First published by TRT World on 28/9/2018
First published by TRT World on 5/9/2018
As America makes one concession after another to Israel, is it any wonder Israel doesn’t seek peace with the Palestinians?
On a recent visit to Lithuania, the birthplace of his grandmother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that that he sees ‘no urgency’ in advancing US President Donald Trump’s peace plan or what is commonly referred to as the ‘ultimate deal’ or ‘deal of the century’. “It is his business if he wants to promote it,” he added.
Netanyahu’s comments came soon after Trump suggested Israel will “pay a higher price” in the negotiations because of the embassy move and that it was “the Palestinians’ turn next”, adding that the Palestinians will get “something very good” in peace negotiations following his decision to relocate the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump made the comments at the end of one of his rallies in West Virginia. He did not indicate what this might be.
Contact between the Palestians and the US have been frozen on the orders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, following the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the subsequent move of the Embassy from Tel Aviv.
The next announcement from his administration was hardly a confidence-building measure or an incentive for the Palestinians to restart talks with the Americans.
In what the Palestinians saw as “the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool”, the Trump Administration recently decided to cut more than $200 million in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza, according to US officials.
Commenting further on the matter, PLO Executive Committee member Hana Ashrawi stated that “the Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.”
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to the US, said in a statement that the Trump administration “is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine.” Zomlot saw the recent move as “another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda.”
Zomlot was also referring to Trump’s decision to defund UNRWA, the United Nations Agency which delivers services to the Palestinian refugees and his attempts to find ways to remove the refugee status of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians still living in exile since 1948 claiming the status should not be inherited.
Aid cuts to the Palestinians continued as the Trump administration announced it was ending its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), having withheld $45 million back in January. This leaves the Agency with a $417 million deficit, which if not cleared would mean school closures for 500,000 children in its five areas of operation at the end of September.
The collapse of UNRWA would be disastrous for Palestinians but will be welcomed by Netanyahu who has argued that it ‘perpetuates’ the issue of the refugees.
Recently leaked emails confirmed Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has tried to convince King Abdullah of Jordan to end the refugee status of 2 million Palestinian residents living in Jordan as the US attempts to significantly reduce the number recognised from the current 5 million to a much smaller number.
In fact, with seemingly unlimited support from Trump and his pro-Israel ‘negotiating team’, Netanyahu is working to gain as many more wins as possible in what he sees as uniquely favourable times.
Netanyahu has already contributed significantly to convincing the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of severe sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and is demanding Iran pulls all its troops out of Syria. While he has not as yet succeeded in this, he will keep plugging away and may yet pull this off.
Next on the Israeli prime minister’s agenda is the status of the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and effectively annexed in 1981. His Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz describes endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old hold on the Golan as the proposal now ‘topping the agenda’ in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.
In a recent visit to Israel, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton dampened Israeli hopes of imminent recognition claiming “I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government.”
However, Netanyahu will surely continue to pursue it. With such wins in record time and at zero cost, it is perhaps not surprising that Netanyahu is “in no hurry for peace”.
What about the Palestinians?
The Palestinians are facing the most challenging period in their history since the Nakba. The division between Hamas and Fatah, the 11-year long siege on Gaza, US blind support for Israel and the changing geopolitics in the Middle East puts them in an extremely weak bargaining position.
However, should they see any hope in Trump’s comments in West Virginia that he really has “something very good” to offer them, what could that be?
Interestingly, there have been no leaks about what this may mean for the Palestinians, unlike leaks that preceded announcements of pro-Israel measures such as the embassy move or the attack on UNRWA.
Trump is unlikely to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, include a two-state solution in his plan, pressure Israel to accept any Palestinian refugees, pressure Israel to end settlement construction or to bring an end to the 11-year old siege on Gaza. Netanyahu would not agree to any of these but more importantly, it is difficult to expect Trump’s pro-Israel team to even suggest any of these.
Speculation on this has to be based on how any initiative would address the core issues to be resolved in the conflict. They have generally been acknowledged to be borders, Jerusalem, settlements and the refugees. If Trump believes he has taken Jerusalem off the table, is minimising the issue of the refugees, making no noises about increased settlements construction and not even mentioning a two-state solution, then it is highly unlikely that he can offer the Palestinians anything that they could accept.
The American president, a businessman, is likely to see “something very good” simply in terms of an improved economy or ‘money’, while taking into account ‘facts on the ground’ as Israel presents them to him and its unending security needs.
