UNRWA’s mandate ends only after return of Palestinian refugees

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/1/2018

UNRWA’s highly recognisable logo, at least to Palestinians, adorns schools, hospitals and offices run by the organisation wherever the refugees live.
Heavy blow. Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a UN food distribution centre in Rafah, on January 21.(AFP)
Heavy blow. Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a UN food distribution centre in Rafah, on January 21.(AFP)

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949. It supports more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war as well as those who suffered a similar plight during and following the 1967 Six Day War and their descendants.

A Palestinian refugee is defined as any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period June 1, 1946, to May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict” and descendants of fathers fulfilling this definition.

In 1951 UNRWA’s list of refugees totalled 860,000 names.

UNRWA’s highly recognisable logo — at least to Palestinians — adorns schools, hospitals and offices run by the organisation wherever the refugees live. This is mainly in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN members.

The agency has faced a shortfall in its funding for many years. In 2014 its expenditure was $675 million but its cash deficit stood at $65 million. Funding is generally not keeping pace with increased refugee needs and uptake of services.

UNRWA has operated largely outside politics, focusing on providing services to those Palestinians who are the weakest and neediest of the almost 13 million Palestinians. Its services in the besieged Gaza Strip and the refugee camps in Lebanon, which have absorbed many Palestinians who fled the fighting in Syria, are particularly critical.

Israel has argued for decades that UNRWA’s mandate should only have extended to those Palestinians alive since their expulsion in 1948 and not to their descendants. This view has not been shared by the rest of the world as the United Nations and donors have continued to fund it while a solution is sought to the Palestine question.

This was until the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hayley announced that American funding for UNRWA would be curtailed until the Palestinians “returned to the negotiating table with Israel.” The Trump administration said it would cut $65 million from its contribution to UNRWA. The agency reported it received more than $350 million from the United States in 2017.

This decision came hot on the heels of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It clearly emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said: “I fully agree with President [Donald] Trump’s strong criticism of UNRWA.”

Netanyahu claimed, “UNRWA is an organisation that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees.”

“It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ with the aim of eliminating the state of Israel and therefore UNRWA must disappear,” Netanyahu said.

In other words, Netanyahu wants to take the issue of the refugees off the table.

Reaction to the US cut in UNRWA’s funding from other stakeholders in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was swift. Belgium and the Netherlands promised to make up much of the deficit with $23.3 million and $15 million, respectively.

UNRWA regularly makes appeals for funding.

Its most recent statement said: “Dramatic reduction of US funding will have the huge impact on the daily lives of millions of vulnerable Palestine refugees: Today more than ever before, Palestine refugees need you to stand with them and show solidarity.”

It went on to say: “Together, we must keep schools open for half a million children, provide food and cash assistance to 1.7 million impoverished refugees and life-saving medical care to millions more.”

Palestinian refugees rely heavily on the services of the UNRWA, particularly in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege for almost 11 years. A reduction in the level of services would have severe consequences for the refugees. Closure of UNRWA would be disastrous both in terms of the immediate effects on Palestinians and the future of the refugees.

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was very clear about what should happen to them when it stated “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.”

If Israel and the United States want to end the mandate of the UNRWA, then Resolution 194 must be implemented in full. Until then and while they remain so, refugees are entitled to having the protection and support the agency provides and for which the world has and must continue to pay.

If Israel and the United States want to end the mandate of the UNRWA, then Resolution 194 must be implemented in full.

Report on seminar: UK panel on Mideast peace urges EU to take broker role

Anadolu Agency 24/1/2018

The US cannot continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace, says speaker at panel organized by EuroPal Forum

 

UK panel on Mideast peace urges EU to take broker role

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

It is time for Europe to lead for peace in the Middle East following the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a London panel heard Tuesday.

The message was conveyed by speakers at the panel “Trump’s Jerusalem Promise: Time for Europe to Lead for Peace in the Middle East” organized by the EuroPal Forum – an independent and non-party political organization based in London working to build networks throughout Europe in support of the promotion and realization of Palestinian rights.

Speaking at the panel via a recorded video message, Julie Ward, a member of the European Parliament from the Labour Party, underlined that since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel on Dec. 6, there has been an increase in violent actions by Israel’s occupying forces against the Palestinians.

