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Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh’s Palestine policy

Instead of banging pots and pans over Palestine, as some in our media and political circles do while paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, Bangladesh should have a serious introspection

Update : 14 Jul 2023, 03:30 AM

Bangladesh has been one of the strongest and most consistent supporters of the Palestinian cause. The plight of the Palestinian people was recognized by Bangabandhu in his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly in 1974, when he spoke about the rights of the Palestinian people. 

Article 25 of the constitution of Bangladesh promotes solidarity with “oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racialism”. Article 25 also supports the right to self-determination.  

It is important to remember that Bangladesh's Palestine policy was set in stone during the government of Bangabandhu in the early 1970s. In its first dispatch of military aid overseas, Bangladesh sent an army medical unit to support Arab nations during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) opened its office in Dhaka, which became the Embassy of the State of Palestine after Yasser Arafat proclaimed a declaration of independence in 1988. Longstanding Palestinian ambassadors in Dhaka are often the dean of the diplomatic corps. 

As part of the Oslo peace process, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist. The Oslo Accords also established the Palestinian Authority to govern the West Bank and Gaza. East Jerusalem continued to be under effective Israeli occupation. 

Even as the Palestinians recognized Israel's existence, most Muslim-majority countries continue to withhold recognition until a final settlement, including an end to Israel's military occupation and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to areas from where they were expelled during the Nakba.

Today, the Palestinian Authority has completely broken down. It hardly controls Gaza. Most of the West Bank is under effective Israeli control. The Palestinian Authority is plagued by problems of corruption and authoritarianism. The enormous suffering of the Palestinian people is aggravated by the complete absence of authority in the Palestinian Authority.

While Israel is often rightly blamed for its obstruction of Palestinian governance and public services, it would be hypocritical for Bangladeshis to overlook the problems within the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has indefinitely postponed presidential elections since 2009.

In Bangladesh, it is fair to say that there is universal support for Palestine. But Bangladeshis must also consider and debate the merits of relations with Israel. The Saudi Arabian foreign minister has noted the potential benefits of normalization with Israel, which would be conditional on the settlement of the Palestinian question. 

Instead of banging pots and pans over Palestine, as some in our media and political circles do while paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, Bangladesh should have a serious introspection. The breakdown of Palestinian governance poses questions for the future of the two state solution. 

Israeli politics is also deeply polarized. In this toxic situation, Israeli politicians are simply incapable of engaging on the Palestinian question. Will wealthy Gulf nations therefore step in? Can the Gulf nations contribute economic aid to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace process? 

With capital from the Gulf, economic activities can be revived in Palestinian areas; while Israel can also get investments. Israeli entreprenuers can bring expertise in the hi-tech sector. Bangladeshi entreprenuers can provide expertise in textiles. Pharmaceuticals, R&D, and agro technology can be pursued as joint projects. Capital from the Gulf can back up investments.  

Instead of taking a big leap forward, pilot projects can be carried out. For economic activities, there needs to be law and order. The occupation has to end. We cannot have apartheid, with freedoms and human rights only for Israelis and restrictions for Palestinians. 

People across the areas of historical Palestine are entitled to equal rights, as Bangladesh's founder had called for in 1974 when he urged equal rights for Palestinians during his first speech to the UNGA. 

There is no guarantee of success. This is, after all, one of history's most intractable conflicts. But improving the lives of the Palestinian people must be a priority. As the Arab nations have frequently noted, there must be a pathway to peace in order to consider normalization.   

Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field. 

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