A (rather) wretched state of affairs and Obama's chance to change it

Feb 18, 2011
*Special to asia!

The Palestinian Authority maneuvers an obstacle course on the path to statehood, and today it goes to the United Nations with a vote against Israel. Question: Will the Americans help or hinder it?

Imagine if you and your neighbour shared a garden. He says it's his and you say, “No, part of it belongs to you.” He ignores you. Bit by bit, he starts moving things into it.

One day he plants a couple of seedlings. On another, you come home to find that the olive trees you have nurtured for years have been chopped down. Then he builds an extension to his mansion. Soon, the movers arrive, and his friends, their grandmothers and their dogs are moving into that extension.

Repeatedly through these episodes, you have asked him - sometimes nicely, but now increasingly angrily - to stop. This is not just his garden, you reason. Your two families need to look through the legal papers to determine the correct division of the garden.

He ignores you.


And again.

And again.

Finally one sunny day, your kids come home crying with a black eye. They were out playing in the garden, throwing stones at the mean-looking security guards your neighbour has employed to keep you and your family out. Between sobs, your children sniffle that those big mean men with the sunglasses that hide their eyes and guns that hold their power were standing in the orange grove where they used to play catch.

You angrily decide to go over and confront the neighbour. You walk out into the garden and lo and behold, there is now a wall three steps from your backdoor.

It's to keep out your bratty children, the imposing guards inform you.

At this point, you decide enough is enough. You will seek third-party arbitration and go to the courts. As you are getting your papers in order, you hear a knock on the door. It is someone from the police chief's office. He tells you to cool it. He will go talk to the neighbour for you.

You would believe him, if not for the fact that he's said this to you countless times before. When the olive trees came down, when the extension was built, when your neighbour's friends moved in...

What should you do?

Ignore the policeman and go straight to court? Sue the neighbour?

Well, except you can't. Not if you are Palestinian.

This – in very simple terms – is what the Palestinians are facing. Except for a few differences.

A court verdict in your favour could compel your neighbour to return part of the garden. The Palestinians haven't exactly got that option. The United Nations resolutions designed to do that have been vetoed by the US – the policeman - and the ignored by Israel – the neighbour.

Also, the Palestinians, unlike you in the story, do not have a house. They are living in the garden.

Palestinians do not have an independent state. There is the Gaza Strip - which as the Turkish flotilla last May informed the world, is under a blockade by the Israeli army and faces an acute shortage of essential supplies and economic hardship. And there is the West Bank, partly under the administration of the Palestinian Authority but fully-controlled by Israeli security forces.

Israel took over the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. It has occupied it, and the city of Jerusalem since then. Israel claims the West Bank as part of the country, and Jerusalem as its capital. No other country recognises this, because under international law, the West Bank and Jerusalem are occupied land.

Peace talks to resolve the territorial conflict and end the occupation of the Palestinian people and their land effectively collapsed (again) last year.


Once upon a time, there was a little hope in this land

In 2009, there was much optimism with Barack Obama's ascension to the US presidency. “Yes, we can!” became a slogan ordinary Palestinians would bandy around, when it came to achieving their own independence. For a while, you could feel the optimism in the air over East Jerusalem, the part of the city inhabited mainly by Palestinians.

Things have changed now in under two years. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – to some extent restrained by the (even more) nationalist right-wingers in his coalition government – refused to stop construction of Jews-only settlements in East Jerusalem. 

Palestinians were issue eviction ordered, the Israeli army coming under the cloak of night to kick entire clans out of their homes, and allowing religious Jewish settlers to move in.

While it is forbidding expensive and increasingly difficult for Palestinians to get permits to build homes in East Jerusalem, more and more homes were being constructed for these Jewish settlers there, some announced – to the humiliation of the Obama administration – as US Vice President Joe Biden got off the plane on his official visit to Israel.


447 Israelis demonstrating at a protest against the proposed construction of Jews-only housing at the Shepherd Hotel in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem.


Washington has consistently made the right noise, condemning the construction either through the White House or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obama even tried to speak Israel's language of security by wooing the Jewish state with 20 F-35 fighter planes worth US $3 billion last Novmber, only to be snubbed by Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister would not agree to stop construction in East Jerusalem, not even for ten months. Denied even this gesture of goodwill, the Palestinian Authority refused to return to the negotiating table. Peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have now effectively collapsed.

Faced with this situation, the Palestinian Authority declared its intentions to go the United Nations to seek support in declaring an independent state. More than a few countries in South America have officially recognised Palestine, with others like Norway saying they will, if the peace talks fail.


Over at the UN

...when push comes to shove, the United States – even under Obama - seems yet again woefully unable to live up to its words.

The United Nations Security Council will vote today (February 18th) on a resolution sponsored by some 120 nations, which states that “Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

Though this is what the US has been saying when news breaks of Israel approving more construction in the settlements, (here, here, and here) it is expected to veto it.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi