I was interviewed by RT on 25/11/2017
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/11/2017
“In terms of an Israeli flag in Makkah or in Riyadh,” she replied, “well, you don’t need to raise the flag to have contacts.” She distinguished between the rush to normalisation with Israel by Gulf leaders, and their citizens, referring to a recent anti-normalisation conference in Kuwait, which she hoped would contribute to the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “At least it means that those rulers who are doing that [normalising relations with Israel] do not represent everybody in the Gulf. There are people who are worried and still care about Palestinian rights.”
My question was of course about the symbolism of the Israeli flag flying in Riyadh. Would the young pretender to the Saudi throne, Mohammed Bin Salman, actually establish formal, above the table relations with the Zionist state? For a man who has just carried out a purge, during which he held some of his key rivals and the wealthiest and best-known Saudis under house arrest, raising the Israeli flag would not be such a big deal in the absence of any tangible opposition.
There have, of course, been robust reports of growing normalisation between Israel and Gulf States, essentially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They have included an “unofficial” visit to Israel by retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki in 2016; he met the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Director General and a group of Knesset members to “encourage dialogue in Israel on the Arab Peace Initiative.” The initiative offers Israel normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world in exchange for an end to the occupation of Arab land; it was launched in Beirut in 2002 by the then Saudi Crown Prince (and now late King) Abdullah.
Israel has not agreed to the proposal, while the international community failed to exert sufficient pressure on it to accept what it has craved since its establishment on Palestinian land in 1948. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted as much in response to my question at the aforementioned conference. Had he done enough while in office to put pressure on the Israelis to accept the Arab Initiative? No, he replied, we should have exerted more pressure.
Another prominent Saudi keen on normalisation with Israel is Prince Turki Bin Faisal Al-Saud. The former chief of Saudi intelligence and Ambassador to the US and Britain now has a history of engaging with Israeli officials and former officials. It started with a handshake with the then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in Munich in 2010. His most recent encounter was as a member of a panel organised by the Israel Policy Forum along with Efraim Halevy, the former director of the Mossad spy agency; the event was held in a New York synagogue. The conversation was not about the Arab Peace Initiative or how peace might be brought to the holy land, but about US President Donald Trump’s approach towards Iran. While Al-Faisal has shared platforms with Israeli officials before, this was his first panel in a synagogue; he hoped “it would not be the last.”
It seems that meetings between Israelis and Saudis are taking place at the very highest level. Israeli media reported that Mohammad Bin Salman himself made a visit to Israel in September, which included a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This was denied by non-other than General Eshki, who claimed: “The Crown Prince did not visit Israel, and I did not visit Israel. Everyone should know that according to Saudi law, no Saudi official is officially allowed to shake hands with an Israeli.” In fact, he certainly has visited Israel. According to Haaretz, “While this wasn’t an official visit, it was a highly unusual one, as Eshki couldn’t have travelled to Israel without approval from the Saudi government.”
While Saudi Arabia continues to deny any contact with Israel, evidence is mounting to the contrary. In an interview on Army Radio, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, confirmed but did not characterise the contacts or give details when asked why Israel was “hiding its ties” with Saudi Arabia. “We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries,” he explained, “and usually (we are) the party that is not ashamed. It’s the other side that is interested in keeping the ties quiet. With us, usually, there is no problem, but we respect the other side’s wish, when ties are developing, whether it’s with Saudi Arabia or with other Arab countries or other Muslim countries, and there is much more … (but) we keep it secret.”
In exchange for cooperation with the Trump Administration and Israel to combat the perceived threat from Iran, Saudi Arabia seems to be willing to sacrifice Palestinian rights. In fact, it is ready to throw Palestinians to the dogs. It is reported that when Bin Salman recently “summoned” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Riyadh it was to tell him either to accept the “ultimate peace deal” —which will be made in Israel and marketed by Trump — or resign.
