Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peace talks, settlements, and status quo solutions


Will these peace talks work? -- Mahmoud Abbas seems to want peace -- If Israel extends the settlement freeze, then Palestine needs to stay at the negotiating table -- Is this the last chance for negotiations?

People seem to ask me more questions about a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict when there are some kind of swirling rumors about proximity talks or direct negotiations or whatever you call them. In the spirit of responding to these questions and comments about settlement freezes and peace talks, I will present a few points, explode a few myths, and probably bore a few readers.

First, settlement moratorium. You have to understand, all Israeli settlements are illegal. No one has ever disputed that, not even the United States. The establishment of an Israeli settlement is always theft of land, and it is land theft sanctioned, permitted, and encouraged by the state of Israel. Every additional housing unit built and every additional square meter of land stolen is another sizable obstacle in the way to human rights being recognized and peace being realized. So back to the settlement moratorium. Well, the so-called-10-month freeze…it never really happened. Remember when Peace Now found 492 violations of the partial moratorium?

One quarter of all the settlements violated the moratorium. 600 housing units in 60 settlements began to be constructed during the 'moratorium.' The standard building rate, during that same period is 1,130 units. That means the moratorium cut the building in half. Again, every single unit is a violation of international law. So, the moratorium only stopped half of the violations of international law.

Additionally, here is a video from the largest settlement near Hebron, called Kiryat Arba. Settlers are publicly pissing all over the settlement moratorium, in open view of the main highway. If you look closely you can see a concrete pouring machine, a concrete truck turning its tank, and a concrete truck leaving the settlement. (h/t Mondoweiss)

Today at the United Nations, Obama came to the podium, like the Nobel Peace Prize winner he is (gag reflex), and uttered, "Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks."

Well Mr. President, the moratorium has not made a difference on the ground, it has only cemented the realities of colonialist land theft and dispossession of the Palestinian people at a slightly slower rate. And, Mr. President, you believe that racist colonialist thiefs should stop what they are doing and that international law shouldn't be publicly flouted? But you won't do anything about it if it is openly flouted? Well that's brave Mr. POTUS-Noble-Peace-Prize Winner.

Secondly, Mahmoud Abbas doesn't represent the Palestinian people. Elections were supposed to be held eons ago, and every Palestinian I have ever met simply hates Abbas, believing, rightly so, that he is nothing more than a politician who loves his seat and sleeps with Israel and the United States in order to keep his facade of legitimacy. When Obama said today, "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- who stands up for his people in front of the world," he couldn't have been more wrong. Mahmoud Abbas does not stand for the Palestinian people. That's not my opinion, that is the unanimous voice of the Palestinian street.

Thirdly, you shouldn't be positive or optimistic about these peace talks. If they 'succeed,' it won't be success in terms of human rights for all people or for a just peace. These peace talks seem to be seeking to maintain the status quo, which isn't tenable in the long term. Rather, the realities on the ground must change: apartheid laws that privilege Jews over non-Jews, settlements that continue to steal land, Palestinian borders and airspace controlled by Israel, to name just a few. Here is Nadia Hijab, who explains the point much better than I do myself:

…next year is likely to see a grand ceremony where Palestinian leaders will sign away the right of return and other Palestinian rights in an agreement that would change little on the ground. The plan of the PA’s appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to declare a Palestinian state in 2011 could unwittingly contribute to this outcome by providing the appearance of an “end of conflict” while the reality remains unchanged. If the rest of the world sees that the government of “Palestine” is satisfied with international recognition and a U.N. seat, they will be happy to move on to other problems leaving the Palestinians at Israel’s mercy.

Such a scenario could sound a death-knell for Palestinian human rights. The Palestinian people have shown a remarkable capacity to regenerate resistance and evolve new strategies after suffering harsh setbacks over the past century. But there may be no recovery this time around. A “peace agreement” would end the applicability of international law to the resolution of the conflict; permanently fragment the Palestinian people; and demobilize Arab and international solidarity.

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