Independent Palestinian State?

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Push causes Israeli alarm

By Donald Macintyre in Ramallah

2009-11-10T105107Z_1235520321_GM1E5BA1FW201_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS

Palestinians light candles around a poster depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally marking the fifth anniversary of Arafat’s death, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 10, 2009. Arafat died on November 11, 2004.        

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian leaders from President Mahmoud Abbas down have alarmed Israeli ministers by swinging their weight behind a planned effort to secure UN backing for a unilaterally declared independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

In an innovative strategy which would not depend on the success of currently stalled negotiations with Israel, the leaders are preparing a push to secure formal UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders as a crucial first step towards the formation of a state.

Although there is no fixed timetable, Palestinian officials see the second half of 2011 as a plausible starting date for such a process. That is when the Palestinian Authority is due to fulfill Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s widely applauded two-year plan for completing work on all the institutions needed for a fully-fledged state.

One senior Palestinian official said here that the new plan was “the last resort of the peace camp in Palestine” given the current negotiating impasse left in the wake of the US failure to persuade Israel to agree a total freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank as a preliminary to talks.

The moderate Palestinian leadership also sees the unilateral process as a viable – and, in internal political terms, significantly more credible – alternative to surrendering to intense US pressure to enter negotiations without the settlement freeze.

As the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to denounce the Palestinian plan in a speech last night, Israel’s President Shimon Peres declared in Brazil, “A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It’s impossible and it will not work. It’s unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy.”

But officials here are hoping that, without any progress towards “final status” negotiations on a future state, the US could be persuaded not to veto such a resolution. Explicit UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders would, the officials believe, dramatically intensify legal and moral pressure on Israel to lift the 42-year-old occupation.

Some officials are even drawing a direct comparison with the diplomatic process by which Israel itself was established as a state: a UN resolution endorsing it in November 1947, the Declaration of Independence by David Ben Gurion in May 1948 and the subsequent swift recognition by the US and Soviet Union.

The strategy is tied closely to – though not specified in – Mr Fayyad’s plan, “Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State”, and is thought to have originated with the Prime Minister, an independent who has recently publicly questioned the willingness of Mr Netanyahu’s government to grant more than a “mickey mouse” state in any negotiations. But it has since had strong backing from Mr Abbas, and other leading figures in his Fatah faction.

At a commemoration of his predecessor Yasser Arafat’s death, Mr Abbas declared last week, “The Palestinian state is a fact which the world recognises”. Saying that more than 100 countries supported Palestinian aspirations for a state, he added: “Now we are fighting to get the world to recognise the borders of our nation.” Mr Abbas, who reaffirmed his intention not to run again as President, has insisted that he will not return to negotiations without a settlement freeze and clear terms of reference specifying a state based on 1967 borders, East Jerusalem as the capital, and an agreed solution for refugees.

The leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat yesterday followed his Fatah colleague Mohammed Dahlan in strongly endorsing the plan. “We have taken an Arab foreign ministers’ decision to seek the help of the international community,” Mr Erekat told Reuters, adding that the US and other leading international players would be consulted before any UN move. “If the Americans cannot get the Israelis to stop settlement activities, they should also not cover them when we decide to go to the Security Council,” he added.

Ghassan Khatib, head of the Palestinian government’s media centre, said that the international community should confront Israel with a choice of a clear negotiating path towards a state based on 1967 borders, or international recognition for a Palestinian state without an agreement. “They cannot block the negotiating approach to two states and at the same time refuse the alternative,” he added.

He said that progress by the current “peace camp” in charge in Ramallah was essential if it was not to “run out of ammunition” against the alternative offered by Hamas. “I honestly think there is no future for the peace camp in Palestine if this is not going to work,” he said, adding that it would be “political suicide” for the present leadership to enter negotiations on present terms. He said the international community had long been striving “for an agreed end to the conflict – a two-state solution as a result of an agreement. But we are saying it’s not working. Why not recognise a Palestinian state when it is ready, without necessarily relying on Israeli consent?”

Mr Khatib added that recognition for a unilaterally declared state would parallel Israel’s recognition as in 1948. “The other side was not [then] expected to accept. There was no consent by either the Palestinians or the Arab [states].” Such a strategy would be severely complicated by Gaza, if it were still controlled by Hamas at the time – but no more so than the negotiations which the US is currently trying to promote.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to reject the Palestinian proposal. Addressing a forum on the Middle East in Jerusalem, he said, “There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority…any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

Independence: Getting past the roadblock

Q. Would a unilateral declaration of independence carry risks?

A. Even if it were underpinned by a UN endorsement of a Palestinian state based on the areas occupied in 1967, it would certainly be a lurch into uncharted diplomatic waters. But some Western diplomats believe it would remove any lingering doubts about the meaning of UN Resolution 242, on which Palestinian and international demands for an end to the occupation begun in 1967 are based.

Q. What might be the advantage for the Palestinians?

A. Israel technically regards the West Bank as a disputed territory the final status of which is a matter for negotiation. Palestinians hope that a process of obtaining UN Security Council support for independence, followed by major individual countries recognising the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza as a state, would greatly and immediately put Israel under pressure to withdraw its forces and civilian settlers from the occupied territories in the West Bank. At the most extreme interpretation, Israel would then be regarded as occupying a foreign country. The UN could also grant the new Palestine immediate and full membership, with voting and proposing rights, in major international bodies.

Q. What is Israel’s main problem with the proposal?

A. Israel argues that such a unilateral declaration would not only violate its right to reach an agreement on borders with the Palestinians, but also directly cuts across the 1995 Oslo-derived agreement that neither side should take unilateral steps affecting the status of the territories.

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UN: Make Israel War Crime Trial

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

A UN fact-finding mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticizing Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that, while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defense in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said.

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated that they intended the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that, where such attacks were launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be”one-sided”, Corporal Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was not to avert a military threat, but “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population”.

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit one carried out five months after it took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation, when children were going home from school, “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. Under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the civilians had their right to life forfeited. And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

* The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court”.

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