Ward said Trump’s decision is a “serious provocation for those who have been pursuing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause”. She said Trump’s decision to reverse seven decades of foreign policy has dismayed the majority of the world’s leaders, dashing the hopes of peace campaigners from both sides of the conflict.

Stressing that Trump’s decision goes against all peace efforts by all parties and encourages Israel’s continuing violation of human rights, Ward said “it is clear that the U.S. would not be a productive partner” in the peace process.

“We are pushing the EU to take action…in the European parliament,” she added.

Toby Cadman, a barrister and international law specialist, pointed out that the rejection of Trump’s decision by the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and by a very high number of the member countries at the General Assembly despite threats made by the U.S. administration was “significant”.

Cadman said whether Trump will implement his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem still remains to be seen, but the U.S. could not continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace when such a decision had been made.

Another speaker, Dr. Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian academic, writer and activist, argued that with the latest decision, the U.S. administration “has made very clear that Israeli and U.S. interests are identical”.

“And therefore, the gloves are off. It is very clear that the U.S. not only isn’t an honest broker, it is not an independent broker, but it is totally identified with Israel,” Karmi said.

Recalling the cuts by the U.S. administration in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Karmi said someone else should fill this gap.

“The EU becomes very important with this vacuum of international support for the Palestinians…Why the EU is now relevant is of course because it is very much involved in this business.”

Karmi said the EU has funded both Israelis and Palestinians in various fields and is therefore an ideal body to play the role.

“What is the EU’s position on Palestine and Palestinian people’s future? First, peace can be achieved by two states, by the creation of a Palestinian State and having a two-state solution. Secondly, there has been a concern by the EU from the beginning with the refugee issue.”

Karmi said the two-state solution has been the “bedrock” in EU policy toward the conflict and urged the EU to press on Israel for a possible two-state solution. She said the EU could suspend a visa waiver program in place for Israeli citizens which makes it possible for them to travel freely across Europe.

“That’s a very small action that the EU could start with,” she said.

Regarding Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, Karmi said “we must not think about the U.S. in this context. We have to free ourselves from this kind of thinking.”

Prof. Kamel Hawwash, an academic from Birmingham University and a writer, was among the speakers at the EuroPal Forum’s panel.

Recalling his recent entry rejection by Israeli officials, Hawwash argued that the EU should refuse entry for Israeli settlers.

“The last UN resolution about the settlers [from the occupied Palestinian territories] … distinguished between Israel and the occupied territories.

“The EU can actually escalate the distinction through an action to do with settlement… it must be about imposing some sort of sanction… If I am denied entry as a British citizen to Israel, why is it that Israeli settlers are allowed to come in?”

However, Hawwash also urged Palestinians to look at their own means to activate a peace process first and then start searching for support as well.

One of the organizers, Zaher Birai, told Anadolu Agency that he hoped the panel would “send a clear message that it is unacceptable… to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.

Birai said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement yesterday “was worrying” despite the previous messages of support for Palestinians from the British government.

“Clearly, with Jerusalem now having been recognized by the U.S. as the capital of Israel, one would expect some symmetrical movement in the other direction to get things moving,” Boris Johnson said during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Johnson on Tuesday was accused of putting a two-state solution at fresh risk after suggesting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is a “moment of opportunity” for peace.

Trump’s controversial decision has sparked a wave of condemnation and protests across the world.

The full 193-member UN General Assembly met for a rare emergency special session regarding the decision, and 128 members voted in favor of a resolution which affirmed that the issue of Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. Nine countries voted against and 35 others abstained in the vote held on Dec. 21 last year.

Les dirigeants palestiniens devraient se retirer poliment ou être renvoyés par le peuple

Translated from English

Published on the Middle East Eye édition française on 22/1/2018

Mahmoud Abbas va demander à l’Union européenne de reconnaître l’État de Palestine. Mais la cause et les sacrifices consentis par des millions de Palestiniens méritent beaucoup plus que ce que les dirigeants actuels ont accompli ou ne pourront jamais offrir

Lors de la dernière réunion du Conseil national palestinien à Ramallah, le président Mahmoud Abbas, en évoquant certaines des réussites palestiniennes des ces dernières années, a filé la métaphore du football.

