May 27, 2017

In the Press: "Waiting for Palestine" by Clare Short

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London - Government Gazette, October 2012, p. 104.

The situation in Palestine is heartbreaking: people suffer evermore, international law is ignored and undermined, Israel's long-term self-interest is damaged, and the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy is riddled with muddled thinking.

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The only beneficial development is that more and more people see that the Israeli settlement policy means that the Two-State solution is becoming impossible. And there is growing support for a second international anti-apartheid movement, which will probably lead to the same outcome as the South African movement, a single democratic state with entrenched rights for all its people.

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The suffering in Gaza is very great: the pressure, violence and unemployment have led to growing mental illness, traumatised children and domestic violence within families. The drinking water is contaminated but plans for improved sewage systems cannot be implemented because the Israelis will not allow the necessary imports.

The Jordan Valley has been massively ethnically cleansed. There are vast developments of hothouses growing herbs and other exports for the European market. Scattered Palestinian villages and farmers face constant harassment and water shortages. In East Jerusalem, Israelis take over more land and houses, ousting Arab families and flying huge Star of David flags over the occupied Palestinian locals.

There is a bubble of economic development in Ramallah but the World Bank has made it clear that the economic position of the Palestinian Authority is unsustainable and it is currently running out of money.

The wall, closures, the settlements and the harassment that goes with them deeply undermine Palestinian economic activity.

Increasing numbers of Palestinians are calling for the Palestinian Authority to be dissolved, since it is obvious that the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2002 Road Map are not going to be implemented and will not lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State. Instead, PA police arrest, beat up, and even torture Palestinians who get in their way. It would be better, it is argued, to require Israel to be seen as the occupying power and be required to bear the cost.

The hope that came with the election of President Obama and his 2009 Cairo speech has long evaporated. It is clear that the U.S. political establishment is unable to act fairly or to help bring peace to the region.

The European Union ought therefore to take the lead in upholding international law and respect for human rights. If it is to live up to its founding principals, it should enforce the provisions of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which provides important trading opportunities to Israel and requires respect for human rights and international norms.

Increasingly, the EU has found the courage to criticise Israeli breaches of these principles, but it has just recently proposed an enhancement of Israeli trading opportunities and thus fails to use the influence available to it to require Israel to respect international law.

In the meantime, people worldwide see more and more clearly, the intolerable Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and their constant abuses of international law. 

With governments failing to act, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing and spreading across the world. I well remember when we were at the same stage in the movement against South African apartheid and expect a similar growth and strengthening that will challenge government policies from underneath.

The Arab spring finds itself in a wide variety of different states of development in the various countries affected, most particularly struggling in the face of the violent resistance to democratic change in Syria, but the people of the region will continue to demand progress for dignity and democracy.

The West was slow to embrace the demands of the people of the Arab world because it was comfortable with the dictators who were happy to support its policies. But these demands will continue to grow and spread. It may take decades and it is likely that there will be more tumults and suffering, but it is increasingly likely that the outcome will be one Palestinian state for all its people. 

Clare Short is Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Council for European Palestinian Relations. She was UK Secretary of State for International Development until she resigned in protest at the 2003 Iraq War.