September 19, 2009 - Ma'an
To many longtime observers of the question of Palestine it is incredible that the United States continues to insert itself as the interlocutor between Palestinians and Israel. Even more incredible is that some Palestinians appear to accept this and to place their faith in the United States as a mediator that will help realize Palestinians’ dreams of self-determination.
One must wonder if those who place such faith in the United States understand that this self-declared interlocutor is also the main source of finance to Israel through both trade and cash. Israel, a relatively rich country, receives more American money than any needy developing country in the world.
Not only is the US the largest weapons dealer in the world, and it has been for the last sixty years, it is also the main source of the weapons Israel uses to continue to kill and maim Palestinians; it is with those weapons Israel continues to impose an inhumane and illegal occupation on the Palestinian people.
But that is not all. As American Professors Mershiemer and Walt have pointed out with irrefutable argumentation, the United States’ foreign policy is significantly influenced by the pro-Israeli lobby.
In other words, by accepting the United States s an interlocutor Palestine is in fact accepting an entity that is largely beholden to their enemy.
Why else does Israel frequently commend the American efforts? Why do individuals such as American lobbyist and staunch supporter of Israel David Levy repeatedly express his satisfaction with the United States mediation, as he told Al-Jazeera International recently? Or perhaps, most tellingly, why has so little progress been made toward achieving the Palestinians right o self-determination during the past sixty-plus years.
It would be naive to think that this situation is a fluke. But it is perhaps equally naive to put the blame only on external actors.
Surely Israel wants an interlocutor that will enhance its position. Surely the United States, where at one time there were more Israelis living in New York than in Tel Aviv, will want to help a country with such strong influence on it. And surely other observers, who have much more to lose by angering the Americans then they do by confronting Palestine, will turn a blind eye to this patent injustice.
Why, however, do Palestine’s own politicians fail to effectively object to this unjust situation?
One reason might be they just don’t know how. Such ignorance is hard to sustain as Palestinian politicians and diplomats are constantly having the unfairness of this situation brought to their attention. It is done by Palestinian politicians from outside Fatah, for example by Hamas, for whose courage to speak truth to power was duly elected to govern Palestine, but prevented from doing so.
Another reason might be that they are merely scared that if they reject the US as interlocutor they will lose some of their privileges and economic incentives that come with US investment in the area. Both Fatah and Egyptian officials have even admitted that negotiations continue in Egypt—of course, with support from American money—in part just because the delegates want free trips to Cairo, the largest city in the Arab world. While it is clear that Hamas is less swayed by American money, this might merely provide an incentive for Fatah not to reconcile with Hamas based on the fear that they will lose material perks. But should such concerns have any role in determining how hard the representatives of the Palestinian people work for their peoples’ self-determination?
This leads into the third reason Palestinian leaders overlook the American bias: the suspicious alliance between Fatah and the United States. It is often openly acknowledged that individuals like General Keith Dayton, an American Security Advisor based in Palestine, and Mahmoud Dahlan, until recently without any official post but recently elected by Fatah to the PLO Governing Council, have more influence over Palestinian decision making then either the President or the Prime Minister of Palestine. One reason for this is that both receive significant contributions of American money.
Together Dayton and Dahlan, working with other supporters of America’s unusual interlocutory position, have even managed to tame the criticism of the United Nations. They have done this in New York and Brussels, allegedly by letting their respective diplomats know that they will be replaced if they don’t tow the party line. At the UN in Geneva, they did replace an independent voice with their own man.
As a consequence, when other states and the UN’s most senior official, the President of the 63rd General Assembly, sought to speak out against the bias of the United States, it was Palestinian diplomats who contained them, not Americans or Israelis.
Most Palestinians do not even know this. They either believe that the UN decided itself to remain moderate in the face of continuing Israeli injustice, or merely that the weak resolutions that the UN has adopted is all that can be achieved. Perhaps most dangerously of all a growing number of young Palestinians do not seem to care. They have either resigned to their fate of a lifetime under occupation or they flee their country, which is what Israel would prefer.
It is through a mix of ignorance and indifference that the United States has maintained the support of the Palestinian government for using it—a partial interlocutor—to negotiate with an enemy whose very existence is questionable under international law.
This last fact is perhaps the reason why both external actors and Palestinian officials who support the US mediation, also object to the use of international law as the basis of an answer to the question of Palestine.
