Marwan Barghouti — the charismatic and popular leader of the Palestinian resistance, imprisoned since April 15, 2002 — calls from his tiny prison cell for the people of Palestine to mobilize to help Gaza and end the Israeli aggression. He said on July 29, "Resistance in all Palestinian territories must now realize the need for Palestinian unity and support the unity government, and commit firmly to its legitimacy. In the midst of thousands of other prisoners, I salute the resistance.”
In the final paragraph of his long appeal to the people of Palestine he wrote, “Now is the time to reassess the functions of the Palestinian authorities everywhere and empower capacities to resist after the flaws of the Arab experiences,” ending “the bloodshed of our children, women, elderly and our resistance heroes is going to open the road to Jerusalem. It appears that our people as well as others can achieve liberation and bring independence through sacrifice, resistance and struggle."
Barghouti’s appeal is a strong factor in enhancing the national reconciliation that took place between the governing authorities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which makes it more credible and effective. This appeal comes from a leader whose struggle, for many years, has made him the single most influential political figure in Palestine.
I refer to this appeal because it was preceded by the growing demonstrations that took place in the West Bank and Jerusalem, signaling not only solidarity but also the unity of the Palestinian people and echoing the call for empowering the new unity government.
This development is equally significant because it removes, in a firm manner, the stumbling block that characterized the earlier duality of governing authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza. The historical significance of this appeal is that it comes from a leader who has almost unanimous approval, and hence cements the unity and empowers the new cabinet of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
In contrast and perhaps simultaneously, on July 28, a meeting of Jewish activists took place in Washington to showcase the US “unequivocal” support for Israel in its war on Gaza.
Given that it was perceived as surreptitious criticism of US President Barack Obama’s appeal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “an immediate and unconditional cease-fire,” Israeli forces intensified their assault on Gaza by bombing hundreds of targets, including the two Hamas TV stations and Gaza’s only power station. Yet, Obama's request caused Israel to go along with this assault accompanied with critical hints of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
During the conference, national security adviser Susan Rice underscored the administration's commitments to Israel and dismissed critics of its military offensive in Gaza as “biased and unjustified.”
She was particularly critical of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which voted for an inquiry into possible war crimes, and violations committed by Israel.
Rice said, "So when countries single out Israel for unfair treatment at the UN, it isn't just a problem for Israel. It's a problem for all of us."
"No country is immune to criticism, nor should it be. But when that criticism takes the form of singling out just one country unfairly, bitterly, and relentlessly — over and over and over — that's just wrong, and we all know it," she continued.
Furthermore, “here is one thing you never have to worry about: America's support for the state of Israel. “We need to bring the violence and civilian casualties to an end and we are concerned that continued fighting could further destabilize the West Bank.”
Yet, on the other hand, Rice reiterated Obama's call for “an immediate and unconditional cease-fire,” which Netanyahu did not heed.
She expressed concern of how the international community, through the United Nations, treats Israel. It seems that everyone is wrong, and the United States is the only exception.
Rice called the Human Rights Council inquiry "one-sided" and that it will "have no positive impact and should never have been created — the United States stood with Israel, and said 'no.' We were the lone vote in the Human Rights Council. Even our closest friends on the Council abstained. It was 29-1. But the '1,' as usual, was America. That's what we mean when we say 'you are not alone.'"
To be isolated in this manner is a failure to persuade; perhaps what is needed is to discover why, and not to proudly advertise it.
To show “bipartisanship,” the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said, "In times like this, people try to isolate Israel — but we are here to stand with Israel. Not just as a broker or observer — but as a strong partner and a trusted ally." He also said that US support for Israel "doesn't mean using vague, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand statements. No, it means backing up our words, and showing our solidarity with our friend."
No wonder that all US efforts, since the Oslo Accord and before, amid these strong assurances for Israel have brought no breakthrough. Israel persists in proliferating its settlements in the West Bank, creeping annexation of East Jerusalem and now penalizing both Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, for the reconciliation they have achieved and the unity government they have formed.
Boehner and Rice pride themselves that the United States unilaterally supports Israel. Is it logical? Is it necessary? Isn’t it imperative for the United States at this juncture and on this issue to ask why? And worse, should they still be proud of their isolation? This, despite the critical hints directed at Obama and Kerry, whose efforts and appeals went unanswered and brought about unfair criticism of Obama’s plea for a cease-fire and Kerry’s intense efforts to achieve one.
This unilateral commitment by US Congress, and to a lesser extent the US administration in defiance of the international consensus and international law as “the two parties to the conflict cannot be considered equal, and their actions — once again — appear to be of incomparable magnitude."
The United States is admired for its commitment to international and humanitarian law as well as to the Charter of the United Nations as one of its principal authors.
I hope Boehner and Rice have read the July 29 statements to the UN Security Council by Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.
Krahenbuhl told the Security Council on July 31, “Damage to neighborhoods and essential infrastructure in Gaza was clear, and it was past time for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.” He strongly condemned the Israeli attack on the UN school in Jabaliya “as a serious violation of international law.”
Furthermore, he was also concerned about "the Israeli military’s recent instruction to residents of Gaza City and Khan Younis to evacuate their homes, because UNRWA could not accommodate them. He stressed that further large-scale displacements would, under international humanitarian law, be the direct responsibility of the occupying power.”
“Even war has rules,” Amos told the Security Council. The world, she said, watched in horror as events unfolded. Gazans sought refuge wherever they could, fleeing to areas they deemed safe, but those had become fewer and further between. "Indeed," she said, "the reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe."
She underlined that the parties to the conflict had an "absolute obligation" to protect civilians from indirect or indiscriminate attacks, stressing the inviolability of UN operations, personnel and premises. Finally, she said, there “could be no justification for failing” to protect humanitarian workers.
On July 31, the Security Council declared that the parties agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire. However, it appears that it was violated on Aug. 1, except for a period of four hours. The fighting resumed with the usual large civilian casualties in Gaza, thwarting the negotiations that were to take place in Cairo on Aug. 1.
So, military action continues and the loss of civilian lives in Gaza and military casualties on both sides do, too. The negotiations that are supposed to take place in Cairo between the various parties will continue to be in limbo, unfortunately, pending a much firmer commitment not only to an extended cease-fire but to an outcome that leads to an atmosphere and conditions conducive for serious and consequential negotiations, which has eluded the parties to the conflict for nearly a quarter of a century.
Israel needs to cease its attempt to undermine the reconciliation of Palestinian national unity, and the legal terms of reference should be based on the fact that Israel is an occupying force as defined by the Fourth Geneva Convention. When the legal bases are clear, the chances of a legitimate outcome become more feasible and realistic.