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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Real-politics can alleviate Palestinian suffering

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock : An unidentified Palestinian woman confronts Israeli soldiers in a protest against the Israeli separation wall on November 13, 2010 in Al-Walaja, The West Bank, Palestine.

There is no cause dearer to my heart than that of the Palestinians and it saddens me greatly that international efforts towards a Palestinian state have been placed on the backburner. Since the1980s when I got together with Emirati friends to form associations committed to supporting the Palestinian people’s right of return under international law is a far less viable prospect than it was 40 years ago. Unfortunately, the idea of a Palestinian state is on the point of being shelved as a mythical Shangri-La unless we take advantage of a sliver of space in a rapidly closing window.

This tragic state of affairs is primarily due to Israel’s unwillingness to compromise and its unending colony expansion and theft of Palestinian land in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The international community is also guilty by default. Most UN member countries, including the US, affirm their backing for a Palestinian state, yet shy away from holding any Israeli government’s feet to the fire. However, I don’t intend to waste column inches apportioning blame. The blame game gets us nowhere. Each side has its own concerns, gripes and grudges that are set in stone.

So let’s put aside the rights and wrongs of the argument and get real.

There is one point on which everyone with an ounce of compassion can agree. Palestinians, whether on the West Bank or Gaza or in the Diaspora are condemned to live lives that most of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. Arab governments can do little to help Palestinians struggling under occupation; it’s not in their hands. But there is nothing to prevent them from improving the living conditions of Palestinian refugees herded into squalid camps within their own borders.

A visit to one of those camps in Lebanon and elsewhere is an emotionally painful experience, not recommended for the faint-hearted. As an Arab, I can’t help but feel ashamed that they’ve been abandoned to such needless misery and humiliation. In most of their host countries, they’re fated to remain stateless and jobless. In many cases, they’re deprived of the right to own land or open their own businesses and they’re forced to put up with sub-standard education for their children and poor health care facilities. Why?

Aren’t they human beings with bodies, minds and souls crying out to be nourished?  They’ve done nothing wrong. They’re innocent victims. Most were born inside one of those ramshackle shanty towns. Babies take their first cries while their parents’ joy is tempered with the knowledge that their offspring’s future is bleak. When I see the happiness in the eyes of my own grandchildren, I can’t imagine how those mothers and fathers must feel.

Enough blinding our eyes to their pain!  Enough using those poor people as poster-children for a political cause! It is incumbent on all Arab states to agree on a strategy and pool their resources for its implementation.

Every Palestinian refugee should be offered a home in an Arab country of their choosing. Once there, they should be afforded equal rights with citizens. They should be offered first-class education and training so that they can gain skills that can benefit both their families and their newly-adopted homelands. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that they will always consider Palestine as their motherland.

A less ideological approach should also be taken with respect to Israel, again for the sake of Palestinians hemmed-in by walls and checkpoints. Like it or not, it’s clear that nuclear-armed Israel under the patronage of its big brother the US is here to stay. So rather than incessantly battle over this sacred soil beloved by all Abrahamic prophets, Israelis and Arabs must find a way to peacefully coexist.

We should ignore those who care little about the Palestinian people, yet ruthlessly use their cause to further their own interests whether Arabs, Iranians or Westerners. Palestine should be cherished not treated as a commodity to be traded inch-by-inch or turned into a PR tool to give credibility to liars and manipulators. It’s time we called-out those who’ve been ruthlessly playing on our emotions.

Let’s also dispense with labels such as “Little Satan” or “enemy Zionist state” designed to incite and prevent us from sitting at one table. In truth, we have far more dangerous foes than Israel, disguised as friends. Insult only keeps the flame of enmity burning. It’s time to begin negotiations with Israel in a spirit of goodwill – although, of course, one hand can’t clap.

Plan A, embodied in the Camp David Accords, may have sounded good at the time but, in practice, it’s been an abject failure. It’s time that we admit that and move to Plan B which I believe should be based on the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during a 2002 Arab League summit. However, due to changing circumstances since then, I would suggest the following stipulations:

  • Palestinian/Israeli negotiations brokered by the US have been fruitless time and time again. Instead, a committee should be appointed made up of respected Palestinians and representatives of GCC states. Such committee should be empowered to negotiate directly with the Israeli government without the presence of any third parties.
  • Talks should be without preconditions on both sides with one exception. Israeli settlement expansion should come to a halt before their creep precludes any possibility of two states living side-by-side because Palestinians will never sign-up to one that’s hardly bigger than a postage stamp without sovereignty over their borders, shorelines and airspace. 

If all fails or an independent Palestinian state is no longer practical in light of realities on the ground, the Palestinians should be offered the choice to pursue either a ‘One-state solution’ or an autonomous region within an Israeli/Palestinian federation.

Whatever works for them, whatever gives the Palestinians a life, the kind of existence most of us take for granted, Arabs should bless. Likewise, Israelis should conclude that isolating high walls and militarisation won’t keep them nearly as safe as an olive branch extended to the Palestinian people and their Arab neighbours.

Ultimately everyone involved in this conflict or on its peripheries must make a choice: Are they prepared to perpetuate pain and suffering indefinitely by dredging up the past and pointing fingers – or are they open to fresh ideas and new solutions. The choice is simple. Love of life or morbid celebration of death. For people like me who care, there’s no contest.

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