Sep 17 2007

Palestine and the world a love hate relationship

Published by at 4:49 am under Palestinian politics,Uncategorized

Palestine and the world a love hate relationship 

By Daoud Kuttab


Moments after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Hamas led government and declared a state of emergency on June 15th , he got a supportive phone call from the US Secretary of State Condoleza Rice. Within 24 hours US president George Bush and other world leaders had also called Abbas. In less than a week the 18 month crippling international economic siege on the Palestinian Authority was magically lifted. The signature of the new Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad who also headed the emergency government was now accepted internationally. Ironically the signature of Fayyad himself who was the minister of the previous government headed by Hamas’s Ismael Haniyeh had been totally unacceptable by the entire world’s (including Arab and Islamic) banks. Had any bank accepted to transfer money to the previous Palestinian Finance Ministry that bank would have become blacklisted by the world banking system.


Only a few weeks later and literally on the day of his resignation as prime minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair was declared the special peace envoy of the Quartet. The quartet representing the US, Europe, the UN and Russia has taken upon itself the job of guiding the international community’s efforts to bring peace to the Arab Israeli conflict.


The internationalization of the case of Palestine, however, is nothing new. In fact it is impossible to point out when Palestine was not under the influence in one way or another by international forces. More than two thousand years ago, the New Testament clearly reflects that people living at the time of Jesus considered the land to the east of the Mediterranean as being under Roman occupation, the Islamic Futuhat (military openings) came to Palestine from the Arabian peninsula. In the Middle Ages the Crusaders came from Europe with the aim of saving holy Christian sites. The Kurdish Muslim leader Salaheddine came from the East to ‘liberate’ Jerusalem. Ottoman Turks ruled the area for four hundred years with western diplomatic missions in Jerusalem often having tremendous powers especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. The establishment of the Zionist movement in Europe at the end of the 19th century and their decision to create a state for the Jewish people in Palestine further complicated the issue. Pre World War I agreements provided contradictory promises by Great Britain to both Jews (Balfour Declaration) and Arabs (McMahoun-Sharif Hussein letters).


Post world war I saw the secretive “Sykes-Piko Accord” divide the Arab countries between France and Britain with the latter holding on to Palestine until their abrupt departure in 1948 and thus saw the beginning of the first of many Arab Israeli wars.


I was born in 1955 when East Jerusalem along with the rest of the West Bank was part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. When the June 67 war broke I remember vividly as a 12 year old watching French Mirage fighter planes that were used extensively by the Israeli air force to ensure their air superiority and thus their blitzing six day victory in 1967. The skies of Bethlehem were my family and I were hiding during the war were full of these French made planes with their triangle looking bodies.


International involvement was not only in military terms but also in politics. Following the occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, the world community passed resolution 242 in which they tricked Arabs by having slightly different French and English versions. One version (in French) called from withdrawal from ‘all occupied territories’ while the other (in English and apparently the official one) dropped the word ‘all’ leaving the occupying Israelis with the freedom to choose which territories it would eventually withdraw from. Since then the US has vetoed over seventy UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel.


While political and military involvement in Palestine was the key to the ability of Israel to withstand the demands of the Palestinians to be free of their military occupation, the world also provided enormous amounts of monies both in direct and indirect forms. European public and private support to Israel especially in its founding years are said to be very extensive. American taxpayer monies are much more known and documented. Writing in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Shirl McArthur a retired US foreign service officer estimates that the total direct US aid to Israel between 1949 and 2006 to be $108 billion. I vividly remember how in the 90s how Jewish settlements built with US money to resettle Russian Jewish immigrants produced the Pisgat Ziv settlement block not far from where I was living in East Jerusalem‘s Beit Hanina neighborhood. It was amazing to see how Jewish only neighborhood with side walks, light streets and playgrounds while Arab areas were falling apart due to lack of funding.

After the United States, the principal donor of both economic and military aid to Israel is Germany. By far the largest component of German aid has been in the form of restitution payments to victims of Nazi atrocities. The total of German assistance in all of these categories to the Israeli government, Israeli individuals and Israeli private institutions has been some $31 billion or $5,345 per capita, bringing the per capita total of U.S. and German assistance combined to almost $20,000 per Israeli.


On the other hand Arab and Islamic governments and individuals have been supportive of Palestinians in various forms and modules. While Arab pledges far exceed what was actually delivered, it is safe to say that since 1967 Palestinians and Palestinian run organizations have benefited billions of dollars as well. For example, Saudi royal family’s financial support to the Palestinians 1998-2003: More than 15 Billion Riyals ($4 Billion U.S.)


Since 1967, and before, the aspirations of Palestinians to liberty and independence have repeatedly hit one snag after the other. There is plenty of room to put blame on Palestinians, Arabs and the international community. Palestinians have failed to measure accurately their own powers in comparison to the Israelis. The Arab states gave plenty of lip service to the Palestinian cause and the international community spent more on weapons to the region rather than efforts to encourage all sides to a peaceful resolution.


