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How about lifting Israeli sanctions on Palestine, Mr. Obama?

Will the world oppose Israel’s sanctions campaign against Palestine?

Chris Doyle

Published: Updated:

Will the world oppose Israel’s sanctions campaign against Palestine? Will the world speak out against Israel’s delegitimization of Palestine? Will the world speak out against Israel’s refusal to recognize Palestine as a state?

Have you heard Western politicians ask these questions? I cannot recall one occasion. Yet Israel is sanctioning Palestinians, including the Palestinian Authority, and has done so frequently. In terms of Gaza, Israel has deployed extremely punitive sanctions. It refuses to recognize Palestine and many Israeli politicians declare that the Palestinian people do not exist and never have done. Most of the Israeli cabinet is openly against the two-state solution. Netanyahu is one of just a few ministers in favor of a Palestinian state. Israel does not recognize Palestine or its right to exist and worse, it takes action and sanctions Palestinians for trying to get their state recognized.

The latest round of Israeli sanctions was punishment for Palestine daring to sign up to 15 human rights agreements. Apparently Palestine signing up the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a crime; if so, one that Israel has also committed. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened that “unilateral steps by them will be answered with unilateral steps by us” as if signing human rights conventions was worthy of any response except praise. In fact, I struggle to find any Western diplomatic praise for the Palestinian move at all. The real questions should be: will the Palestinians adhere to these 15 conventions they have just signed? Has any other state ever been condemned for signing up to them? And how come Palestine is the first state even to sign up to the Fourth Geneva Convention whilst still under occupation and having suffered from on-going violations of the convention for 46 years?

Standard Israeli sanctions

Not for the first time, Israel says it will take (steal) tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority, valued at around $100 million a month, amounting to two-thirds of the Authority’s budget. It is a violation of the Oslo accords. The best the U.S. could do was to describe this as “unfortunate,” as if this was some accidental mishap. EU politicians have barely uttered a word. Holding back tax revenues is a standard Israeli sanction, first used by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu himself in 1997. Palestine revenues were also stolen in 2011 and 2012 as punishment for the U.N. statehood bid, and also for applying to that notorious outfit, UNESCO.

When Israel actually introduces sanctions and prevents investment in Palestine, the world does nothing. Israeli sanctions are kosher yet Palestinian sanctions are haram

Chris Doyle

The more serious Israeli sanctions stem from the deliberate Israeli policy of crippling the Palestinian economy. Israel will not allow Palestinians to access all their land and resources especially in Area C of the West Bank, over 60 percent of the territory. In October 2013, the World Bank issued a report that estimated that if businesses and farms were granted access to Area C, it would reduce Palestine’s budget deficit by half and add as much as 35 percent to GDP. Palestinians cannot export freely with huge restrictions on movement and access. A Palestinian businessman told me it costs more to get products to Ashdod port in Israel than it does get them from Ashdod to Japan. Israel has refused to allow 3G mobile access let alone 4G, in the West Bank forcing Palestinians to pay Israeli mobile network operators for such services. The World Bank says this costs the Palestinian Authority a $100 million a year. A recent punishment was to cancel a permit to allow Palestinian mobile operator, Wataniya, to take mobile phone equipment into Gaza. Of course, Gaza has been under blockade for seven years with no end in sight. Its population suffers from collective punishment and has been put on a “diet” in the words of one senior Israeli political adviser.

Security issues?

Israel will point to security issues. Israelis have genuine concerns though not over the issue of Palestine signing human rights agreements. Yet measured by numbers killed and injured every year, Palestinians have far greater security concerns though these are ignored. The Palestinian Authority cannot sanction Israel.

When pro-Palestinian activists call for Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS), presidents and prime ministers in the West line up to condemn them. When Israel actually introduces sanctions and prevents investment in Palestine, the world does nothing. Israeli sanctions are kosher yet Palestinian sanctions are haram. Western politicians are more ardent about criticizing those who boycott Israel for its human rights abuses than tacking the very abuses themselves. The finest example of this was British Prime Minister David Cameron, when he addressed the Knesset during his March visit. He slammed BDS campaigns but did not say a word about international law, the Fourth Geneva conventions let alone the occupation. Tellingly, on the day he spoke, Israel had demolished the home of a blind Palestinian Bedouin in Jerusalem.

So as the world’s diplomats contemplate yet another failed peace process, perhaps they should review how they have inverted what should be their role and abandon their doublespeak. Perhaps they should ask themselves why, when Russia occupies Crimea, it took just days for the U.S. and the EU to pass sanctions yet it is a sin to refer to it in the case of Israel’s occupation.

When the word sanctions is mentioned regarding Israel, Western politicians should immediately think, not about the non-existent sanctions on Israel that many call for, but the ending of the actual sanctions that affect millions of Palestinians every day. They should tell Israel that if it does not wish to face sanctions, it should lift sanctions on Palestinians now.

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Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

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