Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, April 2011
Time of Decision Approaches for Palestine
By Khalid AmayrehAl-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 2, 2011
Tension is mounting throughout the West Bank as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is contemplating a possible unilateral statehood declaration, which Israel says it will undercut by all means necessary.
Earlier this week, a Jewish settler was shot dead, ostensibly by a Palestinian police officer. The incident happened when a group of unruly Jewish settlers sought to storm a controversial religious site in a heavily populated Arab neighbourhood in the northern West Bank town of Nablus.
Following the incident, paramilitary settlers went on the rampage in several localities in the West Bank, shooting on Palestinian homes and vandalising property. The Israeli army did nothing to stop the settlers, with one spokesman suggesting that the army was allowing the settlers to "vent their anger".
The Israeli occupation army admitted that the settlers did or were trying to do was "an irresponsible act" carried out without coordination with the army or Palestinian police. However, this admission didn't stop Israeli leaders and officials from calling the shooting a "terrorist act" and demanding the immediate arrest and prosecution of the police officer who fired at the settlers.
Most of the settlers in the West Bank are vehemently opposed to any form of peace with the Palestinians. They are indoctrinated in an extremist messianic ideology that views the entirety of Palestine and other parts of the Middle East as exclusive Jewish land whereby non-Jews should be killed, expelled or enslaved as "water carriers and wood hewers".
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak strongly condemned the incident while refusing to comment on the fact that the incident was triggered by the settlers who tried to storm an Arab neighbourhood.
The weak but increasingly confident PA (mainly due to growing international recognition and support) has refused to hand over the police officer to Israel, where he would probably spend the rest of his life behind bars. PA officials argued that the officer acted in accordance with instructions and violated no code or rule.
But the PA did form a special committee to look into the circumstances leading up to the shooting. The formation of the committee is believed to be a tension-mitigating measure and also a step to appease angry voices within the Israeli government and Knesset demanding harsher measures against the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Israel is trying to blackmail the PA into ceding political concessions, especially with regard to tentative PA plans to seek international recognition at the United Nations for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
So far, the PA leadership has refused to give in, arguing that any resumption of stalled and largely discredited peace talks would be meaningless without a solemn Israeli pledge to freeze all settlement activities and return to the lines of 4 June 1967.
Israel is recalcitrant about the very idea of returning to the 1967 armistice lines, which would necessitate the dismantling of a large number of Jewish colonies inhabited by hundreds of thousands of mostly extremist religious settlers.
Israel is also trying to gain maximum time to create more facts on the ground in the West Bank, by building more settlements and expanding existing ones, in order to render any Palestinian or international demand for a total withdrawal from the West Bank unrealisable.
In addition, Israel also hopes that the intensive proliferation of Jewish population centres in the West Bank will make any prospective Palestinian state unviable and lacking in territorial contiguity, while heavily subservient to and controlled by Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel and its guardian-ally, the United States, is trying to coerce the PA to agree to renewed peace talks that appear to promise nothing in the way of a breakthrough. The Palestinians realise that the renewal of peace talks with Israel would be a mere trick to thwart Palestinian plans for statehood recognition at the UN in September. Thus the PA is resisting American-Israeli pressure and is demanding unequivocal commitments from the Israeli government that would eventually lead to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state on 100 per cent of the territories occupied in 1967.
President Obama is reportedly slated to deliver a major policy speech on the Middle East that will contain new outlines for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians. According to sources in Washington, the crux of the Obama initiative is summarised in two points: first, total or semi-total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, which would allow for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Second, Palestinian recognition that the right of return for Palestinian refugees uprooted from their homeland when Israel was created in 1948 is now unrealistic and should be forgone.
This vision is likely to be rejected equally by Israel and the Palestinians. The Israelis would argue that a total withdrawal from the West Bank, including all or most of East Jerusalem, is unthinkable, due to the settlements, among other things. A large number of Palestinians -- probably the majority, especially among refugees -- would utterly reject annulling the right of return, even in exchange for a viable and sovereign state. Most Palestinians view the right of return as the centrepiece of the Palestinian national cause.
Still, Israel might resort to draconian measures, such as sending tanks into the West Bank, or deciding to annex Palestinian territory, if the PA goes ahead with its plans for independence.
Overall, it likely that the next few weeks and months will be tense as Palestinians are asking whether it is fair that the international community, including the US and EU, show solidarity with and support for Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria while impeding freedom for Palestinians from decades of a hateful Israeli military occupation.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been quoted as saying that he is against a new Intifada or uprising and that he is making efforts to avoid any confrontation with the Israelis. However, with the Nakba anniversary approaching, the Netanyahu speech in Congress due in less than a month, the next Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the planned Palestinian declaration of independence, time is running out for words.
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