Friday, March 21, 2014

My Log 416 March 21 2014: Diana Buttu tells Montreal audience the straight facts about the plight of Palestinians: holds out small hope from negotiations

Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...
Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip), the Golan Heights, and portions of neighbouring countries. Also United Nations deployment areas in countries adjoining Israel or Israeli-held territory, as of January 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dam, 17 Mei 2008 During the 1948 war with the ...
Dam, 17 Mei 2008 During the 1948 war with the nascent state of Israel it is estimated that around half of the 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs were driven from their homes or fled, to neighboring Arab states. This period of Palestinian history has come to be known as al-Nakba, ‘the catastrophe’. Of the 750,000 displaced Palestinians, approximately 110,000 (mostly from northern Palestine) sought refuge in Lebanon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,...
English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has occurred more by happenstance than design but in recent weeks much of my world seems to have been concentrated on the Israel/Palestinian dilemma. I have reported in this column on a couple of excellent recent films or TV programmes that have dealt intelligently with the issue.  And this week I attended a speech by the estimable Canadian-Palestinian activist Diana Buttu, who has been on a Canadian tour which brought her to McGill University under the auspices of the effective pressure group, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
A week or two ago I heard her say, as part of an AlJazeera discussion, that the single state, which is increasingly posited as the most likely long-term solution to the issue, “already exists,” which means that the main issue now is “apartheid.”
That apartheid undoubtedly exists in the area administered by Israel can no longer be doubted, a melancholy development in a state that began its existence with such high hopes.
I should probably pause here to qualify that statement: after all, Israel was founded on the territory of an ancient people who had occupied the land for countless generations, so I suppose the problems that have persisted throughout its history were built-in to the original concept.
Ms Buttu, who apparently lives and works in Ramallah, on the West Bank, and who was for some years an adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said emphatically in Montreal this week that she has always believed in the one-state solution. But she didn’t suggest its establishment is likely in any foreseeable future, or perhaps I should say she realistically faces the obstacles to creation of any single, democratic and acceptable state at least in the next decade.
Her account of the current situation rings true, and is depressingly negative (except that she still places great hope in the resilience and determination of Palestinians, which has kept them plugging away in their efforts to regain their place on the lands that Israel has, literally, stolen from them.)
She said that even within the borders of the state of Israel, at least 50 laws have been passed that discriminate against non-Jewish people, the majority of whom happen to be Palestinian Arabs. And her description of the situation in the West Bank showed that in terms of international law, everything has been turned  on its head. For example, in international law, the onus on a nation that occupies another nation is to guarantee the security of the occupied people. But in Israel, in the mindset of Western governments apparently it is the occupied people that are being called on to guarantee the security of the occupiers.
On the question of Israel’s recognition as a Jewish state, a similar onus is placed on the occupied people. In not one of the treaties, agreements or accords that Israel has signed with other countries has the other country been called on to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, she said. Yet now, said Ms. Buttu, that demand is being made of the people whose lands Israel now occupies --- illegally, according to international law --- a situation which, it  seems, is  very much akin to demanding of them that they shoot themselves in the foot (or, perhaps more appropriately, the heart.). The meaning of Israel as a Jewish state, she said, was perfectly clear: one race or religion would be given priority over the other, in other words, one race would be discriminated against to the advantage of the other.  No other construction could be put on this demand.
Ms. Buttu also spoke against the Palestinians having always to think of getting rid of the settlers  --- 550,000 of them at last count --- now living in their lands. Israel, unique among modern states, apparently has no clearly defined borders. And, as Ms. Buttu spoke,  I was reminded of a moment in the AlJazeera programme, Head to Head, when former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami was being pressed to say what percentage of non-Jewish population would be acceptable to him. He appeared confused by this questioning, said something like “I don’t know….20 per cent.”  How about 51 per cent, asked his interviewer.  “I suppose so,” he said, and added vaguely that the Jewish majority would have to be preserved.
If the two-state solution which is the objective of all Western-world negotiating on the issue is as dead  as most observers seem to think it is, then either Israel has to get busy making itself over into a really modern, democratic state, or it will have to confront hostility from a growing number of its neighbours and countries around the world.
Either suggestion at the moment seems far off. But the more likely to see the light of day, if you ask me, would be the second of these two choices.

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