Obama’s intransigence on Palestine risks a new intifada – and war

Statehood recognition is vital to break log-jam in peace process



The Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations is a welcome, long overdue catharsis. It has shaken up the moribund peace process; putting the plight of the Palestinians on the world stage like no other initiative for decades.

Whether you love or loathe the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, he has orchestrated a political master-stroke, which is forcing the US and Israel to stop ignoring the just Palestinian demand for their own independent state. After years of stalemate and log-jam, peace settlement negotiations are back on the agenda.

The Palestinian people have a right to a self-governing homeland, just like the Jewish people and all people’s everywhere. Self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter. So why has it been denied to the Palestinians for six decades? And why now, when they seek it, are western powers, led by the US, conspiring to yet again postpone their birthright?

A history of betrayals leaves the Palestinians with no option other than a unilateral move to independence. The Israeli government (as opposed to the Israeli people) are not serious partners for peace. Israel has gone out of its way to sabotage a negotiated settlement. It continues to build new settlements on Palestinian land seized in 1967 and to force Palestinians out their homes in East Jerusalem. The land of Palestinian farmers is confiscated and an apartheid-style wall wantonly divides Palestinian communities. These are the actions of an expansionist colonial settler state that has no interest in a lasting peace.

The Palestinians are divided on statehood, particularly over the limitations and compromises it may involve. But what is the alternative?

The Hamas ‘resistance’ strategy is a total failure. It has bought only isolation, impoverishment, war and human rights abuses to the people of Gaza.

The Islamist militants condemn President Abbas as a sell out. Posing as the ‘true defenders’ of the Palestinian nation, their so-called resistance involves firing rockets into Israel and the occasional suicide bombing. These fanatics are deluded. A few terror attacks will never come near to defeating the Israeli occupation and securing a Palestinian homeland. It’s juvenile macho posturing. That’s all. Not serious politics, or even serious resistance. Moreover, these attacks are war crimes. They deliberately target innocent civilians, which damages the Palestinian cause; alienating potential supporters, including the many Israelis who want a just peace.

Statehood is the only credible way forward. True, it won’t solve all the problems faced by the Palestinians. In fact, it will solve very few practical problems like jobs and housing. Moreover, the new state would, at least initially, be held to ransom by Israel through its control of water, roads, the apartheid wall and Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Nevertheless, the precondition for Palestinian upliftment is that they begin to be masters of their own destiny – however limited this might be at the outset. Securing recognition at the UN would be a giant first step forward; paving the way for further progress later.

The critics say securing statehood will be largely symbolic. Perhaps they are right. But symbols are important. To gain statehood would be a massive morale boost and confidence build for the people of Palestine. Most importantly, it would be a dramatic rebuff to the men of violence, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. They will be outmanoeuvred and marginalised. Showing that progress is possible by peaceful and diplomatic means would be a significant fillip to the prospects of a lasting negotiated settlement with justice.

Most of us thought President Obama understood this. After all, he has long expressed his desire to see a Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel. But this week he did a dramatic volte face. Turning his back on the Palestinians – and on the whole Arab world that supports them – Obama now says there is “no short cut” to statehood. Damn right. The Palestinians have been waiting for over 60 years. Some short cut. Now, Obama wants them to wait even longer. After promising he would support a two-state solution, when the Palestinians ask him to honour that pledge, the US President says he will veto it. Obama is a hypocrite. No wonder the US is hated. It’s led by people with great power but very little integrity.

After backing the freedom aspirations of the Arab Spring, the US president wants to put on hold this same freedom for the people of Palestine. He is a tarnished, diminished president as a consequence.

Obama is surrounded by pro-Israeli hardliners who are apparently ready to risk potential political disaster. If the US blocks Palestinian recognition at the UN it will do immense damage to Washington’s standing throughout the Middle East; fuelling anti-Americanism and acting as a recruiting sergeant for the fundamentalists, rejectionists and al-Qaida. It will discredit Palestinian peace-makers and strengthen the hand of Hamas and the Islamist war-mongers.

If the Palestinians are pushed into a corner where they feel betrayed and lose all hope of statehood, it could spark a new intifada, and even a new Arab-Israeli war, perhaps involving the intervention of nuclear-armed Iran and Pakistan. Think again Obama!