The PLO’s dangerous land swaps rhetoric

The “land swaps” rhetoric is designed to protect the large Israeli settlement blocks and their buffer zones.

By Samah Sabawi

Published on AlJazeera 

Hailed as one of the best spokespersons for Palestine, veteran diplomat Afif Safieh impressed many during his four-city tour in Canada, earlier this year.

Safieh – the author of The Peace Process: From Breakthrough to Breakdown – is also the Palestinian Authority’s roving ambassador for special missions.

But while the messenger was admirable, the message was disturbing.

Safieh’s high degree of eloquence and refined diplomatic skills were not enough to conceal the current pathetic state of political stagnation and bankrupt strategic thinking that inflict the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA).

Safieh stressed his personal view that international intervention is needed for any peace agreement to be reached with Israel and repeatedly referenced international law as the basis for the demands the Palestinians are making. But his message was greatly compromised by the limitations of his official status as representative of the PLO.

In response to threats made by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird that the PA would face great “consequences” if it decided to make a case against Israel at the International Criminal Court, Safieh assured the Canadian government and the public that the Palestinian leadership has no “immediate plans” to pursue Israel at the ICC.

Ending ‘settlement’ 

This is disappointing to say the least, given that high level PLO/PA officials also assured the Palestinian people that once they secured member state status at the United Nations – which they did in November 2012 as an observer state – they would be able tohold Israel to account for war crimes that have so far gone completely unpunished.

So what is the plan for moving forward?

If Safieh’s interviews with Canadian media are anything to go by, the plan is apparently to save the peace process, even though it has led nowhere for 20 years.

He insisted that the fate of the peace process depends “on ending Israel’s settlement building”. This phrase has been repeated in PLO/PA official statements during the past several years with emphasis on “ending” settlement building or “freezing” the settlements, and no mention of dismantling the settlements and returning Palestinian land to its rightful owners.

To understand the implications of this language we only need to listen carefully to a key sentence Safieh repeated in various interviews while in Canada:

“There would be some territorial land swaps containing Jewish settlement blocs with Israel in exchange for an equal amount of land from the Israeli side.”

But this idea of land swaps began during a different era, before Israel colonised large amounts of land in the West Bank. In fact, it was first brought up in 1990 in Italy at a meeting jointly arranged by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace and an alliance of Arab academics and intellectuals.

 

Land swaps were brought up again at the Camp David Summit in 2000 and have continued to be part of the discourse. The problem is that while negotiations went on over the past two decades, settlements grew and today the settlements and their system of roads and infrastructure consume more than 40 percent of the West Bank. So how exactly do we envision land swaps today?

Safieh told the Canadian public and media that Palestinians would exchange their territorial land for equal amount of land from the Israeli side. But according to documents from the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit leaked to Al Jazeera, the last land-swap proposal made by Israel in 2008 gave the Palestinians smaller, less significant patches of land that are of lesser agricultural quality. Moreover, this exchange excluded Jerusalem.

Safieh’s media catch phrase that the Palestinian leadership is being “unreasonably reasonable” is not accurate. The correct phrase should be that the Palestinian leadership is being unreasonably suicidal.

The “land swaps” rhetoric is designed to protect the large Israeli settlement blocks and of course their buffer zones, settler-only roads and infrastructure – all built on prime agricultural Palestinian land, from being included in any Palestinian state.

Land-swaps

As PLO representatives parrot the parlance of “land swaps”, they need to remember that these settlements they are protecting are responsible not only for destroying Palestinian livelihood, but also for theft of Palestinian resources most important of which is water.

Today, the PLO/PA has been boxed into an Israeli-American framework. Not only are they unable to realise that Israel has created the irreversible reality of a single state on the ground, they are not even capable of imagining a situation where they would change the mantra of direct negotiations with Israel to a call for international arbitration or a referral to the International Court of Justice.

Worse, as is evident from Safieh’s Canada tour, missing from the PLO/PA public discourse today is any serious advocacy for the rights of the millions of Palestinian refugees or the inequality suffered by Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel.

It is as if we are somehow meant to believe that an end to occupation that may lead to a deformed state on tiny patches of undesirable agricultural land, where less than a third of the total Palestinian population lives, is all that is needed to bring about peace.

Finally, this talk of “land swaps” evokes memories of decades of colonial oppression and total disregard for the indigenous people’s rights, the people whose lives are affected with every line drawn on some sterile map by well-suited men.

For the PLO/PA to lend legitimacy to Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land by accepting the principle of land swaps and for them to adopt the same language as their occupiers is unforgiveable. Who then speaks in a language that represents Palestinian aspirations, advocates for their rights in the refugee camps, inside Israel and in the diaspora and challenges the injustices suffered?

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and Policy Adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network.   

Follow her on Twitter: @gazaheart

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source Al Jazeera

Palestinian farmers turn to organic farming

By DIAA HADID Associated Press

NUS JUBAIL, West Bank—The Palestinian olive harvest, an ancient autumn ritual in the West Bank, is going upscale.

In an emerging back-to-the-land movement, Palestinian farmers are turning the rocky hills of the West Bank into organic olive groves, selling their oil to high-end grocers in the U.S. and Europe.

The move is a reflection of the growing global demand for natural, sustainable and fairly traded products, albeit with a distinct Palestinian twist. The hardships faced by local farmers, ranging from a lack of rainfall to Israeli trade obstacles, mean that organic growing is one of the few ways Palestinians have to compete in outside markets.

