Monday, 26 September 2011

Palestine's plight

On Friday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas made a speech submitting his bid to the United Nations for recognition of a Palestinian state. A whole host of things stand in his and Palestine’s way, none more than Israel and the US. Abbas received a standing ovation, his bid supported by the vast majority of UN member states, but the wide coalition of support may be futile because of the UN Security Council's archaic nature and the unconditional support to Israel the superpower that is the US offers. President Obama recently told Abbas that the US would veto Palestine’s bid for statehood, and a veto from any of the permanent Security Council members (the UK, France, China, Russia and the US) is enough to block any resolution.

Why, you may ask, has the US always been such a strong supporter of Israel even when completely alone? Because of politics. Both parties in the US, Democrat and Republican, are petrified of losing the Jewish vote. Supporting Israel ties in with the Republicans’ markedly anti-Arab foreign policy, so there’s never any question Republican Presidents will back Israel and shun Palestine. Surely then, the Democrats, the more progressive (although still not very) of the two, will support Palestine? Sadly not. With the Republicans consistently offering the Israelis unconditional support, Obama and co. fear doing anything but backing the Zionist cause will lose him millions of votes and the election. Just 2-2.5% of the US population is Jewish, yet the Jewish community wield so, so much power and influence. It’s a vicious cycle that I worry the US won’t ever snap out of. Obama’s the least right-wing US President in decades, yet if even he is unable or unwilling to support the Palestinian cause, it’s likely no future president will. In contrast to his predecessors, Obama fell out with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier this year - after which I na├»vely hoped he could bring about a significant change in America's policy on Israel and Palestine - but by committing to using the veto on Palestine's bid for statehood, he's made America's continued commitment to unwavering support for Israel very clear.

Israel declared its own independence in 1948 and became a member of the UN a year later. It is easy to underestimate the desperate state of the Jews when they arrived in what was then Palestine in 1945. Hungry, impoverished, mentally scarred and often widowed, the British soldiers who then occupied the territories found it difficult to turn away these tormented people who wanted a homeland, as Peter Kosminsky's The Promise highlighted so well. There was no way back for the Palestinians, however, after the huge influxes of Jewish immigration, and hundreds of thousands have found themselves evicted from their own homes; many of them killed by Israeli troops if they did even the smallest amount of peaceful protest. The Holocaust was perhaps the most horrific thing to ever happen in history, and many of the Jews who travelled to Israel after the war ended bore the brunt of it, but this did not make it ok to eject Palestinian families from their homes using violence if necessary to make room for the growing Jewish population in what is now Israel.

I don’t say this often, but with the blatant unfairness of the Security Council membership and the Palestinian situation as a whole, I can see why some people don’t get involved in politics. What can we do? Protest, sign petitions, lobby our own governments... yes, of course, and we do; but, on this at least, are we really going to change anything? That’s not to say don’t try and do something, but if the American President won’t listen to practically all the countries in the world at the UN, he won’t listen to us.

The US will always claim it’s not alone in its opposition to Palestine's pursuit of freedom and will often seek to recruit temporary ‘allies’ using threats and bribes. This time out, it threatened Portugal (one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council) it would withhold support in financial institutions for its stricken economy, The Guardian reports. Let’s think about Iraq. Bush and co. were seriously demanding Saddam give up the chemical and biological weapons he'd acquired from the US that he by then no longer had while Israel was allowed to keep its own. It's a struggle understanding how all this is fair. I found it really tough explaining it to my 9-year-old brother at the dinner table the other day. 'How can they do that?', he asked. Exactly. How can they?

US national debt will reach $15 trillion this year, but it still sends Israel $3bn of military – yes, military – aid each year. This, like the outdated veto system in the UN and membership of the Security Council in the UN and America’s unqualified support for Israel, cannot be right. It’s one of the things I feel most strongly about in politics, but one of the things I, like millions of others, from young activists to world leaders, can probably do very little about.


  1. Yes, thank you! This is so relevant to my A2 at the moment :)

  2. I'm pleased you found it helpful, Augustin. It's a great course, the A2.