111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

The forgotten people

If at all any reminder of the Palestinians’ helplessness in the face of a brutal and inhuman apparatus was needed, it has come in the form of their hindered access to vaccines, as the infection and death rates register phenomenal increase in the Palestinian territories.

 Israel’s success in managing to vaccinate a major chunk of its population has been dwarfed by its refusal to help Palestinians with the vaccination.

For Palestinians that work in East Jerusalem with residency status are entitled to vaccination, the Israeli authorities have reluctantly started vaccinating them. As for the West Bank and Gaza, the situation appears to be deteriorating by the day amid a surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

The Palestinian authorities look to vaccinate 60 percent of West Bank and the Gaza strip, home to five million people, to reduce the possibility of losses. However, the start of the vaccination programme was delayed by financial constraints, logistical challenges, and the unavailability of vaccines. With the help from Covax, Russia and the UAE, it launched the vaccination drive in February.

Israel has justified its inaction to help Palestinians by invoking the Oslo accords, stating that public health is the responsibility of the Palestinian authorities “under the principles of self-determination.” The United Nations, on the other hand, is of the view that the Geneva Conventions take precedence over the local laws and it is the duty of the occupying power – Israel in this case – to provide healthcare services according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Donald Trump’s four years in office have been most disastrous for the Palestinian cause. Trump presided over the marginalization of the Palestinians, giving carte blanche to the Netanyahu-led right-wing Likud party to indulge in the worst human rights abuses and eat up whatever remained of Palestinian sovereignty, as Washington looked the other way. The US under Trump did away with even the pretence of paying lip service under the garb of neutrality.

Trump’s peace plan, that emanated from the 180-page document titled ‘Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People’ was hailed as the ‘Deal of the Century’, aimed at resolving the Palestine-Israel dispute. Described as the work of a team led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser to the White House, the so-called peace plan arrogated to Tel Aviv the exclusive right to set the terms of engagement with Palestinians.

While making the imaginary benefits conditional on the good behavior of Palestinians and endorsement of their actions by Israel and the US, the peace plan virtually tore the dream of the two-state solution, an outcome of the historic Oslo peace accords, to shreds by dehumanizing Palestinians. In what could be described as pandering to Israelis, the plan unabashedly rejected the Palestinians’ quest for making East Jerusalem their capital and proposed the outskirts of the city, known as a “gang-ridden slum”, as the capital.

With this much partisanship, fraud and injustice written all over, the unilateral ‘Deal of the Century’ was dead at its birth with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas describing it as the “slap of the century”. The Economist called it the “steal of the century”.

The second significant initiative taken by the Trump administration was the signing of the Abraham Accords, something in which the president took immense pride as a “signature foreign policy achievement” of his tenure. The Accords saw a number of Muslim countries, mainly the UAE, establishing diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv in exchange for no major concession from Israel vis-a-vis the age-old Palestinian dispute except a vague promise to put a freeze on the purported expansion of its settlements.

The new thinking in the Middle East reflects a changed reality of the region, driven largely by the threat they see in Iran and the Islamic Brotherhood. The process of containing Tehran and suppressing its influence involved putting Palestine on the backburner for national interests – finding an ally in Tel Aviv overrode any consideration for human rights.

Other actions taken by the Trump administration involved doing away with the tag of ‘occupied’ to describe the Palestinian lands, ending aid for UN Relief and Works Agency, equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem, a move that attracted widespread global denunciation.

The change of guard in Washington has slowed down the unrestricted support to Israel and offered a promise of a review of Trump’s Israel policy. The impact of the change can be gauged from the fact that Israeli PM Netanyahu took days to reach out to Joe Biden to congratulate him, with the excuse of waiting for “official results”. His follow-up tweet for Trump was characterized by profuse gratitude for “the friendship you have shown for the state of Israel and me personally.”

The support of Arab-Americans and Palestinian-Americans for Biden was predicated on the contrast he presented to Trump, not that the former is a revolutionary ready to undo the damage done to Palestinians by the American actions and inactions.

While the Biden-Kamala duo may represent the traditional Democratic establishment’s position on Israel, affirming their unconditional loyalty to the Zionist state, there has been a slow but gradual surfacing of support for Palestine within the liberal Democrats led by Bernie Sanders. A Pew Research survey carried out in 2018 noted the increase in support for Palestine, stating that “nearly twice as many liberal Democrats say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel.”

This group that represents progressive wing of the Democratic Party is likely to hold the Biden Administration’s actions to greater scrutiny, demand more transparency in its dealings with Israel and condition aid on its commitment to peace. The least that could be achieved is the opening up of space for policy debate on the horrendous actions of Tel Aviv, something which was anathema during the Trump presidency.

While powerful capitals may choose to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinians, global opinion is becoming increasingly cognizant of the historical injustices inflicted on Palestinians, a trend that has been powered by the use of social media as a medium to voice support for civil rights.

Two recent reports by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Human Rights Watch have damned the Israeli government for its actions in Palestine. Human Rights Watch, in particular, declared that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid prosecution in its dealings with Palestinians. It is for the first time in history that HRW has published such a damning report.

The report notes that Israel long crossed the “threshold” into crimes against humanity in utter disregard for the UN resolutions and international laws. “The intent of (domination) has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements (domination, occupation and oppression) occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid,” reads the report.

The Human Rights Watch report has come on the heels of the description of Israel as an “apartheid regime” by B’Tsleem, an Israeli human rights organization as well as the announcement of the International Criminal Court in which it said that it was investigating Israeli war crimes.

A panel discussion with South African veterans organized by H A Hellyer, a scholar at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2020, concluded that the happenings in the occupied territories, no doubt, constituted apartheid.

No wonder Israel has reacted harshly to the report, calling it “fiction” and its contents as “preposterous and false”.

These sporadic instances of support are reassuring to the people who are no more on the mind of the countries that pledged to work to “undo the historic injustice”. Martin Luther King Jr stated prophetically: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Amanat Ali Chaudhry, "The forgotten people," The News. 2021-05-03.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , International peace , Palestinian rights , Democrats , Crimes , Economy , Donald Trump , President Mahmoud Abbas , President Biden , Palestine , Israel , HRW