“The Palestinian future is in the land,” said farmer Khader Khader, 31, as he stood among his organic olives in the northern West Bank village of Nus Jubail.

Organic farming has grown into a thriving business, by Palestinian standards, since it first was introduced in the West Bank in 2004. Now, at least $5 million worth of organic olive oil is exported annually—about half of all Palestinian commercial oil exports, said Nasser Abu Farha of the Canaan Fair Trade Association, one of the companies that sells high-end organic olive oil to distributors abroad.

The West Bank-based company purchases the oil at above market prices and pays what’s called a “social premium”—extra money to farming cooperatives to improve their communities.

About 930 farmers have fair-trade and organic certification, while another 140 are “converting” their land—a two- to three-year process during which they stop using chemical fertilizers and pest controls while monitors from Canaan and the Palestine Fair Trade Association provide training and check soil for chemical levels.

Their work is overseen by the Swiss-based Institute for Market Ecology, which is accredited to certify organic products for the U.S., E.U., and Japan. Hundreds more farmers are simply certified as fair-trade, where they and their workers are paid decent wages for their work and produce.

The trade is tiny when compared to major olive growers like Spain, Italy and Greece. But it’s significant for Palestinians, for whom harvesting olives is a cultural tradition that gathers even the most urbanized families.

An average of 17,000 tons of olive oil is produced in the West Bank every year by thousands of farmers, according to aid group Oxfam, which works on the olive industry. Most is for local or personal use, and only about 1,000 tons is exported a year, though that number is likely higher since many farmers sell oil informally through relatives abroad, Abu Farha said.

Organic farmers hope the high-end trade will keep them on their lands, despite difficult odds and high overhead costs.

Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank live under a semi-autonomous government. But Israel, which captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, wields overall control. Roughly 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and neighboring east Jerusalem, taking away resources.

More than 120 Jewish settlements dot the West Bank, often encroaching on Palestinian farmlands or preventing farmers from reaching their land. Israel’s separation barrier, built to prevent militants from entering Israel, has swallowed nearly 10 percent of Palestinian farmland, according to U.N. estimates, limiting access and lowering yields.

Israel also controls more than 80 percent of the West Bank’s water in lopsided sharing agreements, said Palestinian water official Ribhi al-Sheik. In other areas dilapidated water pipes have wasteful leaks. Most farmers depend on rain and unlicensed wells, depleting already-stressed aquifers. In some parts, Israeli military authorities also ban rain-collecting cisterns. Badly planned Palestinian towns have paved over fertile lands.

Outside markets for fresh produce aren’t profitable. Goods must cross through Israeli-controlled export crossings, causing delays and lowering quality through exposure to sunlight and constant reloading from one truck to another.

Israeli military spokesman Guy Inbar said the long export process was solely for security reasons and “not intended to harm” exports, noting that Palestinians export some 100,000 tons of fresh produce a year. He said Palestinians access more water than what is allowed for under sharing agreements and that farmers with permits are able to reach land on the other side of the separation barrier.

The challenges sparked a new way of thinking: Palestinians had to make finished goods that could survive the rough growing conditions and lengthy journey to outside markets.

Fair-trade, organic products that can be rain-fed, particularly olives, were the perfect solution.

“It’s the future of Palestinian exports. The future is in added value, through environmental and social accountability,” said Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade. “People want to know: “Where is this oil coming from? Whose life is it changing?”

The changes are visible in Nus Jubail, a village crowded with olives and pines, its 400 residents in houses with blue doors and rooftops sheltered by grape arbors. A decade ago, most residents pressed their oil for personal use. Little was sold commercially and prices were low, said Khader, the farmer.

Around 2004, agricultural activists formed the Palestinian Fair Trade Association, seeking out farmers across the West Bank. They persuaded Khader to establish an organic cooperative of five farmers, allowing them to collectively press their olives and sell better-priced oil.

During the three-year conversion process, Khader and his colleagues were taught to grow olives without chemicals, pruning and plowing instead of using herbicides and fermenting sheep droppings into fertilizer. Once certified, Khader and his partners sold their oil above market prices, attracting other recruits. Now 18 of the village’s 30 farmers are organic.

This year, organic oil is selling for about $5.40 a liter—a dollar higher than conventional oil, said Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade, which purchases much of the oil. Other independent farmers are selling directly to consumers for $9 a liter, far above market price.

Farmers are going organic on other products, such as maftoul, a chewy sun-dried staple resembling couscous, as well as dried almonds and a spicy herb mix called hyssop.

But high-end oil is key.

In Whole Foods supermarkets in New York and New Jersey, it’s sold under the “Alter Eco” brand, Abu Farha said. It’s in Sainsbury’s in Britain, and in boutique shops globally through Canaan and other distributers. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, a popular organic, fair traded vegan soap, sources 95 percent of its oil—some 165 tons—from Palestinian growers, the soap company said.

Even so, challenges abound. Palestinian oil production is irregular because they can’t irrigate their crops and export costs are still high. Abu Farha of Canaan said some farmers have cheated by mixing conventional oil into their products.

Still, the move toward organic, sustainable farming is an important, elegant fight.

“I don’t throw rocks,” said farmer Khader, referring to young men who frequently hurl stones during demonstrations. He pointed to his rock-built terraces. “I use them to build our future.”

This article appeared in http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21962774/palestinian-farmers-turn-organic-farming