New Israeli government; same old misery for Palestinians

Meet the new Israeli government; same as the old government.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still at the top. Yes, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a notorious anti-Palestinian bigot, has opted out of the coalition, but the governing principles remain much the same as before vis-à-vis Palestinians.  The corrosive occupation remains and illegal settlements will surely be expanded.  The status quo remains dreadful for Palestinians and it is not good for Israelis either, though Netanyahu appears convinced he can manage the situation. Perhaps, but it’s a very dangerous game he is playing to think he can exercise control over millions of Palestinians indefinitely. 

Economic prospects for Palestinians in the West Bank remain severely constrained. The opportunities for our people are sharply limited by Israeli policies that limit our ability to use our own natural resources and develop industry and housing in the 60 percent of the West Bank designated as Area C by the antiquated Oslo Accords.  This agreement, signed over 20 years ago, today serves only to mock Palestinian freedom aspirations and concretize a status quo that prohibits Palestinian innovation and industry in most of the territory that international law and consensus generally recognize as Palestinian.

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The division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C is chillingly reminiscent of the experience of black South Africans with the land grab carried out by white South Africans. Palestinians are prohibited from developing or building in Area C without Israeli approval, which is rarely given. The Palestinian Business Committee rejects this arbitrary division of land and calls on U.S. policymakers to support its proposals to develop Area C with projects that will contribute to increased employment and economic growth.

Our requests for Congressional understanding have largely been ignored to date.  Worse, this Congress is now legislating against the Palestinian nonviolent action of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a means to secure Palestinian freedom.  Do they really intend to send the message that both Palestinian violence and nonviolence are illegitimate?  Most astonishing of all, the Congressional legislation being considered attempts to erase any difference between Israel and occupied Palestinian territory by squeezing even those BDS campaigns focused solely on illegal settlements.  In other words, even though US policy has long regarded settlements as either illegal or illegitimate, Congress opposes European BDS efforts against these settlements. Europe can speak against the injustice accompanying Israeli theft of Palestinian land, but the Congress doesn’t want the Europeans to do anything practical to end the practice and impose costs for disregarding international law.

What did Palestinians do that they have so little support from Capitol Hill for their quest for dignity and freedom?  Congressional Democrats are also absent on the matter, despite recent Pew polling indicating that sympathy for Palestinians among liberal Democrats is stronger than for Israel.  That is extraordinary new information that figures to shape the Democratic party increasingly in the years to come.

For decades, until its demise in 1994, the apartheid South African regime sought to concentrate black residents in territorial enclaves known as Bantustans. The explicit goal was to remove residency, voting, and other citizen rights from black Africans.

Israel is recreating similar conditions in the West Bank while its defenders argue that those – such as President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu – rightly expressing outrage over such Bantustan-like conditions are anti-Semitic.  Yet the facts are with Palestinians.  The West Bank is divided into three administrative zones.  While the Palestinian Authority has varying levels of control over Areas A and B, Area C is under full Israeli control. The implications of this arrangement for the private sector are that investment in, or development of, land categorized as Area C is impossible. Even development of Areas A and B can suffer restrictions and delays if and when projects are too close to or depend upon resources from Area C.  Human Rights Watch has written a report about Israel’s two-tier legal system in Area C, tellingly titled “Separate and Unequal.”

Concerns about Area C, economic development, and Palestinian rights will be raised Monday at an all-too-unusual Congressional briefing at 12 pm in B-338 Rayburn House Office Building. Our spirits are buoyed by growing support from liberal Democrats and from African Americans and Latinos who have fought their own battles for freedom and equality.  Liberal Jewish voices provided crucial support to those movements.  They are desperately needed again today.  The leadership of Jewish Voice for Peace in battling for our rights raises the question of why AIPAC is so steadfastly against advances in rights and freedom for Palestinians and why members of Congress give it such deference.  A different reality will be presented by my colleagues and me on Monday that members of Congress should heed as we continue our march to Palestinian freedom.

Khouri is a Palestinian-American businessman and member of the Palestinian Business Committee for Peace and Reform.