What options does Abbas have after that General Assembly vote?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 27/12/2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech during extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey on 13 December 2017 [Onur Çoban/Anadolu Agency]


As the dust settles on a significant week at the UN, in which America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was rejected roundly by the international community, the Palestinians have made a commitment not to engage with the US in any future peace talks. Where, though, can the Palestinian President turn to next? What options does Mahmoud Abbas have?

A divided, and in some cases apathetic, Arab world has been experiencing political turmoil since the confrontation emerged this year between the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one hand, and Qatar on the other. As young pretenders to their respective countries’ thrones experiment with war and politics, the US and Israel can take a back seat in the hope that Arab states will weaken each other without any interference on their part.

Palestine is no longer a priority for some Arab countries, except where they can exert pressure on the weak leadership in Ramallah to please Washington and, in turn, the Israelis. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, they believe that they will be protected from Iran if they can deliver the complete submission of the Palestinians to Israel’s wishes.

The EU, which rejected Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, saw some of its own members abstain in the vote in the UN General Assembly. The Russians and Chinese, important members of the Security Council, also have limited, if any, influence on Israel or the Palestinians when compared with the Americans. The Palestinian President’s options for an alternative “honest broker” that Israel will accept are thus non-existent.

It has taken Mahmoud Abbas over two decades to admit that the US is so biased in favour of Israel that it cannot play an even-handed role in the search for a just peace. Why it has taken him so long to realise this so obvious fact is a mystery. Successive US administrations have taken their lead from Israel on this issue. It was always the case that any “offer” to the Palestinians would be put to the Israelis first, and that only after they had applied their “security” test to it and given the green light would it be put to the Palestinians.

This formed the core of an exchange of letters between former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and George W Bush in 2004. “In light of new realities on the ground,” wrote the then US President, “including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” He added that, “The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”

While Bush referred in his letter to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as forming the basis for negotiations, the Israelis worked hard to ensure that the talks which followed were not referenced to any such international decisions.

The Palestinians fell into this trap by failing to insist on international law and Security Council Resolutions as the basis for any talks. This included the last “serious” attempt to bring peace by Barack Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, which not only failed to bring peace but was also immediately followed by the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. Kerry persuaded the Palestinians to return to talks lacking in any reference to international law.

Before leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for the failure of the talks he had initiated on the Israelis after, of course, reminding everyone of Obama’s “deep commitment to Israel and its security”. His explanation for the Obama administration’s abstention on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 concerning the illegality of Israel’s settlements — instead of the usual veto of anything critical of Israel — was that the vote was about “preserving” the two-state solution. “That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbours.”

The incoming Trump administration disassociated itself from Resolution 2334, with the president-elect himself promising that “things will be different” when he entered the White House. He has certainly been true to his word. While asking Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements”, Trump moved away from the US position on two-states: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

Trump’s pro-Israel advisers have spent months meeting with the two sides to the conflict. While promising to put a deal on the table soon, this came to a halt when Trump announced on 7 December his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intention to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv.

Following the US veto of a Security Council resolution rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then a large majority voting to pass the same resolution in the General Assembly, Abbas announced last week that he is severing his ties with the US when it comes to the peace process. The Palestinians, he declared, will not “accept any plan from the US” due to America’s “biased” support of Israel and its settlement policy. He also said that the US plan — Trump’s much-vaunted “deal of the century” — “is not going to be based on the two-state solution on the 1967 border, nor is it going to be based on international law or UN resolutions.”

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to state that, “Abbas declared he was abandoning the peace process and did not care which proposal the United States brings to the table.” Putting a spin on it that is incomprehensible to the rest of the world, Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting, “I think that once again, something clear and simple emerges: The Palestinians are the ones who do not want to solve the conflict.” He will do or say anything to distract us from the glaringly obvious reality that it is Netanyahu’s far-right government that is fully to blame for the lack of peace.

As for Mahmoud Abbas, he has to choose between acknowledging his failure over 23 years to advance the cause of the Palestinians, or going back to the drawing board, assessing the strengths of the Palestinian people and looking for ways to raise the cost to Israel of its military occupation of Palestine. The higher the cost, the quicker that Israel will address the Palestinians’ grievances as they seek to attain their rights.

The Palestinian Authority President’s starting point should be to develop a liberation strategy that excludes reliance on non-Palestinians for its delivery, whilst making it supportable by others, both governments and citizens alike.

