Egypt/Palestine : The Wall of Shame

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tariq Ramadan

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Palestinians tries to break off bricks from a building at an abandoned airport that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 10, 2010. Israel launched an air strike in the southern Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket fire, an army spokesperson said on Wednesday.

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

It is common knowledge that the Palestinians have long been direct victims of the directionless, spineless and hypocritical polices of the Arab leadership. It is equally common knowledge that the State of Israel need make no effort to impose its vision, its methods and its objectives. Given the support of the United States, Europe’s guilty silence and the compliant passivity of the Arab regimes, we know what to expect. The foreign policy of most Arab states has been described with good reason as “pro-Zionist.” Their cowardice and treachery comes as no surprise.

Following last year’s murderous attack on Gaza by Israeli forces, we may have thought we’d seen the worst. That judgment failed to take into account the ingenuity of the “worse yet” scenario produced by the Egyptian regime and the “religious authorities” of al-Azhar. In the name of “national security”, of the fight against “terrorism”, and ultimately, of combating “corruption”, “smuggling” and “drug trafficking”, the Egyptian government is building a wall reaching twenty meters below ground level to stop the “Gazans” from carrying out their “illegal” activities and from digging “smuggling tunnels.” Of course, the Egyptian government has no intention of confining the inhabitants of Gaza to their hell; of course, the measure is dictated only by concern for national security! So persuasive is the argument that the committee of religious experts of al-Azhar quickly endorsed the government decision, declaring it to be “islamically legitimate” (“in conformity with the Shari’a”) for the country to protect its borders. (The al-Azhar scholars were responding to a fatwa issued by the International Union of Muslim Scholars that had ruled the exact opposite, that the Egyptian decision was “islamically unacceptable.”)

For shame! So this is how justice is mocked, how power and religion are misused. The Palestinian people, and most of all the inhabitants of Gaza, are denied their dignity and their rights; deprived of access to food, to water and to basic health care. And now, the Egyptian government becomes the ally of Israeli policy at its worst: isolating, strangling, starving, and smothering Palestinian civilian life after having eradicated hundreds. The aim is clear: to choke off all resistance and to destroy its leadership. The Egyptian government has blocked convoys attempting to deliver badly needed aid to the Palestinian people in an effort to raise the siege of Gaza. The mobilization that brought hundreds of women and men from around the world to Rafah was met by refusal upon refusal by the Cairo authorities, along with a strategy of selective humiliation.

For shame! No wonder the Israeli government purring with contentment. After all, a new and “promising” start for the “peace process” has been announced! There will be something for everybody: the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt has spared no efforts to draft a new and “comprehensive” program. A splendid “peace process” indeed, in whose name civilians have suffered months of blockade before their leaders are invited to take their place at the “free” and “respectful” negotiating table. Israel can keep on purring: it can play for more time without making the slightest concession. Settlement activities are to be temporarily frozen—except for construction projects already underway. Finer negotiations would be hard to find!

It cannot be repeated often enough: the Egyptian “national security wall” is a wall of shame. The religious authorities that have legitimized it have behaved exactly like the notorious “ulama” (Muslim scholars) or “Islamic councils” that openly serve power, whether of dictators or the forces of colonialism, or of some self-styled Republic specializing in the manipulation of religion. What can possibly remain of their credibility after issuing a “political fatwa” that lends the Islamic endorsement of craven scholars to the power of dictatorship? Silence would have been far better.

We must condemn these unacceptable acts, and stand beside those who resist with dignity. If successive Israeli governments know one thing—with which we must agree—it is this: the Palestinian people will not surrender. For those who may still harbor doubts, we must add a second certainty, that of time: History is on the side of the Palestinians; it is they who represent, today and tomorrow, hope for the noblest human values. To resist oppression, to defend one’s legitimate rights and one’s land, to never yield to the arrogance and to the lies of the mighty. As for the power of the Israelis, the Egyptians and others, as for the fatwas of government-appointed ulama, these things too will pass; they will pass, and will be forgotten. Happily forgotten. For the duty of memory is transformed into forgetfulness when it comes to the names and the acts of dictators, traitors and cowards.

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Independent Palestinian State?

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Push causes Israeli alarm

By Donald Macintyre in Ramallah

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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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