It would be difficult in one article to summarise the international initiatives aimed at solving the Palestinian conflict. There are initiatives by countries, regional groupings, multinational agencies, world leaders, celebrities, political activists.

The list of failed peace plans, U.N. resolutions, international commissions and summits is endless: the King-Crane Commission of 1919. The 1937 Peel Report. The British White Paper of 1939. The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry of 1945. The U.N. Partition Plan of 1947. U.N resolutions 242, 194 and 338. The Rogers Plan. The Mitchell Plan. The Tenet plan. Camp David. Taba. The Saudi plan, the “road map,” created by the “Quartet” — the U.S., the USSR, the E.U. and the U.N, the Geneva Initiative, the People’s Choice, the Arab Peace Initiative and many more. Every world leader or celebrity has looked at the Middle East and made an attempt at suggesting a solution with the hopes that if it works he or she can win a Noble peace prize. 

There is no doubt therefore that the international community whether consciously or not, has played a major role in the Palestine tragedy. The state of Israel recognizes its own legitimacy to an international resolution by the UN is a simple proof of the importance of this international community. But what can the world do to bring about a true resolution to this apparently intransigent conflict. 

One of the first pieces of advise I can humbly give European and internationals interested in advancing the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is to try and bridge the gap between promises and pledges on the one hand and executing these promises on the ground. The gap between the public postures of the international community and what is actually enforced on the ground has caused a major deterioration in public trust of the international community. To give two simple examples. The entire world community (including the US) has called for and supported a halt  Jewish settlement activities in Palestinian areas. The International court at the Hague ruled them and the wall built inside Palestinian territories to be illegal but nothing has happened to change this reality. Another promise to Palestinians was that they should follow democratic processes. The veteran Israeli leader Shimon Peres always repeated the slogan ‘Ballots not bullets.” Palestinians naively accepted this challenge but when the outcome didn’t please the west and Israel, Palestinians were punished with an economic boycott. It would have been more honest if this path was not encouraged rather than have people go to the polls and find that the world doesn’t accept their results. 

In the same vein, the international community today should not follow what looks like the path of supporting one party rather than work with all Palestinians. Even the Americans are now making the distinction between the political and military wings and the political wing of Hamas has not been declared a terrorist organization. So any international dialogue with Palestinians should take place with all leading Palestinian individuals or political movements. Boycotts have continuously backfired. Embracing President Abbas today is probably the worst thing that the international community can do to boost him. 


Europe and the international community should have the courage and leadership to be able to state publicly whomever is at fault in any stage. Political expediency has often won the day in issues related to the Middle East at the expense of diluting the international community’s commitments and principles. 

While the Europeans have been the leading party in their economic support to help the humanitarian needs of Palestinians, a more important effort needs to be worked on. Much of the hardships facing Palestinians are made by humans. The various Israeli administrative acts (often done under security pretexts) should not be allowed to go unnoticed. I have seen repeatedly where economic and humanitarian hardships are created because of such administrative decisions and the international community then comes in to alleviate them, while it would have been easier to put political pressure on the Israelis to stop or reverse these decisions. 

The international community should also not accept the excuses of the Palestinian side when it comes to issues of rule of law, transparency and protection of the human and civil rights of Palestinians. While it is not proper for the international community to pick and choose which results of the electoral process they should make, it is important that Palestinians work hard on other aspects of democracy. The separation of branches of government in Palestine should be the priority of any Palestinian government. The independence of the Palestinian judiciary has repeatedly been mentioned as one of the obstacles to strengthen issues of the rule of law.  The independence of the media as the fourth estate should be given high priority.  The idea of an independent media that is economically sustainable is rather difficult at the present time. With the economy of Palestine in shatters and with unfair media competition from all major world players, it is difficult to expect the local Palestinian media to be able to properly compete. A system that will ensure professionalism and independence is needed in the short to mid term so as to build the foundations of a strong media. 

For years the world community has been an active player in the Middle East conflict. This interference has often exasperated the situation rather than contribute to solve it. If the world community has finally decided that they genuinely want to help resolve this conflict, the opportunity is wide open. To do so, they must stop giving lip service and start practicing what they preach. The policy of favoring like minded individuals and groups must stop and a strategic plan must be implemented at all costs without allowing one side or the other to put obstacles in the way. This also requires active and permanent involvement from the powers that count in this world. The newly appointed envoy to the Middle East conflict, has the trust of the Quartet and the world community and has been generally given welcoming words from Palestinian and Israeli leaders. He has said that he will visit the region soon. I hope this when he takes on this new job he will be careful not to give the peoples of the region any more empty promises and can have enough courage and leadership to push ahead on all parties until a permenant and just peace is found and implemented on the ground. The peoples of the region are clearly yearning for a solution. The world community helped create this problem they need to help solve it with the help of all parties involved. 

*******************************************************************Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.He is also  the founder of the Arab world’s first Internet radio and  one of the founding members of ARIJ (Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism). His email is  


No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.