Il a rappelé qu’en 1934, l’équipe palestinienne – battue un but à zéro – avait été privée par l’Égypte d’une place en Coupe du monde de football. Il leur a rappelé avec fierté qu’en 2009 la Palestine s’était classée 179e au classement mondial de la FIFA.

Elle est toutefois passée à la 80e place du classement récemment publié, alors qu’Israël se trouvait en 98e position, « malgré tous les efforts qu’ils ont déployés », a-t-il souligné.

Abbas attribue cette réussite aux efforts considérables de la Fédération palestinienne de football, mais ajoute toutefois qu’elle est aussi due au fait que le sport n’est pas politisé – et que quiconque voulant y participer peut le faire indépendamment de la faction politique à laquelle il appartient. Il a prédit en plaisantant qu’« un jour, nous pourrions même nous placer avant l’Amérique ».

Sa métaphore du football était intéressante, mais dans un sens différent.

La métaphore

Les dirigeants palestiniens pourraient-ils tirer des leçons de ce beau sport ? Si la Palestine était une équipe appartenant à l’une des leagues anglaises, comment son leadership gagnerait-il régulièrement, grimperait-il dans chaque ligue, serait-il promu et gagnerait-il ensuite le prix ultime du championnat voire (pour compléter la métaphore) sa liberté et son indépendance ?

En football, comme en politique, il faut créer des équipes gagnantes – sur le terrain comme en dehors des stades. Les clubs de football sont sur le marché pour détecter les talents, acheter les meilleurs joueurs du moment, mais aussi pour faire progresser ceux qu’ils ont déjà. Les pressions du jeu moderne sont telles qu’on ne peut se permettre de rester les bras croisés, d’autant plus quand on voit les équipes voisines renforcer leurs positions.

Si nous prenons la période des 23 ans écoulés depuis les accords d’Oslo, nous constatons que les Palestiniens s’éloignent de plus en plus de leur objectif mais, à la différence d’une équipe anglaise de football – qui ne cesse d’élaborer des stratégies, d’acheter et de vendre des joueurs et de changer d’entraîneurs –, l’équipe palestinienne a si peu été renouvelée.

Il est temps que les Palestiniens disent haut et fort que le leadership actuel fait partie du problème

Abbas et ses collègues les plus anciens ont entre 75 et 88 ans – quand on regarde des photos de la conférence du Conseil central palestinien (CCP), on peine à voir un jeune à la table d’honneur ou au premier rang.

Au cours d’un match, un entraîneur de football commencera par une formation donnée – censée être sa meilleure équipe – mais il la changera si les choses ne se passent pas comme prévu. Il misera parfois sur une formation défensive et parfois sur une formation offensive.

Il mettra certains joueurs au repos et placera sur le terrain des jeunes joueurs, pour qu’ils « se fassent les dents », contribuant ainsi à assurer fraîcheur et continuité. L’équipe palestinienne, elle, stagne depuis des décennies.

Le président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas, lors d’une réunion du comité exécutif de l’OLP, en avril 2015 à Ramallah, en Cisjordanie (AFP)

Alex Ferguson a connu 27 ans de succès à Manchester United. Il a construit une base – d’abord une équipe victorieuse – mais ses treize trophées de Premier League anglaise n’ont pas été remportés par la même équipe, mais par trois ou quatre.

Un grand nombre des principaux joueurs de l’équipe palestinienne sont toujours là, 24 ans après Oslo.

Un futur leadership

Si l’argument en faveur du maintien de la « vieille garde » palestinienne repose sur ses connaissances et son expérience, alors un examen attentif du côté opposé, Israël, balaie cet argument. En Israël, la « vieille garde » a largement disparu, laissant place à de « nouveaux talents », des Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely, ou encore Danon.

Il se trouve que ce sont des extrémistes et, sur la durée, leur leadership pourrait conduire Israël à l’isolement et au désastre (mais ce n’est pas le sujet). Ils ont eu l’occasion de développer leurs compétences politiques au plus haut niveau.