The elements of such a strategy should include the following:

  • The development of options for raising the cost to Israel of the occupation.
  • A declaration that the Oslo Accords are null and void. Israel has done this in all but name.
  • To demand UN Security Council protection for the Palestinian people.
  • To end the PA’s security coordination with the occupation, as it is both immoral and a free service to Israel that brings no benefits whatsoever to the Palestinian people.
  • To ask the UN to set up a coordination mechanism for necessary interaction with Israel on humanitarian matters.
  • To ask the Arab League to withdraw the Arab Peace Initiative immediately.
  • To restate that the Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return is non-negotiable.
  • To demand that any future negotiations with Israel are based on equal rights for all who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and acknowledge that this is the only way to achieve real peace.
  • To call on the UN Secretary-General to adopt the ESCWA report — “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” — that he has withdrawn.
  • To launch cases at the International Criminal Court against Israel and Israeli officials immediately, starting with the illegal settlement issue.
  • To offer unqualified support for the entirely peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and call for its escalation.
  • The immediate lifting of all sanctions imposed by the PA in Ramallah on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
  • The implementation of the reconciliation agreement with Hamas.
  • An escalation of the peaceful and popular resistance movement in Palestine.
  • The launch of a reformed and inclusive Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
  • A serious engagement with Palestinians in the diaspora and a move towards elections to the Palestinian National Council.

Many of the points listed above should have been guiding principles in the past, but were overlooked in the PA’s pursuit of a pointless “negotiations first and last” policy which has failed by any measure.

Such a strategy will come with a price. It will bring isolation to the Palestinians and will have an impact on them in ways that will make their lives even more difficult. However, the alternative is that they continue to be oppressed with no end in sight if the current policies remain in place. The Palestinians have shown on numerous occasions that they are prepared to pay the necessary price for liberation but they must be told how this will be achieved by a leadership that they have had the chance to elect.

Any objective assessment will conclude that the current leadership is incapable of delivering what the Palestinians deserve and to which they aspire. It must therefore stand aside and allow the younger, talented generation of Palestinians come to the fore and lead their people. The New Year cannot be allowed to bring more of the same at the hands of Abbas and his team. He has other options; he must exercise them.

مقابلة: تفعيلاً لقرار ترامب… مخطط إسرائيلي لإحكام السيطرة على مدينة القدس

بثت المقابلة على قناة المغاربية بتاريخ ٢٦/١٢/٢٠١٧

Israel’s ‘realities on the ground’ make a solution to the conflict harder to achieve

First published by the Middle East Eye on 23/12/2017

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution

On 23 December 2016, the last UN Security Council Resolution on Palestine and Israel was passed. The resolution reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlement activities stating that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

It reiterated the demand that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”.

The resolution also underlined that “it will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”. It called upon “all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

Parting shot

While resolution 2334 addressed other issues included in the Middle East Quartet report, I will focus on the issue of settlements and differentiation between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

As for the reporting mechanism, the UNSC resolution requested that the UN Secretary General was “to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution”.

The resolution was a parting shot for the Obama administration as it was preparing to hand the reigns over to Donald Trump’s administration. In an unprecedented move for the US – which traditionally vetoes resolutions criticising Israel – it abstained, while the other 14 permanent and elected members of the council voted in favour.

Explaining the US decision to abstain, the representative of the United States said it had been “a long-standing position of her country that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability”. She emphasised, however, that her vote today had not been straightforward.

The resolution was dismissed by Israel, whose representative said that those who had voted “yes” to the resolution had voted “no” to negotiations, to progress and to a “chance for better lives for both Israelis and Palestinians, and to the possibility of peace”.

He added that “the council had voted to condemn the State of Israel and the Jewish people for building homes in the land of Israel” and to deny “our eternal rights” in Jerusalem.

A timely action

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the council’s action, while long-overdue, “was timely, necessary and important”.  He dismissed claims of bias, saying “the only bias was against law, reason and the vision of two States as the most viable solution”.

He stressed the resolution required “vigilant follow-up if it was to be meaningful and salvage a two-state solution from relegation to history’s archives”.

Since the resolution was not formulated under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, it was always likely to be ignored by Israel as it has no teeth. Additionally, Israel has felt emboldened by a new US Administration, which has sided with it and claimed it is unfairly treated by the UN bodies.

US representative Nikki Hayley told the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC “the days of Israel bashing are over”. She claimed – without evidence – “when Resolution 2334 happened and the US abstained, the entire country felt a kick in the gut” adding “never did we not have the backs of our friends, and we don’t have a greater friend than Israel. To see that happen was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki , speaks on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on December 21, 2017 in New York City (AFP)

She claimed that “everyone at the United Nations is scared” to talk to her about the measure.

‘Vigilant follow-up’?

