Otherwise there will be nothing of Palestine left….

When we were kids, we went to my uncle’s Jordan Valley farm in the Palestinian West Bank to hunt for Easter eggs. The event was organized by his Christian wife and the whole family was happy to celebrate because it was so much fun. As we peered through the bushes and looked under the stones of this most fertile of West Bank land, the adults made sure that each child found at least one brightly decorated egg. Israel’s occupation in 1967 put an end to those family visits during my father’s vacations from the American University of Beirut.

Today, the Jordan Valley is a closed zone even to those Palestinians who live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It was included in Area C under the Oslo agreement, an area that covers approximately 60 percent of the West Bank and that was supposed to be handed back to the Palestinians as part of the peace process. Instead, Area C has been aggressively colonized, with Israeli soldiers and settlers implementing the harshest of Israel’s depopulation policies in the Jordan Valley.

My memories of the Jordan Valley occasionally evoke some sympathy for Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’ willingness to engage in negotiations that have gone nowhere for 17 years. Negotiations are one way of addressing the hardest challenge facing Palestinians: how to save as much of the physical land of Palestine as possible from Israel’s land grabs, home demolitions, and expulsions. For, without Palestinians on the land of Palestine, the quest for rights will, as Israel knows full well, eventually fade into the history books.

If Abbas’ strategy had a reasonable chance to rescue even little bits of Palestine, then many Palestinians would solidly back him. But it doesn’t: the massive increase in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise during the 17 years of negotiations more than doubled the settler population. And the so-called freeze touted by the Obama Administration was marked by a far higher rate of Israeli construction in the Occupied Territories than in Israel itself according to Americans for Peace Now–thanks to the Netanyahu government’s various “exceptions.” Indeed, Chris Patten, former chairman of Britain’s conservative party, recently wrote in the Financial Times that he has seen more large-scale construction in the West Bank than in Europe. Yet, says Patten, “the Obama administration has told us there is an ‘unprecedented freeze’ in settlement activity. Who is fooling whom?” And why?

Truth is, Israel, the United States, the European Union, Arab countries, and the PA (but not the Palestinians) have all benefited from the charade of negotiations. Negotiations have enabled Israel to present a peace-seeking face to the world even as it continues to colonize. They’ve provided a fig leaf for American administrations’ inability or unwillingness to hold Israel accountable for its policies; the PA has not had to face up to the bankruptcy of its policies and political structures; and the European Union and Arab countries have bemoaned the situation without having to do a thing about it.

For Palestinians, calling an end to this charade might help dismantle the corrupt and inept leadership structures, heavily backed by the United States, that have brought things to this point. Doing so would bring into sharper focus the valiant civil resistance of villagers against the loss of their land, including those in the Jordan Valley. They are rebuilding their homes as fast as Israel demolishes them in “a non-violent act of resistance,” as Luisa Morgantini, former vice president of the European Parliament, said after her recent trip. It would highlight the ongoing confiscation of land from Palestinian citizens of Israel and perhaps push a drive for equal rights for all in what was once Palestine and is now ruled by Israel.

Ending the charade would also underscore the violent reality of the settler movement that has made the West Bank and East Jerusalem such a dangerous place to live. It might even lead to calling things by their true names: the settlements are illegal under international law, but somehow this sounds too abstract. Taking things that do not belong to you — such as land and water — is theft. People who commit theft are thieves and criminals and must be treated accordingly.

These realities have been blurred by the whirl of men and women in suits dashing from meeting to meeting with the press in tow. Abbas now seeks political cover from the Arab League for his next steps. But what happens next must depend on the Palestinian people: to declare that this process has no substance, take stock, and respond to what is actually happening on the ground, as is being done by those engaged in civil resistance and in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Otherwise there will be nothing of Palestine left.

Nadia Hijab is co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network


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