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An Evaporating Palestine

“For 17 years they [Palestinians] negotiated with the Israeli government during settlement construction … ”

 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 1 October 2010

The United States-brokered peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas are in suspended animation.

Abbas is deciding whether to continue to partake in them despite the expiration of a 10-month moratorium on new Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Although his inclination appears not to do so, he also believes the opinion of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Libya this Friday is first worth taking.

It is remarkable that those representing the Palestinian people would waiver in the slightest about quitting the talks in the face of ongoing land seizure. If this is not a red line, what is? It suggests a leadership which has not only failed to stand for the basic rights of its people, but a further reminder of Abbas’ illegitimacy as a spokesperson for those rights.

Two incontrovertible, overlooked facts:

The presence of even a single Israeli settler in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem is illegal. Articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention, reaffirmed by numerous United Nations resolutions and the principles of the U.N. Charter, prohibit an occupying power from transferring its population into forcibly acquired territory.

Second, Abbas’ presidential term ended on Jan. 9, 2009. In the absence of elections, the Palestine Liberation Organization—of which Abbas’ Fatah faction is the largest party—extended his tenure indefinitely (a move not recognized by Hamas, the decisive winner of the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections). His authority as PA president is therefore in question.

But could Israel find a better “partner” with whom to conduct peace talks than Abbas? His protestations against Israel’s December 2008 onslaught of Gaza were noticeably muted. The PA also endorsed a recent vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council postponing action on the Goldstone Report which alleged Israeli war crimes in the conflict.

Maysa Zorob of the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq characterized the resolution as “a betrayal of victims’ rights” and the PA’s support of shelving it reflective of “a lack of genuine commitment to justice.”

The price of clinging to power and remaining in the good graces of the U.S. State Department has been forsaking Gaza. The Israeli government seized on this, bolstering Abbas’ stature by pretending they had found a trusted negotiating partner—all while the quiet annexation of land continued.

But it is hard to solely blame Abbas. As Netanyahu stated, Israel has mastered the art of entering empty dialogue with Palestinians as new East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements are built.

As the map shows, Palestine is evaporating. It is now just a tangle of checkpoints, roadblocks, barriers and military zones.

Five hundred thousand settlers in 120 West Bank settlements and counting; the expropriation of territory and expulsion of Palestinians is rendering a one-state, two-state or any-state solution moot.

“Everyone knows that measured and restrained building in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank and Jerusalem] in the coming year will have no influence on the peace map,” Netanyahu said.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, when no map remains. The “measured” and “restrained” qualifiers used to describe robust, relentless settlement activity are typical of the doublespeak employed by Israeli prime ministers.

As Abbas seeks outside opinion, consults Arab foreign ministers and holds cabinet sessions to decide the wisdom of pulling out of talks, Palestine is being whittled away … as the PA whittles away time.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.

More articles by:

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

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