The resolution mandated the UN Secretary General to report on its implementation on a three-monthly basis. The picture that emerged is one of a flagrant violation of its call on Israel to halt settlement construction and a lack of differentiation by member states between Israel and the OPT.

In his first report in March 2017 Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, stated: “The reporting period has witnessed a notable increase in statements, announcements and decisions related to settlement construction and expansion.”

He reported that “In January, two major announcements were made for a total of 5,500 housing units in settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Within three weeks, some 3,000 housing units were advanced through the various stages of the planning process and over 240 units reached the final approval stage. Separately, tenders for some 800 housing units were issued.”

In June’s report, Mladenov informed the Council that no steps have been taken by Israel to cease settlement activity during the reporting period. “In fact – since the 24th of March – there has been substantial increase in settlement-related announcements as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued.”

UNSC 2334 has failed to bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land (AFP)

In September’s report  Mladenov reported that “Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.

“Activity during this period was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016.”

His final report for 2017 reported that “some 1,200 units in the occupied West Bank were approved for construction, approximately 460 of them in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim”.

Israel also advanced, through the various stages of the planning process, “some 1,400 housing units in Area C of the West Bank”.

Realities on the ground

His overall conclusion for the year was that “significantly more housing units were advanced and approved in 2017. In Area C, the number of units advanced and approved more than doubled from 3,000 in 2016 to nearly 7,000 in 2017. In East Jerusalem, the increase has similarly been from 1,600 in 2016 to some 3,100 in 2017.”

It is clear from the above that UNSC 2334 has failed to either bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land or for member states to act to distinguish between Israel and the OPT.

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution which is now well and truly buried, particularly if the leaks about the “deal of the century” or the “ultimate deal” being developed by trump’s pro-Israel team are to be believed.

When announcing his recognition of Jerusalem (including occupied East Jerusalem) as Israel’s capital, Trump referred to reality on the ground. He stated “today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

The message to Israel is that you create reality on the ground and the US will then recognise these new realities devoid of international law or UN Security Council resolutions.

The number of settlers residing illegally in settlements has grown without any notable interruption.

If they all remain, and indeed others are added, then there can be no two-state solution or a deal that the Palestinians can accept. Even if Trump is replaced at some point by a more responsible president, he or she will be left with realities that make a solution to the conflict ever harder to achieve.

Israel and its supporters in the US may be smiling and cheering now but they cannot expect the Palestinians to behave like a model occupied people and pick up the crumbs that remain to form their homeland.

The settlement enterprise has well and truly kicked peace into the long grass.

​الحواش: اللوبي الصهيوني قلق من تصاعد التضامن البريطاني مع الفلسطينيين

نشر المقال في صحيفة فلسطين أون لاين بتاريح 20/12/2017
 برمنغهام / غزة – يحيى اليعقوبي

قال نائب رئيس حملة التضامن مع فلسطين في بريطانيا البروفيسور كامل الحواش: إن هناك استياء بريطانيًا شعبيًا خاصة من الداعمين للقضية الفلسطينية من استمرار انتهاكات الاحتلال بحق الشعب الفلسطيني، مؤكدا أن شرائح واسعة من الشعب البريطاني لم يقبلوا اعتراف الرئيس الأمريكي دونالد ترامب بالقدس عاصمة للاحتلال والتي عبروا عنها بخروجهم بمسيرات ومظاهرات منددة بالقرار.

وأضاف الحواش في حوار مع صحيفة “فلسطين”: “إن الموقف الشعبي البريطاني منسجم مع موقف الحكومة البريطانية التي أعلنت رفضها للقرار الأمريكي وانسجامها مع موقف الاتحاد الأوروبي”، مشيدا بالموقف الشعبي البريطاني الذي وصفه بـ”الجيد”، مما يؤشر لعدم قبول الإعلان الأمريكي.

وبين أن اللوبي الصهيوني قلق من اتساع رقعة التضامن البريطاني مع فلسطين، مشيرا إلى أن اللوبي الصهيوني انتقل خلال الخمس سنوات الماضية في بريطانيا من الدفاع وإلصاق تهم معاداة “السامية” لكل من يتضامن مع الفلسطينيين إلى الهجوم على كل من ينتقدون (إسرائيل).

وعلى خلفية إعلان الرئيس الأمريكي لم يستطع قادة اللوبي الصهيوني ببريطانيا، وفق البروفيسور الفلسطيني، الاحتفال بإعلان ترامب القدس عاصمة للاحتلال نتيجة الموقف الشعبي البريطاني الرافض لقراره، وذلك لأن الاحتلال ولوبياته كانوا يتحدثون سابقا عن حل الدولتين وينتقدون من لا يقبل به، رغم أن هذا الحل كان غطاء لالتهام الأراضي الفلسطينية.

