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March 25, 2013

Palestinians are victims of victims

The Canadian Charger

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In a recent lecture at Toronto’s Ryerson University, as part of five-city Canadian tour, Afif Safieh, the most senior Ambassador of the Palestinian Diplomatic Corps, stressed the need for the international community to respect international law, even when Israel is the violator of this law.

Allowing Israel to continue to occupy Palestinian land, in defiance of international law, is one example commonly sited to illustrate non-enforcement of international law when Israel is the violator. Mr. Safieh cited another example of the international community allowing Israel to violate international law with impunity. 

“We went to the International Court of Justice in 2004. They said the wall (separating Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories) was illegal and Israel must dismantle it and pay compensation. They also reminded Israel that (under international law) the occupying power can't change the demographics of the area it's occupying. This situation continues to exist because major and minor countries are shielding Israel from international law.”

Mr. Safieh said Palestinians never got the legitimate share of sympathy, solidarity and support around the world because they are the victims of victims.

Mr. Safieh said the Palestinian leadership is opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether it be anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. He acknowledged that Holocaust denial is abominable, but he noted that Palestinians are experiencing denial by the world community on three issues.

“Zionism is based on the concept of “A land without people for a people without land,” so our physical existence is being denied. Our basic fundamental rights are being denied and our suffering is being denied.”

He added that there is no reason to compare the Jewish people's suffering in the Holocaust to the suffering of others, because each tragedy stands alone; they can't be compared.

“You can't measure pain or quantify suffering. The situation in Palestine is ethically unacceptable.”

After stating that Canada and the United States should be non-aligned in a regional conflict such as the one in Israel/Palestine, Mr. Safieh took issue with the position the current Canadian government is taking.

“On Power and Politics (CBC program) I asked: “Why should Canada be offended if we go to the UN to ask for statehood, but they're not offended by Israel's daily violations of international law? Canada is making threats that they will punish us financially if we go to the UN.”

He said it is the impotence of external actors (such as Canada and the US) which has led to the peace process dragging on for 40 years, making the process itself durable, while the suffering of Palestinians continues with no end in sight.

The Obama administration promised new relations with the Arab world, but Mr. Safieh said Palestinians are disappointed in him because he hasn't delivered on his promise. Moreover, Mr. Safieh said he appears to be out-of-touch with the current situation.

“Obama seems unaware of the internal changes within the Jewish community in the US. There has been a shift in the centre of gravity. AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) does not have the same influence in the Jewish community. Large segments of the American Jewish community were at the forefront of human rights struggles, now they're forced to defend the indefensible in Israel/Palestine ... In the US, a comfortable majority is in favour of a two state solution and a majority in the Jewish community want the US to pressure Israel to achieve an acceptable solution.  We hope that with sufficient backing in public opinion, the US president will link aid (to Israel) with accepting American advice or the withholding of American aid if its advice continues to be ignored.”

He said Palestinians were expecting the US to use its partners in the international community to counterbalance the Jewish lobby, but not only has it not done this; it's actually nullified many of its previous UN votes.

“For the UN vote in November  (asking the UN to approve Palestinian statehood) we collected all the previous UN resolutions the US voted for and incorporated them in the current resolution, so they (US) voted against their own resolutions - these included recognizing the principle of a Palestinian state, recognizing the boundaries and what the capital of that state should be.”

He added that the US is committed to the survival of Israel, but it's not committed to the expansion of Israel.  But the problem, Mr. Safieh said is that the Jewish lobby sees it in Israel's interests to keep the US on a collision course with the Islamic world.

“Israel wanted the US to crush Iraq because it saw Iraq as a regional competitor. Now it wants the US to go to war against Iran.”

Mr. Safieh said the Jewish people have a moral obligation and a duty to give the Palestinians a state and many people in the Jewish community and the international community know this.

“Any future negotiations should be direct bilateral talks with the international community present. The discussion should be on how to implement the UN resolution.”

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