Guest post by Howard Stern, Co- Founder of the Emmaus Group UK
On Monday 13th October 2014 British Parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly to support the recognition of a Palestinian State. Unfortunately, they, like many other European leaders, have failed to comprehend the gravity of such a decision. When Palestinians themselves say they want to live under Israeli rule instead of the Palestinian Authority, one knows something is wrong. Sadly their voice has gone unheard in Westminster.
“Israel’s occupation is our only protection” is the view expressed by many I know. “If Israel withdraws tonight we’ll be dead by the morning,” said another well-known Palestinian from Bethlehem. “We don’t want the West Bank becoming another Gaza,” said a student from Beit Jala. These concerns are very real for the people who live there.
The West has failed to learn lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and all the other Middle- East theatres it has engaged in. Removing a dictator or, in this case, an occupying force, simply creates a vacuum into which something worse will emerge. It appears no risk assessment has been conducted – merely an emotional response made to a case in which the evidence, if one digs deeper, may not be as credible as first thought.
The inconvenient truth is the only difference between the Palestinian West Bank and all the other Arab-Islamic states in the region is the presence of Israel’s Defence Force. It is the only restraining influence preventing an all-out conflict between Fatah and Hamas, or worse. We should not be deceived by their current efforts to demonstrate a fresh alliance; it is a ruse to deceive the West into giving yet more funding for “reconstruction” – funding that will be used to build an infrastructure whose objective is further conflict.
For years, campaigners have tirelessly raised awareness about the West donating money to the Palestinian Authority who in turn funds terrorist’s salaries (ratib). Donor governments consistently deny this happens yet the Palestinian media itself published articles this year in which Hamas leaders were threatening Fatah because they had not had their “salaries paid.” Hamas is a designated terrorist entity – an entity to which Britain has just voted inadvertently to give more power.
To appreciate what a future Palestinian State could look like just look at Gaza. Israel withdrew under pressure from the international community, forcibly displacing many of its own citizens and handed the reins of governing the territory to Fatah. Within months infighting occurred, old tribal factions fractured the leadership and a coup was staged resulting in Hamas killing many Fatah members. Civil war ensued concluding with a designated terrorist entity in leadership – one who sympathises with ISIL – but I digress! Why do western politicians believe handing full control of the West Bank to Fatah will not result in more of the same? The same people, mindsets, political agendas, factions and religious extremists exist in both Gaza and West Bank.
As a recognized state the Palestinians will be required to act in accordance with international laws and protocols. Should extremist factions within their borders attack Israel then it could be argued Israel would have every right to act in accordance with international law in defending her sovereign territory. The Palestinian people would no longer be able to claim a breach of international law, because as a state actor themselves, engaging in hostile activity against another, they would be held fully accountable and have to face the consequences.
I am deeply concerned for the Palestinian people; their future remains highly uncertain. Based on historical precedence their current leadership is entirely unable to lead objectively, nor meet the needs of the people, act with prudence, nor restrain the extremist factions who will undoubtedly provoke further conflict with Israel.
It is naïve in the extreme to think that the Palestinian leadership in its current form can manage these territories. Ex-Prime Minister Fayyad stated last year, “Our story is a story of failed leadership from way early on. It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness.”
Palestinians want a quality of life on a par with Israel and other western democracies yet their government refuses to allow such. Christy Anastas, an outspoken Palestinian and now public figure in the UK, receives regular threats (as have her family) because she chose to speak out. In May 2014, Palestinian MP Hassan Khraisheh, had his car sprayed with bullets leaving home one morning for criticising PA policy.iii A young man I know of attended a political meeting in Ramallah in February this year and was beaten badly on his way home because he asked probing questions. Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian negotiator, stated publicly on Al Jazeera in March 2014 that they (PA) had had to use the gun to maintain “one rule and prevent people rising up against them.” iv Palestinians are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals by their own authorities. This is not an emerging democracy, this is a repressive autocratic regime, common across the region – a regime Britain funds and now recognises as a future state.
“We hate the PA, what can we do, if we speak out they kill us,” said one Bethlehem mother. In the closing days of Operation Protective Edge, Gazan residents campaigning for peace were shot by Hamas. Now that the war is over, some Gazan people are starting to speak out: “Hamas wanted us butchered so it could win the media war against Israel showing our dead children on TV and then get money from Qatar,” said one former Hamas ministry officer.
Is this truly the legacy Britain desires for Palestinians?