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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Why Palestine is heading back to the UN

The PLO’s unanimous vote to go to the UN means the roles have changed: The Palestinian captive has a chance to make the Israeli captor face justice

By Bassen Khoury       2 April 2014           Haaretz

Abbas signs applications to UN agencies.

Abbas, right, jointed by Erekat, signs applications to UN agencies, in Ramallah, April 1, 2014. Photo by AP

Fifteen documents have been signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, documents that will bring Palestine towards membership in United Nations institutions related to human rights and international law. Despite the naysayers and the pressure from all sides, the PLO leadership has shown that it will no longer be a passive observer, and that it will use the growing leverage it has for justice for the Palestinians.

The Israeli occupation and the colonial infrastructure it has built impose a matrix of control on Palestine, leaving all aspects of life - particularly its economy – hostage to strategies implemented with complete disregard to human rights or international law. The Palestinians’ fate is determined by Israel’s will.

However, a new dynamic is now clearly emerging. Israeli policies too are being influenced by economics, with international law and human rights being the catalysts. Thomas Friedman’s recent description of Israel - as facing a dichotomy and choice between its colonialism and its economic prosperity – is both accurate and relevant.

So what has changed? Is there now a different Israel from before, one whose colonial products Europe wants to label as such, one whose banks European investors are withdrawing from investing in? The answer is – Israel hasn’t changed. It is the same colonial entity pursuing the same ethnic cleansing policies it did for decades. So why has this movement taken off now? How is it related to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s adamant efforts, or so they appear, to broker a deal?

The change of “potentially seismic proportions,” altering the nature of the conflict, occurred on November 29, 2012, when Palestine became a non-member state by a two third majority UN General Assembly vote. This vote was enabled by the Europeans’ decision to vote in favor, despite pressure for “a common European position of abstention.” This rendered the UN decision irrevocable. It was said that Abbas went ahead with the UN vote in spite of pressure on him to desist; the U.S. had warned that this act crossed red lines and endangered American national interests.

What is so significant about non-member state status? Non-member states have accession rights to international treaties and international organizations. First on the accession list are the Geneva Convention – which the Palestinian President has petitioned to join – and the Treaty of Rome. Thus, Palestine’s status will become that of an “Occupied Country.” Any illegal actions by the Israeli occupier constitute a war crime, allowing potential ICC prosecution of any person, legal entity or country infringing Palestinian sovereignty and holding anyone benefiting from the occupation liable under international law.

Infringements on Palestinian sovereignty by Israelis and internationals are widespread. Flights overflying Palestine or tourists and pilgrims visiting Jerusalem via Israel without Palestine’s consent; Volkswagen’s billion-dollar deal for Dead Sea minerals; Heidelberg Cement’s quarries and Veolia’s tram connecting the Jerusalem colonies are all examples of blatant 

violations. In a nutshell: Any of the 700,000 or so colonialists or anyone who builds, or gives services to the colonial infrastructure is a potential war criminal.

To give negotiations a chance, a nine-month moratorium on joining international treaties was agreed. This expires formally on the 29th April 2014, and Palestinian policy makers have referred to this date as “D-Day.” They have insisted that without a breakthrough Palestine will act; Palestinian negotiators show off a CD ready with instruments of accession to the 63 UN-related treaties and conventions.

This week’s decision is a step in the right direction. It included steps to join the Geneva Convention and human rights and civilian protection institutions – but not yet the International Criminal Court. But that may just be a matter of time. Israelis threatening Palestinians should remember how The Hague dealt with war criminals like Milosevic.

Secretary Kerry reportedly referred to this in conversations with Abbas as a “nuclear weapon,” and Tzipi Livni herself was cautioned by legal experts not to leave Israel if the Palestinians resorted to such an action. Nonetheless, most commentators have remained dismissive of this option. Some have acknowledged its value but caution (now proven otherwise) that the ability of Palestinians to take decisive actions is weak, while others speak of the unwillingness to compromise current “comfortable” positions.

According to Palestinians, 97 countries invest in the colonies. They don’t want to be called out by the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions movement; they want to avoid prosecution now that the European position has changed, fuelling divestments by the Dutch, Swedish and Norwegians, to name just a few. This is forcing Israel to choose between colonialism and living within secure and recognized borders. We are witnessing a snowball that continues to roll; Friedman wrote of “a real source of leverage for the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel.”

The two most unlikely scenarios are that Israel will acknowledge its fault and withdraw to the June 4th, 1967 line, or that Palestine’s D-Day will pass without taking measures, even more comprehensive than those announced by Abbas already. Observers highlight that Abbas – who was severely tarnished by the initial mishandling of Goldstone Report - will not allow a repeat. Other unlikely scenarios are the instigation of chaos, making it impossible for Abbas to take decisions; and actively promoting “alternative” Palestinian leaders. As violence cannot be contained, Israel’s security would be at stake, and the Mohammed Dahlan leadership option is not an imminent threat, this scenario is not plausible.

The likely scenario is that in classic brinkmanship diplomacy, the U.S. will impose bridging proposals. These will go far more than the maximum Israel was ready to give, making them potentially plausible for acceptance by Palestinians.

