By Shams Ghoneim
It may be one small step for Palestinians, but on Nov. 29, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine recognition as a non-member observer status. Palestine is now eligible to join U.N. agencies, including the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, and participate in debates.
The international community was fed up with the occupation of the West Bank, ongoing expansion of illegal settlements and violation of Palestinians’ human rights, and supported their right to self-determination.
The greater hope is that this may be a catalyst to start a meaningful negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a sustained, just, peaceful and respectful coexistence. Gaza was harshly occupied since 1967 and the population has endured a punitive blockade since mid-2007, making daily life intolerable. The Israeli removal of troops and settlements was little more than a mere redeployment to the borders of Gaza, with absolute control over what goes in and what leaves.
In November, Israeli forces assassinated (Hamas leader) Ahmed Jabari. Hours before, Jabari received a draft of a permanent truce with Israel. Israeli leadership knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence working toward a lasting peace. Jabari was responsible for enforcing previous cease-fires. Killing him was a major provocation.
Many believe this was the main reason Hamas and other militant groups started their rocket barrages against Israel. The Nove. 8 Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 200 Palestinians with an overwhelming majority being civilians and wounded at least 1,000 more including many women and children. Six Israelis were killed and 200 wounded.
The cease-fire was achieved through efforts by the United States and Egypt. The potential reasoning behind it could have some real international implications. Israel’s Debka reports that the pause came after the U.S. promised to send troops to Sinai Peninsula-Egyptian territory in North Africa — that is framed by the Suez Canal on the West and Israel on the East. Sinai is but a stone’s throw from Palestinian-controlled Gaza.
The region is in crisis mode and spreading from Gaza to Egypt to Syria to Turkey to Lebanon and beyond. Egypt is going through a dramatic period where street fights between pro-democracy crowds and pro-President Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood supporters are raging. Following U.S. and international praise for Morsi’s mediating a Gaza cease-fire, he unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself. He effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent. He declared that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions including his protection to the Muslim Brotherhood-led assembly from looming threat of dissolution by court order so they can write the new constitution. In an unprecedented move, several privately owned newspapers shared the same front-page headline: “No to dictatorship.” (Morsi later backed off from some of his decree.)
In Syria’s 20-month brutal crisis, the military is reported preparing to use chemical weapons against its own people and is awaiting final orders from President Assad. The crisis has spilled over into Turkey. NATO backed Ankara and approved sending defensive Patriot missiles to protect its southern border with Syria.
The U.S. response must be to proceed with extreme caution.
“Throughout America’s adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied.” — President Eisenhower ‘s farewell address to the nation.
Shams Ghoneim of Iowa City is coordinator of the Iowa Chapter, Muslim Public Affairs Council. Comments: shams firstname.lastname@example.org