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Issue #1520      28 September 2011


Palestinian recognition is not mere symbolism

The question of United Nations recognition of the state of Palestine has gone before the Security Council where it will probably be handballed to a special committee. US and Israeli pressure is likely to sink the latest bid for progress towards a viable, sovereign state for the long-suffering Palestinian people even before the US ultimately uses its veto to crush their hopes. The Australian government’s role in these events could be dismissed as chicken-hearted and laughable if the real life consequences were not so grave.

Prime Minister Gillard insists a “yes” vote would not change anything “on the ground” and so is not worthy of support; that a Palestinian state cannot grow out of anything other than an accord with Israel about a host of complex questions such as borders and the status of Jerusalem. It may be true that a Palestinian seat at the table at the UN will not suddenly lift all the Israeli army road blocks, stop the building of settlements or remove the hateful walls constructed across Palestinian land but a “yes” vote would not be mere symbolism – and the PM knows it.

The vote has again focussed international attention on one of the most, if not the most outrageous violations of justice and international law at present – the continued occupation by Israel of Palestinian land. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear he has no intention of halting the construction of Jewish settlements on the territory of a future Palestinian state and will continue to give the invaders support and protection.

The Palestinians are increasingly forced into isolated pockets of land on what is meant to be their own territory. Checkpoints compound the disruption to communities and the economy. The unstated but very blatant strategy being pursued by the Israeli government is to make life so unbearable that the indigenous population will simply flee, leaving a “land without people”.

In these intolerable circumstances, the representatives of the Palestinians put an end to talks with Israel – the so-called “peace process” – unless the settlements were stopped. This stance is being used by the US, Israel and heads of government like Gillard to paint the Palestinians as intransigent. The depiction of the Palestinians as the obstacle in the way of a peaceful settlement is typical “oppressor speak”. It is blaming the victim for the deplorable state they find themselves in and which has sparked resistance.

The current impasse is no excuse for withholding recognition from the Palestinians. Pressure should be directed towards Israel. A “yes” vote would add to that pressure and hasten the day the Israeli government withdraws its troops and pulls back the fundamentalists currently colonising Palestinian land.

In the absence of a just and principled approach by some key governments to these questions, it is the people of the world who are becoming mobilised. Solidarity with the Palestinians is growing rapidly and the efforts are becoming more tangible. The flotillas bound for Gaza were hampered by various government authorities and attacked on the first occasion by Israeli forces but they carried the hopes of millions for a breach in the crushing blockade imposed on the Palestinians.

BDS – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Israel – is gathering support. The growth of that movement prompted the Israeli government to introduce a law banning its citizens from calling for a boycott of Israel, including the settlements, and leaving them open to claims for damages from companies affected by such campaigns. The Israeli government’s repression of the local peace movement is worsening and yet many Israelis continue to stand with their Palestinian brothers and sisters and the international movement demanding the long overdue completion of the historic two-state solution.

The Gillard government should get on the right side of history. Most Australians support the establishment of a fully-fledged Palestinian state right now. Sympathy for the security concerns of the Israeli government is evaporating as the reasons for the failure of the peace process become clear. A “yes” vote for UN recognition of the state of Palestine will strengthen the hand of those wanting real progress “on the ground” for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Next article – Petition to Colombian President – Juan Manuel Santos

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