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Palestine’s peril | A.G Noorani

IT is hard to recall any other people who had to face such insurmountable hardships in their struggle for freedom and statehood as the brave Palestinians have since the State of Israel was imposed by force on their lands in 1948.

The victory of the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the March elections comes against a background of dwindling support from Arab states, a hardening of the Israeli stand and American unwillingness to prevent Israeli settlements from expanding on Arab lands occupied in the 1967 war.

There is, however, a time bomb ticking away which should alert the entire world, especially Muslims. It is Israel’s threat to undermine the Arabs’ control over the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount.

There is a time bomb ticking away which should alert the entire world.

The Likud won 30 seats in a Knesset of 120. Its centre-left rival Zionist Union led by Yitzhag Herzog won 24. The three Arab parties united to present a joint list which secured 13 seats against their previous 11. All others are, if anything, more hardline than Likud. There are now 350,000 settlements on the West Bank plus 300,000 in parts of Jerusalem.

Way back in 1996, Netanyahu had declared: “We will be here permanently forever.” Therefore, not much should be made of his infamous and retracted assertion during the election campaign rejecting the two-state solution. It was implicit in prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for withdrawal from Gaza. In October 2004, the Knesset approved the disengagement plan. Netanyahu was finance minister in Sharon’s cabinet.

Those who imagined that it would be a prelude to disengagement from the West Bank, as a step towards acceptance of a Palestinian state were willing dupes. Well ahead of the vote, Sharon’s closest friend and chief of staff Dov Weissglass, who was privy to Sharon’s calculations revealed his strategy in a long interview to the Israeli daily Haaretz on Oct 8, 2004.

“Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this … with a [US] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” The disengagement “is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Formaldehyde is the liquid in which dead bodies are preserved.

Weissglass was alluding to a letter he had drafted from president George W. Bush to Sharon in April 2004, in which he recognised the “new realities on the ground including existing major Israeli population centres”.

This month, the Palestinian Authority will join the International Criminal Court where it proposes to press charges against Israel for war crimes over the conduct of last year’s Israeli war in Gaza as well as over Jewish settlements in occupied territories.

Realist to the core, Ziyad Clot a French lawyer of Palestinian descent published his book There will be no Palestinian state in 2010. An article by him some years ago fervently pleaded for unity among the Palestinians. “Reconciliation between all their constituents must be the first step towards national liberation.”

Al Jazeera’s disclosure in January 2011 of a tranche of 1,600 confidential records of talks between Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and the Israelis revealed the deep divide between the PA which controls the West Bank and Hamas which controls Gaza. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist body by the US which succeeded in breaking up the PA-Hamas coalition. Hamas also faces the hostility of important Arab states. Abbas, now 80, is himself a diminished figure.

The one-state formula is no solution. Arabs constitute one-fifth of Israel’s population and make no secret of their support to Palestinians in the occupied areas. Israel will cease to be Jewish if Arabs receive full citizenship rights or cease to be a democracy if its repressive policies continue.

The looming crisis in the Haram al-Sharif was triggered in September 2000 when early one morning Sharon calculatedly ascended the steps to the platform housing the Al Aqsa mosque. A second intifada ensued for years costing 4,000 lives. Since then Jewish visitors began visiting the place in large numbers.

In 1967 Israel’s defence minister Moshe Dayan established a compromise. The platform housing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock would remain in the custody of a waqf. Jews would pray at the Wall below. The compromise has collapsed. Netanyahu’s return will add to the tension with fearful consequences.

The only hope lies in the success of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Launched in July 2005 by 175 Palestinian civil society organisation it has won significant successes in Europe. One hopes that Israel’s ruinous policies will give a fillip to BDS.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2015

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