Interview: America’s Controversial Israel Embassy Move

I was interviewed by Press Tv’s On The News Line which was transmitted on 26/2/2018

In a move that appears to have been meant to add more fuel to fire, the United States has pushed forward a controversial move to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem al-Quds. The transfer that US President Donald Trump had previously announced would take place in 2019

Bedouins’ endless suffering in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/2/2018

How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Unabated onslaught. Bedouin children stand on the rubble of two classrooms destroyed by the Israeli Army in the village of Abu Nuwar in the West Bank, on February 4. (AP)

Descendants of the Bedouins who inhabited historic Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 live on either side of the Green Line that defines the internationally recognised border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Once nomads, tens of thousands of Bedouins live in villages across the desert region of southern Israel and in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have Israeli citizenship. Those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have Palestinian Authority passports.

On February 4, Israeli forces closed off an area around a school for Bedouins in the West Bank village of Abu Nuwar and demolished two EU-funded classrooms in the school. A statement from Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said: “The building was built illegally and without the necessary permits. In addition, the enforcement was approved by the Supreme Court.” This was the fifth time the school had been demolished since 2016.

Another area where whole communities are under threat of expulsion is Khan al-Ahmar where 12 communities are at risk. The area east of Jerusalem has about 1,400 residents. The communities are scattered on either side of the Jerusalem-Jericho road and on either side of Route 437, which connects the village of Hizma with the main road.

Importantly, the area is east of the industrial zone of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, making it strategic for Israel’s expansionist policies and its plans to annex more Palestinian land.

Palestinian Bedouins have suffered severely at the hands of the occupying forces in the West Bank but the situation for Bedouins on the other side of the Green Line, where they settled in villages in the Negev, is no different. They, too, face discrimination and oppression, including property demolition, from the Israeli authorities.

Members of the Bedouin community in the Negev have been under threat of eviction from their villages for years. Their plight was sealed in 2013 when the Prawer-Begin Bill was approved by the Knesset by a 43-40 vote. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and said it would end with the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) in southern Israel.

It argued that, if fully implemented, “it will result in the destruction of 46 ‘unrecognised’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”

Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin plan was halted when one of its architects, Benny Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to stop progress on the legislation just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that, contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not have their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without its consultation.

Two villages in particular gained prominence in recent years because of Israel’s actions against them. Al-Araqib attracted attention after Israel repeatedly destroyed it. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. Last October, it was demolished for the 120th time.

The other village is Umm al-Hiran. Israel wants to expel the whole community from the village and build a settlement for Jews. At a protest against the demolitions in January 2017, Yaakub Abu al-Qian, a 50-year-old teacher, was killed by Israeli police while driving his car. Locals denied police claims that Qian had been shot after ploughing his car into police officers, saying his car accelerated only after he was shot and lost control. An Israeli police officer died in the incident.

It seems that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing its plan on a village-by-village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish-only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

Whether as the state in which they have citizenship in the Negev (85,000) or as their illegal occupier in the West Bank (50,000), Israel treats Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions about them to suit Israel’s colonialist agenda. How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

برنامج أبعاد: إسرائيل والحرب الكبرى … الممكن والمستحيل

مشاركتي ببرنامج أبعاد على قناة الغد واللذي بث بتاريخ ١٦/٢/٢٠١٨

El Cuarteto de Oriente Medio aún incluye a Estados Unidos, por lo que puede seguir formando parte del proceso de paz

Publicado por primera vez por el monitor de Oriente el 13/2/2018

Debido a la decisión del presidente estadounidense, Donald Trump, de reconocer a Jerusalén como la capital de Israel y su decisión subsecuente de cortar la financiación americana al UNRWA y a la Autoridad Palestina, el gobierno palestino en Ramala ha anunciado formalmente que Washington no puede seguir actuando como parte del proceso de paz. Mahmoud Abbas se pronunció poco después del anuncio de Trump en diciembre, declarando que los palestinos se habían comprometido con los asesores del presidente para llegar al “acuerdo del siglo”, pero, en su lugar, “recibimos un tremendo golpe.” Concluyó que “Estados Unidos ha elegido perder su papel como mediador… Ya no aceptaremos que forme parte del proceso de paz.”

Llegado a ese punto, el presidente de la Autoridad Palestina (AP) sugirió que la ONU debería asumir el papel de mediador. Sin embargo, la AP lleva buscando desde entonces una alternativa a EE.UU., cuya función se base en reunir a un grupo mayor de países influyentes para supervisar las negociaciones entre palestinos e israelíes.

Israel no se ha pronunciado al respecto, disfrutando de la completa imparcialidad estadounidense a su favor, ya sea por parte de los asesores de Trump, Jason Greenblatt y Jared Kushner, el embajador de EE.UU. a Israel, David Friedman, o la embajadora de EE.UU. en la ONU, Nikki Haley.

Durante su última visita a Israel, el vicepresidente estadounidense, Mike Pence, fue recibido como un héroe cuando se comprometió a desplazar la embajada de EE.UU. de Tel Aviv a Jerusalén antes del fin de 2019. Los palestinos se negaron a recibirle. Trump lo consideró una falta de respeto hacia Pence y hacia los Estados Unidos, y amenazó a la AP con más recortes en la ayuda americana a menos que volvieran a la mesa de negociaciones.

El siguiente recurso del pueblo palestino para buscar un mediador de las conversaciones de paz era la Unión Europea. Abbas visitó hace poco las instalaciones de la Unión Europea (EU) en Bruselas y habló con Federica Mogherini, alta representante de asuntos exteriores y política de seguridad. Si es que Abbas pensaba que la UE estaba dispuesta a asumir un papel significativo en el proceso de paz, acabó decepcionado. Mogherini reiteró las eternas posturas de la UE: “Primero de todo, quiero asegurar al presidente Abbas y a su delegación que la Unión Europea está firmemente comprometida con la solución de dos Estados, con Jerusalén como la capital compartida de ambos… basándose en los Acuerdos de Oslo y en el consenso internacional incorporado en las resoluciones relevantes del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU.”

Mogherini también reafirmó la oposición de la UE respecto a la “actividad de asentamientos, que consideramos ilegal bajo el derecho internacional.” Le recordó a Abbas que la UE “ya ha invertido bastante en el proyecto de construcción del Estado palestino”, y prometió que el apoyo financiero de la UE continuará, “también para la UNRWA.” No respondió a la petición de Abbas de que la UE reconozca en bloque al Estado de Palestina.

Unos días después, en una conferencia de prensa previa a una reunión extraordinaria del Grupo Internacional de Donantes para Palestina en la sede de la UE, Mogherini declaró ante los periodistas que cualquier marco de negociación debía involucrar a “todas las partes”, enviando un mensaje firme de que Estados Unidos no puede quedar excluido: “Nada sin Estados Unidos, y nada sólo con los Estados Unidos.”

Esto ha supuesto un golpe contra el gobierno palestino, que tenía la esperanza de que los estadounidenses se quedaran a un lado del proceso de paz.

A los palestinos les quedan pocas alternativas. Los intentos de Francia de conseguir un papel más importante en el proceso de paz resultaron en la Conferencia de París, que se celebró bajo unas condiciones mucho más favorables a finales del gobierno de Obama, pero se convirtió en un desastre. La conferencia salió adelante, pero no consiguió mucho.

China  presentó su propuesta de paz con 4 puntos el pasado agosto:

  • Seguir adelante con la solución de dos Estados, basada en las fronteras de 1967, con Jerusalén este como a capital del nuevo Estado palestino.
  • Defender “el concepto de seguridad común, integral, cooperativa y sostenible”, acabando de inmediato con la construcción de asentamientos israelíes, tomando medidas para evitar la violencia contra civiles y pidiendo una reanudación temprana de las conversaciones de paz.
  • Coordinar los esfuerzos internacionales para crear “medidas promotoras de la paz que impliquen una participación conjunta.”
  • Promover la paz mediante el desarrollo y la cooperación entre Palestina e Israel.

Aunque no se ha hablado mucho sobre el potencial de la propuesta desde el año pasado, China intensificó sus esfuerzos por jugar un papel importante en el proceso de paz tras la decisión de Trump sobre Jerusalén. Sin embargo, en respuesta a una pregunta sobre el posible futuro rol de China en una conferencia de prensa el 21 de diciembre, la portavoz del ministerio de Exteriores, Hua Chunying, declaró: “La postura de China respecto al problema palestino es consistente. Respaldamos y promovemos activamente el proceso de paz en Oriente Medio. Apoyamos la causa justa del pueblo palestino para recuperar sus derechos nacionales legítimos… Estamos dispuestos a seguir ofreciendo ayuda constructiva para promover el proceso de paz israelí-palestino.”

China organizó un simposio el pasado diciembre en el que reunieron a representantes del pueblo palestino y el Estado israelí en un intento por resolver el estancamiento. La sesión culminó con la creación de un documento de posición no vinculante conocido como la “Iniciativa de Pekín”, sobre la que Hilk Bar, vicepresidente de la Kneset y de la Unión Sionista, dijo en una declaración conclusiva que pretendía demostrar que “es posible y necesario salir del punto muerto político y animar a los dos gobiernos a volver a la mesa de negociaciones.” Un alto cargo de la delegación palestina añadió: “Tenemos que buscar otro enfoque para el proceso de paz… Debe incluir a las superpotencias y a China; quizá uno de estos países podría jugar un papel importante.”

Los intentos de Rusia, otro miembro del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, de asumir un papel líder en el proceso de paz se remontan a muchos años atrás, pero no han tenido éxito.

Hace poco, los palestinos han favorecido un acuerdo que recuerda al P5+1 que desarrolló el Acuerdo Nuclear de Irán, que se concluyó en 2015. El P5+1 se refiere a los 5 miembros permanente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU junto a Alemania. Un acuerdo similar podría seguir involucrando a los Estados Unidos, pero sin que monopolicen el marco de las negociaciones.

Un posible punto de partida podría ser el Cuarteto, conocido formalmente como el Cuarteto de Oriente Medio, formado por EE.UU., Rusia, la UE y la ONU. Describe su mandato como “de ayuda para las negociaciones de paz en Oriente Medio y apoyo al desarrollo económico y la construcción de instituciones en Palestina, preparando el eventual Estado.”

A primera vista, el Cuarteto, con una mejora de su equipo, podría ser la respuesta a la demanda palestina de disminuir el papel de Estados Unidos, en lugar de excluir por completo a Washington. Eso podría ayudar a cumplir con la insistencia de Israel de que EE.UU. ha de ser una parte importante de cualquier negociación futura.

El Centro Saban para la Política de Oriente Medio en Brookings evaluó el desempeño del Cuarteto en 2012 en su documento “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem.” Concluyó que, excepto por ciertos logros iniciales hasta 2003, el Cuarteto no ha proporcionado ningún beneficio tangible, a excepción de “asegurar la involucración americana en el proceso de paz.”

Los palestinos podrían solicitar que se añadan ciertos países al grupo para que otorguen prominencia al papel que juegan. Podrían ser Japón, Egipto y China; quizá Reino Unido ahora que abandonará la UE. Dicho de otra forma, podría desarrollarse un formato Q4+, probablemente bajo un liderazgo de la ONU.

La ventaja de este acuerdo, que sería difícil organizar, es que su estructura básica ya existe. Es probable que los palestinos estuvieran de acuerdo con esta formación, pero, casi sin duda, EE.UU. e Israel la rechazarían. Sin embargo, esto demostraría la flexibilidad de Palestina y confirmaría el rechazo general de Estados Unidos e Israel.

Es necesario un marco alternativo para las negociaciones para resolver el conflicto, diferente a los 25 años de conversaciones fútiles dirigidas por los estadounidenses, cuya imparcialidad a favor de Israel está garantizada. Cuanto más tiempo exista el vacío que genera el rechazo palestino a la participación de EE.UU., más tiempo permanecerá el estatus quo, permitiendo a Israel seguir adelante con su proyecto colonial. Merece la pena considerar un Cuarteto renovado.

وراء الحدث: زيارة محمود عباس الى روسيا للقاء بوتين

شاركت بالقسم الثاني من برنامج وراء الحدث على قناة الغد بتاريخ ١٢/٢/٢٠١٨ للحديث عن زيارة الرئيس للفلسطيني لموسكو لحث روسيا على لعب دور أقوى في عملية السلام

The Middle East Quartet still includes the US, so can it still play a role in the peace process?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/2/2018

President Donald Trump address to Congress in Washington, US on 30 January 2018 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]

 

Since US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent decision to cut American funding to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has announced formally and repeatedly that Washington cannot continue in its traditional role as the sole sponsor of the peace process. Speaking shortly after Trump’s announcement in December, Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians have been engaged with the President’s advisors to achieve the “deal of the century” but “instead we got the slap of our times”. He concluded that, “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator… We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.”

At that point, the PA President suggested that the UN should take over as mediator. However, since then, the PA has been searching for an alternative to the US sponsorship which has been based on bringing together a wider group of influential countries to oversee negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Israel has been silent on the matter, enjoying the complete US bias in its favour, whether from Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman or the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley.

During his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Mike Pence received a hero’s welcome as he committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The Palestinians refused to meet him. Trump saw this as an act of disrespect to Pence and the US, and threatened the PA with further cuts in American aid unless they returned to the negotiating table.

The next port of call for the Palestinians for a sponsor of the peace talks was the European Union. Abbas visited the EU headquarters in Brussels recently an

Palestinian men carry food aid given by UNRWA in Gaza City, Gaza on 15 January 2018 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

d held talks with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. If Abbas thought that the EU was ready to take a sole or significant role in the peace process, he was disappointed. Mogherini reiterated longstanding EU positions: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states… based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law.” She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “Including to UNRWA.” She did not respond to Abbas’s call for the EU as a bloc to recognise the State of Palestine.

In a press conference a few days later, before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters, Mogherini told reporters that any framework for negotiations must involve “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”

This must have come as a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which had hoped that the Americans could be sidelined from the peace process.

There are few alternatives for the Palestinians to pursue. France’s attempts to secure a greater role in the peace process resulted in the Paris Conference which took place in much more favourable conditions at the end of the Obama Administration, but it tuned into a damp squib. The conference went ahead but little came out of it, and it has had no follow-up to speak of.

The Chinese, put forward their 4-point peace proposal last August:

  • Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state.
  • Upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians, and calling for an early resumption of peace talks.
  • Coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date.”
  • Promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel.

While little has been heard of the proposal’s potential since last year, the Chinese stepped up their efforts to play a greater role in the peace process following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. However, responding to a question about China’s possible future role at a regular press briefing on 21 December, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “China’s position on the Palestine issue is consistent. We support and actively promote the Middle East peace process. We support the just cause of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights… We are willing to continue offering constructive assistance to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

The Chinese hosted a symposium last December bringing together Palestinians and Israelis in a bid to break the impasse. The session culminated with the production of a non-binding position paper known as the “Beijing Initiative”, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Zionist Union MK Hilk Bar said in a closing statement was intended to prove that “it is possible and necessary to break the political deadlock and encourage the two leaderships to return to the negotiating table.” A leading member of the Palestinian delegation added: “We have to search for another approach to the peace process… It must include the superpowers and China, maybe one of these parties who can play a major role.”

Attempts by Russia, another UN Security Council member to take a leading role in the peace process, go back many years but have not succeeded.

Palestinians have recently favoured an arrangement that mirrors the P5+1 which developed the Iran Nuclear Deal Agreement, which was concluded in 2015. The P5+1 refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A similar arrangement could still see the US involved but not monopolising the framework for negotiations.

A possible starting point here could be the Quartet, known formally as the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”

On the face of it, the Quartet, with an upgrade of its senior team, could be the readymade answer to the Palestinian demand for a downgrading of the US role rather than Washington being excluded altogether. That may go some way towards meeting Israel’s insistence that the US has to be an important player in any future set of negotiations.

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

The Palestinians could request that certain countries are added to the group to provide their role with some prominence. These could include Japan, Egypt and China, and perhaps Britain as it leaves the EU. In other words a Q4+ format could be developed, possibly under UN leadership.

The advantage of the above arrangement, which will be challenging to bring together, is that the basic structure already exists. It is likely that the Palestinians would agree to such a grouping, leaving the US and Israel almost certainly rejecting it. However, this would show Palestinian flexibility and confirm US and Israel rejectionism.

There is a need for an alternative framework for negotiations to resolve the conflict other than the 25 years of futile talks led by the Americans whose bias towards Israel is guaranteed and blatant. The longer the void left by the Palestinian rejection of a role for the US exists, the longer that the status quo will continue, allowing Israel to march ahead with its colonial project. A revamped Quartet plus-plus is well worth serious consideration.