Back Commentary & Analysis Obama tells Palestinians to choose between crumbs from the table or freedom

Obama tells Palestinians to choose between crumbs from the table or freedom

America and its allies can keep their "aid". The Palestinians would rather have freedom and dignity than the crumbs which Washington and Tel Aviv may deign to throw from the table.On the 65th anniversary of the UN partition resolution which allotted to a minority of Jews most of the land of Palestine, the Palestinians have returned to the world body. Still without their oft-promised state, they seek only recognition as a non-state member, a status barely higher than that of an observer. Even that, though, is too much for the United States, Britain and Germany to countenance.

By discharging his pledge to approach the General Assembly, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) must be given some credit. After all, they have been subjected to a barrage of threats and blackmail ever since they announced their intention to go to the UN. Within hours of securing a second term in office, President Barack Obama confirmed his pro-Israel credentials by telephoning Abbas to convey Washington's opposition to the Palestinian UN initiative. He went even further by threatening the PLO with diplomatic and economic sanctions if it executes its plan.

The presidential threat highlighted clearly how little progress the PLO has made towards developing a respectable relationship with the United States. Amazingly, after all the handshakes, smiles and photo opportunities of the past two decades, not to mention the copious political agreements, the PLO is still officially classified as a terrorist organisation by Washington.

Dialogue between the PLO and successive US governments began way back in December 1988 when the late Yasser Arafat signed the Stockholm Document recognising Israel, accepting UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and renouncing the armed struggle. That year, 154 member countries voted to convene the General Assembly in Geneva because the US refused to grant a visa to Arafat to address the world body at its New York headquarters.

Thus, Mahmoud Abbas can at least take comfort in the fact that he is, for now, still allowed to visit the UN in New York, but this is as good as it gets. He only needs to contrast Obama's current stance with the assurance he gave before the General Assembly on 23 September 2010 to know where he stands: "When we come back here next year," Obama said, "we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations - an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."

In justifying its shameful opposition to the Palestinian diplomatic undertaking in the UN, the Obama administration accused the PLO of acting unilaterally, in breach of signed agreements. Did Obama's people mention Israel's unilateral settlement expansion in the occupied territories, carried out despite official Palestinian and American opposition? Of course not; neither Obama nor William Hague, for that matter, see any need for sanctions against their friends in Tel Aviv.

Had western governments which claim to be honest brokers for peace actually acted impartially and fairly, Abbas would not have felt forced to resort to the UN. It is obvious that he feels a deep sense of betrayal, and this is understandable. He has spent more than twenty years "negotiating" and entreating the Americans. Thus the PLO's predicament has been compared aptly to that of a rape victim who has been attacked in the most brutal fashion and then prevented from crying for help or even attempting to solicit a comforting ear.

The inconsistency demonstrated here is especially characteristic of Obama. At home, he made political capital out of the fact that during the presidential election his opponent Mitt Romney dismissed 47 per cent of the American electorate as scroungers. On foreign policy matters, though, he simply dismisses the overwhelming majority of world opinion in order to protect the interests of Israel's illegal Jewish settlers. No American or international law sanctions the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents, settler attacks on Palestinian farmers and Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes. World opinion recognises this; yet Obama sides with the Israelis.

As for Mr Abbas, it is clear that the more he concedes to the Israelis, the more he is shunned. On this occasion he has already said that he is prepared to resume negotiations with Israel the day after the UN vote. This, however, is a blatant compromise of his long-standing condition for an end to settlement activities before any further negotiations.

America's threat to cut economic aid to the Palestinians is as meaningless as the non-existent diplomatic sanctions against Israel. The fact is, US aid to the Palestinian Authority was stopped in November 2011 after the PLO gained full membership of the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).

With typical arrogance the Israelis have, on their part, threatened to abrogate the Oslo Accords if the PLO/PA's bid succeeds. This would be most welcome, for it would offer an opportunity to redress what must now be regarded as the blunder of recognising Israel's "right" to 78 per cent of historic Palestine. The Palestine issue would then be restored to reality; not as a "dispute" about this or that percentage of land, as Israel wants the world to believe, but about land occupied illegally and its rightful owners' legal right to return and self-determination.

In the short term, the PLO/PA's success at the UN will result in no major breakthrough. In its present form, the UN is incapable of intervening to resolve the conflict which it created. Equally, as some nationals are more or less granted immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, that institution too will remain irrelevant and not fit for purpose.

Sixty five years is a short time in the history of nations. For an ancient people like the Palestinians this is but one chapter. This newly acquired status would not diminish the esteem in which they are held or the justice of their cause in the conscience of the world.

America and its allies can keep their "aid". The Palestinians would rather have freedom and dignity than the crumbs which Washington and Tel Aviv may deign to throw from the table. As for Israel, its status as a rogue state is ready to be reaffirmed by the family of nations.


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