The Long Overdue Palestinian State

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahmoud Abbas

2011-05-09T174509Z_121684304_GM1E75A050I01_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) gestures as he arrives for a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 9, 2011.

REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Ramallah, West Bank–SIXTY-THREE years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees. Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child’s story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

This month, however, as we commemorate another year of our expulsion — which we call the nakba, or catastrophe — the Palestinian people have cause for hope: this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

Many are questioning what value there is to such recognition while the Israeli occupation continues. Others have accused us of imperiling the peace process. We believe, however, that there is tremendous value for all Palestinians — those living in the homeland, in exile and under occupation.

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families’ homes.

Minutes after the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, the United States granted it recognition. Our Palestinian state, however, remains a promise unfulfilled.

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater. We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own. We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel’s settlement program.

Negotiations remain our first option, but due to their failure we are now compelled to turn to the international community to assist us in preserving the opportunity for a peaceful and just end to the conflict.

Palestinian national unity is a key step in this regard. Contrary to what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel asserts, and can be expected to repeat this week during his visit to Washington, the choice is not between Palestinian unity or peace with Israel; it is between a two-state solution or settlement-colonies.

Despite Israel’s attempt to deny us our long-awaited membership in the community of nations, we have met all prerequisites to statehood listed in the Montevideo Convention, the 1933 treaty that sets out the rights and duties of states. The permanent population of our land is the Palestinian people, whose right to self-determination has been repeatedly recognized by the United Nations, and by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Our territory is recognized as the lands framed by the 1967 border, though it is occupied by Israel.

We have the capacity to enter into relations with other states and have embassies and missions in more than 100 countries. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union have indicated that our institutions are developed to the level where we are now prepared for statehood. Only the occupation of our land hinders us from reaching our full national potential; it does not impede United Nations recognition.

The State of Palestine intends to be a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter. Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel.

A key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948.

Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.

We call on all friendly, peace-loving nations to join us in realizing our national aspirations by recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and by supporting its admission to the United Nations. Only if the international community keeps the promise it made to us six decades ago, and ensures that a just resolution for Palestinian refugees is put into effect, can there be a future of hope and dignity for our people.

Mahmoud Abbas is the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

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Venture Lets Palestinians Buy Piece of West Bank

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tom Perry

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians can make a political statement and a financial return by buying a piece of the West Bank in a new venture designed to anchor their ownership of the Israeli-occupied territory.

With the aim of “putting Palestinian land in Palestinian hands,” the TABO project seeks to promote broader ownership of the West Bank by making land more affordable and encouraging formal registration of land holdings in official title deeds.

Though the Palestinians claim to know who owns every hill and valley in the West Bank, only a third of the territory occupied by Israel since 1967 has formal title deed, or “tabo” in Arabic.

Palestinian and Israeli activists say that loophole has reduced the legal risks to Israel of settling the territory opening the door to what they describe as a land grab that has undermined Palestinians’ hopes of founding an independent state.

The plots for sale in the project launched by Union Construction and Investment (UCI) come with title deeds acquired from the Palestinian Authority in a process which the project manager said would deter most.

“We’ve been working on this for three years,” said UCI General Manager Khaled Al Sabawi, explaining how much of the land being offered in the venture was bought from owners holding it under power of attorney — legal status far short of title deed.

“It’s been an exhausting procedure with so much red tape to cut through to buy land which does not have title deed and to issue the title deed for it,” he said.
“It’s an obstacle course that requires a lot of patience and is very difficult for an individual to do on their own,” he said, unfurling a three-page long flow chart detailing the steps required to secure title deed from the Palestinian Authority.

Buy Online

Now, Palestinians with some $20,000 to spare can buy one of the 200 plots that went up for sale on the TABO web site last week. Partly aimed at the Palestinian diaspora from Chile to the Gulf, the site allows visitors to view a 3-D image of their prospective land, ‘add to cart’ and begin buying online.

The plots, mostly around one dunam (1,000 meters square) in size and spread over three locations, are outside the main West Bank towns where land prices have been driven up by buoyant economic growth in the last few years.

In Ramallah, the Palestinians’ administrative capital, a dunam can cost more than $1 million, Al Sabawi said.

“In Ramallah, small plots are only affordable for people with serious money to invest. It is difficult to buy outside the main urban centers due to the fact that land only comes in large tracts,” he said.

Sami Elkhatib, a Palestinian based in Abu Dhabi, said he was considering buying one or two of the plots in the sites between Ramallah and Nablus. UCI has mapped out the sites with essential infrastructure.

“I already put some money in equities,” said Elkhatib, a private banker. “This is another way to invest to help the economy,” he said in a telephone interview.

UCI declares it is an “ethical investment” that helps “prevent illegal land confiscation in Palestine.”

Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, around half a million Jews have settled in the territory. They include 200,000 who live around Jerusalem on land formally annexed to Israel after the war.

Maps, Measures and Patience

Many of the Jewish settlements built in the West Bank have been constructed on what Israel has declared “state land.”

To do that, Israel has used a 19th century law that entitled the Ottoman authorities to take control of land that was not being used and whose ownership was not officially registered, said Peace Now, an Israeli activist group.

Since Israel began invoking the law in the 1980s, around 16 percent of the West Bank has been declared state land, said Hagit Ofran, who monitors and analyses settlement construction for Peace Now.
“What Israel did was to survey the whole West Bank to find the land that is not cultivated and not registered with anybody. The fact that it is not registered does not mean there is no ownership,” she said.

“This trick would not have been valid if it wasn’t for the lack of registration,” she added. The process of land registration in the West Bank came to a halt in 1967 when Israel captured the territory from Jordan. Ofran said Israel’s justification was that some Palestinian landowners had fled in the conflict and therefore to continue registration would be unfair on the absentees.

In 2002, the Palestinian Authority, which governs around 40 percent of the West Bank, including the main Palestinian towns, established its own land authority to resume the process.

But it has made little headway in a costly and time-consuming procedure involving maps, measures and patience.

Nadim Barahmeh, head of the land authority, believes it is no coincidence that Jewish settlement is thinnest in the northern West Bank where land registration is most widespread.

The land authority has moved from a series of pilot projects funded by international donors to start work registering land in Bethlehem and Salfit, two areas further south, and will start work in a third area in 2012.

“The areas where there is final settlement of land ownership definitely helped put a limit to the erection of settlements,” he said.

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