Seeing the forest for the trees

Kidnapped Palestinian Hamas lawmakers wait during the hearing of their case at the Ofer Israeli military court next to the West Bank city of Ramallah, 25 September 2006. (MaanImages/Moti Milrod)

The Quartet (along with the international community generally) has failed to enable the Palestinian president to act credibly towards the goal of making “progress towards a two-state solution through dialogue and parallel implementation of obligations.”

Anyone following the news from the occupied Palestinian territory would think that it is the Hamas-led government that is preventing the Palestinian president from achieving “credible” progress towards a two-state solution. In the present charged political divisions among Palestinians, even a large percentage of the economically deprived and hounded population is being persuaded to clutch at this straw.

In fact, Palestinians had been faced with the exact same general stalemate that characterizes the situation today long before the January 2006 elections. The only difference between then and now is that people could eat better then and fewer of them had been killed.

Exactly six years ago this month, the Palestinians rose up in arms while a unilateral Israeli plan to determine the final status of the region (Ehud Barak’s plan) was swirling around them. It was the plan rejected by the Palestinians at Camp David, a plan that “called for cantonization of the territories that Israel had conquered in 1967, with mechanisms to ensure that usable land and resources (primarily water) remain largely in Israeli hands while the population is administered by a corrupt and brutal Palestinian authority,” as Noam Chomsky summed up.

Nevertheless, this plan is now in its final stages of implementation. The only tenet the Israelis are still engineering is the establishment of a “corrupt and brutal Palestinian authority” to aid it in stamping out Palestinian resistance to this and other variations on the plan.

Long before the ostensible excuse of standing in the way of “credible progress towards a peace settlement”, Palestinians have watched as Israel unilaterally and through the use of superior force annexed East Jerusalem and West Bank lands; as Israel defined new borders along the Jordan Valley and through the erection of the separation wall, as Israel continued to expand and consolidate its Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to put the finishing touches on the separate network of roads that connect these settlements to Israel based on what it intends to keep in accordance with the latest variation of the unilateral plan (Ehud Olmert’s this time).

Israel’s actions along the lines described above are all illegal under international law and acknowledged as such by the international community. But the international community has been reduced as a spectator that exercises its muscles only by pressuring Palestinians and putting sanctions on the Palestinian population even as Israelis advertise for tenders to build more illegal settlements and the illegal wall.

The international community has criminally failed the Palestinian people, an occupied people who started their resistance having to use stones to protect their rights. They have failed where it counts - in exerting legal discipline on Israel through their civilized international regime, the regime they are so eager for the “uncivilized” world to join.

Since the occupation, Israel has consistently and demonstrably harmed the Palestinian population in a way disproportionate to its security needs. That is because Israel hasn’t been after security as much as it has been after establishing “facts on the ground” demographically and geographically at the expense of the Palestinian population in pursuit of a peace agreement that would force these “facts on the ground” down Palestinians’ throats.

What’s more, everyone knows this! The international community knows this in the same way that everyone knows cigarettes cause cancer. In the US, there is a warning right there on the cigarette packet by the Surgeon General attesting to this fact. However, making the cigarette companies legally accountable is another matter.

If the Quartet (as a representative of the international community) is sincere in its desire to see a two-state solution to the conflict materialize as it says it does, then it must act in two ways. First, it must do the equivalent of putting a warning on the cigarette packet - it must label Israeli actions, forcefully and repeatedly, for what they are - illegal under international law. Second, third-party states that subscribe to the international regime must take up their responsibilities under the Geneva Convention to create an environment for the Palestinians and Israelis in which successful political negotiations could take place.

This environment is the kind where illegal activities under the Geneva Convention are not put on the table for negotiations, where illegal activities of the sort Israel is practicing must immediately cease and desist. Such an environment means the exercise of legal discipline - i.e., the re-establishment of the legal regime to which third-party states already subscribe and which Israel has broken in an egregious fashion and continues to do so.

As for the Palestinian president, he should be saying and keep on saying: “We can no longer accept to negotiate interim questions while Israel continues to violate, under the law, certain of its obligations towards the civilian population.” This is the only credible conditionality for the success of future negotiations.

The double standard will not serve any of the parties involved. It will further erode the Quartet’s credibility with the Palestinians, and it will fail to save Israel from itself.

Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.