Palestinian Independence Day?

November 16, 2009

So….yesterday was Palestinian Independence Day.

On Novemeber 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat symbolically declared an independent Palestinian state–a unilateral decision that was supported by several countries but was not respected by Israel or the US–who continued their illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And in the end, this never contributed to any actual changes in every day Palestinian life.

Yesterday was the anniversary of this declaration, and although it is considered a national holiday in the West Bank, it was basically ignored by Hamas in Gaza. They do not accept the idea of an independent state within the 1967 borders–which was the state Arafat declared–instead, they still believe that the Palestinian state should be within the 1948 borders which includes all of Israel.

In the past week, there has been more and more talk among Palestinians and West Bank leadership about unilaterally declaring an independent Palestinian state.

President Abbas has grown tired and frustrated with the so-called “peace process” negotiations with Israel–with good reason. The peace process has been dragging on for almost 20 years, and during that time, Israel has gradually been unilaterally and illegally annexing more and more of the West Bank through their colonialist policies of settlements.

The basic precondition of Palestinians for further negotiations is that at the very least, Israel stop its settlement construction. Israel has asked for a lot more from Palestine to continue the negotiations, and they have done their best to inact those requests.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been built to defend Israel’s security, not the Palestinians’. The Palestinain security forces are being trained by US generals to make sure that Israel’s security is always the top priority. For example, when the Israeli military makes a night raid in the West Bank, they coordinate with the PA and all of the Palestinian security forces have to leave whichever area of the West Bank Israel wants to raid (and arrest or detain or beat or kill Palestinians).

So despite all of the economic and security progress Palestinians have made in the West Bank, Israel won’t even stop its settlement construction. As Michael Tarasi, a Palestinian lawyer put it, “We are negotiating the division of a pizza, and in the meantime, Israel is eating that pizza”

So Palestinians are in a catch-22 situation. If they keep “negotiating” with Israel, and expecting different results even though the past 20 years have brought no success–and instead have only resulted in the loss of almost half of the West Bank territory to illegal settlements, Jewish-only roads, and Israeli security bases….the Palestinians will eventually loose everything.

Israel does NOT want peace. They want the West Bank, or as much as they can get before the international community finally forces them into a final status agreement with Palestine–which might never happen.

On the other hand, if Palestinians start a new Intifada, they will obviously be outgunned–and it will be 15 year old boys throwing stones at huge Merkhava tanks aiming missiles at them– and while exercising their innate right to resist illegal occupation, they will be massacred by the Israelis–who will call it “self defense”– and the West Bank infrastructure and economy will be flattened. Then the “peace process” will begin again…

A third forgotten option is to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state. Although this option was attempted, and failed before, it does not mean that it can’t work now.

Israel’s preconditions for agreeing to a two-state solution are based largely on security and economy of the West Bank. As stated before, the security aparatus has been built–according to US and Israeli standards. The economy has been steadily improving and will continue to do so ONLY if Palestine becomes independent and can control its own borders (in order to control its imports and exports without paying double taxes–one to Israel and one to Palestine)…

A similar unilateral decision for declaring an independent state without the “permission” of the occupier is Kosovo. Serbia, who was occupying Kosovo, and its powerful ally Russia aimed to crush the declaration, but Kosovo side-stepped the UN  process because they knew that Russia had the veto and would use it. Instead, they coordinated with the US and other European countries before the declaration in order to secure their support–and as a result the declaration was recognized by countries powerful enough to shut down the opposition.

After the success of this unilateral declaration of independence, much of the international community was worried that Kosovo would be used as a precendent for more oppressed peoples to break off from their nations and declare independence.

Now, the occupation of Palestine is much more extensive, violent and inhumane than the occupation of Kosovo. It has been occupied for 40 (or 60, depending on your politics…) years and the Israeli treatment of Palestinians has made the entire region unstable and has increased anti-American and anti-Western sentiments around the Muslim and Arab world.

However, Palestine, like Kosovo, cannot go through the UN security council in order to declare their independence, because who has the veto? The US…and the US has shown that it has an “unshakeable bond with Israel” and will put “Israel’s security” above anything else.

Although many would make the argument that ending the occupation would make Israel more secure–as the reason for Palestinians to resist the occupation violently would be null and void– the US is likely to use its veto and stop the process.

So that leaves the Palestinians with only one other option–they must amass enough international support to balance out the fact that Israel, and consequently the US, will do everything in their power to stop the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state.


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