Oslo’s alphabet language of colonisation

First published in the Middle East Monitor

Saturday, 23 January 2016 11:09

Oslo’s alphabet language of colonisation


The iconic handshake between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and PA president Yasser ArafatThe iconic handshake between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and PA president Yasser Arafat 

The first three letters of the alphabet A, B & C have come to mark the occupation and creeping colonisation of Palestine by Israel. The lines around these areas were drawn in the Oslo II agreement signed in Taba in 1995. This divided the West Bank into three areas, with Israel and Palestine enjoying varying degrees of administrative and security rights in each. The area covering all West Bank cities and most of the Palestinian population was labelled Area A, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) enjoying “full” administrative and security control. Area B contains large rural areas with the PA enjoying only administrative control. The remaining 60% was labelled Area C and fell under complete Israeli control, except when it comes to education and medical provisions. Significantly, Israel controls all issues to do with the land, including its allocation and applications for construction both of private structures and the infrastructure.

To complete the picture of the colonialist control Israel exercises over the West Bank you have to add the impact of the Wall or Fence, which Israel built after the Oslo Accords and the infrastructure of roads that serve the settlements, many of which can only be used by settlers in Israel’s version of Apartheid.

It is important to realise that Areas A, B and C are not three separate geographical areas that are easily identifiable, rather an administrative division effectively determined by Israel to serve its expansionist, colonialist agenda. Step out of a Palestinian city or town and you are almost certainly in Area C and thus under complete Israeli control. Area C is home to an estimated 300,000 Palestinians living in mostly small villages and communities and 350,000 Israeli settlers living in 135 settlements and 100 outposts. Some of Palestine’s most fertile land can be found in the Jordan valley which falls in Area C.

The 22 years since Oslo and the futile negotiations to reach a final deal have not passed with Israel respecting even this outrageous division of the West Bank. Any pretence of a Palestinian area that is safe from Israeli interference is a myth.
Is this the Third Intifada?

Take Area A, which includes all Palestinian cities. The PA is responsible for security and therefore it should be safe to assume that Israeli occupation forces would not enter these under any circumstances. However, this is a myth. Israeli forces regularly enter Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin to arrest, injure or maim. It has abducted members of the Legislative Council, including the speaker and PFLP MP Khalida Jarrar. Most recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was said to have called PA President Abbas to apologise for the Israeli occupation forces conducting activities near his home and interacting with his presidential guards. Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces cannot apprehend any Israeli settlers for acts of violence anywhere in the West Bank and any settlers that accidentally venture into Area A are quickly secured and handed over to the occupation forces.

In Area C, Israel’s colonial activities abound as it enjoys both security and administrative control. The application of one rule for Palestinians and another for the illegal settlers is clearest here. Palestinians cannot build, extend or improve their homes or businesses without interference from Israel, which is often violent. The almost certain refusal of Israel to grant planning permits for the construction of homes, schools, businesses and agricultural structures leaves Palestinians with no option but to build without these. The almost inevitable result is demolition. The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has described how 5,000 Palestinians in Area C live in designated “firing zones” and are expected to leave their homes for hours or days during Israeli military training. OCHA further describes the dire situation for the Bedouins, regularly under threat of relocation from their land, against their will.

Communities other than the Bedouins have also faced having to relocate repeatedly. One particularly stark example has been the community of Susyia in the Hebron Hills whose members have faced three relocations in three decades to allow a settlement of almost the same name to be established and then to allow its expansion.

In recent years, a number of Israeli politicians who are completely opposed to the existence of a Palestinian state have called for annexation of swathes of Area C, if not all of it. Current Education Minister Naftali Bennet has even called for the 300,000 Palestinians who live in it to be granted Israeli citizenship. He believes the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank could then run their own affairs and full independence would be impossible. Other Israeli politicians have perhaps not been as forthright in calling for annexation of areas of the West Bank as Bennet, however it is now difficult to find any that call for a genuine two-state solution that would bring Palestinians any hope of an end to the occupation.

More recently, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced it would be confiscating 370 acres of land in the Jericho district, declaring it “state land”. This kind of action renders the designation of a plot of land as A, B or C completely meaningless. Israel acts with complete impunity. If it decided to declare the Ramallah Palestinian Authority headquarters as a military closed zone or a firing zone, who could stop it?

