Petty politics and lessons from Palestine

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As Lankans, we the people – yes, you and I – have rarely been able to rise above petty political differences to take a united stand on problems facing our country or in international affairs. During the dark days of LTTE, terrorism even when hundreds of innocent people were being killed, our politicians played the blame game rather than come together to find a solution to the problem. 

Ultimately, an Indian solution was thrust down our collective throats in the form of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. It (the accord) remains a festering sore on our body politic and it did not end the war. What is even sadder is that even today – more than a decade after the war ended, our politicians have as yet not been able to find a political solution to the causes which led to the insurrection. The problems continue to fester. 

In the aftermath of the war, we witnessed unseemly sights of religious intolerance against minority communities. Other than blaming one another, our politicians have been unable to close ranks to combat intolerance. 
More recently – in 2019 – we had the Easter Sunday massacre, when suicide bombers unleashed their deadly packages in churches and hotels. Nearly three hundred people lost their lives in a matter of minutes. While politicians were quick to fault political rivals, even today, it would appear no real effort has been made to apprehend those behind the attacks. The Attorney General’s statement, that he is unable to proceed with prosecutions, as complete reports have not been handed over to him, tells its own tale. 

It was while we continued indulging in petty party political differences at the expense of finding solutions to the problems that beset us, on May 10, all hell broke loose in Palestine. Israel, with US moral and military support unleashed attacks on Palestinian civilian targets in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel was created in 1948, under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, was allocated 55% of Palestine, encompassing many of the main cities with Palestinian Arab majorities and the important coastline from Haifa to Jaffa.

The plan deprived the Palestinian state of key agricultural lands and sea ports. It led Palestinians to reject the proposal and the Israel-Palestine problem was born. Shortly after the issuance of UN Resolution 181 that called for partition, Zionist armed groups attacked Palestinian Arabs and launched a violent process of ethnic cleansing aimed at the mass expulsion of Palestinians. By the end of 1949, the Jewish state had taken over large sections of historical Palestine. Over five million Palestinians were made refugees, according to UN estimates.

Less than 20 years later – in 1967- Israel again attacked Palestine. During the fighting, Israeli militarily occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. By the end of the war, Israel had expelled another 300,000 Palestinians from their homes and gained territory that was three and-a-half times its size.

Today, between 600,000 and 750,000 Israeli settlers live in more than 250 illegal settlements built on occupied Palestinian territories, in contravention of international law. Unfortunately, the Palestinians and fellow Arab nations have often turned on each other rather than focusing on their common enemy. 

Herein lies a lesson for us Lankans. Petty party politics prevented us from joining hands to solve grave national problems. Today external forces are attempting to draw us into international power games because of our strategically situated ports -Trincomalee, Colombo and Hambantota- which could control international trade routes.  

Our neighbour India feels threatened by growing Chinese investment in our ports and elsewhere because of its unguarded southern flank. It is therefore weary of China’s intentions. India today is in the US fold and the US and China are at loggerheads. Again, the US position as a foremost world power is under threat by China.
All three powers are vying for control of the trade routes, with little Lanka caught in the middle. Resultantly sovereign decisions taken by Lanka have been challenged by India, as in the case of the wind farm project in the northern islands.

 It is this light, that the coming together of all Lankan political parties in parliament – from the JVP, to the SLPP, to the SJB, to the Tamil and Muslim political parties – to condemn the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people is important. For the first time party lines have been crossed.

Perhaps this could lead to our political leaders shedding petty party political differences to find solutions to pressing national issues and especially to prevent the country falling victim to big power politics and strengthening its ability to remain and pursue independent internal and foreign policies.