional measure, India could indicate a willingness to ban the import of items produced in the settlements; this would be in keeping with international law.

(Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India’s special envoy to the Middle East and is a former U.N. Under Secretary General.)


India raises Palestinian issue September 27, 2012

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Ban goods from the settlers territory? A purely symbolic gesture with zero impact on the final
peace agreement. Nothing will further enhance the peace process than Hamas renouncing
violence and the Palestians accepting the Jewish nature of the Israeli State i.e no more
dreams of flooding the country with 'returning refugees'. What of the hypocrisy of India- a
country to whom Israel has sold military technology which other nations considered too
sensitive to sell- placing economic sanctions on Israel? Unfortunately we produced to many
diplomats in the cold war era whose mould of the old world has remained in the foreign
office. However, the world has changed- Mrs Gandhis famous embrace of Yassar Araft is the
modern day equivalent of PM Netanyahu embracing Lakhvi. If anything, it's time India moved
this vital relationship out the closet and into the sunlight. Our Israeli friends deserve better
from us.

from:  Praveen
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 16:09 IST

India can be the only hope to restore Palestinians hope.. only when we realize.

from:  Shazal
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 16:07 IST

i am amazed after seeing all these comments where people are saying
India should help Palestine. It is like a blind man showing way to
another blind. As a nation we have not resolved our border issues with
Pakistan, China and people are thinking of helping Palestine !!!

from:  Santhosh Balasubramanya
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 15:09 IST

Mr. Vipul:

You get your facts wrong and you lack an elementary understanding history of the
region. Gaza was captured by Israel after the 6 day war. Although "autonomous"
since 1993, Israel has imposed a virtual blockade on Gaza - squeezing the
economy and allowing very little exports. And again, why should an occupied,
brutalised Arab populace be friendly to their occupiers? How would you have
reacted if Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism along with the British
government in 1917 had decided that Israel should be established in Orissa or
Uttar Pradesh? Taken it lying down?

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 by the then British Foreign Minister James Balfour
paved the way for the establishment of Israel in Palestine. The gradual ethnic
cleansing of the Arabs has since continued through land encroachments by settlers
and expulsion of the Arab populace to Bantustans. Apartheid, plain and simple.

from:  Geir Henriksen
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 12:50 IST

As a diplomat who has worked in in the international arena, the author might have taken a
moment to give some perspective on the functioning of the United Nations. The fact of the
matter is the General Assembly has (under the influence of a strong Arab lobby) devoted
disproportionate time and energy on the Palestinian matter over other pressing issues
around the globe. The UN Human Rights council has passed more resolutions against
Isreal than any other entity over the years, and almost none censoring the dictatorial Arab
States themselves. Whilst the viability of Isreal to exist as a democracy( the only democracy
in that region) without the creation of a Palestinian State is clearly questionable, in reality it is
the divisions between Hamas and the PA that impedes progress. The former calls for the
complete destruction of the Jewish State and the latter has found its writ undermined by a
lack of legitimacy (Abbas has yet to hold elections). Who shall Israeli leaders negotiate with?

from:  Poonam
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 14:50 IST

Israel is the country which has always been supported by US for long time. Israel is seeking land for infrastructural development. Israel is trying to delude Palestinians with disclaimer delivered at American Congress. Palestinians should be beware of policies of Israel because American support seemed upon Israel.

from:  Saurabh Navroj
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 14:43 IST

Instead of behaving like the victim all the time, how about the Palestinians do something for themselves? Gaza has become a terror state under Hamas who want to destroy Israel, they rely on handouts from the UN and other donor nations for their survival. They produce very little, keep firing rockets at Israel. If they changed their attitude and were friendly towards Israel then things would change, Israel would reciprocate and build proper bridges with the Palestinians.

from:  vipul
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 14:04 IST

Israel is never going to leave West Bank OR Palestinian lands. There is enough Jew support in EU/US to let it have its way. IIndly Arabs are not going to stand for Palestinians EVER coz they are tooooooooooo busy cutting deals with EU/US.....
Back in 70's/80's I had the chance to hear the Plight of many Palestine students living as PG in my grandmothers house in Chandigarh. Then friendship between Ms. Gandhi and Yasser Arafat...........entire landscape has changed but status of PALESTINE state is SAME..............
But Israel over the years has BUILT a GHETTO for itself and with its own hands!!!! by isolating itself more and more in the region....

from:  Sarabjeet
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 13:44 IST

India should get involved in the Israel-Palestine dispute and organise a meeting comprising both parties, the UN, and Sweden's renowned Peace Research Institute. This meeting should be chaired by New Delhi and should be held in a clement place in India, like Ootacamund. It would be a good idea to request Mr Chinmaya Gharekhan to also attend. The meeting should continue no matter how long it takes, until an acceptable solution is found. However, there is a term of reference. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation must convince Hamas to fall in line like Fatah has done and stop firing periodic missiles into Israel. The biggest point in India's favour is, both parties respect India and have good relations with us. On no account must the USA or UK be brought into this meeting.

from:  JK Dutt
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 12:44 IST

The two State theory is only applicable if the die heart feelings of hate among the two historic religions seems to get an end.But this seems a little difficult in the present scenario.The statement given by the British ambassador is the long developing feeling of the western world. Today democrats,republicans, liberals,conservative all see Isreal for their vested interest too. But after the waves of Arab spring this view is fading day by day and then this Zionist land will be standing alone to fight for its interests.The neighbor Egypt presently fighting with its civil and financial problems but soon the Muslim brotherhood will be another supporters for the Gaza fighters.So making high walls and securing your people is not a permanent solution.People wants peace and stability on both sides.Give them this.Otherwise long oppressed Palestine has many well wishers around now.And the problem is going to be aggravated day by day.

from:  Mayank Kanga
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 12:28 IST

It is a great relief to realize that there are people who have not lost in western media's propaganda

from:  Hashim
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 11:12 IST

Palestinians need not hope for a free state so long as the Jewish lobby retains its strangle hold over American establishments.What a tragedy that the nation founded by Washington, Jefferson,Benjamin Franklin and others and which is the sole super power has degenerated to such an extend that it has surrendered all its authority and power to such a tiny pressure group. Observing the present presidential election campaign one really wonders weather the real issues being debated are those concerning Israel or those affecting the American people, the best example being the the frenzy created over not naming Jerusalem as Israel's capital in Democratic national Convention last week where in the end the party leadership had to relent had had to change their stated position as opposed to the accepted UN stand. Netanyahoo by his sabre rattling over Iran(which is against international laws) its nuclear weapons could successfully obfuscate the issue of Palestine.What a tragedy!!!!!

from:  Dr.Joji Cherian
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 06:56 IST

I disagree with the writer's proposal of banning imprt of items made in Israel! Political support etc is fine for PA authority but banning any Israeli import or export is an absolutely not! India has no business in getting itself entangled into a dispute it has little control over or relevance for that matter.

from:  Joyjit Dutta
Posted on: Sep 10, 2012 at 01:49 IST
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