Obama's Historic Error: The Irony Of A Nobel Laureate Opposing Palestinian UN Bid

Obama's Historic Error: The Irony Of A Nobel Laureate Opposing Palestinian UN Bid
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer*


PARIS - Israel and Palestine, two states living side by side in fair and sustainable peace. This is, for any genuinely pro-democracy advocate – be they Jewish or Arab – the deeper meaning and the real political impact of the vote that took place Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly.

Yet this upgrade of Palestine's status to non-member observer state of the UN General Assembly is legitimate. Palestinians had been waiting for this now historical day for exactly 65 years– since the partition of Palestine that occurred on Nov. 29, 1947.

Done! But, beware. This admission of Palestine at the UN, no matter how relevant it is, should only be seen as a step toward something more necessary and more essential: the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, of which Mahmoud Abbas, through his moderation and the wisdom of his political views, has thus far been the most reliable and legitimate representative. Only this can truly bring about peace. Palestine owes more to Abbas than to the belligerent Hamas for this great and well-deserved diplomatic success at the UN.

Again, we need to tread carefully here. This very official and fair international recognition of Palestine should not become a new obstacle, a new source for latent or declared conflicts between Jews and Arabs.

First, regarding Palestine. If they don’t want these hard-fought efforts toward peace to go to waste, they should not try to exploit this recognition from a judicial point of view. Using this to bring Israel, or any of its leaders, to the International Criminal Court would put an end to any further attempt at a dialogue.

Next, regarding Israel. This recognition should not be used as a an excuse to implement financial sanctions on the Palestinian National Authority, which acts both as a peaceful element in this turbulent region and as a guarantee of security, thanks to the moderation of its political leaders. The Israeli government should end the extension of its settlements – occupation – in the West Bank, in compliance with the UN Security Council Resolution adopted in 1967 calling for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Obama, not worthy of his Prize

It is through the use of political and diplomatic wisdom as well as fairly negotiated solutions, and the essential return of Palestinian refugees to their territories, that Palestinian and Israeli leaders will be able to implement this peace. Men and women across the entire civilized world have been waiting and hoping for this peace.

To our deepest regret, current U.S. President Barack Obama, supposedly democratic and humanist, did not support the admission of Palestine at the UN. This constitutes a dramatic political mistake. It will harm Israel, which grows more and more isolated on the international scene and constitutes, once again, an equally unforgivable personal moral failing from this Nobel Peace Prize winner – an honor that he received too soon and which has indeed turned out not to be merited.

Unlike the political and diplomatic courage showed by two of his predecessors, President Jimmy Carter with the Camp David accords and President Bill Clinton with the Oslo accords, Barack Obama only serves– in this particular case– the short-term vision of an absurd and inconsistent Realpolitik. We could say– without wanting to offend anyone – that he is blindly serving Israel, a country that refuses to listen to legitimate Palestinian demands.

The U.S. president is making a colossal strategic mistake. While he persists in depriving Palestinians from their legitimate state, he takes the risk of encouraging war – a bloody and endless war – rather than peace. The irony, for Nobel Peace Prize winner, is huge.

Conclusion? Obama's United States just missed their rendez-vous with history by refusing to support the existence of Palestine at the United Nations.

*Daniel Salavatore Schiffer is a Belgian philosopher.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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