2012 has been an eventful year for the Palestinians and their struggle. The fourth quarter of the year witnessed some landmark events, including the eight-day Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip that killed and injured as many as 1,000 Palestinians, mostly innocent civilians.
It also witnessed the recognition by the United Nations General Assembly of Palestine as a non-member observer state of the world body. Upset by the overwhelming yes vote, the Israeli government took the rash decision to build a huge Jewish colony in East Jerusalem, which most experts and observers say would cut off the West Bank’s northern part from the occupied territory’s southern part.
The colony, which is slated to include more than 3,000 settler units, along with infrastructure, roads and other facilities, would also separate Arab East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
The year 2012 also witnessed the first visit of its kind by Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal to the Gaza Strip. The high-profile visit coincided with the rising popularity of the Islamist group, partly due to the movement’s perceived steadfastness in the face of the latest Israeli aggression.
Finally, the Palestinian Authority (PA) continued to undergo a severe economic crisis stemming from a phenomenally high cost of living as well as shrinking financial resources due to dwindling and irregular foreign aid and the intentional Israeli blackmailing policy of disrupting the payment of tax and customs revenue to the PA, estimated at a $100 million per month.
EIGHT DAYS OF KILLING: Israel started the orgy of killing on 12 November with the assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari, the effective chief of staff of Hamas’s resistance wing, the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades. Al-Jabari had negotiated with Israel, through Egyptian mediation, the release of a few hundred Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He had also negotiated the renewal of a truce with Israel just hours before his assassination.
Responding to the murder of Al-Jabari, resistance fighters in Gaza fired rockets on targets in Israel. The rockets’ reach was unprecedented, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but inflicted very few casualties among Israelis. Israel, calculating that the Palestinians would not retaliate for Al-Jabari’s murder, fearing Israel’s superior fire power, launched massive air strikes, targeting government building as well as other infrastructure and facilities.
Later, the Israeli air force began dropping laser-guided bombs on private homes, alleging that those targeted worked for Hamas. The wanton strikes murdered entire families, such as the Al-Dalu family, which lost 14 members. Israel views the families, relatives and even friends of Palestinian resistance activists as legitimate targets. All in all, the aerial bombing killed as any as 182 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were innocent civilians, including some 40 children.
Around 1,000 other civilians were also injured, many sustaining life-threatening injuries. Israel admitted that it deliberately targeted civilian homes, including the Al-Dalu family residence, claiming that Hamas operatives may have been hiding there. Human Rights Watch and other rights organisations accused Israel of committing war crimes. As usual, Israel dismissed international criticisms, reiterating its favourite mantra that it has the right to defend itself.
MESHAAL IN GAZA: The Hamas leader, whom Israel tried to murder in Amman in 1997, arrived in Gaza on 7 December to a tumultuous welcome by thousands of Gaza citizens and Hamas supporters. His arrival in the coastal enclave marked the first time since 1967 a Palestinian refugee returns home without Israel consent.
In several speeches, Meshaal reasserted his group’s refusal to recognise Israel under any circumstances. “It is unfair to ask the victims to recognise the legitimacy of the criminal. Besides, why is everyone asking the Palestinians to recognise Israel and no one is asking Israel to recognise Palestine? This is an inherently unbalanced equation.”
Meshaal argued that, “We don’t hate Jews for being Jews. We are fighting our oppressors, persecutors, child killers… the usurpers of our land and legitimate rights.”
He said that no Palestinian under the sun, including Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Mahmoud Abbas, had the right to cede the paramount right of return for millions of refugees uprooted from their homes at the hands of Jewish terrorist gangs in 1948.
“I have the right to return to Haifa, Jaffa and Safad,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Abbas said in an interview with Israeli television that he had no right to live in Safad, but only to visit his native town. Abbas’s remarks drew an avalanche of angry reactions from many Palestinian quarters, forcing the PA leader to “clarify” his statement.
Meshaal, whose popularity among Palestinians skyrocketed, particularly in the aftermath of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza, also sent a reconciliatory message to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, saying “We both made mistakes and blunders.”
He hinted that the coming weeks and months would witness a real rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas and that the achievement of national reconciliation was in the offing.
Some signs of this rapprochement were already looming as Fatah delegates participated in celebrations in Gaza marking the 25th anniversary of Hamas’s founding. Similarly, the Ramallah regime reportedly allowed Hamas to organise a rally in Nablus marking its anniversary.
THE UN RECOGNISES PALESTINE: On 29 November, the UN General Assembly recognised Palestine as an observer member state, causing an unprecedented diplomatic setback for Israel and its guardian ally, the United States.
The vote was overwhelming in favour of the Palestinians, with 138 member states voting for the Palestinian request, and only nine states, including Israel and the US, voting against it. Forty-one other states, including several Western countries, abstained.
The vote was celebrated by the Palestinians as a historic occasion, with many Palestinians holding celebrations hailing the UN vote as the first step towards the establishment of a real and viable state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The PA hopes that international recognition will put them in a stronger diplomatic position to resist Israeli hegemony and aggression, especially the unilateral Israeli policy of confiscating Palestinian land and establishing colonies and settlements for Jewish immigrants from overseas.
The Palestinians also hope that the acceptance of Palestine as an observer state will enable them to join the International Criminal Court and sue Israeli war criminals suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinians.
Reacting to the UN vote, the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu decided to build a huge colony between occupied Arab East Jerusalem and the colony of Maali Adumim, four kilometres eastward.
Israel called the UN vote a “terrorist resolution”, charging that the bulk of the international community harboured a certain anti-Semitic tendency. Palestinian officials scoffed at the Israeli statements, saying that Israel sought to devour the land of Palestine and deny the right of 11 million Palestinians to freedom, independence and statehood.
If built, the planned new settlement in East Jerusalem, named E-1, will, using the words of PA official Saeb Ereikat, decapitate any remaining prospects for the establishment of a viable and territorially continuous Palestinian state. It would also cut the West Bank into two separate parts disconnected from each other.
The PA warned that the building of the Israeli colony would put an end to the two-state solution strategy and perpetuate the Middle East conflict.
The international community, including the US and EU, have come out against the Israeli plan. However, it is uncertain whether these countries, widely considered allies of Israel, will transform their verbal denunciations of the Israeli plan into proactive and tangible measures to stop it.
Israel has dismissed international criticisms over the planned settlement as a passing summer cloud.
Flying in the face of the international community, Israel this week invited tenders to build the first 92 settler units of a 3,000 total, sparking international condemnation. Israel is slated to hold early general elections in January with opinion polls suggesting right wing and quasi-fascist parties will receive the lion’s share of Israeli votes.
The elections are likely to have a drastic negative effect on the survival of the already moribund peace process and on the increasingly tense regional situation.