- In 2006, 46,000 Palestinian applications were submitted
to foreign consulates in the OT for visas to leave. By keeping the sanctions
in place the international community has in effect become complicit in
a process of quiet ethnic cleansing.
- Any combination of factors can determine the success
or failure of political negotiations. The complex nature of the conflict,
attitudes of principal players and their lack of freedom to negotiate are
common examples. Arab-Palestinian efforts to engage in meaningful negotiations
with the Israelis have been virtually stalled for the last seven years.
Israel's never ending list of preconditions has made progress as difficult
as extracting water from stone. In the current impasse, the unconditional
release of Palestinian prisoners and lifting of the economic sanctions
would constitute a major step in the right direction.
- When the extremist Apartheid leader P.W. Botha offered
Nelson Mandela a conditional release in February 1985 in return for renouncing
the armed struggle Mandela spurned the offer. He immediately released a
statement that bears a similar message for those who hold the Palestinians
in captivity. It read, 'what freedom am I being offered while the organization
of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot
enter into contracts.' [Sparks: 1994)
- Two decades on, Israel's political establishment like
the Apartheid leadership of the mid 1980's has set its own conditions for
the release of an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners. They are:
(1) the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit
(2) an end to the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and (3) an end to
the smuggling of weapons into the Strip.
- Naturally, the Palestinians also have their basic demands.
That Israel must free from a total of over 10,000 prisoners, a minimum
of 1,500 as well as all the women, children, parliamentarians and ministers
currently held in Israeli jails and detention centers. The mere fact that
so many elected parliamentarians can be detained indefinitely without charge
can only be regarded as a flagrant assault on the institution of democracy.
If this outrage was perpetrated anywhere else the United Nations and its
entire membership would be up in arms to protect the symbols of democracy.
- By deliberately ignoring Israel's abuse and denial of
medical treatment to Palestinian prisoners the world's so-called leading
democracies have a lot to answer for. Their sickening silence over the
plight of the Palestinian captives on the one hand and their righteous
demands for the release of Corporal Shalit on the other betrays the inexcusable
hypocrisy that has permeated every aspect of policy toward the conflict
and rendered peace practically unattainable.
- As it stands, Israel's continued detention of thousands
of Palestinians is by itself a statement of intent. That it has no genuine
desire or appetite for negotiations. Its steady but conflicting disclosures
about the names and numbers of prisoners have created a state of confusion
and hindrance of all diplomatic efforts.
- Sanctions of Death
- The fact that poverty indices in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip are at their lowest levels since the occupation began 40 years ago
is no doubt a direct consequence of the international sanctions. Although
Israel, the Occupying Power, is obliged to provide for the welfare of the
Palestinians under International Humanitarian Law it is nonetheless encouraged
by the US to withhold over $600 million of Palestinian customs and tax
revenue collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
- Meanwhile, personal incomes across the Occupied Territories
continue to fall as debt levels rise and essential services grind to a
halt. According to a recent study by the British charity Oxfam, 46% of
Palestinians now do not have enough food to meet their daily needs. Since
the sanctions were imposed in early 2006 the number of people living on
less than 50 cents (US) a day has almost doubled. As a result, one million
people now depend on incomes paid to 160,000 government employees.
- Still on a related level, the sanctions have hastened
the decline of health conditions in the territories. The Palestinian Central
Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in its latest study reported last month a 31.1%
increase of chronic illnesses among Palestinian families during the last
two years. While caesarian births have increased by 17%, infant mortality
rates have jumped to 25.3 for every 1,000 births. Only 12% of women received
post natal care in the same period.
- If given the freedom to trade, invest and full control
over their resources Palestinians could still turn this situation around.
What they most desperately need at present, however, is an end to the scandalous
siege of their economy. They don't want to depend parasitically on the
European Union (EU) as Israel depends on American handouts.
- The recent visit by Palestinian Minister of Finance Salam
Fayad to the EU was a pitiful demonstration of how much rich countries
are prepared to use their economic power to browbeat poor nations into
political subservience. While the European ministers lined up to pay tribute
to the integrity of the Palestinian minister and their care for the Palestinian
people they bluntly refused to lift the sanctions of death. The message
to Fayad was stark. Not until the Palestinian Authority (PA) meets our
political demands there would be any significant economic assistance.
- By adopting the policy of dealing with selected members
of the PA the EU like the US hopes to subvert the emerging unity government
and force an early election that would see the back of Hamas. Not all in
the international community and the Security Council favor this approach
though. The decision by Switzerland, Russia and China to establish full
diplomatic ties with the new government marks a welcome departure from
the status quo. This step must not however stop short at diplomatic niceties.
It must also be translated into effective policies that would bring about
an end to the sanctions.
- Silent Exodus
- Of all the troubling consequences of the international
embargo the most shocking is its contribution to the silent exodus of Palestinians.
Israel's political leadership has no intent of repeating the forced 'transfer'
(expulsions) of 1948. They are, however, prepared to make life so unbearable
for the Palestinians that they would on their own accord resort to 'voluntary
transfer.' This process has regrettably begun. In 2006, 46,000 Palestinian
applications were submitted to foreign consulates in the OT for visas to
leave. By keeping the sanctions in place the international community has
in effect become complicit in a process of quiet ethnic cleansing.
- Unfortunately, the worse may yet to come if the Palestinians
fail to preserve their national unity. Recent American moves to deliver
$60 million worth of arms to President Abbas' security guard seem especially
designed to undo the process of national reconciliation started by the
Makka agreement. The similar arming and support of one faction at the expense
of the other in Iraq did not only plunge that country into the inferno
of civil war. It also gave birth to the largest refugee crisis in the region
since the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. Since both the US and EU seem incapable
of adopting an even-handed policy toward the conflict, Arab and Muslim
countries share a joint responsibility to prevent a similar scenario in
Palestine. With 50,000 Iraqis spilling out across the region every month
the Middle East can ill afford a similar catastrophe from Palestine.
- At present Palestinians are in need of assistance not
to become a source of irritation to the Israelis but in order to achieve
their freedom. 'Only free men can negotiate'. Confining the discussions
to security and humanitarian issues would not deliver freedom or independence.
It is in the best interest of all the parties including the US and the
EU to begin a new political dialogue; not for the sake of talking but in
order to build a better future for the region. As a demonstration of goodwill
and positive statement of intent this process must begin with the release
of the Palestinian prisoners and lifting of the sanctions.
- -The author is senior researcher at the Palestinian Return
Centre, London. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com
- Copyright © 2003 palestinechronicle.com. All trademarks
and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
- You must set the "ad_network_ads.txt" file
to be writable. ::: ::: ::: :::