LUPICK: Israel and Palestine stall on road to peace November 27, 2009

Huwaida Arraf pictured on a boat attempting to deliver supplies to the Gaza Strip in January

by Travis Lupick  - -  26 November 2009

A leading Palestinian activist has said that it may be time to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and “dump the occupation back at Israel’s doorstep”.

Huwaida Arraf is a Palestinian-American Christian and founding member of the International Solidarity Movement. She told the Straight that the disintegration of the Palestinian territories’ governing party could be the best thing for its people.

“Creating the Palestinian Authority, in a way, relieved Israel of a lot of the obligations of an occupying power,” she explained in a telephone interview from New York City. “They kind of relieved themselves of the minuscule administrative tasks and, at the same time, can [now] blame the Palestinian Authority for a lot of things that are not even in its control.”

Arraf, also a chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, is scheduled to speak at SFU Harbour Centre on Friday (November 27). The event, titled “Women speak out on Palestine and Gaza”, will take place just ahead of the annual International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People (Sunday [November 29]), which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1977.

According to Arraf, the PA now has little legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people.

Her remarks were made in response to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement that he will not seek reelection in January. Abbas, a moderate in Palestinian politics, cited stalled peace talks as the reason for his decision not to run for office.

Arraf said that under Abbas’s leadership, the PA has made numerous concessions to Israel in the hope of one day realizing the creation of an independent Palestinian state. She argued that the same cannot be said for Israel.

A major sticking point in peace negotiations is the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied land in the West Bank. On November 17, Israel approved an additional 900 housing units at an entity called Gilo, which lies on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on land occupied in 1967.

According to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as of December 2008, there were 121 Israeli settlements and approximately 100 “unrecognized settlements” or “outposts” in the West Bank. In addition, IICHROT notes that there are 12 “settlement points” attached to East Jerusalem, of which Gilo is just one. Altogether, IICHROT estimates that as of the end of 2008, there were 673,200 Israeli settlers on Palestinian land.

“What Mahmoud Abbas is saying is that this whole prospect of a Palestinian state seems so far away,” Arraf said. “We’ve been negotiating fruitlessly for over 18 years and Israel continues to be intransigent.”

Shimon Fogel, CEO for the Canada-Israel Committee, attributed a lack of progress to Palestinians’ unwillingness to negotiate. He was quick to add that a stalled peace process does not necessarily mean that relations between Israelis and Palestinians have not improved. Fogel said that in recent months many of Israel’s checkpoints in the West Bank have been removed and that as travel restrictions have eased, the territory has seen a boost to its economy.
He took issue with the description of neighbourhoods such as Gilo as “settlements”, despite the fact that UN maps and news agencies such as the BBC clearly place Gilo in the West Bank.

“Jerusalem is not in the same category as the West Bank,” he explained. “Is it technically over the green line? Yes. But it is about as far away from a Palestinian neighborhood as you can possibly get in Jerusalem.”

Fogel said that the current administration and every Israeli government has maintained that Jerusalem is not to be treated or considered in the same way as the West Bank. “So it can’t, by those definitions, be regarded as a settlement,” he added.

Scheduled to speak alongside Arraf is NDP MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East), who travelled with other members of Parliament to the Palestinian territories in August. Speaking from Ottawa, she emphasized that the group’s journey into the Gaza Strip made them the first elected Canadian officials to visit the territory since 2003.
On Tuesday (November 24), Davies will deliver a trip report to Parliament. Among other recommendations, she will request that Canada pressure Israel to end its blockade of Gaza’s border, which has remained in place since Hamas won democratic elections in January 2006.

Davies noted that her trip to Gaza received no help from the federal government. She stressed that the group paid its own way and had to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing.

In contrast, according to Davies, the federal Conservatives are attempting to shut down debate on Israel by characterizing any criticism of the largely Jewish state as anti-Semitic.

“I really reject this idea that we should be silent and shouldn’t be speaking out,” Davies said. She challenged more Canadian MPs to go to Gaza and witness the destruction that she saw.

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