Dr. Saeb Erekat: Will Europe Continue to Betray the Palestinians Who Endorsed a Non-violent Struggle?

March 21, 2018
Will Europe Continue to Betray the Palestinians Who Endorsed a Non-violent Struggle?
By Dr. Saeb Erekat

This is actually happening. European countries, members of the European Union, itself birthed out of the ashes of the last century’s unprecedented atrocities, are currently putting pressure on Palestine not to demand its rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

This Friday, four resolutions on Palestine will be voted on, and some European countries are concerned about the political implications of any calls to hold Israel accountable for its systematic violations of international law.

The very international legal standards Palestine clings to - self-determination, non-acquisition of territory through force, and equality - are the bedrock of the European project.

The European Union, with its focus on international law and global norms, was seen as the antidote to the 20th century’s wars where nations were denied self-determination, rogue states sought to acquire territory through force, and Europe’s citizens suffered immeasurable atrocities based on their ethnic, religious, and national origins. These noble universal ideals that Europe championed are the basis for our struggle. 

What are some of those countries trying to achieve by preventing the international community from taking action when Palestine suffers this fate, continuing into the 21st century?

By refusing to work with the only established international order to assert Palestinian rights, the Israeli government gets carte blanche to continue colonizing Palestinian land, while the Palestinian people get the message that international law and diplomacy are useless in their quest for freedom, justice and independence.

A few decades ago, the PLO would get messages from the some of those same countries saying that only after Palestinians endorse non-violence will they be able to use their power to end the occupation and fulfill the rights of the Palestinian people. It was one of the main reasons for us to fully endorse the 1967 borders, UN resolutions, international law, and the role of international organizations in the peace process.

Yet, almost three decades later, many people believe that taking those choices was wrong.

Not only has Israel multiplied its settlements snaking throughout our land, but the international community has continued to reward Tel Aviv for its violations and crimes. Tel Aviv’s reward has been deafening silence and impunity from the international community.

By asking the UN Human Rights Council to address the grave situation in Palestine, we are protecting our rights, as well as the rights of the future generations. This is, for example, the particular importance of one of the resolutions to be voted on Friday, regarding the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Some may ask if there is a need to vote a resolution that nobody would question. But indeed, countries such as Canada and the U.S. have repeatedly voted against our very right to be free. 

The second resolution addresses the overall human rights situation in the territory of the occupied state of Palestine. While most countries are going to vote in favor of this resolution, it is clear that some of them are not willing to take any action other than expressing discontent at Israeli policies. 

We have a regretful precedent: when the UN Human Rights Council voted to create a database of companies involved in the Israeli occupation, there was a common abstention from European countries.

But history tells a different story. Europe and its citizens have seen their own occupations over history; understanding this scourge, in the post-war years, European countries universally supported strong protections for the civilian population under occupation.

Europe also understood the important role that private companies could play in financing wars and occupation, and making occupation profitable; Europe created a robust human rights system that accounted for this.

But, in Palestine’s case, 50 years of European statements on the illegality of the Israeli settlements have not been enough for them to endorse a similar step for Palestine. Eventually, they explained that this vote wouldn’t change their position: that all settlements are illegal under international law. But then what? It is a right without a remedy.  

In line with their post-war history, we have seen the EU and its member states showing pride in imposing sanctions and other measures against countries for violations of international humanitarian law and the acquisition of territory by force.

In fact, Europe has the strongest regional human mechanism, one which places the primacy of international norms over domestic law, even in more complicated cases than Israel, where it is clear they are in violation of international law. But when it comes to Israel, enforcement actions are immediately taken off the table.

In other words, Israel understands that most European countries disagree with its policies in occupied Palestine, while it is reassured that they will not take any action. Again, a right without a remedy.

Since the enhancement of the status of Palestine at the United Nations, we have joined several international treaties and organizations, including the International Criminal Court, in order to assert our national rights and show our ability to act as a responsible nation abiding by the UN Charter and international norms.

Yet, we find rogue states harkening back to the dark ages, before international law, and fighting the very right of the Palestinian people to enjoy justice and dignity.

We understand that the Trump Administration has been pressuring countries, rewarding violations of international law and punishing those who support UN resolutions, especially UNSC 2334, and the UN Charter’s bedrock principles. But are those countries really willing to leave the world in the hands of the Trump Administration?

Those countries that argue that voting for resolutions on Israeli settlements or accountability for violations of international law means bias against Israel should review their history and their logic. Does being a true friend of Israel mean that you should tolerate violations of international law that go against your own country’s moral fabric?

Those who claim that, as a political matter, this would not help a return to negotiations, should ask whether their policy of impunity has managed to stop settlements or make the Israeli government endorse the two-state solution. On the contrary, the situation only gets worse.

It is our right to go to the United Nations, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to address every possible venue to protect our rights and to ensure accountability for violations of international norms.

The Palestinian tragedy began shortly after the European project was envisioned. 70 years later, Palestine remains a failed test for the international community.

Those countries who believe international law is open for negotiation or for political compromise should be certain of two things: Palestine will continue to seek its rights in international fora on the basis of international law, and they are standing on the wrong side of history.

- Dr. Saeb Erekat is the Chief Negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization

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