A Palestinian State: What Asia Pacific Governments Can Do to Help Bring this About

Walden Bello is representative of Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) in the House of Representative of the Republic of the Philippines and senior analyst at the Bangkok-based institute Focus on the Global South.  A retired professor from the University of the Philippines, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including Dilemmas of Domination: the Unmaking of the American Empire, APEC: Four Adjectives in Search of a Noun, American Lake: the Nuclear Peril in the Pacific, and, most recently, Food Wars.

Walden Bello

Speech at the United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Bangkok, July 10 and 11, 2012

His Excellency Mr. Riad Malki, colleagues, friends:

Let me say first of all that I am not an expert in Palestine-Israel relations.  It is not that I do not have experience in Middle East affairs.  I was in Baghdad in May 2003 until a few hours before the American invasion as part of the global effort to prevent that tragedy.  I got a taste of Israel’s punitive militarism in Beirut during the Israeli bombing of that city in the summer of 2006 as part of a peace delegation.  But the one time I tried to get into Gaza in December 2009, then dictator Hosni Mubarak gave orders to his minions at the Egypt-Gaza border not to let our delegation in.

Let me say that when I listened to Mr. Levy’s description of the mental and emotional makeup of contemporary Israelis, I was reminded of another people at another time.  They too felt they were victims of the international community.  They too massively supported a regime that promised to right these perceived wrongs.  They too felt that they had a right to more living room and the best way to achieve this was to grab this in defiance of international law.  They were so convinced of their leader’s cause of righteous expansionism that even when defeat in war stared them in the face, they supported him to the bitter end.  To be fair, Israel is a democracy while that other regime was a totalitarian regime, and Israel is not engaging in physical extermination as that other regime did, but the other points in the comparison are, in my view, valid.

For over six decades, the legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for a state of their own has been thwarted by Israeli military force, backed by US military aid and pro-Israeli diplomacy.  This intransigence on the part of Israel and its main backer has been the central cause of instability and conflict in the Middle East.

Even as it has obstructed the formation of a Palestinian state, Israel has carried out a policy of supporting the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.  As we learned from Ms. Buttu and Mr. Dolphin’s presentations yesterday, Palestinian are increasingly being herded into “Bantustans,” a process similar to that which transpired in White South Africa.  Palestinian territory is steadily shrinking.  While the US calls on Israel to halt the establishment of new settlements, the fact is, it does nothing to stop it.  Not only is action in the form of cutting off military aid to Israel not forthcoming.  The Obama administration has, in fact, increased military aid to Israel by $680 million in 2012.  With a blank check for military aid from Washington, no wonder the Netanyahu government pays no attention to the Obama administration’s faint calls on it to stop expanding its illegal settlements.

With the Netanyahu government blocking the peace process, the Palestinian people have felt compelled to take their case for the setting up of a state of their own to the United Nations last fall.  The United States knew that the peace process was frozen owing to Israeli intransigence, but France and Britain said they would abstain, thus depriving the Palestinians from getting the nine of the 15 votes they needed at the Security Council for the motion to prosper.  But even if they got that number, President Obama threatened to use its veto to kill it. 

I think we can safely say that both in an out of the United Nations, the Israeli tail is wagging the American dog.  President Obama’s promise at the beginning of his term to get the peace process moving has been simply that: a promise that has not been kept, largely due to his fear of losing the Jewish vote.   As Mr. Levy said yesterday, a statesman is a statesman whatever the conditions, but a small politician will always remain a small politician.

Let me also say in this connection that while there has been much fanfare surrounding the so-called repositioning of US forces in the Asia Pacific, I think Israel and the pro-Israeli lobby in the US will keep Washington intervening in the Middle East, either by fanning fears of Islamic regimes or Iran’s so-called nuclear project.  I think we must not forget that one of the key factors for the US invasion of Iraq was instigation by the pro-Zionist lobby led by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. 

I can understand why the Palestinians must devote a lot of their efforts trying to detach Washington from Tel Aviv.  If I were them, I would also do this.  But I think it is also legitimate to ask if this is a dead end?  Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question.

The most solid allies of the Palestinian people have always been the developing countries.  The reason is that most of us have struggled for our independence, because we knew that unless we had a state of our own, our people would remain powerless.  They would never be truly free.  This is why we have a special responsibility, a special mission to assist the Palestinian people achieve a just  and lasting peace and true independence.

A just and lasting peace would have as a conditio sine qua non the recognition of the right of return of Palestinians to the lands that was taken away from them by Israelis.  True independence would also have as a fundamental condition the establishment of a Palestinian state.

We in government can do a lot to promote a just peace and a Palestinian state.

I was heartened to hear Mr. Malki say yesterday that 134 governments have now extended diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine.  I am glad my government, the Philippines, is one of those governments.

For those governments that have taken this commendable step, the next step is obviously the establishment of full-scale diplomatic relations, including the setting up of embassies and consulates.

For those of us from countries that have not yet taken this step, we can push our parliaments to support a resolution in support of a Palestinian state and mandate our executive to find ways to help make this a reality. 

We can push for the creation within our foreign ministries of an Office for Palestinian Affairs that will establish and coordinate relations with the state of Palestine.  And we can work to get our governments to allow the establishment of diplomatic offices in our countries that will perform Embassy functions for the state of Palestine.  

We can work to get ASEAN to adopt a common position recognizing the state of Palestine.  I would urge the government of Malaysia or Indonesia to bring this up as an agenda item at the next ASEAN summit.

And, picking up on a suggestion by Mr. Malki yesterday, we can get our governments to support a boycott of goods from the illegal settlements.  Since the economy of the settlements is integrated into the economy of Israel, this will be de facto a boycott of Israeli goods.  As we learned yesterday, the boycott and divestment campaign has had an effect on Israel that is not marginal.

All of these moves will be important steps on the way to mustering a critical mass of global support for a lasting peace settlement and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Let me end by saying that justice and plain human decency demand a just settlement and the creation of a Palestinian state.  We in the Asia-Pacific should do our share to bring this about.

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