Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 17, 2017

Paris conference The Paris conference on peace in the Middle East warned Israel and the Palestinians on January 15 against “unilateral steps” on Jerusalem and borders that could threaten a negotiated solution to their seven decades old conflict. The conference brought together over 70 countries who cautioned both sides to avoid prejudging (i.e. pre-empting) the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia, Jerusalem, borders, security and refugees. The conference would not recognize such steps. It said the basis for the negotiations should be the 1967 borders before Israel occupied the West Bank and Jerusalem (the Golan Heights belonging to Syria, which have already been annexed by Israel, were not considered worthy of mention). France called the conference to reiterate global support for a two-state solution, i.e. a Palestinian state co-existing with a neighbouring Israeli one. Notable absentees at the conference were Israel and the Palestinians. So while the conference played Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and notwithstanding its good intentions, the ground realities paint a different picture. Israel has been engaged with incremental fervour and pace in creating ‘new facts on the ground’ in the shape of settlements on the West Bank. This process has accelerated since a US-led talks initiative collapsed in April 2014. Acrimony between the Obama administration and the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu over the settlements issue froze the peace process, allowing the latter room to press on with the settlements, whose proliferation in the West Bank has all but obviated a physically viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s defiance of international opinion and US attempts to restrain him so that there is space for talks led to the US unprecedentedly abstaining from a vote on the UN Security Council resolution 2334 in December 2016 that declared the settlements illegal. In this context, incoming President Donald Trump has set the cat among the pigeons with his election campaign pledge to support Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there. The Paris conference rejected this and warned that such unilateral actions would not be recognized. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has warned that any such move would destroy the basis for negotiations leading to a two-state solution. The outgoing Obama administration had dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to the conference. Mr Kerry admitted his role in Paris was to ensure Israel was not treated unfairly, in sharp contrast with his well known views on Israel’s settlement activity. Humble pie was on the table because even a so-called ‘fair peace broker’ like the Obama administration can only go so far against the wishes of the powerful Israeli lobby in the US. Despite the high sounding rhetoric in Paris, the ground realities are that millions of Palestinians live under Israel’s military occupation since 1967, over 400,000 Israelis have occupied Palestinian land on the West Bank through the settlements, and the Palestinians exist under one of the most repressive regimes on Earth. The two-state solution emerged in the wake of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which compelled the Palestinian leadership to be evacuated to Tunisia. Camp David and the Oslo Peace Accords followed, with the hapless Palestinians having to swallow the bitter pill of recognising Israel’s right to exist on their captured homeland and accepting a truncated Palestinian state comprising the occupied territories. All the issues listed by the Paris conference as awaiting final settlement remain frozen because of a triumphal Israel’s intransigence, backed up by ‘honest broker’ the US. Netanyahu must be cock-a-hoop at Trump’s unilateral pledge to ‘gift’ Jerusalem to Israel as its capital, knowing that the Palestinians see occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Apprehensions about whether such a Palestinian state, were it ever to come into existence, would be independent and secure in the face of Israeli expansionist ambitions aside, the question of refugees is one of the most tragic and intractable human issues. Whereas Israel opens its doors to any Jew from any part of the world wanting to emigrate to it, millions of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora, several generations deep by now, have no right to return to their lost homeland. The world has seen many tragedies, but the Palestinian dilemma is one of the oldest and most heart rending. If Trump and Netanyahu through their blind arrogance and adventurism tear up any chance of a two-state solution, the outcome will be violence of an intensity that can only be imagined. The effect on the region and the world could be catastrophic.

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