After Kerry's speech, Palestinians remain skeptical
| Thursday, 01.05.2017, 10:41 PM

DEARBORN — The last two weeks of 2016 marked a stunning turn of events for the U.S. and Israel, as relations turned sour between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

However, most local political activists feel the U.S. sudden condemnation of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories is too little, too late.

The U.S. decision to abstain from voting on a U.N. resolution last month that condemned Israeli settlements made international headlines and signaled hope to young activists who had spent years standing up against apartheid and what seemed to be blind American support for Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry laid down further sentiments in a speech that demanded Israeli officials abide by the 1967 border agreements in order to ensure a two-state solution.

Ron Stockton, a political science professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, told The AANews that he noticed a difference in language during Kerry's speech.

"His speech was very American centric," Stockton said. "'This is in the best interest of our country.' Very often American politicians will explain their reasoning in terms of Israeli interests."

Stockton said Israel hopes to seal three important factors in its occupation; Declaring it a Jewish state, declaring it a democratic state, and holding on to all the land of historic Palestine.

However, the international community has maintained that such a philosophy is both illogical and impractical.

"They want all, but it's only possible to have two," Stockton said. "If you hold on to all the land, you can't have a Jewish state, because you have all the Palestinian under it."

Stockton said Kerry's speech highlighted the security concerns in allowing Israel to continue on with the settlements, stating that the U.S. does not want to get dragged into an escalating conflict.

While some activists have dismissed the U.S.'s change in rhetoric towards Israel, stating that it came at the tail-end of the Obama administration, Stockton said the message to Israel was one that the U.S. has been fine-tuning for the last 18 months.

"This has been coming along for some time and it was inevitable that we would ultimately define our own decision," he said. "We've been talking about this for a year and a half. Maybe he should've said this a year ago. But he was not going to say it before the election, because it would've been a distraction."

But while the one-two punch by the Obama administration is perhaps seen as the most jarring move the U.S. has ever made on the Jewish state, longtime Palestinian-American activists remain reluctant in the quest for a possible Palestinian state.

'Smoke screen'

Palestinian American activist and anthropologist Hassan Nawash told The AANews that after five decades of activism in the U.S., he took the Obama administration's "Palestinian friendly" approach with a grain-of-salt.

"I'm reminded of the $38 billion dollars Obama awarded Israel for the next 10 years for the settlements," Nawash said, referring to the military aid package Obama signed for Israel in September. "To have come so late and focusing on not even supporting the resolution of the U.N., but rather abstaining, is indicative of how continuous the U.S. policy has been and will continue to be."

Nawash said he has no optimism about a Trump administration either, stating that the U.S. is too invested in corporations and having a hand in the crumbling of countries across the Middle East.

"The disappointment in Obama came from his lineup with the corporations," Nawash said. "Therefore, there was no change in policy. They have been motivated by two things: the dependent of manufacturing more weapons and making deals with Israel; and selling weapons to Saudi Arabia to keep the madness of pretension of war going, when actually no progress is being made on the peace front. All of that will continue."

Nawash, the founder of the Palestine Cultural office, said that after decades of activism, he almost feels defeated.

"I'm too old to be fooled," he said. "In my 20s, I was hopeful that the U.S. was going to lead some sort of peace process, but I've become much more enlightened about the reality of the situation."

Palestinian activist Yusif Barakat told The AANews that the Obama administration's recent interest in condemning Israel is all for show.

"It's all a smokescreen," Barakat said. "Israel has the biggest grip on American politics through AIPAC and Trump is just going to kiss their behinds upside down."

Barakat said that he doesn't believe in a two-state solution, because Israel has no right to establish one on land that does not belong to them. 

He does however believe in one-state consisting of both Palestinians and Jews having equal rights. 

"The Israeli government is facist," Barakat said. "The word 'occupation' means people are being occupied. Why would we allow that? The only thing that would make a solution would be to create one state with everybody having equal human rights."


Local attorney and activist Tim Attalla, a Palestinian American, told The AANews that he didn't understand the controversy behind the Obama administration's actions.

"It's been the policy of the U.N. and much of the world," Attalla said. "Sadly, that speech should've taken place eight years ago, in my opinion, not in the end. I don't understand the controversy, to be honest. The first thing that came to my mind was that the Palestinians are going to pay the price. The Israelis will continue to build."

Talks of stopping Jewish settlements is all-too familiar territory for Attalla. He recalled being on the lawn of the White House in September 1993, when Israeli and Palestinian officials signed what was dubbed at the time as the "historical framework for peace." But despite all of the publicity for what was supposed to be a significant day in history, nothing came of it.

Two decades later, Attalla said Israel continues to disregard all the components that would bring the two sides closer to a two state solution.

"What I've learned over the years since that momentous day is that the settlements and the private roads never stop," Attalla said. "They didn't stop for a day. Construction continued right after the historic signing. The Palestinians recognize Israel's rights to exist. They accepted that they would create a state out of 22 percent of the original Palestine. They sacrifice. I cringe every time I hear the Palestinians are being blamed over and over. It's almost like blaming the rape victim."

However, Attalla did note a striking difference between the political atmosphere of the 90s, compared to today, citing a rise in peaceful Jewish groups who are calling for a two-state solution.

He himself joined an organization called "Seeds of Peace", a non-profit organization that aims to bring co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis, to promote peace through dialogue.

"I see more people in the Jewish community speaking out," Attalla said. "I always believe there are good people on both sides; and when they see it with their own eyes, they will speak the truth. I learned to be hopeful and I learned every time it got worse, it would only tell me that the mission is more important. When the going get tough, people walk away. But with the Palestinians, the mission keeps going." 

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