D’où viendra la prochaine génération de dirigeants palestiniens ? Peut-on en nommer cinq qui gagnent en notoriété ? Il est indubitable qu’un peuple qui compte près de quatorze millions d’habitants en Palestine historique, dans les camps de réfugiés, sans oublier ceux de la diaspora, et qui est très instruit, ne peut qu’avoir engendré un leadership dans l’attente d’émerger.

À 62 ans, Saeb Erekat est l’un des plus jeunes membres de la « vieille garde » palestinienne. Depuis la conférence de Madrid, il participe aux négociations – et, depuis 1995, en qualité de négociateur en chef palestinien. Il a démissionné à plusieurs reprises, mais sa démission n’a jamais été acceptée par le président Abbas.

Le leadership palestinien doit s’imposer des changements radicaux s’il espère se montrer à la hauteur des difficultés à venir. La cause, et les sacrifices consentis en son nom par des millions de Palestiniens, méritent beaucoup plus que ce que les dirigeants actuels ont accompli ou ne pourront jamais offrir.

Malgré la tradition du Moyen-Orient, de respecter les anciens et tenir en haute estime ceux qui, dans le passé, ont fait pour la cause d’énormes sacrifices, il arrive un moment où ils doivent prendre leur retraite avec grâce ou être renvoyés par le peuple palestinien.

Joueuses palestiniennes lors d’un match de qualification contre la Thaïlande, pendant la Coupe d’Asie de football féminin, à Al-Ram, en Cisjordanie, en avril 2017 (AFP)

Il est vrai que la tâche à laquelle sont confrontés les dirigeants palestiniens, jeunes ou vieux, expérimentés ou non, est énorme. Ils sont confrontés à un ennemi très organisé et stratège, qui en plus d’un siècle leur a volé leur patrie, tout fait pour la garder et, à terme, a la ferme intention de tous les en expulser. Qu’on ne se méprenne pas sur l’objectif ultime d’Israël.

Il est temps que les Palestiniens disent haut et fort que le leadership actuel fait partie du problème. Ils agissent en grande partie comme si la Palestine avait été libérée, comme un État en bonne et due forme, avec ses ministres, ses ministères et ses pièges du pouvoir. Or, en réalité, même Abbas a besoin d’une autorisation d’Israël pour se déplacer d’une ville à l’autre et le Premier ministre palestinien risque toujours d’être arrêté par l’armée israélienne en Cisjordanie pour un excès de vitesse.

Jeu à deux mi-temps

Mais les dirigeants palestiniens ont fait leurs plus grandes erreurs de jugement lors des négociations avec Israël, sous la direction d’Erekat – dont les concessions trop généreuses ont été dénoncées par Al Jazeera dans les journaux palestiniens –, notamment lorsqu’a été offert à Israël, sur un plateau, le « plus grand Jérusalem de l’histoire ».

Si Abbas a choisi de négocier avec Israël, c’est uniquement comme moyen de parvenir à la paix. Mais il a sous-estimé le parti pris de l’Amérique en faveur d’Israël, quelles que soient les administrations successives. Abbas avait-il vraiment besoin que Trump vende la mèche pour qu’Abbas comprenne que l’impartialité des États-Unis n’est qu’un simulacre ?

Même lorsqu’il a eu l’occasion de faire réellement pression sur Israël – comme avec l’arrêt de la Cour internationale de justice sur le mur de séparation et le rapport Goldstone –, Abbas et son équipe, n’en ont pas profité. Aucune de ces deux opportunités n’a été utilisée à bon escient.

Les dirigeants sont responsables de la décision de ne pas avoir tiré le meilleur parti du rapport et de la pensée dominante selon laquelle Israël serait d’une certaine manière, obligée de faire des concessions. Ils se sont lourdement trompés.

Le célèbre dirigeant de Liverpool, Bill Shankly, a déclaré : « Certains pensent que le football est une question de vie ou de mort. Je suis très déçu de cette attitude. Je peux vous assurer que l’enjeu est bien plus important que ça ».

Pour le peuple palestinien, la Palestine est bien plus qu’une question de vie et de mort et il veut voir ses dirigeants mettre la barre très haut. Ils pourraient prendre exemple sur un autre célèbre entraîneur de football anglais, Bill Nicholson, un ancien dirigeant de Tottenham, qui a déclaré : « Il est préférable d’échouer en ayant visé haut que de réussir en ayant visé bas. Et nous, les Spurs, avons placé la barre très haut, si haut en fait que même l’échec aura pour nous saveur de gloire ».

La lutte palestinienne contre le sionisme dure depuis longtemps. Selon une expression très répandue dans le football, il s’agit d’un « jeu à deux mi-temps ».

Si les Palestiniens considèrent les 70 dernières années comme la première mi-temps de la rencontre, c’est Israël qui a marqué le plus grand nombre de buts. Et s’ils veulent avoir une chance de retourner la situation dans les 70 prochaines années, en marquant le but de la victoire en fin de match, ils ont besoin d’une nouvelle équipe, une dream team dynamique, réactive, fertile en idées neuves et qui œuvre à développer une nouvelle stratégie de libération, comme jamais les dirigeants actuels n’en ont élaborée.

Il faut parfois être cruel pour faire du bien. Obtenir la libération exige d’urgence de souffler le coup de sifflet final et de se préparer à une fameuse contre-attaque.

 

– Kamel Hawwash est un professeur britannico-palestinien d’ingénierie à l’Université de Birmingham et un militant de longue date pour la justice, en particulier pour le peuple palestinien. Il est vice-président du British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) et membre du Comité exécutif de la Campagne de solidarité avec la Palestine (PSC). Hawwash apparaît régulièrement dans les médias comme commentateur sur les questions du Moyen-Orient. Il dirige le blog www.kamelhawwash.com. Vous pouvez le suivre sur Twitter : @kamelhawwash. Il a rédigé cet article à titre personnel.

Les opinions exprimées dans cet article n’engagent que leur auteur et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la politique éditoriale de Middle East Eye.

Photo : Le président Abbas préside une réunion du Comité exécutif de l’OLP au siège de l’Autorité palestinienne à Ramallah, en septembre 2017 (AFP).

Traduit de l’anglais (original) par Dominique Macabies.

Israeli sovereignty doesn’t extend to Palestinian territories

First published by the Arab Weekly on 21/1/2018

Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations.

Fifty years after Israel took control of all of historic Palestine in the Six-Day War, it is taking a number of approaches to the sta­tus and laws that operate in what the rest of the world consid­ers illegally occupied Palestinian territory. Israel regards the area as “disputed” territory that it might consider returning — or more likely return part of — to secure peace with its neighbours.

In reality, Israel behaves as if it is sovereign over the whole of historic Palestine. It is important to note that UN Security Council Resolu­tion 2334 distinguished between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, thus rejecting Israeli sovereignty over them.

International law does not consider Israel as sovereign over the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, which the Israelis in 1967 annexed in the Six-Day War. In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump referred to Israel as a “sovereign nation” that can “determine its own capital.” He is wrongly recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the whole city.

There is no way to access the ille­gally occupied Syrian Golan Heights except through Israel. That border has been effectively shut since the 1967 war, with the exception of some movement facilitated by the UN peacekeeping force for humani­tarian reasons. Even this move­ment came to a halt after violence erupted in Syria.

The Gaza Strip is accessed through the Beit Hanoun crossing, which Israel controls, or the Rafah crossing, which Egypt controls.

Entry to the West Bank and East Jerusalem is under Israel’s control, too. Palestinians with a Palestinian Authority (PA) passport enter and exit only via King Hussein Bridge, while Jordanian passport holders issued with Israeli visas by Israel’s Embassy in Amman can enter via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge further north.

Those carrying foreign passports, including European and US citizens wishing to visit either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories, can enter through one of the bridges or through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

The situation for human rights activists who wish to visit the oc­cupied territories has changed con­siderably over the past few years. While some have been subjected to questioning about the purpose of their visit and who they were plan­ning to meet, most were allowed to enter, especially those who man­aged to convince Israeli authorities they were tourists visiting holy sites.

Faced with increased scrutiny of its policies and an escalating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, however, Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations. It does this in addi­tion to pushing allies to implement anti-BDS laws, particularly in the United States, where some 20 states have such laws.

While Israel has long denied entry at will to activists and EU and US citizens of Palestinian heritage, it is now routinely denying entry to those working in organisations sup­porting BDS or individuals who are vocal in criticising it and supporting BDS. Israel has passed legislation amending its law of entry to specifi­cally deny access to such individu­als. This included Hugh Lanning, chairman of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign and myself. Shortly after this, it denied entry to Anwar Makhlouf, the head of the Palestinian community in Chile and three Swedish citizens, members of the World Council of Churches, over alleged BDS affiliations.

Israel went further in implement­ing its ban in July, ordering Lufthan­sa airline to deny boarding to five members of an interfaith delegation at Washington Dulles International Airport, including Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise. Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist organisation opposed to the occupation, said this was the first time Israel had barred Jews, including a rabbi, entry to Israel be­cause of political positions. Israel’s law of return stipulates that all Jews have the right to move to Israel and become a citizen. The airline claimed: “We don’t know who these people are. We have no information as to why the Israeli government does not want them to enter. We simply have to abide by the rules and regulations of every country in which we operate.”

Israel has gone even further, using intelligence about those planning to travel to one of its entry points to ban them before attempting to board flights. On November 13, it announced it was barring seven EU officials from travelling with a 20-member delegation of European Parliament members, national lawmakers and mayors over “sup­port for Israel boycott” and for their aim to raise awareness on the plight of Palestinian prisoners, including political figure Marwan Barghouti. Israel’s Interior Ministry said the delegation had planned to visit Barghouti in Hadarim prison. It an­nounced its decision a week before the delegation was to visit.

The European Union — France in particular — might have been expected to stand up for its citizens but instead used the sovereignty issue as a reason not to challenge Israel’s decisions. A French Foreign Office minister said: “One can regret this Israeli decision but it remains nonetheless sovereign.”

This is rather bizarre as the European Union does not recog­nise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories. It was left to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to challenge the decision. The group’s executive director, Sharon Abraham-Weiss, said: “The interior minister is not authorised to serve as a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the country’s citizens and for the residents of the occupied territories, who are dependent on Israeli border crossings, which positions are ap­propriate to be heard. Freedom of expression is not just the right to express oneself but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even opinions that outrage and infuriate the majority in Israel.”

The European Union must take a stand on the issue of sovereignty, especially as it relates to the oc­cupied Palestinian territories, to ensure non-Israelis can access them or consider taking their own measures, including denying entry to illegal Israeli settlers wishing to visit. Otherwise, the message to Israel is “Carry on; there are no red lines to cross.”

Palestinian leadership should retire gracefully or be removed by the people

First published by the Middle East Eye on 19/1/2018

The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve

During the last Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas made reference to football when describing some of the Palestinian achievements in recent years.

He reminded the audience that in 1934 Egypt denied the Palestinian team a place in the football World Cup after beating them by one goal to nil. He further proudly reminded them that in 2009 Palestine was ranked 179th in FIFA’s world ranking.

It, however, jumped to 80th place in the recently released ranking while Israel was in 98th”despite all the efforts they have made”, he said.

While Abbas attributed this achievement to the great efforts of the Palestinian Football Association he, nonetheless, added that it was because sport is not politicised and that anyone who wants to participate can do so regardless of which political faction – if any – he/she belonged to. He quipped that “one day we might even rank higher than America”.

His reference to football was interesting but in a different sense.

The analogy

Could the Palestinian leadership learn any lessons from the beautiful game? If Palestine was a team in one of the English leagues, how would its leadership win regularly, move up each league, be promoted and then win the ultimate prize of the championship or, to complete the analogy, its freedom and independence?

In football, as in politics, one needs to create winning teams, both on and off the pitch. Football clubs are in the market for talent, buying the best players around but also growing their own. The pressures of the modern game are such that they cannot afford to stand still, particularly as they see teams around them strengthen their positions.

If we take the 23-year period since the Oslo Accords, we find the Palestinians moving further and further away from their goal, but unlike an English football team which would be constantly strategising, buying and selling players and changing their coaching team, the Palestinian team has been a permanent fixture.

It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem

Abbas, and his most senior colleagues, are in their late seventies or eighties – just look at the images from the PCC conference and you will struggle to see a young person either at the top table or in the front row.

Within a match, a football coach will start with a formation – and what may be his best team – but will change it if things are not going according to plan. He will sometimes play a defensive formation and at other times an attacking formation.

He will rest players and bring young players on to “blood” them, thus helping to ensure freshness and continuity. The Palestinian team has stagnated for decades.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting of the PLO executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah in April 2015 (AFP)

Alex Ferguson had 27 highly successful years at Manchester United. He built a base – initially then a winning team – but his 13 English Premier League trophies were not won with the same team but three or four teams.

Many of the key players in the Palestinian team are still there 24 years after Oslo.

A leadership in waiting

If the argument for keeping the Palestinian “old guard” is because of their knowledge and experience then a close look at the opposite side, Israel, destroys that argument. The “old guard” in Israel have largely gone, making way for “fresh talents” such as Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely and Danon.

They happen to be extremists and it may be that in the long run their leadership leads Israel to isolation and disaster but that is a different story. They have been given a chance to develop their political skills at the highest level.

Where is the next crop of Palestinian leaders going to come from? Can anyone name five that are gaining in prominence? Surely a people that number nearly 14 million in historic Palestine, the refugee camps and the diaspora, a highly educated people, have produced a leadership in waiting.

At 62, Saeb Erekat is one of the younger members of the Palestinian “old guard”. He has been involved in negotiations since the Madrid conference and has been the Palestinian chief negotiator since 1995. He has repeatedly resigned but his resignation has never been accepted by President Abbas.

The Palestinian leadership needs drastic changes to meet the challenges ahead. The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve.

While it is part of Middle Eastern culture to respect elders and to hold those who made huge sacrifices in the past for the cause in high regard, the time comes when they either retire gracefully or are removed by the Palestinian people.

Palestinian female football players at a qualifying match against Thailand during the Women’s Asian Cup in the West Bank town of al-Ram in April 2017 (AFP)

It is true to say that the task facing any Palestinian leadership, young or old, experienced or not, is massive. They face a highly organised, strategising foe that has been working for over a century to take their homeland, to keep it and over time to eject them all from it. Make no mistake about Israel’s ultimate aim.

It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem. They largely act as if Palestine has been liberated, a state with ministers, ministries and the trappings of power when in fact even Abbas needs permits from Israel to move from one city to another and when the Palestinian prime minister can be stopped for speeding by the Israeli army in the West Bank.

A game of two halves

But the Palestinian leadership made its greatest misjudgments during the negotiations with Israel, led by Erekat, whose overly generous concessions were exposed by Al Jazeera in Palestine papers, which included offering Israel the “biggest Yerushalayim in history”.

Abbas chose only negotiations with Israel as the way to achieve peace and somehow misunderstood America’s bias towards Israel under successive administrations. Did it really require that Trump blow the cover of the pretence of even-handedness for Abbas to see the bias?

Even when he had opportunities to really pressure Israel, such as the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall and the Goldstone Report, Abbas, and his team, let them go to waste. Neither were used to good effect.

It was the leadership’s decision not to make the best use of both the report and the ruling thinking that this would somehow force Israel to make concessions. That was poor judgment in abundance.

The famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

For the Palestinian people, Palestine is much more than life and death and they want to see a leadership that aims high. They can take a leaf from another famous English football manager. Bill Nicholson, a former manager of Tottenham, said: “It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.”

The Palestinian struggle with Zionism is a long one. A much-used phrase in football is that it is a “game of two halves”.

If the Palestinians take the last 70 years as the first half then they are many goals down to Israel and if they are to turn the match over in the next 70 years and score a late winner then they need a new team, a “dream team” that is dynamic, quick on its feet, equipped with fresh ideas and working to develop a new strategy for liberation that the current leadership has failed to deliver.

You sometimes have to be cruel to be kind. Time to blow the half-time whistle and prepare for a famous fightback that will lead to liberation.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: President Abbas heads a PLO Executive Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, September 2017 (AFP)