إلا أنه ذكر أن اللوبي الصهيوني الذي يعمل في بريطانيا منذ أكثر من مئة عام، يستطيع التأثير بأعلى المستويات الرسمية ولقاء المسؤولين البريطانيين، مشددا على ضرورة دعم اللوبي الفلسطيني للعمل في بريطانيا بشكل مستمر وليس في وقت الأزمات والحروب والأحداث.

ونوه إلى أن اللوبي الصهيوني يعمل بنظام مؤسسات لها مكاتب وموظفون ودعم مالي وتمثيل قانوني يمنحها المقدرة على رفع أي قضايا بالمحاكم البريطانية، أما الأغلبية ممن يعملون باللوبي الداعم للقضية الفلسطينية فهم من المتطوعين ويقدمون وقتهم قدر ما يستطيعون خدمة للشعب الفلسطيني.

ويفتقد اللوبي الفلسطيني العربي، حسبما يذكر الحواش، إلى الدعم من الجهات الرسمية والشعبية العربية خاصة الدعم المالي، مبينا أن توفير الدعم للوبي سيساهم في انشاء مؤسسات ضاغطة لتحويل السياسة البريطانية الداعمة للاحتلال الإسرائيلي، إلى سياسة تأخذ مواقف حازمة من الاحتلال وتفرض عقوبات عليه.

وبشأن حملات مقاطعة الاحتلال ببريطانيا، يشير إلى أن هناك توجهات بريطانية حكومية لمجالس البلديات بعدم سحب استثماراتهم أو إنهاء عقود الشركات التي تعمل بالمستوطنات الإسرائيلية، لافتا إلى أن الحكومة البريطانية تحاول منع مقاطعة (إسرائيل) لكنها لم تصل بعد لمرحلة تجريم المقاطعة.

وينوه الحواش إلى وجود قلق إسرائيلي كذلك من نجاح حملات التضامن مع فلسطين التي وصلت لمطالبة البرلمان البريطاني بالاعتراف بدولة فلسطين، وهذا ما يفسر سبب ضغطهم على بريطانيا لوقف المقاطعة.

وكشف أن مجلس حقوق الإنسان في الأمم المتحدة بصدد الإعلان عن قائمة سوداء تضم اسم 20 شركة عالمية بأنحاء العالم تتعامل مع منتجات المستوطنات الإسرائيلية بالضفة الغربية المحتلة خلال الأيام المقبلة.

ويتابع: “بعد إعلان اسماء تلك الشركات، سيتم الضغط عليها لوقف تعاملها مع الاحتلال” منوها إلى أن هناك قلقا إسرائيليا من ذلك، وإلى وجود ضغوط أمريكية وإسرائيلية على مجلس حقوق الإنسان لعدم إصدار اللائحة.

وعد صدور اللائحة ضربة اقتصادية قوية للاحتلال، بعد رصد الأخيرة مبلغ 50 مليون دولار للعمل على مناهضة حملات المقاطعة مما يعني فشل هذه الحملة الإسرائيلية المضادة.

وفيما يتعلق بصفقة القرن، قال الحواش: “لا يوجد شك أن صفقة القرن أعدت بمكتب رئيس حكومة الاحتلال بنيامين نتنياهو، ومن يعتقد أن أمريكا صاغتها ثم عرضتها على الإسرائيليين واقنعوهم بصعوبة لتقبلها فهذا هراء”.

ووصف صفقة القرن بأنها معاهدة استسلام، لا يمكن للشعب الفلسطيني أو لأي قيادة فلسطينية قبولها، الذين بدورهم إن فكروا بقبولها فإن الشعب الفلسطيني لن يسامحهم، محذرا من هذه الصفقة التي حسب تقديراته تقود إلى عدم الاعتراف بحقوق اللاجئين الفلسطينية وطمس حق العودة، وإخراج القدس من المباحثات السياسية، وأن تكون الدولة الفلسطينية عبارة عن أقاليم، أو أن يكون مركزها في غزة.

وشدد أنه على الدول العربية – التي تهرول نحو التطبيع – أن تعيد حساباتها في علاقاتها مع الاحتلال، لافتا في الوقت ذاته، إلى أن هناك ما يكفي من الدلائل توضح أن هناك قبولا من بعض الدول العربية ببعض بنود “صفقة القرن” أو كلها، منها الضغط على رئيس السلطة محمود عباس لقبولها.