Sources close to the negotiations speak of a defiant Palestinian position and of a stern warning that there is a limit to what can be accepted. The PLO leadership’s unanimous vote to start the UN process, and with the potency of economic and diplomatic weapons becoming apparent and actualized, the roles have changed; the captive has a chance to make the captor face justice. I wonder if the cynics - those who didn’t believe the Palestinians would truly act on their principles – realize what this could potentially mean.

Bassem Khoury is the former Palestinian minister of National Economy.

The article has been amended to reflect the author's correction regarding the Shell Oil case which was an indiction of the European courts and not of the ICC.


 The Funeral of the Two State Solution Is About to Depart

by Carlo Strenger        3 April 2014            The Huffington Post 

If Abbas now drops off the keys for the Palestinian Authority on Netanyahu's desk, the implications for Israel will be nothing short of catastrophic.

John Kerry has had phenomenal patience and put enormous time and energy into his attempt to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But even his patience and certainly that of the White House seem to have come to an end. Senior administration officials state that Kerry says he has gone as far as he can in his efforts, and that Israelis and Palestinians should now make their own decisions.

Kerry seems to have reached the same conclusion as James Baker, the elder Bush's secretary of state, who told then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir more than 20 years ago that he should call the White House when he was ready to actually do business. It's easy to understand Kerry, whose enormous efforts met ever-new obstacles like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Israel's repeated initiation of new construction in the West Bank. During the last months it has become ever clearer that the talks were going nowhere, and that prolonging them stands little chance of producing results.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is about to turn to the UN to ask for membership in some 15 organizations Palestinians have access to since they received non-member status at the UN in 2012. He seems to be left with few alternatives. As Jack Khoury has pointed out, Abbas' support among Palestinians, for conducting the talks while Israel continues building in the West Bank, allocating another 177 million shekels for roads and projects there, is dwindling. So he might as well start using the one tool he has to put pressure on Israel. If, for example, he signs the Geneva Conventions he has a case for launching a complaint against just about every action Israel takes on the West Bank, as a violation of international law.

This might create a huge problem: the U.S. Congress has passed a law that would require the U.S. administration to stop financing the Palestinian Authority if Palestinians resort to unilateral steps at the UN or the International Criminal Court. Abbas could therefore create a situation in which he has legal means to put pressure on Israel, but no money to run the Palestinian Authority. He might then be forced to drop off the keys for the PA on Netanyahu's desk, and Israel from this moment on would be responsible for running the West Bank again.

The implications for Israel would be nothing short of catastrophic. In the short run, Israel's economy would be under enormous strain because it would have to finance everything from schools through hospitals and security in the West Bank. In the long run the situation would be even worse: Palestinians will argue that the West Bank is de facto part of Israel and that they are therefore entitled to full political rights.

Israel would then face the full South Africa scenario: The international community would probably accept the Palestinian demand and see the situation as apartheid, while Washington's ability to protect Israel from diplomatic assaults and boycotts will decrease. Israel will be forced to give Palestinians full political rights, and a binational state will be established West of the Jordan River.

On paper, Israel's right-wing proponents of the Greater Land of Israel will have won. De facto, this would mean the end of the Zionist project of the democratic homeland of the Jews. It would also mean the creation of a state that will be impossible to govern, filled with endless strife, for example about the Palestinian right of return to the Greater Land of Israel, Israstine or whatever the new country West of the Jordan River will be called.

It is an irony of history that Ehud Olmert, the prime minister who has come closest to signing an agreement with the Palestinians, has been convicted of bribery in the same days Kerry cancelled his meeting with Abbas. It sometimes seems as if the forces of fate indeed colluded to make sure that the only viable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict would not come about.

Of course future historians will be able to show the phenomenal number of errors of judgment made by both sides over the years. But frankly, I'm less interested in the blaming game than I am in Israel's future, and this is why I am more concerned with Israel's mismanagement of the conflict than with the endless series of mistakes on the Palestinian side, about which I have written time and again in the past.

The question is whether there is any way out of the scenario which will lead to one unmanageable state west of the Jordan River. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.Michael Oren suggested a few months ago that if the peace talks fail, Israel should withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank's population centers. This, he claims, would enable Israel to keep the major settlement blocs and ensure security, while ending the occupation of the Palestinian population.

Oren's proposal may end up being the only course of action left to Israel if and when the peace talks fail. But that option comes with major stumbling blocks. Oren probably means that Israel will keep only the major settlement blocs, but if history serves as a guide, Israel is bound to keep many of the other settlements as well.

A brilliant historian, Oren must certainly be aware that the world will by no means see such a move as the end of the occupation -- and for good reason. Palestinians will still not be able to move freely both within their own territory sprinkled with small Israeli settlements and torn apart with roads Palestinians are not allowed to use, and their ability to travel will continue to depend on Israeli permits. Oren has been in the international diplomatic scene long enough to know that such unilateral withdrawal is unlikely to end the process of Israel's increasing international isolation which is now moving from calls to boycott Israel academically to the threat of excluding Israel from FIFA on the grounds that Israel limits Palestinian soccer players' freedom.

Meanwhile we should all prepare ourselves for the two-state solution's funeral. It is just a matter of time until the medical authorities officially and finally declare its demise.