December 09, 2012
GENEVA - Palestine is now a state. The news that the United Nations General Assembly granted it recognition as a non-member observer state on November 29 was met with celebrations the world over. In the West Bank's capital, Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas's staff has already corrected their letterheads and website accordingly. The Palestinian Authority has become a government. Its emissaries will be real ambassadors.
But Palestine is not a state. Open your eyes: do you see these two amputated limbs? One is a territory stuck between Jordan and an ever-retracting border, consistently being pushed back by the Israeli army to protect its settlements in and near Jerusalem. The colonization of the West Bank and Jerusalem has been organized and financed for over 40 years by left-wing and right-wing governments alike. Farther south, there is the small, overpopulated rectangle that is Gaza, controlled by a single, armed party with an openly anti-Semitic stance that aims to quash Israel. So where is the state?
That is precisely why Hamas – and Iran hiding in the background – is so useful for Palestine's detractors: its missiles allow Israeli politicians to perpetuate a strategic myth. In 1947, when the UN initially proposed recognizing the two states coexisting in Palestine, the only thing that saved Israel from an Arabic refusal – and subsequent invasion – was its weapons stockpile. This existential threat lasted around 40 years, up until Yasser Arafat's declaring the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Charter to be "null and void" in 1989.
Today, after having developed its defense strategy through total military domination, with an extra-added nuclear guarantee, the Israeli nation is no longer being threatened in its existence. However, power has consequences: whoever has it, uses it. During two wars (1967 and 1973), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have managed to fight off armies that have wanted to destroy the relatively young country, while simultaneously expanding its defense perimeter and colonizing the territory through settlements on its conquered lands.
In order to punish the Palestinians for obtaining UN recognition, Benjamin Netanyahu"s government has once again given the green light to an enormous campaign of colonization to the east of Jerusalem - an act that the whole world agrees is yet another nail – maybe even the final one – into Palestine's metaphorical coffin.
Two states living side-by-side? Who still believes in that? No matter what Netanyahu says, his coalition certainly does not want a two-state solution. The only Israelis who believed in the concept were either defeated and marginalized (Ehud Olmert) or killed (Yitzhak Rabin).
Outside of Israel – if we forget about the jihadists and Iran, who flat-out refuse the concept – all states are in favor of this compromise. However, only the U.S. and Europe possess enough influence and the means to pressure the Israeli government to take a step forward in this direction of compromise. Unfortunately, the policy that the West has adopted goes in exactly the opposite way of the objective it claims to be following. It keeps the Palestinian Authority at arm's length all the while financing it so that it can meet certain Western expectations: assuring the West Bank's safety and creating a basis for economic development.
Yet, colonization continues. The government has recently officially upgraded the status of the Ariel University Center of Samaria to a fully-fledged, Israeli university. But did you hear about it in the news? It is a major event, as Ariel is a town of 20,000 residents, built on a hill in the middle of the West Bank. Its university will welcome 20,000 more students in the next eight years. Speaking about this decision, Netanyahu declared that, "Ariel is an integral part of the State of Israel and it will remain an integral part of Israel in any future arrangement, like the rest of the settlement blocs.”
These new settlements, in the heart of an illusory Palestine, are sure to be met with an air of indifference by the international community, which means that all the speeches and the applause at the UN were nothing but hot air. And the Israelis, despite their shrewd anger after the General Assembly vote, know this. The Palestinians, with a heavy heart, do too.
No unsettling the settlements
One thing is certain: what the West has allowed Israel to do will not be undone. The hundreds of thousands of residents in these settlements will not be evacuated like the 7,000 settlers in Gaza were. No Israeli government, nor anyone else, will allow it.
It remains a hypothesis, but what could be the most reasonable, and probably the most painful, compromise is to accept the fact that Israel will continue building these settlements.
Israel has a minority Arab population of around one million people. They are citizens that can vote and have – on paper, in any case – the same rights as Jewish Israelis. In a nation that they did not choose, they are still attached to their land and have no desire to leave, even if a state of Palestine were to be finally created on their doorstep.
Whereas, Palestine (notably in the West Bank) now has a minority Jewish population of around half a million people. A section of them settled here because they believe that Judea and Samaria is their historic motherland. Others have come here for material reasons. Would they stay here on this holy land if a Palestinian state were to be created? They would become Palestinian citizens, and their rights would be guaranteed by a treaty and, temporarily, by an international force. Corrections to the borders, like those negotiated in the Geneva Accord, will be certainly necessary and useful. However, Ariel, for example, will stay perched on the hill, in Palestine, with its Jewish population – those who would want to stay at least.
Is it just a pipe dream? If you think about it, it is without a doubt the only democratic solution to this tragedy. The other path is war.
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Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
October 22, 2021
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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