Palestinian dreams remain distant on Nakba anniversary

Palestinian dreams remain distant on Nakba anniversary
5 min read
18 May, 2015
Comment: Palestinian hopes of a homeland remain unlikely as the US and Arab states focus on other issues, despite the Vatican recognising the state of Palestine, argues Said Arikat.
Artists in Gaza commemorate the 67th anniversary of the Nakba [Getty]
On the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe, Palestinians are no closer to realising their national rights than they were in 1948.

The dream of reclaiming the usurped Palestinian homeland and the human dignity that comes with it seems remote.

This is nothing new. However, the limited attention given to the Palestinian issue at the recently concluded summit between Barack Obama and the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council shows Palestine is no longer on the back-burner of Arab priorities but has, in fact, fallen off the stove entirely.

There has been a cacophony of crowded conferences, state visits, and bilateral and multilateral talks about Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, the Sinai, Iran, the Islamic State group, the Houthis, and Al Qaeda and its many spin-offs.

Different groups have been frantically trying to resolve the region's crises and stave off looming humanitarian disasters.

     Palestine is not only on the back burner of Arab priorities but has, in fact, fallen off the stove.
The Palestinian issue, however, has been marginalised almost with charted deliberation. Even though it is just as urgent, and its impact just as dramatic as the other issues being considered.

President Obama did not call for a summit when his attempts to revive the "peace process" were repeatedly sabotaged by accelerated Israeli settlement activities in the occupied West Bank. He did not feel the urgency to press for a ceasefire when Israel mercilessly bombed Palestinian residential areas for 52 days straight in Gaza last summer.

Obama, who rode into office emitting an aura of hope, elegantly expressed six years ago the need to end Palestinian suffering. He called for Palestinians to be given their own space so they could gather their dispersed humanity in their own homeland.

Not only has Obama failed to muster the moral fortitude promised by, and expected of the US to resolve this issue, he has all but lost interest in doing something meaningful to resolve it.

Just look at his comments after the summit with GCC leaders ended on Thursday. First, he articulated a lengthy statement about his talks with GCC leaders, in which he spelt out a litany of dos and do nots to reconcile Iran's nuclear deal with, for example, GCC security needs, Syria, and Yemen.

He then replied to a journalist - who, almost as an afterthought, asked about his reaction to the Vatican's treaty with the State of Palestine a day earlier:

"Rather than speak for others, I'll reiterate what I've said before. I continue to believe a two-state solution is absolutely vital for not only peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but for the long-term security of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state."

The journalists and leaders at Camp David were encouraged by the president to remember how difficult negotiations there had been in the early 1990s.

"The degree to which a very hard peace deal that required incredible vision and courage and tough choices resulted in what's now been a lasting peace between countries that used to be sworn enemies," Obama said.

"Israel is better off for this deal. I think the same would be true if we get a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians."

But then - lest anyone dare hope that during the actual talks, summiteers paid heed to the "Palestinian crisis" - Obama opined: "That prospect seems distant now."

Obama is painfully aware that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed on the eve of March's elections that no Palestinian state would be established during his tenure - and has now put together a government that will ensure this will never happen.

"I think it's always important for us to keep in mind what's right and what's possible," said the US president.

Prospects for a Palestinian state now seem even more abstract and out of reach.  

Arab leaders are too preoccupied with Iran to be bothered with the never-ending Palestine problem. 

The Arab coalition put together a formidable aerial array of war assets to respond to their own strategic priorities and "deter the Houthi aggression in Yemen". However, this military capacity never materialised when Israel was viciously bombing and slaughtering Palestinians as they huddled together in desperation at UNRWA schools and shelters last summer.

The outrage that is so often expressed at the Syrian regime's excesses, or the Iraqi government's partisan politics for instance, only rings fleetingly with the same resonance at the Israeli excesses against the occupied Palestinian population.

The centrality of the Palestinian cause to all Arabs has long since lost its lustre. The disparity between wealthy Arabs and poor Arabs, exacerbated by horrifically violent sectarian conflicts across Arab lands, has not only torn apart communities that have lived together for more than 1,500 years, but seems to have weathered away the sense of this centrality of the Palestinian cause.

The one bit of good news for Palestinians on the 67th anniversary of the Nakba catastrophe is, of course, the Vatican's recognition of the state of Palestine.

While the practical aspect of Pope Francis' decision to sign a treaty with the state of Palestine is tenuous, its moral and symbolic significance for Palestinians is enormous.

The Palestinians must take advantage of this moral arsenal at the international level to hold Israel accountable for all its crimes, past and present. Maybe this will end once and for all the soul-staggering military occupation that has decimated them for 67 years, and allow them to follow a real course that will end their dehumanisation.

They can begin to do so by ending the Palestinian Authority's role as a subcontractor for Israel's military occupation through the network of "security cooperation" agreements.

They also need to launch an effective civil disobedience campaign that will end their occupation nightmare.

The international community must also be held responsible. It must challenge the continuous and calculated strangulation of the Palestinian people, as crimes against humanity.

Israel's ruling regime must be judged accordingly and its impunity must be brought to an end - because the silence, if not complicity, of powerful members of the international community, in the face of practices and policies that violate fundamental rights and laws, further undermines the law and entrenches Palestinian dispossession.

Said Arikat is the Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem-based Palestinian al-Quds newspaper.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.