By H.E. Rawan Sulaiman, Head of the Palestinian Mission to the Netherlands.
Today, May 15th, we Palestinians commemorate the catastrophe (al Nakba), the forced expulsion and displacement by Zionist militias of about three quarters of the Palestinian population from their cities and villages, making them refugees. Also my own family was made a refugee; forcibly moved out of Jaffa. Seventy two years of segregated life under military rule, occupation, and in refugee camps is what has followed. Also today, the EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs will convene to discuss the threat of annexation; Israel’s next step in its colonial conquest of Palestine that was recently agreed upon by its new government and facilitated by the Trump administration’s so-called ‘Peace Plan’.
The fact that annexation is now at the table should not come as a surprise to anyone, as by its actions Israel has proven again and again to be interested only in stealing maximum Palestinian land with minimum Palestinian remaining on it. By this design, Israel has ensured confinement of Palestinians in the areas where they already lived, while promoting the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and their associated regime. Now only 13% of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinians, mostly already built-up, and only 1% is left of the so-called Area C, which represents 60% of the West Bank, all the while illegal Israeli settlements spread all over Palestinian territory.
On this land there are now two sets of rules and rights dividing two peoples. It needs no reminding that in this conflict, one party is the inherently violent occupier, a system established and maintained by military force, while the other is confined and occupied, deprived of its basic human rights, sovereignty and freedom. A situation resembling Apartheid.
To obscure this reality, aggressive and coordinated campaigns of our oppressor and their supporters have been set up to continuously rewrite history, framing us as; violent, barbaric and anti-Semitic. The other myth, that Palestine was ‘empty’ before it was ‘made to bloom’, persists even today in the form of disregard and denial of our existence; our history, our heritage and our nationality. These distractions and myths are pushed aggressively, as without them it becomes impossible to defend the current situation with rational, moral and legal arguments.
If one does not remember and acknowledge the severity of the catastrophe of what the Nakba was, namely the loss of our historic homeland, one cannot comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifice Palestinians agreed to when giving up 78% of it, in the hopes of finding peace in the form of the two-state solution.
This internationally agreed solution for us is not a goal in itself, but justice and peace, in that specific order, are.
Now, even this historic compromise is openly rejected and subverted by Israel in the pursuit of further annexation of Palestinian territories, in ultimate breach of any commitment to peace, international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2334, and the UN Charter.
The international community was clear in its condemnation of Israel’s illegal actions. The Security Council, the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, and now the ICC Prosecutor, all converged in their stance on the illegality of these policies and practices and in their call on Israel to put an end to them. But these calls have been disregarded.
The International consensus was clear, but because it was never followed up with consequences, Israel proceeded in its course at will. A bully condemned without consequence only feels emboldened. They see that others recognize their power, but since they go unchallenged, they continue to claim, seize, and steal whatever they wish through threat or use of violence. Colonial powers never act out of goodwill. The cost of the enduring occupation, now more than ever, needs to outweigh its benefits.
What is more at stake, are fundamental principles of the rules-based multilateral order, that have always and unequivocally been upheld by international responsible players such as the Netherlands and the EU. These principles include the absolute inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force, and with it the prohibition of annexation. What will be done to uphold the credibility of this principle, when Israel proceeds with annexation nevertheless? As a member of the Quartet, the EU is a key player in making sure that we salvage the two-State solution before it is too late, as the alternative is perpetual conflict and a system of subjugation and discrimination against a population confined in fragmented areas, akin to Apartheid. No country of moral standing can remain friends with such a situation.
The Nakba is commemorated each year by every Palestinian because the wound is still open and the instruments of oppression and expulsion are still active. Those who were made refugees still did not see their right of return, enshrined in international law, respected and fulfilled. Nevertheless, we have unequivocally declared our readiness to immediately resume peace negotiations under international auspices and based on the longstanding terms of reference, building on the progress achieved in previous rounds of negotiations.
The State of Palestine has proposed the convening of an international peace conference that can provide the necessary impetus and momentum for these negotiations that should lead to a final peace agreement resolving all final status issues within one year. That is the path we should be engaged in, and that can only happen if the path to annexation is blocked.
Photography by Martijn de Rooi.