Settlement contruction is obstacle to peace, economic development in Middle East

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I remember well how encouraged Palestinians in the nonviolent movement were when President Obama seemed to back Palestinian nonviolent demonstrations in his Cairo speech in 2009. Yet in the years that followed he had nothing to say about us as many were arrested, beaten, and even killed.  For that reason, it is difficult to process his praise last month for nonviolent demonstrations in Palestinian villages against the apartheid wall Israel is constructing.

I fear it was simply another one off. Indeed, hours after President Obama departed the region, colleagues and I were arrested by the Israeli army for our nonviolent effort to build a tent village and a playground for children in the occupied E-1 area. The president said nothing. This month a Palestinian-American child was arrested, allegedly for throwing stones. Human rights organizations assert he was abused by Israeli authorities. Yet American authorities have failed to express outrage that his mouth was bashed and his legal rights trampled. If American leaders and spokespeople won’t stand up for an American child we can scarcely expect them to stand vigorously for Palestinian rights and freedom.

Even when praising the nonviolence of the villages, President Obama lacked the courage to comment on Israel’s violent repression of our demonstrations. Palestinians are expected to be saints and Gandhis while the Israeli army is permitted to repress us violently. Rhetoric about non-lethal force being employed against Palestinians – not to mention live ammunition, bombs, and missiles – does nothing to console the mothers whose children are killed by rubber-coated steel bullets and “non-lethal” tear gas canisters imported from the United States. Instead, too many American politicians accept the sickening rhetoric that we manipulate our children and do not love them as other parents do. Strikingly, the African-American children who took to the streets in Birmingham, Alabama to face water cannons, dogs, and the Klan are rightly hailed 50 years later as heroes. But they succeeded in securing legal equality where we so far have failed.

Too frequently we are forced to fight the same battles and explain the same basics over and over. We love our children. We seek peace and freedom. We deserve legal equality. All of this is entirely in line with declared American principles and values and yet the American government routinely turns its might toward defending Israel’s maintenance of an apartheid and segregation status quo.

Now comes word that Secretary of State John Kerry intends to resurrect the notion of economic peace as a means to get us back to the negotiating table. We all know that it is impossible to have sustainable economic development without ending the occupation and the Israeli control of our borders, markets and more the 90 percent of our water resources.  Ignored is our insistence on the freeing of Palestinian political prisoners and our demand that Israel not pepper the West Bank with settlements and settlement activity during talks.

A return to negotiations under such conditions would make Palestinian leaders look foolish and complicit with the colonization of our territory. Israel’s refusal to stop illegal settlement expansion is a crystal clear message that it is not serious about the process. But, then, we already knew that from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long history of wrecking the initial Oslo agreement – and bragging about it.

There is only one way to a lasting peace: Accept the Palestinian people's right to freedom, equality and self-determination. A few years ago a Palestinian poet, who became the beloved mayor of Nazareth, said, “We the Palestinians are not better than any other people, but no other people is better than us.” It is time for the American government to realize this too.

Barghouthi, a doctor and a member of the Palestinian parliament, was a candidate for president in 2005. He is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party.