75 years on and the Nakba continues!

Palestine solidarity protest outside the British parliament on 5 June 2018, CC BY-SA 2.0

by Dr. Aqel Taqaz

The campaign for Palestinian liberation and statehood is currently going through perhaps its most difficult, fraught, and dangerous stage since the military annexation of what remained of free Palestine in June 1967. The hopes that were harboured at the beginning of negotiations to reach a political solution in the wake of the First Intifada, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Accords, have largely been dashed. This agreement, which was supposed to bear fruit within 5 years of its signing – with a final agreement reached on a political solution to the decades-long conflict, an end to the occupation of Palestine, and the establishment of full Palestinian statehood – was instead used to cynically bide time by Israel, which went about encroaching further into Palestinian territory, building more illegal settlements, and rendering the prospects of the two-state solution more remote by the day. This ‘pressure-cooker’ exploded in September 2000 in the Second Intifada, which essentially led to Israel’s complete repudiation of Oslo, the invasion of territory controlled by the Palestinian authority, as well as the besieging of its president, Yasser Arafat, and his probable murder (by poisoning) four years later.

All subsequent attempts to “re-table” efforts towards the reaching of a political solution have been similarly exploited by Israel so as to ultimately deny the Palestinian people their inalienable right to self-determination and an establishment of an independent state within the borders as they stood on 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for all Palestinian refugees – as per Oslo and recognised by the UN. Thus we have witnessed continued and unrestrained land confiscations, demolitions of homes, construction of the West Bank Wall, besieging of Gaza, ethnic cleansing in areas of East Jerusalem (so as to alter the demographics on the ground there), as well as the arbitrary arrest and incarceration of thousands of Palestinians over the years.

The crisis worsened even further with the arrival of the Trump administration to the White House. During this singularly disastrous presidential term, the US government proceeded to officially Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel, moving the US Embassy there despite an international outcry; recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which is part of Syria; and essentially placed punitive sanctions upon the Palestinians by cutting-off support for the Palestinian Authority, closing the PLO’s office in Washington, attempting to choke the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by cutting off all US aid to the body.

This has been massively exacerbated by Washington’s pressuring of some MENA countries to normalise their relations with Israel in return for the shoring-up of a regional alliance against the Islamic Republic of Iran – as opposed to any step towards addressing let alone resolving the issue of Palestine, which remains close to the hearts of most ordinary people throughout the region.

Rise of the far-right in Israel

Meanwhile, we have witnessed the inexorable rise of the Israeli far-right over the course of 5 elections in less than 4 years, culminating in the coming-to-power in November 2022 of the most right-wing administration in Israel’s history – one comprising of fascistic and extreme-sectarian elements that would have previously been unpalatable even to the Israeli right. The deal sees the re-emergence of the disgraced former prime minister, Netanyahu, who by entering into this political alliance can press ahead with the Likud party’s program while conveniently ducking the corruption prosecutions hovering over him.

Since the very first day of this government’s formation, it has rolled out the implementation of an aggressive, racist, and extremist policy against the Palestinians. This has been manifested in daily attacks and provocations at holy sites, particularly in Jerusalem; the announcement of the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land; and the adoption of legislation allowing for the summary depriving of citizenship, expulsion from Israel, as well as the reinstitution of the death penalty.

This trend continued with the sanctioning of armed incursions into Palestinian towns and cities, especially in Jenin and Nablus, in vague suspicion-led operations even where no crime or provocation had taken place. Hundreds of armed settlers, under the protection of the Israeli army, proceeded to attack the village of Hawara – burning down homes, torching cars, and uprooting orchards – setting a template then adopted by settlers in the rest of the occupied West Bank.

In continuation of previous policy, the current US administration has sent representatives to try and dampen down the immediate conflagration and its fallout – while still ultimately supporting Israeli aggression and working to prevent any censure of Israel at the UN Security Council, as well as any other initiative or measure aimed towards bringing about a workable political resolution of the conflict. Once the fire is out, the US will turn its back on the issue once more and Israel will return to the same practices, safe in the reassurance of its impunity. Unfortunately, the European countries adopt a similar stance to the US in this respect.

However, the situation vis-à-vis the new administration in Israel is a game-changer in terms of the usual ebb and flow of this seven-decade-long conflict, with a real danger posed towards the future of democracy in Israel – a notional democracy now turned in on itself, one that disenfranchises and threatens large swathes of the Jewish population let alone the Palestinian citizens of Israel who comprise around 20% of the country’s population overall.

Indeed, many Israelis are becoming increasingly worried by the course of political developments inside the country – with draft laws being put to the Knesset that undermine and endanger what have long been held out to be the tenets of Israeli democracy, not least the clear separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. Thus, we see tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrating and beginning to take a stand, albeit belatedly, against the current ruling administration.

Two-state solution

Regrettably, the prospects for the implementation of the two-state solution – a vision subscribed to by most ordinary Palestinians and their political representatives in the PLO since the First Intifada, and the only realistic political solution to this conflict – seems more remote than ever before. This is largely due to the policies of successive Israeli governments which have ridden roughshod over their commitments according to Oslo and the abject failure of the international community to hold Israel to account. Instead, Israel is afforded an impunity unthinkable for any other country, shored up by the US and many Western countries with no effective inroad or role for the UN.

The danger of this situation becomes even more acute when the worsening stand-off with the Islamic Republic of Iran is also factored in to the equation, especially in light of the near-total collapse of the Iran nuclear negotiations. With the current administration in Israel, there remains the real risk that the ‘internal’ Israeli crisis is transposed to a regional level meaning another deadly confrontation in the Middle East – the catastrophic consequences of which cannot be emphasised enough.

The international community – first and foremost the UN – must be alert to the wider dangers posed by the Israeli government’s wanton abuses and continuing impunity, and the instability that will continue to fester for as long as no serious attempt is made to definitively resolve the Palestine-Israel issue. Support, solidarity, and urgent action are needed more than ever to prevent escalation to a new disastrous war in the Middle East.

Dr. Aqel Taqaz is a member of the Palestinian Committee for Peace and Solidarity (PCPS) and the Secretariat of the World Peace Council (WPC).

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