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Settlements Sans Regret

What’s New? It’s Always Been Like This

by BOUTHAINA SHAABAN

No one has believed that the United Nations will respond positively to a Palestinian request for a resolution providing for the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for Palestinian refugees according to all international terms of reference and Security Council resolutions.  Nevertheless, the way the subject was approached is worth considering carefully.  This request coincided with Israel’s announcement of  a new crime, adding 900 settlement units to the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem despite the “criticism” and “displeasure” of Europe and the White House and despite the calls of the UN Secretary General to stop building and revoke the decision.  It is remarkable that some people have adopted the same language and terminology used by the Israelis in response to this criticism.

The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat, lied: “Israeli law does not discriminate between Jews and Arabs, east and west”.  This is a clear undisguised lie that the world has so often heard from Israeli officials, because what the Israelis are doing is demolishing Palestinian homes and expelling Palestinians, and building new settlements for immigrant Jews from all over the world.

But the most important Israeli reaction is their saying that “settlement has been going on for tens of years, and we are not doing something new.  Why all this fuss about building 900 settlement units in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem?  This means that Israel has been able during the past six decades to occupy land, expel Palestinians and build new settlements despite the world’s criticism and condemnation and that it accepts these objections which it knows will not lead to any concrete measure which deters Israel from committing its crimes.  Even French foreign minister, Bernard Kushner falls into the linguistic and conceptual trap the Israelis had designed when he expresses “regret” that Israel continues building settlements,” adding “but it has always been like that”. 

So, if Israel knows that expressions of  regret, criticism and objection will not go beyond the ink they are written in, why should it be deterred?  And since criticism is always linked to the usual western commitment to “Israel’s security” without any commitment to the Palestinians’ security despite the fact that settlement threatens their security, not that of Israel, why should Israel be concerned about these statements and objections, which rarely reach the stage of condemnation, and which are forgotten five minutes later by the officials who make them?

Israel is not concerned about this “regret” and the statement about the “danger of settlement” because it knows that the American veto is ready at decisive moments to protect it from any real measure which forces it to change its ways or actually stop committing all these crimes against the Palestinians and which are in violation of international humanitarian law. 
The question is: what does it mean for politicians in Europe and the United States to make statements that they support the creation of the Palestinian state if they are unable to take any concrete measure against Israel?  Why are other countries of the world put in the dock when they commit crimes against humanity, while when it comes to Israel, European and American politicians express their commitment to “Israel’s security” instead of defending the Palestinians’ security which is actually violated?

In light of these positions which reveal the reality of the western position — ie  of defending Israel’s crimes –  it is no longer acceptable to talk about European assistance to the Palestinians to build a hospital here or rehabilitate a school there, because the Palestinian cause is not a charity project which only needs donors and charitable people.  It is a cause of freedom for which the Palestinian people have been fighting for over sixty years.  That is why it requires clear positions which go beyond the familiar bottom-line verbal criticism and expressions of regret, because this approach across more than  sixty years has enabled the extremist rulers of Israel and its settlers to eat up most of the Palestinian land and deprive the Palestinians from freedom and dignified life and cause an unparalleled human disaster. 

This is indeed a critical stage which should not pass us by like other stages where Arabs did not have an actual evaluation of what was really going on and have not taken a real and active position.  Instead, most titles of Arabic newspapers give the last news item the title: Israel “agrees” to build 900 new settlement units in Jerusalem.  There is no doubt that the title is an Israel one copied by Arab media as it is and pasted on top of their pages for all Arabs to read. 

The Arab ‘street’ is busy with the “football war” between Egypt and Algeria; and we are trembling with fear that blood will be shed between Naser’s country and the country of one and a half million martyrs, not for Palestine, not in defense of besieged Gaza, or Jerusalem and Arab sanctities, not in order to change the conditions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but for qualifying for a certain slot in a football game repeated regularly for entertainment purposes.  Moreover, Israeli officials, who hesitate to travel to Europe for fear of being arrested for committing war crimes against Palestinians, have started to find in some Arab countries a safe haven where there are no procedures to try them, prosecute them, or at least prevent them from entering the countries.  Now, there are even invitations extended by some Arab countries for Israeli officials who dare not visit any country of the world because they are criminals convicted of shedding the blood of Arab children.

An accurate reading of the western position towards Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab Palestine should be also linked to its position towards other regional issues.  At the time the west rejects the idea of declaring a Palestinian state through a UN resolution, and only expressed verbal criticism of Jewish settlement on Arab lands, while Jewish settlers pet founding stones for  their new settlements, Obama’s tour in Asia has focused on criticizing Iran; and western countries are again drumming up war against Iran, which has not attacked anyone and which has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.   The whole world knows that the only marketing agency of this western campaign against Iran is Israel, which does not want any country which supports Arab rights to possess nuclear power and which does not want the Arabs or Muslims to possess the necessary knowledge.  This is the result of a hostile and racist view of the Arabs and Muslims expressed by Israeli policies against Palestinians and Arabs in general.  So, no file should be read in isolation.  We should always find links between these files and put them in a historical framework which shows that “things have always been like this”.  Haven’t these Indo-European civilizations committed genocide against natives and their cultures and built white settlements on their ruins?  How can we expect them now to have a tough stance in relation to Jewish settlement in Palestine?

The new thing which should emerge from this condition is a different Arab official and popular position which focuses on this political, legal and epistemological war between Arabs and the world.  This requires a great deal of work and effort instead of adding “first” after the name of every Arab country, or on winning a football match and portraying it as a real victory for our nation and our people who is lost in a dangerous global game which should be faced with a great deal of intelligence and will.

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is political and media advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through nizar_kabibo@yahoo.com