Islam House

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stop colonies for peace's sake

There is little sense in negotiating the end of occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build and reinforce its enterprise of illegal buildings in the Occupied Territories

After more than two decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, we are at a turning point in the history of the region.

As a Palestinian negotiator for over 20 years, I see that tough decisions have to be made. The stakes are too high — not just for the Palestinian people, but for the entire region's stability.

Since Palestinians first made our historic compromise calling for a two-state solution 22 years ago, we have entered numerous negotiations processes with the hope of finally achieving a comprehensive end to our conflict. But Israel's continued colonies enterprise will defeat any prospects for real peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

By refusing to extend the expired moratorium on colonies construction in the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem, Israel sends a clear message that it is not serious about negotiations. And this message fundamentally undermines the peace process.

Palestinians cannot negotiate at any cost. Coming to the table without a halt in colonies construction undercuts our government's credibility with the Palestinian people and may give ground to extremists who are against the peace process. Instability in the Occupied Territories is bad for the region, and it's bad for Israel.

Our call for a freeze on colonies is not new. Under international law and previous agreements, including the ‘Roadmap to Peace', which was endorsed by the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN, Israel is obliged to freeze construction in the Occupied territories, including that for natural growth.

Of course, we know that peace requires compromise. But peace also requires fairness and equality. As the late president Yasser Arafat often said, we are not looking for an agreement that solves only some of our issues, but one that provides Palestinians and Israelis with a just agreement that leads to lasting peace between us.

For years, the path for Palestinian freedom and statehood has been obstructed by Israel's continuing policy of occupying and colonising Palestinian territory. Israel has done this through the implementation of its so-called ‘facts on the ground' policy: the imposition of a colony enterprise designed to unilaterally annex Palestinian land, water, and natural resources.

Colonies cut deep into Palestinian territory, dividing Palestinian land into distinct and isolated areas (‘Bantustans'). Further, Israel has developed an infrastructure to support these colonies, including Israeli-only roads and an illegal wall built on our land that de facto segregates Palestinians from Palestinians, farmers from their farms, and students from their schools.

Public relations campaign

I have often witnessed the negotiations process succeed in making progress, leading to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and West Bank cities in 1994 to 1996, providing both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority with security, stability, recognition, and economic growth. But I have also seen the process turned into a public relations campaign, whereby Israeli politicians repeat the word "peace" over and over, while their actions in building colonies actually worsen the situation on the ground.

Historically, Israel has used every negotiation process as a guise for ramping up colonial activity. In fact, it has more than doubled, numbering more than half a million illegal colonists today. This is not only a serious threat to Palestinians, but an insult to the very credibility of the peace process.

Currently, Israeli construction of colonies is moving at a pace that is much faster than it was prior to the freeze, which ended this September. We also know now, that hundreds of violations were committed during the freeze.

Participation in negotiations cannot be motivated by a cynical and politically opportunistic blame-game. It must sincerely and steadfastly aim to achieve justice and regional peace. Israel's feigned commitments to peace while disregarding international law burns in the hearts of Palestinians.

People sceptical of the peace process will say that Israel does not have any incentive to respect international law. But here is where the international community must play a critical role.

As a Palestinian, I appreciate the support and efforts of the Obama administration to reactivate the Middle East peace process and to finally bring an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land through the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But for the peace process to work, the international community must provide real incentives and disincentives — such as banning the import of products produced in illegal colonies — for Israel to respect international law.

To show its commitment to a two-state solution, Israel, as a first step, must preserve the possibility of two states by freezing all building in colonies, including in occupied east Jerusalem. Only then can the negotiating teams decide how colonies within Palestinian territory will be dismantled.

I firmly believe that peace is possible.

Palestinians have once again entered this peace process in good faith. But there is little sense in negotiating the end of occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build and reinforce its colonies enterprise. Internal Israeli politics cannot impose the standards for peace. It is time to stop thinking of ‘creative ways' towards a ‘more tolerable' occupation and make the tough decisions needed to end it.

The US and the rest of the international community must transfer their words into actions and take a firm stance to bring the parties closer to peace. As time runs short and prospects for peace are fading, only bold actions and positions can bring the change needed to end this protracted conflict.

Peace must succeed. There are no other viable alternatives. Israel must realise this. And for the sake of stability in the region and global security, the international community must see this, too.

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