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Sunday, October 16, 2011
OP-ED

The Palestinian journey towards statehood

The Israel-Palestine strife has been nagging social conscience for more than half a century now. The Palestinians lived in the British-mandated (1920-47) Palestine before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, but today their descendants are fighting for liberation from Israeli occupation. Israel is hell-bent to restore the so-called "Old Testament Kingdom" to its "rightful owner."

All attempts to cement Israel-Palestine relations have proved Sisyphean. Even after the most recent UN bid to renew peace talks in the wake of the Palestinian Premier Mahmoud Abbas' application for full member status for Palestine, Israel has declared the establishment of more than 1,100 settlements in East Jerusalem as a part of ethnic cleansing. This would, surely, cast a shadow on the new peace process much before the ice starts being broken.

Israel is not as such the enemy of the Palestinians only. It is the only Jewish country in the entire Arab region, and is at loggerheads with the whole range of the Muslim population spread over the vast Arabian Peninsula and the north of Africa. The proclamation of the State of Israel after the departure of the British occupying forces in May 1948 gave birth to this prolonged Arab-Israel hostility.

During the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank and established a military administration throughout the area. Although there was comparatively little civil resistance to Israeli authorities during the first decade of their occupation, this period of calm began to wane in the late 1970s and early 1980s as Israel launched a more aggressive course of establishing settlements in the West Bank and expropriating land, businesses, and buildings from the Arab inhabitants.

In course of time, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) appeared in the limelight as the arch rival of Israel. The PLO was formed in 1964 in order to bring together various Palestinian groups which were sporadically putting up clandestine resistance to the Israeli occupation forces. From 1974, Arafat advocated an end to the PLO attacks on targets outside Israel, and sought the world community's acceptance of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

In continuation of this policy, the PLO under Arafât's leadership entered negotiations with Israel on a possible peace settlement. The Oslo Accord was signed on September 13, 1993 in which Israel and Palestine agreed on mutual recognition, and set out conditions under which the West Bank and Gaza would gradually be handed over to the newly formed Palestinian Authority.

Despite some success, the negotiations faltered sporadically throughout the 1990s, and collapsed completely amid increasing violence in late 2000 by groups like Hamas. Since 2003, the Palestinian side has been fractured by conflict between the two major factions, Fattah and Hamas, which at times leads to internecine violence.

How long will this Israel-Palestine conflict go on? The Hindu-Muslim conflict over Babri Masjid and Rama Mandir was mitigated through "share and share alike." Egypt had got back its due from Israel after many negotiations, treaties, and accords. The Israel-Palestine hostility can reach such a mutual settlement. An Arab state in Palestine should come into being, as was envisioned by the 1947 UN partition plan. But in the first instance they should recognise each other, which was agreed upon in the Oslo Accords.

Despite dismal failure, the agreements so far made between Israel and Palestine must have little paved the way for mutual tolerance, which can be taken on the plus side at this juncture. Both should come out of their conservative mindset and accept the policy of peaceful coexistence. Six decades is enough to come to the truth that neither of them can completely destroy the other, and nothing good can be achieved from terrorism and counter-terrorism. Israel should get rid of its homicidal policy, and the PLO of its suicidal role.

Years of intra-party feuds have sapped the PLO of its viability, and allowed the opposition the pretext to raise the question as to who has to be negotiated with for a sustainable peace in the region. There should be one and only one PLO, undivided and rock-solid, whose multiple factions should speak with one voice on the issue of an independent Palestinian State.

The UN Security Council has taken up the issue of Palestinian application for UN membership. The Middle East Quartet -- the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia -- has asked for comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months. It urges the Israeli and Palestinian sides to meet within one month to agree on an agenda for new peace negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement by the end of 2012.

But all these cannot hold out much hope for us. The United Nations is nothing more than a cold-comforter. Its strings are pulled by somebody else. Its peacekeeping role in the past and at present is frustrating. So we cannot hope that the Palestinians' fate is going to be decided fairly and squarely in the foreseeable future. But it can be hoped against hope that unity, self-realisation, commitment to independence, and above all massive international support could assure the Palestinians of victory.

The writer teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. Email: rashidaskari65@yahoo.com

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