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Palestinian Minister of Finance promotes Palestinian state in Belgium

May 9, 2017 7:22 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 5:40 P.M.)
Palestinians celebrate the raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations, on September 30, 2015 in the city of Ramallah � AFP Abbas Momani
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara delivered a speech during a forum in Brussels on Tuesday in the presence of politicians from the European Union and the United States Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, where the Palestinian leader underscored the longstanding “colonial projects” of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to state building.

Bishara said that since June 1967, when the Israeli army took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli plans “should have been obvious,” especially for anyone who visits the occupied Palestinian territory and has seen illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land “literally on every hill top.” 

According to Bishara’s speech, Israeli settlements have continued to be the major obstacle for developing a Palestinian state, as he said that settlements have taken control over more than 40 percent of the territory in the West Bank and that Israeli settlers illegally residing in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, numbered more than 700,000.

In the half-century occupation of the Palestinian territory, which he said was the “longest in modern history,” the Israeli government has “applied a number of unmistakable colonial approaches -- all of which were intended to consolidate its grip over the occupied territories,” before listing several historical moments which included the post-Olso era of “interim self-rule.”

“With this historical record in mind, it would be illusionary to expect any imminent shift in Israel’s longstanding colonial strategy in Palestine,” he said.

Bishara also pointed out that Israel’s “recent propaganda” concerning the PA’s “martyr compensation program,” which provides financial assistance to Palestinians and their families who have been adversely affected by the Israeli occupation, was an “example of this category of maneuvers,” adding that the program represented a “state obligation to alleviate hardship.”

Bishara went on to comment on the two-state solution and the PA’s work on state building, saying that “while successive peace initiatives have failed, our state building project did not.”

“By 2010 our state-building process had already attained critical mass. Now, we are well beyond the point of no return,” he said, adding that “we have demonstrated to the world our ability to create and develop -- in record time -- all of the fully-fledged governmental and institutional frameworks that are pillars of a progressive society.”

Bishara applauded the PA’s success in the “elimination of the budget deficit” by 60 percent. He also emphasized that this was done despite donor aid being cut during the same time period.

“These are all helpful steps,” he said. “But let us not lose sight of the fact that it is virtually impossible for our economy to transition beyond survival mode, let alone flourish, if we cannot develop and invest in 64 percent of our territory,” referring to Area C, the majority of land in the West Bank under full Israeli military control and where Palestinians are barred from developing.

He added that the majority of Palestinians were not granted access to occupied East Jerusalem, which Bishara said was “a city blessed with one of the greatest tourism potentials in the world.”

Palestinians with West Bank IDs are forced to apply for Israeli permits to enter East Jerusalem, which was illegally annexed by Israeli following 1967. Palestinians with Gaza residency are even less likely to ever set foot in Jerusalem, as Gaza’s nearly two million residents have suffered under a decade-long Israeli siege.

“Peace is driven by the imagination of individuals who can see its benefits and not by those who consider that every negotiation should end in a zero-sum outcome in favor of the more powerful,” Bishara stated, adding that the two-state solution was a “fundamental condition, without which the incredible economic opportunities of our part of the world cannot be unlocked.”

He concluded by noting that US President Donald Trump’s stated interest in solving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a sign of optimism, despite the fact that Trump has departed from longstanding US foreign policy supporting a two-state solution and has instead stated that he could “live with either” a one- or two-state solution.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, a growing number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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