What the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and all other normalisers appear to ignore is that Israel takes and never gives. It will take normalisation but give nothing in exchange. If they think that Israeli jets will ever fly over Riyadh or Abu Dhabi to protect its newly found allies from a fictitious Iranian air strike, then they are deluded. They only need to look at Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab states which have long normalised relations with Israel, to see which party has benefited from their peace deals.
Mohammad Bin Salman would do better to support the BDS movement against Israel rather than normalise Saudi Arabia’s relations with the Zionist state; that is, if he is serious about supporting the Palestinians to attain their rights. Moreover, if Mahmoud Abbas has to choose between accepting an unacceptable deal or resign, then I say to him resign now with honour, before the Israeli flag is indeed flying proudly on the Riyadh skyline.
I contributed to Press TV’s The Newsline programme on 16/11/2017
This can be watched here
First published by the Arab Weekly in 12/11/2017
The PLO should join more international bodies and conventions and use these to pressure Israel back to the negotiating table.
If it is to make progress towards realising its people’s legitimate right to self-determination in their homeland, the Palestinian leadership needs to take stock and weigh its options.
The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the so-called deal of the century US President Donald Trump’s advisers are working on will be made in Tel Aviv, not Washington or Ramallah. It will be a deal of the century designed to strengthen Israel’s hold on the land from the river to the sea. It will not be based on respect or adherence to international law and will not deliver an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, the minimum the Palestinians would accept as a resolution to the conflict.
It will certainly not include a return of Palestinian refugees to their homes. This will make a deal impossible to accept. The repercussions would be disastrous for the Palestinians as they will once again be blamed for the failure.
It would be disastrous for the Palestinian leadership to wait for the above scenario to materialise. It must set its own agenda and make rapid progress on it.
The Palestinians have no option but to escalate their efforts to internationalise their case and to pursue measures that would bring some form of accountability on Israel through peaceful means. This they can do with a more united leadership as the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas evolves. Yes, the road ahead is rocky but promising.
The United States has effectively closed the door on accountability through the UN Security Council, where, if needed, it will always wield the veto. In the UN General Assembly, where the United States does not enjoy the right to veto resolutions, the Palestinians can initiate them and win but they will remain unenforceable. The Palestinians are enjoying greater success in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where the United States does not hold a veto. Significantly, the council is about to publish a database containing the names of companies complicit in Israel’s occupation. This has raised strong condemnation from both Israel and the United States.
The United States may decide to leave the UNHRC as an expression of anger at what it sees as obsessive criticism of Israel as it has done with UNESCO. This may dissuade other international bodies and conventions from accepting the state of Palestine as a member, knowing that it will use this primarily to bring accountability on Israel for violations that come under the scope of the organisation in question. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s response should be to join more international bodies and conventions and use these to pressure Israel back to the negotiating table or face greater accountability.
For example, it should work for Israel’s suspension from football’s world governing body, FIFA, for operating football teams in the illegal settlements.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation should vigorously pursue Israel through the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it joined in 2014. A focus on the illegal settlements is the clearest case to bring. Other countries regard the settlements as illegal as does international law. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently promised never to dismantle a settlement and to expand the illegal enterprise.
While the Palestinians and the ICC would come under enormous pressure not to act, surely it is an action the Palestinians must pursue with vigour.
The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the consequences of escalating this battle would be costly for them. They will need strong support from Arab allies who should insist on Israel agreeing fully to the 2002 Arab peace initiative as a start. The initiative spells out clearly what Israel needs to do for it to reap the huge benefits normalisation of relations with the Arab and Muslim world would bring.
The Palestinians should insist that a return to talks should be based on international law and well-known UN resolutions on the conflict. The Palestinians have options. More of the same is not one of them.
First published on the Middle East Monitor on 10/11/2017
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Benjamin Netanyahu/Facebook]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not known for missing an opportunity to push peace further into the distant future. The dust had not even settled on the Balfour Centenary, which the Palestinians marked with anger and Israel and its supporters celebrated, before Netanyahu took to the air to absolve Israel of any fault for the lack of progress towards peace. Israel is in a difficult neighbourhood and therefore its security needs are such that meeting these is almost incompatible with a Palestinian state.
