Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Give peace a chance in Palestine

Source: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs

Today the world marks the 60th anniversary of one of the great injustices in human history. On May 14, 1948, almost an entire people was uprooted from their homes.

As the Israelis throw the biggest party of all time to celebrate the creation of their state on historic Palestine - with the help of Britain which had promised them a 'national homeland' on that Arab land - the Palestinians in the Diaspora, some six million of them, are still waiting to return home, with no real hope at the end of the tunnel.

Nevertheless they are as determined as ever to fight on for their right to return to their land. This right is sanctified by international law and United Nations resolutions, particularly resolution 194.

This right is in fact at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict and all those who are familiar with the conflict have long realised that no settlement, at least a just and lasting one, could be achieved without securing the Palestinians' right to return.

Sixty years is a very long time. Many things have changed since the war of 1948. Israel has grown into a nuclear power with a mighty army that has managed, on more than one occasion, to defeat Arab armies.

Most importantly and to its advantage, Israel has the unconditional support of the world's great power. But this will neither change the reality nor alter the right of the Palestinians to their own independent state nor can it erase the great injustice the Palestinian people have been suffering for the past 60 years.

Moreover, it will certainly not intimidate the Palestinians into giving up. They continue to stand firm and for that they earned the admiration of generations of Arabs and peoples around the world.

The epic struggle of the Palestinian people is one of courage, patriotism and steadfastness despite the great odds. The little children of the intifada, facing off the mighty tanks of the Israeli army with small rocks, have become a global symbol of defiance and the courage to resist an oppressive occupation.

Today, as we mark Al Nakba, we admire the Palestinians' steadfastness and persistence in the face of occupation, oppression, collective punishment, systematic torture, arbitrary detention and on the spot executions. But it is also an occasion to stress a few fundamental points:

- The anniversary comes as the Palestinians, in the occupied land, are growing more divided than ever. Blood has been shed for the first time in the war of the brothers in Gaza.

The land, or whatever is left of it devoid of Israeli colonies, is also divided between the Hamas camp (Gaza) and the Mahmoud Abbas-led national authority (the West Bank).

Prisoners of the Israeli army stroll around their camp during their break hours in Palestine on November 19, 1948.

The fighting and the subsequent division is like another Nakba. And it is prolonging the original one. Since the death of the legendary leader, the late president Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians have been distracted by internal fighting.

Occupied Jerusalem and other cities meanwhile are being eaten up piece by piece by the occupiers. There is no feasible end to the conflict without a united Palestinian authority that can negotiate a peace settlement.

- The Israelis, who are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state, should also realise that peace projects are a two-way street. They cannot expect to achieve peace and security and keep the occupied land.

The Arabs, through their recognition of UN resolution 242, upon which the two-state settlement project is based, and with the recent Arab peace initiative, have offered the Israelis a historic chance of a just and lasting peace within internationally, and most importantly Arab, recognised borders.

The Israelis must realise that peace cannot be secured whilst imprisoning an entire people, killing Palestinian leaders, starve Gaza and confiscating land in the West Bank. The 60th anniversary could very well be an occasion for the Israeli people to contemplate the direction of their state and the future of their children.

- For six decades the world has been either shamefully silent on the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people or atrociously complicit in many of those crimes.

The international community must acknowledge the long struggle of the Palestinians and finally move to implement the countless resolutions passed by the UN to restore the rights of the Palestinian people.

It is time for the United States also to pressure its Israeli ally to seize the historic opportunity of settlement offered by the Arab peace initiative. The year of this extraordinary anniversary could also be the year that the Middle East finally witnesses the real peace settlement and the end of 60 years of Palestinian suffering.
Ramallah residents attend a ceremony commemorating Al Nakba, the Arabic term used to describe the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with the 1948 creation of the state of Israel.

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