Wednesday, September 26, 2018

And with the swipe of a pen, Middle East peace may be dead

By Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi - December 13, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Opinion]
Tags: [US foreign policy] [Jerusalem]

I was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1954 long before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. The city, for all its travails and painful history, holds a special place in my heart. 

As a young adult, I worked for 15 years in the city’s Makassed hospital and ran medical relief for impoverished Palestinians from East Jerusalem. My reality changed abruptly in 1991, when Israel imposed restrictions on Palestinian entry to Jerusalem. Palestinians were then required to get entry permits from the occupying Israeli military authorities.

During the second intifada in 2002 I was arrested and beaten for organizing a press conference with EU Members of Parliament at the American Colony Hotel. In 2005, when I ran for president against Mahmoud Abbas, I was arrested by Israeli occupation forces for daring to speak to Palestinian voters living in East Jerusalem.

I am now forbidden from entering the city of my birth and face arrest for violating this unjust prohibition.

Israel claims to be an honest arbiter over all of Jerusalem. This is nonsense. My own experience of heartache at being kept from this beautiful and historic city is a clear example, but millions of Palestinians endure similar stories of pain and loss.

Not all of these Palestinians are from East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza. Zionist militias expelled some 10,000 Palestinian families from West Jerusalem in 1948. Diaspora families such as the Saids, Bisharats and Karmis — whose home The New York Times is perched on — are just some of the families ousted from homes in the western part of the city. 

Into this combustible mix comes President Donald Trump. He announced last week that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and that the U.S. will soon move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

How can he seriously expect Palestinians to accept the U.S. as a mediator when he proposes siding with violent Israel-imposed facts on the ground on one of the central issues of the negotiations? We already knew the U.S. had a thumb – and more – on the scale to favor Israel. Trump added an elephant.

No Palestinian, not even President Abbas, can accept such a biased American mediator. No Arab leader will dare to support Trump's Orwellian rhetoric, which took a bad situation and made it worse with this reckless maneuver.

What is unclear is what will follow Trump’s announcement. Palestinians are in a difficult spot but we are not without options. The popular Palestinian nonviolent uprising of July could come back, on a much larger scale.

But let us be clear. We have negotiated off and on for a quarter of a century. Those talks have failed because Israel has always tried to short-change us on our rights while touting “generous offers” that fell far short of securing our freedom and rights. 

Yes, Palestinians sometimes responded to Israeli army and settler violence with our own violence. But as the popular uprising that took place in July against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s measures in East Jerusalem showed, we have learned and we have mastered the power of nonviolent resistance.

It is unfortunate that this nonviolent form of resistance continues to be ignored in the West. Our human right activists are imprisoned and shot in shocking numbers. Nonviolent American volunteers have been killed and injured alongside us, but with nothing significant changing in U.S. policy between Republicans and Democrats alike – though grassroots Democrats are beginning to push back against elected officials for not supporting the Palestinian freedom movement.

We have also tried legal measures, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for its illegal settlement activities and human rights violations. Congress and President Trump, however, are now moving against our PLO representative office in Washington, D.C., because we had the temerity to say that our rights should be protected through the International Criminal Court.

Imagine being told your office would be taken away if you dared to go to court because your neighbour was building on your land. This is what we face courtesy of President Trump and the U.S. Congress.

Trump, notwithstanding his empty claims to the contrary, has sent a message that the Oslo peace process is dead and buried. The U.S. administration has signaled that it is participating in violating international law, which does not allow the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem.

The announcement, however, will not affect our firm determination to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid rule or upend our goal of having Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

I can only warn that President Trump is taking an enormous risk with regional stability and sending a clear message to Palestinians that his government is uninterested in the rights and freedom of Palestinians. Nor is it even interested in a cold peace.

Such a troubling announcement makes our part of the world a more vicious, cruel and dangerous place. 

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