At Oslo, the Palestinian negotiators not only agreed to recognition of Israel with no reciprocal recognition of Palestine, they agreed to the further carving up of the 22% that they accepted as “Palestine” into these three areas. The reality was that Palestinians and settlers lived in all three areas and that Israel used the designations to suit its agenda. The Oslo Accords were meant to be temporary, leading to a negotiated settlement within five years. On the face of it, the Palestinian negotiators may have assumed all three areas would be handed back at the end of the five years, free of settlers, to form the supposed viable, contiguous state that they dreamt of. However, 22-years-later, no deal has been reached and in practice, Israel violates the interim agreements on a daily basis whether in area A, B or C. This designation has become a further obstacle to peace and will not change soon without external pressure. For peace to come to the holy land, clear, unambiguous pressure must be exerted on Israel to end its occupation, dispatching the alphabet of colonisation to the dustbin of history.

Why is the Middle East Quartet still there?

The Middle East Eye published my latest column on 16/1/2016

Why is the Middle East Quartet still there?


The Middle East peace process has been in deep freeze since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s last attempt ended in failure in 2014. This was closely followed by the deadly war on Gaza in 2014 which left thousands of casualties mainly on the Palestinian side and extensive damage to homes and the infrastructure. Little reconstruction has followed, as the strip continues to be under siege.

The animosity between the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships that resulted from the war continued and no serious attempt was made in 2015 to bring the two sides to the negotiating table. In fact, the Israeli elections brought Benjamin Netanyahu back as prime minister and his pre-election promise that there would be no Palestinian state established on his watch was a firm indication that any attempts to restart negotiations would hit another brick wall.

Since October 2015, the “uprising” which hit the streets of Jerusalem and the West Bank has left tens of Israelis dead and over 150 Palestinians also losing their lives. Efforts to calm the situation have had little success. On his most recent trip to the region, Secretary Kerry failed to convince the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas to reign in the Palestinian youth to end attacks on Israelis. The “uprising” has been an accumulation of attacks carried out by individual young men and women, rather than led by the Palestinian Authority or any individual faction and, therefore, the PA’s ability to calm the situation is limited.

An attempt by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to restart talks was flatly rejected by his counterpart, then Israeli deputy prime minster Silvan Shalom, following meetings in Amman and Cairo in July and August last year. In November 2015, US President Barack Obama concluded “that right now, barring a major shift, the parties are not going to be in the position to negotiate a final status agreement.”

As the situation on the ground worsens by the day, the two sides left to their own devices seem incapable of initiating serious negotiations. There is a desperate need for an external push. If this is not going to come from the Americans, then who can provide it?

The Arab League has proved to be an impotent body in terms of anything but condemnations of Israeli policies and even they have become few and far between. The EU continues to take small steps to pressure Israel, including its recent decision to implement labelling of products from the illegal Israeli settlements. Individual European countries, particularly France, have attempted to bring a resolution to the United Nation’s Security Council to nudge the peace process but have not succeeded thus far.

Enter the Quarter?

With individual efforts failing and the UN continuing to be incapable of implementing its Security Council resolutions, it is reasonable to look for other bodies that could play a role in ending the conflict. One body that was set up specifically to fulfil this role is the “Middle East Quartet”. It is made up of the US, the EU, UN and Russia and was established in 2002 to aid the peace process.

Its early days brought some hope, particularly when it published its Roadmap for Peace in 2002. However, its implementation process reached a deadlock in phase one and it was never implemented. The appointment of Tony Blair as its special envoy in 2007 raised hopes he could bring the skills that brokered the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement to bear on the Palestine/Israel conflict.

However, this early optimism evaporated as Palestinians saw him as biased in favour of Israel. In 2012 he was effectively declared persona non grata in the Palestinian areas due to this perceived bias. His and the Quartet’s failure to advance peace between the two parties continued and this set-up failed to bring a quick ceasefire when Israel started its 2014 war on Gaza. He resigned in May 2015.

The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings evaluated the Quartet’s performance in 2012 in its paper “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem”. It concluded that but for some early successes up to 2003, the Quartet has not provided any tangible benefits, except “ensuring American engagement in the peace process”.

Its most damaging impact on the Palestinians came through the declaration of the Quartet “Principles” in 2007. Those were “commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.” Those principles became a millstone around the Palestinians’ collective neck, playing a key role in the division between the ruling party Fatah and the winner of the 2006 elections, Hamas. This division lasts to this day as Hamas refuses to accept these principles, a position which Israel and the international community uses to condition aid, the lifting of the siege and recognition of any future government which includes Hamas.

Expensive presence

The Quartet’s presence in the Occupied Territories moved from a temporary arrangement to a more permanent one with an office established in Jerusalem. This all comes at great cost to the donors. In response to a Freedom of Information request in 2014, the British Foreign Office provided an insight into the cost of maintaining the Quartet. It confirmed that in 2007, the Department for International Development (DFID), had approved a one-off payment of £400,000 from the UK to UNDP to help set up the office and that the EU and Norway had provided an additional $3 million. Add to this the cost of the 59 “main sessions” held since 2002 and the numerous trips made by staff and the special envoy and this becomes a very expensive operation that has little to show for its efforts.

The Office of the Quartet Representative morphed into the “Office of the Quartet”. A glance at its website confirms that the position of the special envoy has been disbanded and its head of mission Kito de Boer explains this “reflects the desire by the Quartet Principals to be more directly engaged with the realities on the ground”. He argues that the new set-up “reflects the reality that, 20 years after Oslo, time is not on the side of those committed to the two-state solution”.

He states that “this is a time for bold action” but then repeats the traditional diplomatic language that is anything but “bold” as he says: “In September 2015 the Quartet “expressed its serious concern that current trends on the ground are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution”. To counter this trend “positive and significant policy shifts, particularly in Area C, will be critical to increasing the Palestinian Authority’s ability to address key economic, security and institutional challenges, and can be advanced while respecting Israel’s legitimate security needs,” a statement that could and is made by most members of the Quartet on a regular basis but to no avail. 

Having lost its high-profile envoy and having made no real impact on the ground since 2003, the Quartet’s role is now unclear. There is no evidence that it can offer much in the future and it is perhaps time to put it out of its misery and close another body that has lived off the non-existent peace process gravy train while making no real contribution to peace.

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

The Middle East Monitor publiched my article on 15/1/2016

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

Image from the Middle East Monitor
In his first speech of 2016, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reviewed the situation facing the Palestinians and set out his approach for the forthcoming year. He started with the major achievement of 2015, the formal recognition of Palestine by the Vatican. He noted that the Pope had surprised the PA delegation by ordering the raising of the Palestinian flag during his last trip to Rome. He looked forward to further recognitions in the near future.

He did not refer to any other major achievements in 2015. However despite characterising the PA in the past as an “Authority without authority”, due to Israeli actions, this time he referred to its shear existence as a “major achievement for the Palestinian people”. He committed to not allowing it to collapse. He also committed to ending the “leaking” of Palestinian land to anyone else. He was referring to the ongoing campaign by Zionist individuals and organisations to purchase land from Palestinians through shady deals with owners. He was also possibly referring to the Greek Orthodox Church which had sold land to Israel.

As to the current situation, Abbas claimed that all Palestinian protests are peaceful but are met with brutal force. He elaborated that “a stone thrower is shot from a distance of 100 metres even if the stone only travels 10 metres, therefore not reaching the occupation’s soldiers”. This has resulted in the number of prisoners reaching 7,000, including many children some as young as ten. He warned: “It is dangerous for the young people to feel that the only option open to him is violence.”

Abbas claimed that he “will not allow the status quo to continue”. He wanted a halt to the “cancerous settlements” and reaffirmed that all settlements are illegal, including the so called large settlement blocks. He said “the settlers must leave as they did from Gaza”. He argued that that the Israelis continue to suffocate the Palestinians. “Leave us alone”, he said in desperation. His message to the Israelis was: “We are here and will not leave. We will not allow an Apartheid state. We want a fully sovereign Palestinian state.”

The PA President expressed his view that solving the conflict would end extremism and terror in the region, though he was not forthcoming with how he would change the status quo. “The Palestinians fulfil their obligations while the Israelis don’t,” he argued.

Despite all this, Abbas extended the hand of peace to the Israelis and committed the Palestinians to achieving this through “peaceful negotiations”. It is worth pausing for a moment to absorb this new term. Have the negotiations with Israel that have lasted over twenty years been anything but peaceful? Were the Israelis dragged to the negotiating table under threat of, or exercise of violence? Clearly this has not been the case; otherwise far fewer violations of international law would have been committed by Israel, including the growth of the “cancerous settlements”.

Negotiations with Israel over the past twenty two years have not only failed, they have been catastrophic. They have allowed Israel to expand settlements and to increase the number of settlers to over 600,000 in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. PLO Executive Secretary and the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat admitted this in interview withAljazeera in October 2015. He confirmed that he had given up on negotiations with Netanyahu, calling them “a waste of time”. He predicted that a decision about disbanding the PA would be made by the end of 2015. This contrasts Abbas’ promise in his recent speech not to allow the PA to collapse.

An attempt by Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to restart talks was flatly rejected by his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, following meetings in Amman and Cairo in July and August last year. Erekat told an IPSI dialogue audience that he warned Shalom that there would be a “sea of blood” if the current impasse continued but his warning fell on deaf ears. In November 2015, US President Barack Obama concluded: “Right now, barring a major shift, the parties are not going to be in the position to negotiate a final status agreement.” With the US effectively declaring an end to its engagement, at least until the end of Obama’s reign and with most US Presidential candidates declaring that they side with Israel, the status quo, which everyone claims to be unsustainable, is set to continue for years.

In his recent speech, Abbas reminded the audience that the Arab Initiative was still on the table. That once Israel ended its occupation of Arab land and the two-state solution was implemented, 57 Arab and Muslim states would normalise relations with Israel but that “Israel refuses to consider it seriously, therefore, what do they want”?

He called for an international conference that widens the group involved in seeking a solution, particularly since the Middle East Quartet had failed. He suggested that this conference should then set up a committee to find a solution, similar to that which oversaw the Iran deal.

However, with the world’s attention currently consumed by the threat of Daesh and how it can be defeated, and President Obama seeing his second term out, prospects for an international conference are negligible. No one, apart from Abbas, talks about it.

Meanwhile, the current escalation of violence continues. The PA is helpless to stop it. It has also failed or chosen not to nurture the escalations in-order for them to become a strong, peaceful intifada that is costly to the occupier. The PA’s repeated threats to re-evaluate its relationships with Israel, including the Oslo Accords and in particular the infamous security cooperation have to this date remained threats, further eroding the credibility of the PA with the Palestinian people. The PA supports a boycott of settlement goods. However, it does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This should be revisited as it is another peaceful and effective way of exerting pressure on Israel.

There are also no prospects of the US or bodies such as the UN, the Arab League or the Quartet intervening with an initiative unless Israel begins to feel the cost of the occupation. The Palestinians may feel that an investigation of Israeli crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2016 and joining more international bodies could pressure Israel. However, those steps are unlikely to be sufficiently costly on their own for Israel to change its ways.

UK Parliament debates Palestinian child prisoners 

UK Parliament debates Palestinian child prisoners 

Labour MP Sarah Champion secured a debate in Parliament on 6/1/2016 on Palestinian child prisoners. This was held in West Minister Hall, not in the main chamber and attracted around 50 MPs. Sarah had recently visited Palestine with CAABU and MAP and gave an excellent, authoritive and in places shocking speech. 

Israel commits war crimes on an industrial scale.

The debate unfortunately demonstrated that the U.K. Parliament has a number of MPs who will defend Israel regardless of the issue being discussed or the gravity of its criminal behaviour. Their hatred for Palestinians was evident, ignoring the occupation and arguing that Palestinian incitement was to blame. Unfortunately, nothing will change their views, which come straight from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s manual.

Here is a link to the debate

مشاركة ببرنامج أصداء الإنتفاضة على قناة القدس الفضائية

شاركت في الجزء الأول من برنامج أصداء الانتفاضة على قناة القدس الفضائية بتاريخ ٤/١٢/٢٠١٦

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