Neutrality is not silence: Speak out for Palestine

By Ameen Izzadeen
Palestinians are sending out SOS messages, calling for international intervention to stop what they together with the world’s peace-loving people have roundly denounced as the biggest land robbery after World War II. But international intervention is largely confined to statements.
On Wednesday, arrangements were afoot for Israel, which has since 1948 been occupying Palestine, to annex more than a third of what is left of the Palestinian land on the West Bank.
However, what Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism” did not happen on Wednesday, probably in view of fears of another Palestinian Intifada – which will be the third uprising – and mounting global opposition, unexpectedly even from Israel’s European allies.
In terms of an agreement Netanyahu had reached with his coalition partner and alternate prime minister Benny Grantz, July 1 was the day on which Israel was to declare its sovereignty over large areas of Palestinian land to give effect to United States President Donald Trump’s globally condemned Middle East ‘peace’ plan.
Unveiled in January, Trump’s plan offered Israel a formula to legalise the annexation of the Palestinian territories in contravention of international law. Annexing a part or the whole of an occupied territory is a serious violation of the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, in any civilised nation, the property law calls it a theft if a person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently or temporarily depriving the other of it.
According to Trump’s plan, Israel will annex all Palestinian territory on which Jewish settlements have been built over the years, while the remaining territory – a collection of Bantustans – will be declared the state of Palestine.
The Trump administration, an accomplice in this land theft, has recognized the whole of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite the fact that under international law Jerusalem was an occupied territory.
He has simply dismissed the Palestinians’ lifelong aspiration to regain East Jerusalem, which they lost in the 1967 war, and declare it as the capital of their future state. In addition, the Trump administration has also recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, the title deed of which belongs to Syria.
Trump is a Zionist asset which Netanyahu can hardly let go of. So, Netanyahu is in a hurry because he wants the annexation to take place soon, because he is not sure whether Trump can win the November election. Trump’s presidential election rival Joe Biden has said he is opposed to any unilateral decision on the annexation.
In Europe, Germany, France, Britain and many European Union nations have rejected the annexation move and reminded Israel that any unilateral decision is a violation of international law. However, as expected, they have refrained from spelling out any tough measures they may take against Israel if it goes ahead with the annexation. The Western nations’ soft spot for Israel has encouraged the Zionist state to violate international law at will and oppress the Palestinian people and their freedom struggle with impunity.
Arab states have spoken out against the annexation, with Jordan warning of a massive conflict and a possible withdrawal from a peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1994.
Israel now probably feels it needs time to navigate the mounting international pressure and the Palestinian leadership’s response to its annexation plan.
So, Netanyahu’s rival and coalition partner Grantz, who will take over as Israel’s prime minister in November next year, says the annexation has to wait till the coronavirus pandemic is over, though he had earlier agreed that it should take place on Wednesday.
While the Palestinian people took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against the annexation plan, which they call ‘another Nakba or the 1948 catastrophe that led to the forceful eviction of more than 750,00 Palestinians from their homes and villages, the Palestinian leadership has taken some drastic measures which have boxed Israel into a corner.
Ahead of the annexation plan, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the authority had terminated all of its agreements with Israel and the United States, thereby putting the responsibility on Israel to feed the Palestinian people. In keeping with this decision, the Palestinian Authority has refused to accept the tax and trade revenue which Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority at a 3 percent commission. Some two thirds of this revenue – US$ 200 million a month — is spent on the salaries of the Palestinian public sector employees who form nearly 50 percent of the total workforce. The Palestinian people are starving. Nay, they are staging a collective hunger strike, sending a powerful message to Israel and the world.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has warned that Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state along the pre-1967 borders if Israel goes ahead with its annexation plan.
Sri Lanka’s position
As this newspaper rightly pointed out in its editorial on Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s silence on the question of Palestine is deafening, despite the fact that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause.
We need not abandon our principled foreign policy for the sake of political realism that may mislead us into remaining silent with regard to global conflicts. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration has said it is committed to a ‘neutral’ foreign policy.
Maintaining neutrality or an equidistant foreign policy may appear strategically safe for a developing nation struggling to stay out of the power games global superpowers and regional powers play.
But Sri Lankan leaders, from D.S. Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to Ranasinghe Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, have shown that neutrality is not remaining silent when oppressed people cry out for global intervention. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, in particular, charted a radical foreign policy path for the country, demonstrating that Sri Lanka’s neutrality was not like that of Switzerland. It meant a policy of proactive engagement to establish a global order based on peace and justice.
Some may argue that a proactive non-aligned foreign policy, which was acceptable then, may not be the right policy to adopt today. This is ridiculous. Does this mean that if a country like Nazi Germany is to emerge and wreak havoc in the world, should we remain silent? Our neutrality will make us complicit in the crimes against humanity.
Therefore, the Rajapaksa government must issue a statement condemning Israel’s annexation plan and Trump’s cockeyed peace plan. It is not only the right policy to follow but also a necessity in statecraft to enhance the country’s global image that has been tainted by allegations of human rights violations.
(After this article appeared in the Daily Mirror on July 3, 2020, the Foreign Ministry in Colombo drew my attention to the statement Sri Lanka’s envoy made at the UN Human Rights Council last month. The envoy reiterated Sri Lanka’s support for the Palestinian cause and expressed concern over Israel’s annexation plan.)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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