It took almost a decade to convince the Palestinian government to allow a request for an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice by the UN General Assembly. When the opinion was finally asked, it was not about the settlements as was originally envisioned by the non-governmental proponents of the efforts, but about the wall Israel is building through Palestine.
The Palestinian government based in Ramallah still objects to asking a second opinion about the settlements, despite the fact that in its 'Wall Advisory Opinion’ the Court has already unambiguously stated that the settlements were illegal.
The allegations of American partiality as an interlocutor are, of course, relevant to the recent American push to provide an answer to the Palestinian problem. It suggests that the only answer that can come through American intervention is an unjust one and that to rely on the United States as the interlocutor with Israel is at best fool-hearted and at worst extremely dangerous evidenced by the motives of Palestinian officials involved in this effort.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of recent events is that there is still at least one alternative to the situation.
We must challenge Obama to allow neutral mediation to arrive at an answer about the question of Palestine. If Obama is up to the integrity of his words, he will rise to this challenge. If he is not, he will likely oppose backing down from the American special relationship; either way the lines will then be clear.
An appropriate neutral forum would be the UN General Assembly where virtually every independent people in the world are represented.
While it is well known that Israel attacks this forum as biased, such arguments are hard to sustain given that it was the UN General Assembly—even in the face of international law forbidding it to do so—that recognized Israel. Thus Israel could be given the choice: either cooperate with the UN in a process of binding arbitration, or, have its recognition as a state withdrawn.
Such an insensitive is greater than any other entity can offer, even the United States. It is also undoubtedly possible for the General Assembly to withdraw recognition of Israel as Israel has violated more UN resolutions than it has been alleged that Iran, Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan combined have violated.
The Quartet is not an adequate alternative to the UN because it is a body loaded with states that are partial and largely united in their opposition to Palestinian aspirations of self-determination; it cannot be an interlocutor that can come to a just solution.
The idea of the UN being an appropriate interlocutor is not new. Indeed the UN was the main forum for dealing with the question of Palestine as it became an international issue after World War II. Before that it was the League of Nations, which naively entrusted the British government to look out for Palestinian interests.
There are thus rational historical reasons why Palestine might not want the UN to be the impartial interlocutor between itself and the Israelis, but these reasons are no longer valid today.
As more governments become Member States of the United Nations, the western European and North American strangle-hold on the world body has weakened. Today—as Israel’s criticisms mentioned above indicate—the UN is a body that has been willing to repeatedly condemn Israel’s violations of international law.
It is exactly the past that makes the UN the ideal interlocutor that neither side can claim is biased—Israel and its allies because of the UNGA’s vital contribution to Israel’s very existence and Palestine because of the UNGA’s demonstrated willingness to condemn Israel’s violations of Palestinians human rights.
The main burden for achieving the introduction of the UN as the interlocutor rests on the Palestinians. A decision needs to be made in Ramallah and Gaza City, and our president must find the courage to act. This will not be easy.
After the decision to take the step is made, Palestinian leaders and diplomats will have to convince officials in New York and Geneva; this will take much skill, but it is possible.
It will require that these diplomats are able to explain using the lowest common denominator of international law, the injustice of how Palestine has been treated and to sustain the argument that according to this law Palestinians have the right to exercise the right to self-determination in all of the territory that was mandated to Britain, with the exception of Jordan where the Hashimites were able to exercise their right to self-determination to form their own country.
The arguments establishing the legal basis of Palestine’s claim are not as important for their theoretical expression of the rights of the Palestinian people as they are for setting the negotiating mark. Israel is currently infrequently and never in Quartet or US-led negotiations reminded that their very creation was an unambiguous and express violation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Regardless of where the negotiations end this should be the starting point.
When it is understood that Palestine is willing to compromise a right bestowed on it by international law, the compromise that Israel might have to make concerning its de facto position of power is put in clearer perspective. Such perspective, however, cannot come from a process in which the interlocutor refuses to even recognize the legitimate starting point.
Palestinian leaders and diplomats who fail to recognize this do their own people a serious disservice. They deny their own people the most fundamental right they have, which is to their own self-determination. When they do this they start the negotiations at a significant disadvantage. It is as if someone begins to bargain over the price of an item worth 100 Dinars, after having already paid the other party 80 Dinars towards the cost of the item. Unfortunately, it looks like this is how the new round of American or Quartet-led negotiations is going to start.
***Professor Curtis Doebbler, teaches in the Faculty of Law at An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine