Are potential successors to Mahmoud Abbas making their bid?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/5/2017


Who will replace Abbas? Protesters carry pictures of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 3. (AP)

Mahmoud Abbas holds all four of the top political positions in the Palestinian leadership. He is the president of the state of Palestine, president of the Pales­tinian National Authority (PNA), head of the Fatah movement and chairman of the Palestine Libera­tion Organisation’s executive committee.

Once he is unable to discharge these duties either through death or illness, the Palestinian people have been wondering who would take any of or all four roles. After all, Abbas is 82 years old.

The starting position, since they were all held by Yasser Arafat, is that they would be taken by one person and it is reasonable to assume it would be a man. Until the seventh Fatah congress at the end of 2016, Abbas had refused to name a deputy, choosing to rely on the Palestinian Constitution in the event of a successor needing to be found.

Article 37 of the 2003 amended Basic Law states that the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) would take over and elections would be called within 60 days.
There was much speculation about whether Abbas would appoint a deputy and if the position would go to Marwan Barghouti, a long-term political prisoner in Israeli jails who some see as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas chose a deputy but it was not Barghouti. Instead, he picked Mahmoud al-Aloul, former Nablus governor and labour minister in the PNA. While this is a strong indication Abbas would see Aloul as his successor as leader of Fatah, he did not appoint him to be deputy president of the PNA. This, intentionally or otherwise, leaves the door open to other hopefuls who aspire to fill one, if not all, other three key positions in the Palestinian leadership.

The popular Barghouti has been leading a hunger strike, now in its second month, by more than 1,000 political prisoners trying to secure basic rights in Israeli prisons. Israel accused him of instigating the hunger strike to position himself as the strongest candidate to replace Abbas.

The same accusation of leader­ship aspirations through confront­ing Israel has been levelled at another senior Fatah figure. Israel has accused Jibril Rajoub, presi­dent of the Palestinian Football Association, of repeatedly pursu­ing the sanctioning or expulsion of Israel from FIFA, both for its alleged mistreatment of Palestin­ian football players and for allowing teams in settlements to play in its leagues, against FIFA regulations. Rajoub is a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, president of the Palestinian Olympics Committee and former head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank.

Abbas made sure that another political rival and critic was excluded from Fatah’s seventh congress — Mohammed Dahlan, former head of the Preventive Security Force who was ousted when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. He now lives in the United Arab Emirates.

Just prior to the congress, the Palestinian Constitutional Court gave Abbas “full authority to cancel the immunity of any parliament member, when the legislative council is not con­vened,” a statement published by official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said. That would have applied to Dahlan had he decided to enter the West Bank to attend the Congress.

Other possible candidates to succeed Abbas include Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of the revered Arafat and a former foreign minister and Palestinian repre­sentative to the United Nations; Majid Faraj, the current intelli­gence chief; and Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister and finance minister.

With Israel’s emphasis on the security role of the PNA going forward, it is perhaps safe to assume that it would want to see a security-minded candidate emerge as a potential leader to succeed Abbas rather than necessarily the one who is most qualified politi­cally or has the widest possible appeal to Palestinians.

It is also unlikely that anyone from the new generation of possible leaders will break through this time. Expect someone from the old guard to win when Abbas is no longer president.

مشاركتي في برنامج وراء الحدث عن تعليق الأسرى الفلسطينيين إضرابهم عن الطعام بعد ٤٠ يومٍ  

بث البرنامج يوم٢٧/٥/٢٠١٧على قناة الغد العربي

Israel knows that it only has to bide its time to get everything it wants

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/5/2017


US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on 3 May, 2017 in Washington, DC. [Thaer Ganaim/Apaimages]

Recent commemorations of the 69th anniversary of the Nakba followed the long-awaited meeting at the White House between US President Donald Trump and his Palestinian Authority counterpart Mahmoud Abbas. While Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as political commentators and analysts, were busy digesting the public messages emanating from Washington in order to make sense of the future direction of the peace process, the Gulf States dropped a historic bombshell.

As the US president was preparing for his trip to the region to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the Wall Street Journal reported that some Arab states led by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates were proposing unprecedented steps towards normalisation in return for some Israeli “concessions”. Full details of the alleged offer have not been made public, but – as is often the case in such situations – there is probably no smoke without fire.

According to the WSJ, and as also reported by Haaretz, steps being considered include establishing direct telecommunication links between Israel and some of the Arab countries; permitting Israeli airlines to use Gulf airspace; and abolishing limitations on business with Israel. Additional normalisation steps being weighed up include the granting of visas to Israeli athletes and business people interested in visiting Gulf states.

Read: No, it is not unfair to criticise Israel

In return, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu would need to take significant steps to “advance the peace process with the Palestinians”, in particular the “freezing of construction outside settlement blocs” and “easing trade restrictions in the Gaza Strip.”

One suspects that on hearing this, the Israeli prime minister must have sat back in his chair and broke into politically-induced laughter. We can almost hear him chuckle to his aides, “You see, if you wait long enough, the Palestinians and the Arabs will make more concessions, so why hurry?”

Netanyahu has been trying to “direct” the new US Trump administration to view a solution to the Israel/Palestine issue through a regional rather than bilateral lens. Such a process would certainly not be one grounded in international law but rather “whatever the two sides want,” as Trump remarked famously during a White House press conference during Netanyahu’s visit back in February.

There was no talk of implementing the 2002 “Arab peace initiative”, which the recent Arab summit in Amman reaffirmed as the way forward for Israel to secure peace with the Palestinians in exchange for normalisation with all Arab and Islamic states. A prize well worth winning, one would have thought, for a country which craves recognition and acceptance, 69 years after its establishment on Palestinian territory. However, successive Israeli prime ministers have not responded formally beyond acknowledging that they are aware of it.

The Palestinian Authority has been conspicuous by its silence on the leaked discussion paper. Perhaps it is seeking clarification in private. Publically, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot, said, “We don’t mind a good relationship between Israel and the Arab world, [but] is this the entry to peace? Or is it the blocker?”

However, the cat is out of the bag. Netanyahu’s claims about relations with Arab states being at their best these days seem to be supported by this apparent shift in position which will not please the Palestinians, who expect Abbas’s tireless wish to resume negotiations. A senior Arab official was recently quoted as saying, “We no longer see Israel as an enemy, but a potential opportunity.” For his part, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz confirmed that “Much more is going on now than any time in the past. It’s almost a revolution in the Middle East.”

The Gulf states are far more worried about the perceived Iranian threat and are willing to see Israel join them in a counter plan to deal with Tehran. The danger is that if the Arab world makes such a generous offer to the Israelis seemingly without the consent of the Palestinians themselves, and Israel accepts it, then the people of Palestine have even fewer cards to play than they did before this paper was leaked.

By accepting as a “goodwill gesture” the freezing of illegal settlement construction outside (but not inside) the existing settlement blocs, the offer is a de facto acceptance that the settlements are there to stay. That gives Israel licence to define and redefine a settlement bloc as its expansionist policies determine, leaving less and less land for a Palestinian state or statelet in the West Bank. The offer does not even make reference to illegal colonies in occupied East Jerusalem, which are changing it rapidly from an Arab and Palestinian city to a Jewish one.

While Israel refuses to make public concessions to the Palestinians, the Arab world lowers the ceiling for what it will accept and by implication would pressure the Palestinians to accept. However, there is no evidence that Israel responds by lowering its own ceiling to anything near what the Palestinians would accept. It is likely that, as it has done in the past, it will take what it likes from an offer, and then produce all sorts of reasons as to why it can’t meet whatever obligations this offer would in turn place on it, citing its elastic “security” demands as evidence. It will take the offer to allow its aircraft to fly over Saudi Arabia with glee but then argue what is within or outside a settlement bloc. If there is disagreement on what illegal settlement building is permissible, will Gulf States then stop Israeli planes from using its airspace? Will they withdraw visas to Israeli athletes if the siege on Gaza is not eased?

Donald Trump’s approach to the Arab and Israeli conflict may well throw all cards up in the air but when they fall back to earth, will they favour the Israelis or the Palestinians? History shows that the current Palestinian leadership will take whatever crumbs are offered while Israel evaluates, hesitates and then prevaricates, realising fully that it is only a matter of time before a better offer will come along. In the absence of any significant pressure from the international community, it is more than happy to bide its time in order to get everything that it wants, on its own terms.

برنامج وراء الحدث: إضراب الأسرى الفلسطينيين يدخل شهره الثاني

يبدأ نقاش موضوع الأسرى في الدقيقة ٢٥ من البرنامج على قناة الغد.

بثت الحلقة بتاريخ ١٧/٥/٢٠١٧اليوم ٣١ من إضراب الأسرى

Abbas-Trump meeting brings little hope for Palestinians

First published in the Arab Weekly on Sunday 14/5/2017

London – Palestinian Authority Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas fi­nally had his day at the Trump White House.


The US president, stand­ing in front of the Palestinian flag at their news conference on May 3, lauded Abbas for his role as signa­tory to the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel, his commitment to fighting “terrorism” and for secu­rity cooperation with Israel. Trump described how the two sides worked “unbelievably well together… They work together beautifully.”

Trump urged the Palestinian pres­ident to work against incitement and reiterated that a peace agree­ment could not be imposed on the Israelis and Palestinians but that the United States would “do whatever is necessary” to help the two sides reach such an agreement.

Trump held back on publicly de­manding the Palestinian Authority end payments to families of pris­oners or those killed during attacks on Israelis, something Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had pushed for prior to the meeting.

Abbas cited the Arab peace initia­tive, which calls for two states with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and a fair solution for the refugee issue. The Palestin­ian president praised Trump’s “cou­rageous stewardship” and “great ne­gotiating ability.”

Trump tweeted about the meet­ing, saying: “It was a great honour to welcome President Abbas to the White House today. We’re hoping for a great agreement between the Palestinians and Israel that allows both peoples to live in safety and in peace.” The tweet was later inexpli­cably removed.

Reaction to the meeting was mixed. A headline in the pro-Hamas website Al-Resaleh read: “Abbas ap­plauds himself alone in Washing­ton” and characterised the situation as Abbas “alone in the wrestling ring” with Trump and completely powerless.

The Jerusalem daily Al-Quds sig­nalled approval of the meeting with the headline: “Trump: I welcome President Abbas in the White House as a peacemaker.” While Al-Ayyam, a news site sympathetic to the Pal­estinian Authority, said the compro­mise Abbas was offering Trump was in “Israel’s interest” but that the ex­treme Israeli right-wing would reject it anyway.

Nasser Laham, editor-in-chief of Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency, wrote that Abbas did not take anything new to the White House in terms of demands and warned that any kind of “honey­moon” between Trump and the Arab world would be over quickly if the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

Writing on the web site of Al Ja­zeera, Palestinian lawyer and ana­lyst Diana Buttu said the Trump-Ab­bas meeting was, for Palestinians, as expected “useless.” She character­ised the emphasis on “process” as a perusal of “the same failed strat­egy pursued by three US presidents, spanning six administrations and 24 years.”

Hani al-Masri, director general of Masarat, a Palestinian organisation focused on formulating strategic policies and studies, acknowledged that by meeting Abbas and calling him “president,” Trump endowed legitimacy on Abbas, which may counter what seems to be an at­tempt to regionalise the Palestinian issue.

Masri noted that, in his address, Abbas failed to mention the daily struggles of the Palestinians and the impact of the continued settle­ments, home demolitions, evictions and the prisoner hunger strike. Mas­ri warned that focusing again on the role of the United States, important though it is, ignores to some extent the changing voting pattern of some key countries as was seen in a recent UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem.

Trump is planning to visit the Holy Land, possibly emphasising his commitment to securing the ul­timate deal. But he has yet to pro­vide a foundation for this deal that would assure Palestinians it would be based on international law or meet the minimum requirements for justice that they expect.

While talk of the peace process kicks into life once again, Israel ap­pears to continue breathing a sigh of relief that there is nothing to fear from the Trump administration. On the contrary, it will feel emboldened to build and expand while the Pal­estinians once again pin their hopes on others.

No, it is not unfair to criticise Israel 

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/5/2017

Israeli security forces break up Palestinian protests organised to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, in Ramallah, West Bank on April 23, 2017 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

As Palestinians mark a number of key, painful anniversaries in 2017, Israel is busy with not ending the occupation, but entrenching it and crying wolf claiming to be the victim in the decades-old conflict.

The Palestinians recently marked the 69th anniversary of the massacre of Deir Yassin in which tens of Palestinians were slaughtered by Zionist terror groups. They will shortly mark the Nakba and the creation of Israel on their homeland and against their will in 1948. June marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. June also marks the tenth anniversary of the siege on Gaza and, in November, the Balfour declaration will be 100 years old.

On the ground, prospects for a just peace are almost non-existent. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to move more of its citizens into these illegally occupied areas. Plans for more settlement units continue to surface and even the idea of settlers leaving their illegal housing units have brought accusations of “ethnic cleansing” by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jerusalem continues to be Judaised, and the lives of Palestinians in the holy city continue to be made miserable through restrictions on building, extortionate taxes, heavy handed security, house demolitions, evictions and the planting and expansion of Jewish only settlements in East Jerusalem. Extremist settlers continue to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, protected by Israeli security forces without coordination with the Jordanian endowment which administers the holy sanctuary. Even the sound of the Muslim call to prayer which has been heard in the city and the whole of Palestine for centuries is being suppressed.

Israel continues to impose an immoral blockade on Gaza and has the temerity to warn of a catastrophe in the enclave with Major General Yoav Mordechai warning that the Strip’s aquifer has been destroyed by years of excessive pumping and an estimated 96 per cent of water in the enclave is now unfit to drink. This is compounded by recent action by the Palestinian Authority to cut salaries of workers and to refuse to support the supply of electricity to the troubled strip.

The feeling of helplessness by Palestinians, particularly the youth, continues to rise and the regular extrajudicial killing of Palestinians at check points shows no sign of abating. On 7 May, Israeli security forces killed 16-year-old Fatima Afeef Abdulrahman Hajeiji, spraying her body with 20 bullets at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, alleging she was about to attack them with a knife, which eye-witnesses strongly dispute.

In March, Israeli forces killed Basel Al-Araj, a Palestinian intellectual and opponent of the Israeli occupation in an area which the Oslo Accords designated as coming under PA security control, clearly confirming Israel has no respect for any accords or agreements it signs. The killing of the popular activist enraged Palestinians who directed their anger at both Israel and the PA whose security coordination was recently lauded by US President Donald Trump during his meeting with Abbas in Washington saying “they get along unbelievably well. I had meetings, and at these meetings I was actually very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along. They work together beautifully.”

The impact of the wall on the daily life of Palestinians is immeasurable, drawing concern and condemnation from many quarters including from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has spoken of his “profound grief and sorrow” after hearing the testimonies of Palestinians whose land has been put beyond their reach by the vast concrete wall Israel has built near Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

Rising Jewish settler violence goes unchecked by Israel which continues to practice double standards when dealing with this when compared with Palestinian acts. Palestinian prisoners continue to be mistreated and have their legitimate rights denied by Israel, driving them to a mass hunger strike by 1,500 of the estimated 7,000 prisoners which recently entered its third week.

As for Palestinian citizens of Israel, they continue to be treated like second class citizens and to endure the effect of over 50 discriminatory laws. The Bedouin population in the Negev has been targeted for eviction and transfer, while Jewish settlements are built in their place.

In addition, the status of Arabic as an official language of the state is under threat as proposals have been approved by the Cabinet to downgrade it to having “a special status in the state” while the national language is “Hebrew”. This is part of the so called “Nation State Bill” which would also explicitly reserve “the right to realise self-determination in the State of Israel uniquely to the Jewish people.” In any other context, this would be seen as a racist move when at least 20 per cent of the population are not Jewish.

With such a litany of abuses, an objective assessment would conclude that not only is it legitimate to continue to criticise Israel for its policies, but also those western democracies which support it in order for them to rethink their support.

However, 2017 is proving to be the year of the absurd in the international community’s relationship with Israel. It is the year when Israel is pushing hard to change the discourse on the situation despite an escalation in its crimes. A year in which German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was snubbed by Netanyahu for choosing to meet NGOs Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

While 2016 ended with UN Security Council resolution 2334 which criticised the continuing illegal settlement enterprise, criticising Israel in 2017 for the same indiscretions as it committed in 2016 is now suddenly “unfair”.

Recently all 100 US senators signed a letter asking UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body. “Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing,” the letter said.

Amazingly it was lost on the senators, or more probably they chose to ignore, Israel’s refusal to adhere to the body’s multiple Security Council resolutions on the matter, including resolution 2334 which Israel said it would not respect and proceeded to announce further settlement building. This coincided with Washington’s UN envoy Nikki Haley choosing to turn the spotlight from Israel to Iran in her first session holding the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. “If we are speaking honestly about conflict in the Middle East, we need to start with the chief culprit, Iran, and its partner militia, Hezbollah,” Haley told the Security Council Thursday. “For decades they have conducted terrorist acts across the region.”

The UK for its part put the UN Human Rights Council “on notice” at its last session accusing it of “bias against Israel”. “The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel undermines the council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

It is incumbent on all who have fallen for Israel’s hasbara propaganda about it being treated unfairly to point to any change in Israeli policy that their collective cowardice in dealing with it has brought. In fact, they cannot. On the contrary, their strategy for dealing with the issue, if they are serious, has failed. There is also no evidence that if Israel is not criticised, it will do the honourable thing and meet the legitimate demands of the Palestinians.

If there is unfairness, it is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians which has gone on since its creation, not our criticism of it. In fact criticism is not enough, but action is needed to find a just solution.