In an interview with the well-known BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr, he trotted out the usual talking points. Israel, he said, “stands out as a beacon of democracy, a beacon of self-restraint in a sea of trouble”. As for the Israeli army, “there is no more moral army in the world,” he said. The settlements “are an issue but I don’t think they are the issue”. Instead he believes the issue “is the 100-year-old refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary”. Netanyahu took issue with Marr regarding the settlements, saying “the idea that Jews cannot live in Judea [the West Bank] is crazy”. When challenged that it is Palestinian territory, which the UN says is a flagrant violation of international law, he said that it is “disputed territory”. He even claimed that the settlements are “a side issue for Palestinians too,” arguing that he is continuing to work for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine.
On the prospects for a Palestinian state he said that the Palestinians “should have all the powers to govern themselves and none of the powers to threaten us”. Marr pushed him on whether this means the end of the two-state solution and the move to a different solution – one state. “No,” he replied, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I’ll be clear about that”. He argued that it was about the kind of state that emerges. To him it would have to be demilitarised and recognise the state of Israel. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has already met both these conditions. In signing the Oslo Accords, the PLO recognised the state of Israel while Israel did not recognise a Palestinian state, but rather the PLO as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people”.
In the wider context, the real threat to Israel is the Iranian threat. In a Chatham House interviewearlier in the same week, Netanyahu argued that Iran was a “cause”; an expansionist country that wanted to gobble up small and medium-sized states as it moved towards the “larger states”. To him, Israel shares this fear with Sunni-majority countries. He presented Israel as the only example in the Middle East of what he called “modernity” vs. the “Medievalists,” which were both Shia and Sunni Islamists.
Netanyahu again reiterated his belief that the conflict would be finished if the Palestinians recognised a Jewish state. When challenged that in fact the Palestinians will not get a state but an “entity,” Netanyahu came clean. He argued that it was time to “to reassess whether the model we have of sovereignty and unfettered sovereignty is applicable everywhere on the earth”. He pointed to the British not wanting “outside control” on their economy, hence Brexit, and pointed to the lack of “economic sovereignty” that Greece has, referring to his “friend” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He argued that in the complex world we live in, there are constraints on what are considered sovereign powers.
His argument was that in the case of historic Palestine, the land was too small to divide. He said that he had presented to US President Donald Trump a map which showed the distance from the West Bank to the Mediterranean as 50 kilometres which he said was the same distance form “Trump Tower to the George Washington Bridge”. If Israel leaves the West Bank, then “militant Islam” would move in as happened in Gaza and Lebanon. It is either a “green flag” or a “black flag’. While not wanting to “govern the Arabs,” he wants overall security from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean: “For us the critical thing is to have the overriding security responsibility.” The demilitarisation of the West Bank would be done by Israel.
In other words, no Palestinian state will emerge but an entity which would have governing sovereignty but no security sovereignty.
At the same Chatham House event, Netanyahu described the demand for the removal of West Bank settlers as “ethnic cleansing,” comparing the settlers to Palestinian citizens of Israel. “From the Palestinian point of view, why do I have to take out Jews for peace? Do I have to take Arab citizens out of Israel for peace?” The comparison between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the illegal settlers is absurd. The Palestinians were there before Israel was created while the settlers were moved into the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in breach of international law. Their removal would correct a wrong.
This is not the first time Netanyahu has used this analogy. In 2016 he was rebuked for using it by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Obama administration. The Obama administration described it as inappropriate: “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. Perhaps Netanyahu feels that with Donald Trump in the White House, this approach will find favour.
Another term that needs adjusting according to Israel is refugee. The claim now is that Jews that migrated to Israel from Arab countries at its inception are refugees in the same way as Palestinian refugees deliberately driven out of Palestine in 1948 are regarded as refugees, despite the fact that they are not formally recognised as refugees by the UN.
