A Quartet-backed move to head off the UN Palestine vote has now come from France, which has proposed yet another Peace Conference.
This might have been a fitting initiative if Netanyahu had just gone to Washington and indicated flexibility, or willingness to withdraw from the occupation after 44 years.
But this peace conference invitation follows upon Netanyahu’s declaration of seven conditions of total and belligerant intransigence: No to the 1967 borders, no negotiations on Jerusalem, no return of refugees, no dismantling of settlements, no withdrawal from the Jordan valley; no peace without recognition of the Jewishness of his State, and no arms for a Palestinian State. Nor would Israel talk to a unity government that included Hamas.
So why a conference now? Haaretz reports that French foreign minister Juppe “hinted to Netanyahu that the proposal was approved by the U.S. administration and other major European Union countries. He said the initiative was intended to present an alternative to the Palestinians’ unilateral move to seek full UN membership in September.” But “if no progress is made in the peace process by September, France would consider recognizing a Palestinian state” — by which time the UN opportunity would have come and gone.
Abbas is said to be considering this proposal, which is blatantly intended as a spoiler. He may think that if he doesn’t toe the line that could lose some important votes. But there are better ways to get votes than to put the whole strategy into a box that’s clearly marked and labelled TRAP.
After 20 years of talking and 44 years of occupation, after the clear messages from Israel in arrogant speeches and brutal actions that spell out “we’re strong enough to do as we please and to take what we want”, the time has come for Palestinian leaders, however weak, to stand up to the blackmail and arm-twisting and focus on the one thing Israel and its backers seem to fear the most, and which has aroused huge support among Palestinians worldwide.
What must be clear to all is that the UN vote tactic will not usher in a Palestinian state, let alone a sovereign one. What it will do is strengthen enormously Palestine’s bargaining position and put an end to a status quo which has given Israel the impunity to do its will.
Beyond that, there will be complex chains of events presenting new opportunities. One scenario (though there could be several others) is that Israel has threatened to annex the West Bank if the UN votes recognition of Palestine: this might be the trigger for a new mass movement demanding equal rights in One Country, against a backdrop where Israel is clearly flouting international opinion.
Nor will recognition put an end to talking, negotiations or conferences. But it can help to change the ground rules and the balance of forces within those events, especially if they are not detached from the struggles at the borders, in the villages, on the campuses and the boardrooms which must be stoked up in the new situation to isolate Israel and make its people see sense.
The PA leaders launched the UN tactic, and they must see it through. They should denounce as diversionary any pressure for an “alternative”. They should say that they might talk after Palestine is recognised, but will certainly not do so before recognition or instead of it. And they should make clear that recognition is not the end of the road but the start of a new and more effective struggle.
And those of us that keep faith with the right of return and the rights of the ‘48 Palestinians in Israel must insist that the leadership of a Palestinian “state” must be elected by and accountable to every Palestinian, wherever in the world they are scattered.
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