In for the long haul
The outlook from the Palestinians' point of view is dismal, but they refuse to give up, confirms Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
A group of Palestinian intellectuals meeting in Ramallah this week issued a bleak outlook on the Obama administration's willingness (and ability) to pressure Israel to end its decades- old occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
The one-day symposium hosted a number of university professors and government officials who unanimously agreed that the new right- wing Israeli government was "a friend of settlements" and "enemy of peace".
Commenting on the current status of the peace process with Israel, Palestinian Authority (PA) official Saeb Ereikat said Israel offered to withdraw from 93.5 per cent of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
According to the offer, 5.8 per cent of the territories, mostly settlements in and around Jerusalem, would be annexed to Israel and in exchange the Palestinians would receive a corresponding area from Israel. The remaining 0.7 per cent-difference would be given to the Palestinians in the form of a free passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
All in all, the Palestinians would receive a total area of 6,257 square kilometres, the same area that Israel occupied in 1967.
Ereikat, however, admitted that the main problem lies in the details, saying that a square kilometre in Jerusalem was not like a square kilometre in the Negev desert.
Israel had offered to compensate the PA for the annexation of large parts of East Jerusalem by ceding a corresponding area in the Negev region, especially in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip.
Ereikat pointed out that Israel continued to refuse to admit responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba or catastrophe and the resulting plight of Palestinian refugees, expelled from their ancestral homeland when Israel was created in 1948.
He acknowledged that the PA had no right and no authority to give concessions to Israel in matters pertaining to the right of return. "This is a personal right, first and foremost."
The Palestinian official said talks with Israel ended and reached a deadlock and that everyone was waiting to see what the Obama administration would do in terms of restarting the stalled peace talks.
Ibrahim Abu Jaber, an Israeli-Arab academic from the town of Um Al-Fahm, labelled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations "absurd" and a "waste of time. Under the rubric of these negotiations Israel has been able to carry out a phenomenal expansion of Jewish colonies in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem," he said.
Abu Jaber added that the "virtual American monopoly" of the peace process allowed Israel to "virtually completely control the Palestinian Authority" and "deepen and perpetuate the Palestinian geopolitical division" by creating two Palestinian political entities, one in the West Bank under Israeli control and another in Gaza, that is completely blockaded and under constant attack.
Abu Jaber said it was likely that the Obama administration would continue to exploit internal Arab contradictions to prevent any collective, serious Arab effort to deliver the Arab world from the American "stranglehold".
"I believe the future, at least the foreseeable future, doesn't auger well for Palestinian cause. The Arab world is unfortunately divided against itself, and the US has been able to convince many Arab regimes that the enemy is Iran, not Israel." He added that the new government in Israel, headed by Benyamin Netanyahu, was a fascist government that is trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause while claiming to be inclined towards peace.
Hani Al-Masri, a current-affairs commentator pointed out that while there were definite signs showing that the world is steadily moving slowly towards "multipolarism", the world community would continue for some time to be under American "hegemony and uni-polarism".
Al-Masri argued that while Russia, China and India, in addition to Europe, were "rising poles" they still didn't have the necessary "economic and military power" that would make them second amongst equals vis-à-vis the United States.
He said the world financial meltdown was definitely undermining US ability to act as insolently and arrogantly as it did during the Bush administration. However, he added, how this would affect the American policy and behaviour in the Middle East, especially towards Israel, remains to be seen.
Al-Masri criticised both the Ramallah-based American-backed government of Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas government in Gaza, saying that in the absence of real Palestinian national unity neither peace talks with Israel nor the resistance would achieve tangible political gains for the Palestinian people.
"In the final analysis, we have two sides, one having open-ended talks with Israel and Israel says 'No', and the other wanting a truce with Israel and Israel also saying 'No.'"
Al-Masri castigated oil-rich Arab states for failing to "rescue Palestinians from financial dependence on the West, especially the US, which he said destroyed the Palestinians' free will and ability to say 'No' when this is what serves our national interests. A single Arab state can cover all our expenses for many years to come. This would liberate us from subservience to the United States."
Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a professor of political science at An-Najah University, presented a different outlook, arguing that Israel was undergoing a "slow but definitive downturn". "Israel is still powerful, however since 2006, Israel has been in a state of downturn in every conceivable aspect."
Qassem attributed this to the emergence of "the forces of resistance" in Lebanon and Palestine. "There are rising Arab forces who want to resist and fight, who don't believe that Israel and America hold 99 per cent of the cards."
He pointed out that Iran was determined to keep up its policy of modernisation based on home-grown development against the wishes of the West and Israel. According to Qassem, both Israel and the West wanted to keep Arabs and Muslims in a position of perpetual inferiority, politically, economically and technologically.
Qassem argued that the Arab masses were more daring and willing to confront the state security apparatus, which he said would eventually weaken the regimes. He predicted that Israel would become more "ghoulish and more genocidal" with the passage of time. He argued the possibility of Israel using a nuclear bomb against Palestinian and/or Lebanese population centres shouldn't be ruled out.
He opined that the correct approach the Arab-Muslim world should adopt vis-à-vis Israel should take the form of "sustained resistance until the Zionist project loses steam and dies out."