Saturday, December 01, 2012

Paestinian Shame

There are many times where the term “wrong side of history” is used, but it is still a valid term, it is not an overused term, particularly when it comes to important events in history. A recent event that qualifies to have the term applied to it is the vote that took place in the United Nations to grant the embattled Palestinian Authority the status of “non-member observer state” in the United Nations. This would not give them the full status of a “member nation” like the United States, or Canada, but it would allow them to join other UN agencies, and more importantly, eventually bring cases to the International Criminal Court.

The vote in the United Nations took place sixty-five years after the historic partition of the British ruled territory that became Israel, but which was also supposed to become an Arab controlled nation; the nation of Palestine. The treaty has been broken from the first, and it is time for Palestine to be born. One hundred and thirty-eight nations decided that giving Palestine the stylus of a “non-member observer state” was the least that they could do at this time, while perhaps being a token, it was also the right thing; they recognised that the Palestinian people have been living under an apartheid rule, living under the threat of Israeli aggression at the slightest provocation. Guns answering rocks, bombs being dropped on unarmed civilians, and refugees languishing in camps for generations hardly seems like the fair observation of a treaty.

Instead of having the ambassador to the United Nations from Canada speak, the Foreign Minister himself, John Baird, decided to take it upon himself to travel to New York and personally address the UN on this matter. Rather than supporting the idea that Palestine deserved to have a greater voice in the international community, Canada’s Foreign Minister chose to be a vocal opponent to the vote. Canada's Foreign Minister chose to stand on the wrong side of history.
“This resolution will not advance the cause of peace or spur a return to negotiations. Will the Palestinian people be better off as a result? No, on the contrary, this unilateral step will harden positions and raised unrealistic expectations.” (Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird; Delivered at the UN, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2012)

If by “unrealistic expectations” Mr Baird is referring to the idea that the Palestinians might call on the international criminal court at some point, perhaps he is correct; the ICC tends to be slow to judgement, but that is no reason to deny the Palestinians admission to the United Nations, even if it is not a full member status. The fact that Canada, particularly under the leadership of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has reiterated its staunch support of Israel and its policies regarding the Palestinians does not mean that the government must deny the Palestinian people representation in the United Nations. In fact, equality for the Palestinians would benefit both them and the Israelis. People who are equal, people who have the dignity of knowing that neither is being discriminated against, are less likely to take up irrational, violent acts, in order to make the point that could better be made politically.

How many violent acts have the Irish Republican Army committed since the issues in Ireland were dealt with politically? If you ignore the problems they do not go away on their own; they will not go away unless they are dealt with one way or the other. Some people believe that they can be dealt with through violence, something many people abhor, but it is used nonetheless. If Palestine were recognised as a state, and the rights of the people were recognised and respected, is it not conceivable that many of the problems being experienced in that part of the world would no longer be an issue? What are the causes of the problems today? People building houses, settlements, on land that is supposed to belong to the Palestinians; unlawful arrests and attainments; blockades of medicine; people being prevented to go to work because they cannot cross checkpoints; and other things that degrade and humiliate the population living within the Palestinian Authority.

Human dignity is being denied these people, and nine nations voted against giving them “non-member observer state” status in the United Nations. Those nine nations are on the wrong side of history. Canada, the United States, Israel, Panama, Palau, the Marshal Islands, Nauru, the Czech Republic, and Micronesia: these nine nations are not only on the wrong side of history, they are cowardly, insensitive, and ignorant of the historic importance of this vote.

Forty-one nations decided not to vote for, or against the proposal to upgrade the Palestinian status. The motive for the abstention is curious, but neither here nor there: these nations chose to ignore the opportunity to grant another nation more rights. For some of the nations this might not seem like a difficult choice, especially when you consider a nation like Romania, or Albania, both of which have histories where suppressing their citizens is not uncommon. However, the United Kingdom also abstained, as did the Netherlands, which is quite confounding when you consider that both nations received tremendous damage during the Second World War, and are intimately familiar with the suffering associated with persecution. One would have thought that this knowledge would have made them more sensitive, more empathetic to the cause of the Palestinians.
In the words of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority:

“We did not come here seeking to delegitimatize a state established years ago, and that is Israel; rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of the state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine. We did not come here to add further complications to the peace process, which Israel’s policies have thrown into the intensive care unit; rather we came to launch a final serious attempt to achieve peace. Our endeavour is not aimed at terminating what remains of the negotiations process, which has lost its objective and credibility, but rather aimed at trying to breathe new life into the negotiations and at setting a solid foundation for it based on the terms of reference of the relevant international resolutions in order for the negotiations to succeed.

“Every voice supporting our endeavour today is a most valuable voice of courage, and every state that grants support today to Palestine’s request for non-member observer state status is affirming its principled and moral support for freedom and the rights of peoples and international law and peace.” (Delivered at the UN, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2012)
In light of these words, and the recent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it only seems fair that diplomacy should be given the chance that it deserves, rather than pushing a military agenda against a mostly un-armed civilian population. The reply to the words by President Abbas was nothing less than scathing, dripping with hatred and menace, and they came from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
“The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF and the citizens of Israel. Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner. ... The way to peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah is in direct negotiations, with out preconditions, and not in one sided UN decisions. By going to the UN, the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel, and Israel will act accordingly.” (Delivered at the UN, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2012)
One must ask, what does the Prime Minister mean by “acting accordingly”? After all, this was an act of peace, not an act of aggression; no one was killed, no missiles were launched, and no bombs were exploded. The United Nations is a diplomatic body, it is where peace is negotiated, it is where people go to negotiate treaties, it is where people go to have “peace talks” with their neighbours, and other nations. For the Prime Minister of Israel to assert that seeking “non-member observer state status” is some sort of precondition to the way the Palestinians will be addressing Israel in future negotiations is, in a word, delusional. One might want to remind Mr Netanyahu that even should the Palestinians become signatories of the Rome Statute, and therefore the International Criminal Court, Israel is not a signatory of the statute and does not fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu is feeling a pang of conscience knowing that charges could well be brought against Israel in the ICC, but unless Israel decides to sign the Rome Statute, there is nothing to fear, just as the Goldstone Report had no binding powers against Israel when it indicated that war crimes had been committed against the Palestinian people during Operation Cast Lead in 2009.

Advancing the rights of Palestinians has nothing to do with religion, nor does it have anything to do with whether or not you support Israel as a nation. Israel will continue to exist, just as Palestine has a right to exist as well. This vote by 138 nations is an acknowledgement that a majority of the members of the United Nations agree that the status of Palestine should be increased. It is a recognition that the fact that there is something wrong in the “Holy Land” is obvious; the only question that remains is which side of history will you be on when the final lines are drawn.

No comments: