The PNC meeting was ‘much ado about nothing’

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/5/2018

 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd L) makes a speech during the 23rd session of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah, West Bank on 30 April 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
After a 22-year lull, the highest Palestinian legislative authority of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Palestinian National Council (PNC), finally met in Ramallah for its 23rd session. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced severe criticism for holding the meeting in Ramallah, which remains under occupation, thus excluding many members and figures who would not be allowed into the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) by Israel, or who faced arrest and even assassination if they attempted to enter.
The PNC consists of 765 members, including 198 independents, 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), 49 representing Fatah, 98 representing other factions and a whole multitude of members representing different Palestinian organisations.

 

The meeting was held in the smart Ahmad Shukeiri Hall in Ramallah, named after the first chairman of the PLO; it was filled to the rafters when Abbas was in attendance over four long days. The front row, reserved for the leadership, looked as familiar as ever; it lacked any significant representation of women, non-Fatah faction representatives or young blood. The 23rd session of the PNC was named the “Jerusalem and protecting legitimacy round” in reference to the dangers Jerusalem faces and the need to renew the legitimacy of a number of the PLO institutions.

The meeting was boycotted by three major Palestinian factions — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — and a number of independent figures, including well-known members like Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Abdel Bari Atwan and Dr Anis Kassem.

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor's 'Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation' conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor’s ‘Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation’ conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

The meeting kicked off on 30 April with chaotic scenes as attendance was established by every name of the hundreds of existing members being read out and recorded as present or absent; various lists of replacements were placed in front of the ageing Chairman of the PNC, Saleem Al-Zanoun, adding to the confusion. The session concluded with a proclamation that the meeting was quorate, made to rapturous applause.

What followed was another rambling speech by Abbas lasting for 1 hour 48 minutes. Listening to it, I struggled to identify anything significant to take away with me, which was astonishing given the gravity of the situation the Palestinians face. Nor was there anything to distinguish it from his last speech to another PLO institution, the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in January. While supposed to be reading his speech, Abbas went off script regularly, which is not a good idea when every word is scrutinised by friend and foe alike, especially when it comes to his attempts to present his version of history to an international audience. His explanation of the reason for the Holocaust drew almost universal condemnation, including some from the Israeli Prime Minister, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and the editorial board of the New York Times. While a more accurate translation of what he said gives context to his remarks, he should really have learnt by now that venturing into this area provides an open goal for accusations of anti-Semitism and those want to quote him out of context.

Attendees listened to speech after speech from leaders, members and guests representing various organisations and over 30 friendly states. The general message was one of support for the Palestinian cause, rejection of Trump’s US Embassy move and an emphasis on the importance of holding the PNC meeting. However, it was the many conversations, sometimes heated, taking place behind the scenes about possible names for membership of the PNC, PLO Executive Committee and the PCC that drove the real business of the meeting.

The closing session took place in the late hours of day four, concluding with a shorter speech by Abbas and the emerging decisions of the PNC. Abbas was “re-elected” by proclamation as President of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO. The PNC Chairman reminded the meeting how decisions are reached in the PNC, by standing up and applauding. There is no ballot. This drew heavy criticism from Nabil Amer, a former PLO Ambassador to Egypt, who had wanted to stand for the Executive Committee. He was initially told not to speak by Abbas but was eventually allowed to say a few words by the PNC Chairman. He simply reiterated his intention to struggle for decisions to be taken through a ballot and called on the PNC to hold Legislative Council and Presidential elections without delay.

Amer’s remarks were only heard after the PNC agreed to Abbas’s list of members of the Executive Committee, which he claimed had been agreed with “nationalistic factions”. Fifteen names were presented, including seven former members and eight new people. Those familiar to followers of Palestinian politics were Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi. Abbas explained that the Committee had kept three seats vacant to allow the PFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which boycotted the meeting, to join the PNC. In the case of Hamas, he conditioned this on the movement agreeing to abide by existing agreements. “We don’t want to see them out of our national unity and we don’t like exclusion,” he claimed.

The PNC was also asked to approve membership of the smaller PCC, which was to take on the terms of reference of the PNC due to the difficulties it faces in meeting annually, as it should. Presenting the names, the newly-installed Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad, known for his role in negotiating reconciliation with Hamas, stressed the great efforts made to ensure the widest possible geographic and factional representation on the PCC.

Earlier, 35 PNC members urged Abbas to end the sanctions he had imposed on the Gaza Strip since May 2017 to force Hamas, which has controlled the coastal enclave since 2007, to hand over power to the Palestinian Authority. Abbas skated around the subject but confirmed that the April salaries for those on the PA payroll in Gaza would be paid immediately and that the lack of payment had been due to a “technical hitch” and was not intended to punish the besieged workers.

In his closing remarks, Abbas took a swipe at those who boycotted the meeting held under occupation. “When we said [that we will] meet in this beautiful Ahmad Shukeiri Hall we are in our country, in our homeland not under the pikes of the occupier,” he insisted. “Yes, there is an occupation, but we can say what we want here. I am not prepared to go and seek a place to meet in an Arab country or any other when I can meet on my land.”

The closing statement of the 23rd PNC meeting is long but uninspiring. It reiterates the decisions of the PCC held in January, which remain un-actioned, including suspending recognition of Israel until it recognises Palestine and the end of security cooperation with the occupying power.

Much will now be written about the PNC meeting, its legitimacy, operation and decisions. Those who questioned its legitimacy will not change their stance, but what can they do to oppose them? The significant Palestinian factions which boycotted the gathering are unlikely to suddenly accept the invitation to re-join a body that they consider illegitimate. Healing the pain of the division has been taken off the table. Fatah and the small number of individuals around the Palestinian President will continue to operate without wide consultation and take crucial decisions on issues facing the Palestinian people. There is no accountability for the actions of the Palestinian leadership including, the Palestinian National Authority. Has it delivered any meaningful improvement to the lives of Palestinians or moved them closer to achieving their legitimate rights? Can refugees in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria see an end to their exile? Are the Palestinians in the diaspora represented in the PLO’s institutions in the proportion that they should be, or are they simply a number to call upon when the scale of the suffering of the Palestinians since the Nakba needs to be highlighted? Sadly, the reality is that there is no new emerging strategy to meet the aspirations of the Palestinians or to oppose the Trump juggernaut as it implements Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s diktats on “peace” through what is touted as the “deal of the century”.

The 23rd meeting of the PNC has come and gone and will in my view be remembered as one of the least significant events in Palestinian history; it was definitely “much ado about nothing”. However, Abbas pleased the meeting by announcing that Palestinian child prisoner Ahed Tamimi, convicted for slapping an Israeli soldier, will be made an honorary member of the Council. We might have to wait a little longer, but perhaps a President Ahed Tamimi or a member of her generation will one day take up the baton and lead the Palestinians to justice, freedom and equality.

 

Interview: Update Gaza return marches

I was interviewed by Shafiq Morton for drive time on Voice of the Cape Radio, South Africa on 4/5/2018

You can listen below

 

مقابلة: المجلس الوطني الفلسطيني يبدأ أعماله على وقع خلافات

شاركت في برنامج أحداث وأصداء غلى قناة المغاربية بتاريخ ٣٠/٤/٢٠١٨

Reconciliation or permanent division for Palestinians?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 1/4/2018

The takeaway message on reconciliation is that it has been kicked into the long grass.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) attends a meeting with the Revolutionary Council of the ruling Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 1. (AFP)
At an impasse. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) attends a meeting with the Revolutionary Council of the ruling Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 1. (AFP)

The Palestinian people are reeling from two explosions that effectively demolished hopes for Fatah/Hamas reconciliation. One was a real explosion that targeted the Palestinian prime minister’s convoy as it entered Gaza and the other was a political grenade that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas lobbed into the mix during a speech to the Palestinian leadership shortly after that incident.

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s car escaped the attack but vehicles at the back of the convoy were damaged. Hamdallah went on to inaugurate a water treatment plant as planned and then left the besieged strip to Ramallah. Accusations followed as to who was responsible for the attack. The Palestinian Authority immediately blamed Hamas, which opened an investigation into the attack but denied responsibility for it.

It is true that Hamas is in charge of security in the Gaza Strip following the failure of repeated attempts at reconciliation to extend the jurisdiction of the Hamdallah government over Gaza. It is, therefore, embarrassing for Hamas that this incident happened under its watch. However, it is not immediately obvious what Hamas would gain from attacking the PA prime minister.

Hamas released a video of its investigation. Suspects Anas Abu Khousa and Abdulhadi Alash’hab died during attempts to capture them. Another suspect was injured and was hospitalised. Two security officers died in the confrontation.

The Hamas video includes confessions by others saying they helped Abu Khousa plan and carry out the attack and concludes with the assertion that the investigation revealed that the bomb was primed a day before Hamas Security Chief Tawfiq Abu Nuaim was informed of Hamdallah’s impending visit. While it did not accuse either the PA or Israel of orchestrating the attack, the video asked: “Who informed the cell of the PM’s visit?”

Abbas did not wait for the outcome of Hamas’s investigation, opting to address the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah with what was a truly explosive speech. Abbas castigated Hamas for the attack and for scuppering reconciliation efforts that have come to a halt.

Abbas claimed that the PA had engaged with reconciliation efforts since October 12, 2017, but “was shocked to have achieved nothing in relation to enabling the government to take control in Gaza.”

He claimed the attack was part of a “plan” to separate Gaza from the motherland to create the “state of Gaza” and that this was always a US and Israeli goal, which started with the coup in 2007. Now US President Donald Trump wants to implement this alongside taking Jerusalem and the refugee issues off the negotiating table, making his “ultimate deal” unacceptable to Abbas.

He claimed the recent humanitarian summit at the White House on Gaza was part of the Trump plan.

Abbas asserted that, following intensive meetings in Egypt, Hamas had said it would implement conditions set by the PA in previous agreements but said Hamas reneged when it told the PA that “security is yours above ground but ours below.” This was a reference to what Abbas claimed Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar meant when promising to build tunnels and manufacture more rockets in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas gave Hamas an ultimatum: Either the PA takes control of everything — in accordance with the agreements — and therefore responsibility for Gaza or Hamas can keep control but that means taking full responsibility for the Gaza Strip.

Abbas concluded with a promise that he will take all “national, legal and financial actions necessary to protect the national project” without outlining what these would be. He looked angry, tired and short of ideas.

The takeaway message on reconciliation is that it has been kicked into the long grass. It may even be the case that 2018 will see what Palestinians always hoped is a temporary division between their two biggest factions become permanent. This does not augur well for Palestinians in general and for the 2 million besieged residents of Gaza, in particular. The future is bleak.

La vision d’Abbas pour la paix a été tuée dans l’œuf

Publié initialement par Middle East Eye, édition française on 2/3/2018

Le président palestinien a appelé à la tenue d’une conférence internationale d’ici la mi-2018 pour reconnaître la Palestine en tant qu’État, mais les perspectives sont moroses face au parti pris américain en faveur d’Israël

Lors d’une récente réunion du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU, le président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas devait prononcer ce qui a été annoncé par ses conseillers comme un discours important décrivant son plan de paix après la fin tumultueuse de l’année 2017, lors de laquelle le président américain Donald Trump a promis de reconnaître Jérusalem comme capitale d’Israël et d’y transférer l’ambassade des États-Unis.

Avant son discours, Abbas a sondé un certain nombre de parties prenantes au processus de paix afin de voir si ces dernières étaient disposées à jouer un rôle plus important. Il a notamment rencontré la chef de la diplomatie européenne Federica Mogherini et le président russe Vladimir Poutine afin de demander à un groupe plus large de superviser les négociations internationales et d’assurer la reconnaissance d’un État palestinien.

Si Mogherini et Poutine ont tous deux rejeté la décision de Trump au sujet de Jérusalem, aucun des deux responsables n’a manifesté sa volonté de voir les États-Unis être mis de côté dans toute initiative de paix future.

Fustigé par les ambassadeurs

Dans son discours, Abbas a relayé sa vision de l’avenir et a demandé vers qui les Palestiniens pouvaient se tourner pour concrétiser leurs droits si le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU les décevait. « Ce Conseil de sécurité est la plus haute entité auprès de laquelle les peuples du monde entier cherchent refuge et demandent une protection ; après ce conseil, nous remettrons notre problème entre les mains du Tout-Puissant. En effet, si notre peuple ne peut obtenir justice ici, à qui devrions-nous donc nous adresser ? », a-t-il demandé.

Abbas a demandé plusieurs choses, notamment la tenue d’une conférence de paix internationale d’ici la mi-2018 qui reconnaîtrait la Palestine en tant qu’État, la mise en œuvre de l’Initiative de paix arabe et l’abstention de toutes les parties quant à la prise de mesures unilatérales pendant le processus de négociation.

L’ensemble de mesures convenu devrait être approuvé par le Conseil de sécurité.

Les ambassadeurs d’Israël et des États-Unis ont par la suite ridiculisé Abbas, qui a quitté la scène immédiatement après son discours et qu’ils ont accusé d’avoir fui des « vérités » difficiles à entendre. « Je m’attendais à ce que M. Abbas reste pour entamer un dialogue, mais encore une fois, il s’est enfui au lieu d’écouter ce que nous avions à dire » a déclaré l’ambassadeur israélien Danny Danon, qui l’a accusé de ne plus faire « partie de la solution ». « Vous êtes le problème », a-t-il ajouté.

L’ambassadrice américaine Nikki Haley s’est également montrée très critique : « Il y a la voie des exigences absolutistes, de la rhétorique haineuse et de l’incitation à la violence, a-t-elle constaté. Cette voie n’a mené à rien et continuera de ne mener à rien d’autre que des difficultés pour le peuple palestinien. Autrement, il y a la voie de la négociation et du compromis. »

« L’accord du siècle »

Si le président palestinien s’attendait à quitter la scène sous les applaudissements enthousiastes du Conseil de sécurité, il a dû être très déçu. Si c’est de cet organe qu’il attend l’approbation de son plan, la convocation d’une conférence internationale pour cet été et la reconnaissance de la Palestine en tant qu’État, alors il aurait tout aussi bien pu s’épargner le déplacement.

L’appel d’Abbas en faveur d’une conférence internationale semble avoir été tué dans l’œuf lorsque l’on songe à la dernière tentative effectuée par la France, membre permanent du Conseil de sécurité, pour en organiser une dans des conditions politiques bien plus favorables, à savoir pendant les derniers jours de l’administration Obama.

La conférence a rassemblé environ 70 pays, dont ne faisaient pas partie Israël et les Palestiniens, tandis que la Grande-Bretagne a envoyé un responsable de second rang au lieu de son secrétaire aux affaires étrangères. Même les observateurs bien informés du conflit auraient du mal à se rappeler ce à quoi la conférence de Paris a abouti, alors que l’appel lancé à l’issue de celle-ci pour que le statut de Jérusalem ne soit pas modifié de manière unilatérale a été ignoré par Trump presque un an plus tard, jour pour jour.

Nikki Haley, ambassadrice américaine auprès des Nations unies, attend le discours du président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas devant le Conseil de sécurité, le 20 février 2018, sous les yeux du conseiller présidentiel américain Jared Kushner (AFP)

L’administration américaine continue de développer son « accord du siècle », alors que Haley a récemment averti que ni Israël, ni les Palestiniens n’allaient « l’apprécier ». Les Palestiniens devront rejeter l’accord si, comme des fuites l’ont laissé entendre, les questions centrales concernant Jérusalem et le statut des réfugiés palestiniens sont retirées de la table.

Israël aura pour sa part une grande influence sur l’accord, mais continuera d’affirmer que celui-ci ne répond pas à ses besoins en matière de sécurité – même s’il peut coopérer avec l’administration de Trump afin de l’améliorer. Plus ils l’« amélioreront », moins il sera favorable aux Palestiniens, qui seront fustigés pour leur « manque de respect » vis-à-vis de l’administration américaine.

Les jeux sont faits d’avance contre les Palestiniens

Comment une conférence internationale pourrait-elle être organiser avec ce genre de résultat quasi-certain et pourquoi Abbas a-t-il, de façon peu judicieuse, spécifié une date quasiment impossible à tenir pour ce processus, sachant que les jeux sont faits d’avance en sa défaveur ?

Le seul facteur qui pourrait rebattre les cartes serait un changement au poste de Premier ministre israélien. Alors que les chances de voir Benyamin Netanyahou rester au pouvoir évoluent de jour en jour, son absence pourrait changer la donne – mais avec une gauche faible et une droite israélienne enhardie, il est peu probable qu’une coalition de gauche ou un dirigeant de droite pragmatique en ressorte.

Il suffit d’énumérer les noms des Premiers ministres potentiels pour conclure qu’un changement de dirigeant ne ferait qu’affaiblir davantage les perspectives de paix : Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. Aucun ne désire la fin de l’entreprise de colonisation ou de l’occupation illégale de Jérusalem, ni l’émergence d’un État palestinien indépendant.

Gabbay, qui dirige le parti travailliste, s’oppose à la suppression des avant-postes, même les plus isolés, et a déclaré lors d’un meeting devant des activistes du parti : « Les Arabes doivent avoir peur de nous. Ils tirent un missile, on en tire vingt. C’est tout ce qu’ils comprennent au Moyen-Orient. »

Un climat de haine

On est loin d’un groupe d’individus qui veulent vraiment une paix juste. Et pourquoi ne profiteraient-ils pas d’une administration américaine solidement rangée derrière les objectifs expansionnistes d’Israël ?

Le lobby pro-israélien aux États-Unis a travaillé pendant des décennies pour obtenir une administration américaine qui, en plus de consentir aux exigences israéliennes, quelles qu’elles soient, emploie même les arguments produits par le ministère israélien des Affaires étrangères pour les défendre.

Parmi ces arguments figurent notamment des propos stipulant que « les colonies ne sont pas un obstacle à la paix », des références aux « réalités sur le terrain » et aux « besoins d’Israël en matière de sécurité », ainsi que des remarques au sujet du « traitement injuste » réservé à Israël, qui serait pris à parti de manière disproportionnée compte tenu de tout ce qui se passe au Moyen-Orient.

À LIRE : Conflit israélo-palestinien : les belles paroles de l’Union européenne

Les interférences de Trump à travers sa décision de reconnaître Jérusalem comme capitale d’Israël auraient pu créer un climat beaucoup plus favorable à la paix – en l’occurrence s’il avait reconnu Jérusalem-Ouest comme capitale d’Israël et Jérusalem-Est comme capitale de la Palestine et conditionné la construction de deux ambassades à la conclusion de pourparlers de paix fondés sur le droit international, disons en l’espace de deux ans.

Au lieu de cela, Trump a clairement affiché sa position, alimentant un climat de haine et de peur. L’espoir en Terre sainte s’est fait rare au cours des dernières décennies et Trump a complètement coupé les vannes.

À moins qu’il ne trouve le courage et la sagesse de revenir sur sa décision, les vannes de l’espoir resteront fermées, et ni les plaidoyers d’Abbas, ni un changement de dirigeant en Israël ne pourra les rouvrir de force. C’est une mauvaise nouvelle pour les Israéliens comme pour les Palestiniens.

 

– 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 dirigeant palestinien Mahmoud Abbas prend la parole devant le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies, le 20 février 2018 (AFP).

Traduit de l’anglais (original) par VECTranslation.

Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/2/2018

The Palestinian president has called for an international conference by mid-2018 to recognise Palestine as a state, but prospects are bleak amid US bias towards Israel

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and triggered the move of the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump’s Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. “This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?” he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard “truths”. Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had “expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say”, and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem.”

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: “There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

‘Deal of the century’

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.

The call by Abbas for an international conference appears dead in its tracks when one considers the last attempt by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, to hold one in far more favourable political conditions, in the dying days of the Obama administration.

The conference was attended by some 70 countries, excluding Israel and the Palestinians, with Britain sending a low-level official instead of its foreign secretary. Even well-informed followers of the conflict would struggle to recall what the Paris conference achieved; its call for the status of Jerusalem not to be changed unilaterally was disregarded by Trump almost exactly a year later.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, awaits Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the Security Council on February 20, 2018, as US presidential adviser Jared Kushner looks on (AFP)

The US administration is continuing to develop its “deal of the century”, with Haley recently cautioning that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would “love” it. Palestinians will have to reject the deal if, as leaks have suggested, the core issues of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees are taken off the table.

Israel, meanwhile, will have a great hand in influencing the deal, but it will still claim that it falls short of meeting its security needs – but that it can work with Trump’s administration to improve it. The more they “improve” it, the less favourable it will be to Palestinians, who will be castigated for again “disrespecting” the administration.

Cards stacked against Palestinians

How could an international conference be held under this kind of near-certain outcome, and why did Abbas misguidedly specify an almost impossible date for the process, knowing the cards are stacked against him?

The only factor that could reshuffle the cards would be a change in the Israeli prime ministership. While the prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu staying in power change from day to day, his absence could change the game – but with a weak left and an emboldened Israeli right, it is unlikely that either a left-led coalition or a pragmatic, right-leaning leader would come through.

You need only list the names of the potential prime ministers to conclude that a change in leadership would merely diminish peace prospects further: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. None have a desire to see an end to the settlement enterprise or the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, or to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Gabbay, who leads the Labor party, opposes the removal of even the most isolated outposts, and he told a meeting of party activists that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”

Climate of hatred

This is hardly a group of individuals that really want to see a just peace. And why would they not take advantage of a US administration that is solidly behind Israel’s expansionist goals?

The pro-Israel lobby in the US worked for decades to see an American administration that would not only acquiesce to Israeli demands, whatever they happen to be, but even use talking points produced by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to make the case.

Among others, these talking points include comments about how “the settlements are not an obstacle to peace”, references to “realities on the ground” and “Israel’s security needs”, and remarks about how Israel is “unfairly treated” and picked on disproportionately considering everything else that is happening in the Middle East.

Trump’s disruption through his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have produced a climate much more favourable to peace – that is, if he had recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and conditioned the building of two embassies on the conclusion of peace talks based on international law, within, say, two years.

Instead, Trump clearly staked out his side, fuelling a climate of hatred and fear. Hope in the Holy Land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely.

Unless he finds the courage and wisdom to retract his decision, the hope tap will remain off, and no amount of pleading by Abbas or a change in Israel’s leadership will be able to force it back on. This is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

– 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 a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He 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: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018 (AFP)