In Netanyahu’s eyes, rather than Israel work towards meeting its obligations under international law for peace, he is attempting to create confusion and change the discourse to make ending the occupation and creating a sovereign Palestinian state a threat to Israel’s very survival. The two terms he is out to remould are now sovereignty and ethnic cleansing.
I wish he was using the brain power around him to pursue genuine peace with the Palestinians instead of thinking that the status quo and redefining a couple of terms will bring Israel peace or security.
مشاركتي ببرنامج بانوراما فلسطينية بتاريخ ١٠/١١/٢٠١٧
First published by the Arab Weekly on 5/11/2017
The Balfour Declaration crucially omitted reference to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs who at the time made up 90% of the population.
The British and Israeli governments celebrated the Balfour Declaration in London and Israel while Palestinians and their supporters marched in many cities across the world demanding an apology from Britain for its role in the creation of Israel and the dispossession and continued suffering of the Palestinian people. British Prime Minister Theresa May promised a Conservative Friends of Israel meeting in 2016 that Britain would be “marking it with pride.”
The most notable dissenting political voice was the Labour leader and long-time supporter of the Palestinian people, Jeremy Corbyn, who declined an invitation to a dinner in London with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The Balfour Declaration is a 1917 letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The critical part of this short letter said: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
It is notable for offering the land of one people to another people without consulting the Palestinians, all British Jews or the rest of the British public. It crucially omitted reference to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs who made up 90% of the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It was bizarrely made at a time when Britain was not even in occupation of Palestine.
Current British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the declaration “bizarre,” a “tragically incoherent document” and “an exquisite piece of Foreign Office fudgerama,” two years ago before taking office.
However, he still wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph celebrating Israel’s creation. He said: “I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel — and a believer in that country’s destiny — while also being deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth. The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration — intended to safeguard other communities — has not been fully realised.”
There is much debate about Britain’s motive in offering the declaration that revolves around charges of anti-Semitic leanings against Balfour but also its seeing the creation of a state that would be loyal to it at a geographically sensitive location near the Suez Canal.
The only dissenting voice against the idea of Britain assisting the Zionist movement in creating a homeland for Jews in Palestine in the cabinet of David Lloyd George was the only Jewish member — Edwin Samuel Montagu. He was opposed to Zionism, which he called “a mischievous political creed,” and considered the declaration anti-Semitic.
He explained his position by saying: “I assume that it means that Mahommedans [Muslims] and Christians are to make way for the Jews and that the Jews should be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palestine in the same way that England is with the English or France with the French, that Turks and other Mahommedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners, just in the same way as Jews will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine. Perhaps also citizenship must be granted only as a result of a religious test.”
Montagu had some influence on the final wording of the declaration but not enough to dissuade the government from issuing it. Britain then ensured it became part of its UN mandate on Palestine and Zionists began to implement its promise soon after the mandate started in 1920.
Israel’s creation in 1948 and subsequent occupation of a remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 have been catastrophic for the Palestinian people who live either as second-class citizens in Israel, as occupied people in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, or as refugees in 70-year-old camps in neighbouring countries or in the wider diaspora. Their total number is estimated at 13 million, almost half of whom live outside their homeland.
Israel’s expansionist policies continue with some 700,000 settlers residing illegally in settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The international community, including Britain, continues to say there is only one solution to the conflict, which is the two-state solution. They condemn settlement expansion, which they say is an obstacle to peace but exert no pressure on Israel to end it.
As Israel entrenches the occupation and promises to annex the West Bank formally ending the prospect of a two-state solution, Britain celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
If it were serious about bringing peace to the region, it could instead have apologised to the Palestinians for its role in their continued suffering, recognised Palestine as a state and threatened sanctions against Israel if it did not end and reverse its settlement building to comply with UN resolutions and see a Palestinian state emerge. The atonement process for its sin could then have started.