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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Arabs must stand firm for Palestinian statehood

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock, protesters carry banners supporting Palestinian statehood during a protest in Al-Walaja, a town in the West Bank
© AP Images, the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
© AP Images, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Ever since Yasser Arafat passed away, the Palestinians have lacked a strong leader with the authority to speak on their behalf. His successor Mahmoud Abbas took an entirely different approach to the issue of statehood in the belief that Arafat’s confrontational stance had failed and the road to peace ran through Washington. And to that end he has been unfailingly conciliatory and ready to compromise even on some of his people’s basic demands. His statements were always designed to be non-inf lammatory and whereas the Israelis and their American backers thought of him as a good guy – perhaps even a pushover – Palestinians themselves expected a lot more from him.

Last Friday, in the UN General Assembly, President Abbas was a different man. His appeal for Palestinian statehood wasn’t couched in diplomatic jargon. He spoke calmly and truthfully about the crippling effects of occupation, the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and the need for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. He insisted that any future Palestinian state would be drawn along the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and stressed that while he was keen to return to the peace table, he would not do so as long as Israel continued its policy of settlement expansion. He told the world how Palestinian hopes and dreams have been dashed on the rock of hollow promises for decades, evoking Arafat’s plea to the Assembly in 1974 “Don’t let the olive branch fall from my hand. ‘Enough, enough, enough,’” was the main thrust of the Palestinian leader’s message and judging by the rapturous applause and the lengthy standing ovation he received, for the first time in decades the world was truly listening.

Almost overnight, President Abbas has turned into a dignified statesman with gravitas. His courage in defying the US President’s ‘order’ not to go the UN route or else risk damaging the peace process should be saluted. His tenaciousness to fast-track the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote in the face of outrageous threats from the Netanyahu government, the White House and the US Congress has proved that this time he means business.

The fact that Tel Aviv has threatened to withhold Palestinian taxes should the bid proceed while the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warns of unspecified “tough repercussions”, illustrates Israel’s moral bankruptcy when the PLO has long put down its guns to proceed down the highway of international law.

While Congress mulls over cutting US aid to the Palestinians and punishing the UNRAWA and the UN body with the cessation of US funding, President Obama says his country will veto the Palestinian chances of statehood in the UNSC. It’s a shameful reflection on a country that was once a beacon of justice and democracy that his diplomats are busy behind closed doors twisting the arms of diplomatically and economically weaker UNSC members to vote ‘no’, as the former Palestinian Authority negotiator Hanan Ashrawi has recently disclosed.

Such behaviour is reminiscent of old Chicago mafia tactics in the days when the godfathers would browbeat witnesses against turning up in court, while seeking to pay-off jury members. As someone who believed that President Obama was a just man, eager to be a peacemaker, I was shocked and disappointed to hear his address to the Assembly that contravened the message he delivered on the same podium last year. As many commentators have pointed out, this time he sounded more like Israel’s lawyer than an honest broker, neglecting to mention either the 1967 borders or the Israeli settlements which he had previously said are obstructing peace.

It’s a bitter irony that while he praised the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Yemenis and the Libyans for pursuing freedom; he sought to thwart the Palestinians from getting theirs. He said nothing about Palestinian suffering, preferring to focus on America’s “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security. “Let’s be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbours that have waged repeated wars against it,” he said, neglecting to mention Israel’s invasions of Lebanon and onslaughts on Gaza.

He spoke of Israeli citizens killed by rockets, while ignoring the thousands of civilians murdered by the IDF. He brought up the six million Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust – a dark shadow on Europe’s history that has nothing to do with the Arabs who lived peacefully with the Jewish people prior to the 1948 Nakba. I wonder whether Mr Obama even believes his own words when he’s been such a strong proponent of a Palestinian state drawn along the 1967 borders until now. Cynics say that he’s put his principles aside to garner Jewish and Evangelical Christian votes in the upcoming presidential elections; they might be right.

For us Arabs, the bottom line is this. We cannot and must not in all good conscience allow President Abbas to face the music from the US and Israel alone. We’ve allowed the Palestinian struggle to fall from our hands for far too long and now that we see that the international community overwhelmingly empathises with their cause, we should not only embrace it but be prepared to put ourselves on the line in its defense.

Our leaders should unite against any nation that prevents the Palestinians from attaining statehood in the same way that the Israelis, the Americans and their sycophants have united to thwart Palestinian rights.

Because the role of the Arab League isn’t being properly met, as its host country remains unstable, and various member countries need to take care of grave internal problems, I believe it should be temporarily given to a GCC state with a respected GCC figure as its secretary general who can speak with authority on the Palestinian issue and will be taken seriously.

We must open our hearts and our pockets to the Palestinian Authority and sanction any country that stands in the way of what is right. This year, the Arab people have gained their voice and this is what they want. Ours is no longer a region where the wishes of the citizens can be disregarded; our people are with the Palestinians and their leaders should reflect their will.

Winston Churchill once said, “The pessimist sees the difficulty in an opportunity, while the optimist sees the opportunity in difficulty”. For the sake of the Palestinian people and the stability of our region, we Arabs must grasp this opportunity to show our commitment to justice and regain our karama (dignity) on the world’s stage, whatever the cost.

Our once proud Arab nation needs to prove its relevancy once and for all or it will splinter and become a mere historical afterthought. Now is the time to become brothers, real brothers, again and lift our own Palestinian people out of their misery.

Tell me, who is with me? Are you with me? Or are people like me who care deeply about old-fashioned concepts of honour and truth simply crying out in the wind?

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