This could come in the form of economic development in Gaza or the northern Sinai, as leaks indicating Egypt may be called upon to cede some 700 km of the Sinai for an expanded Gaza, where an airport, seaport and possibly an electrical power plant could be based. There is talk about a railway line that links the Gulf States and Jordan with the Mediterranean through Israel and the OPTs, which could have stations in Palestinian territories.
With a weak and divided Palestinian leadership, an American administration which is completely on Israel’s side, Netanyahu is working overtime to secure further gains while Trump is in power and before he is impeached, since almost not a week goes by without some speculation that it might happen.
However, Netanyahu should rest easy in the knowledge that if Trump is impeached, he has in Vice President Pence a more committed and stable ally and supporter of Israeli policies. He will be in no greater hurry to deliver a ‘just peace’ than Trump or Netanyahu. The Palestinians will continue to suffer.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/6/2018
If it’s really ‘America first’, why is the US remaining in an organisation simply to act as Israel’s chief defender?
President Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I challenge him to pull the country out of the UN entirely.
Trump’s decision to leave the UN rights council was announced by US ambassador Nikki Haley and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Haley gave two reasons for the decision: that “human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council” and that the council has become “a cesspool of political bias”.
Haley also pointed to a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility” towards Israel. She called the 47-member international council “an organisation that is not worthy of its name”.
Support from Netanyahu
A day earlier, UN rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein urged Washington to stop separating migrant children from their parents at the US border, saying: “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”
Only Israel came out fully in support of the US pullout, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking Trump, Pompeo and Haley for their “courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies of the so-called UN Human Rights Council”.
“For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organisation that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the decision “regrettable” but said the UK was “here to stay” – despite the UK putting the council on notice last year for its criticism of Israel through the inclusion of a standard agenda item that considers Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.
“We share the view that the dedicated Agenda Item 7, focused solely on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, is disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace – and unless things change, we shall vote next year against all resolutions introduced under Item 7,” Johnson said.
This will be interesting, as one of the resolutions normally reaffirms the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Would the UK really vote against this right?
Haley’s ‘extraordinary’ letter
Twelve rights and aid groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, wrote to Pompeo to warn that the withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world”.
Haley responded in a letter that Iain Levine, the deputy executive director for programme with Human Rights Watch, described as “extraordinary”. He argued that Haley was seeking to hold HRW and other human rights groups “responsible for the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council”.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, noted in a statement: “It is not surprising that the United States administration who gives orders to snatch crying babies from their parents’ arms and who partners with Israel, a cruel and belligerent military occupier that holds an entire nation captive, has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).”
She continued: “The problem is not with the just and functioning global order, but with Israel who (sic) persists in committing lethal violations and war crimes against the Palestinian people. The US administration’s blind commitment to Israel and its proven track record of human rights violations will succeed in isolating it in the international arena and undermining its influence and standing globally.”
The US withdrawal from the council is not without precedent. Last October, the US withdrew from the UN education and culture organisation UNESCO, claiming it harboured “anti-Israel bias”. Then, too, Israel applauded the US decision as “courageous and moral”, while Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, said it showed the US administration’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel.
The US is not a member of the International Criminal Court, established to “bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”, when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so.
It would be natural to assume that a world power, which claims to be committed to human rights, would be a member of the ICC. The fact that it is not brings into question its real commitment to ensuring individuals who commit human rights abuses are accountable for their crimes.
Israel is currently awaiting a decision on whether the ICC, at the request of the PLO, will open proceedings against some of its military and political leaders for alleged violations, including the attacks on Gaza and the illegal settlements. It would be safe to assume that if the US were a member, it would leave the ICC if this happened, citing bias against Israel.
The US administration claims that the UN is dysfunctional, but then obstructs its work in order to protect Israel, including using its veto and withdrawing from its agencies. While it claims the UN singles Israel out for criticism, the US singles it out for protection from accountability for its crimes.
The US recently obstructed a UN Security Council resolution to provide protection for Palestinians participating in the peaceful Great Return March against violence by Israel, whose forces have killed 130 people, including medics and journalists. However, the US lost a similar resolution at the UN General Assembly, where it does not have a veto.
This mirrored the situation after Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Haley vetoed a Security Council resolution rejecting the recognition, while the General Assembly adopted a similar resolution.
US veto is Israel’s veto
If Trump believes the UN – 22 percent of whose budget is funded by the US – is dysfunctional, anti-Israel and disrespectful, he should leave the organisation entirely, just as he left the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.
It is likely that if America could leave the General Assembly but remain in the Security Council, it would – but that is not possible. It is all or nothing.
But even if for a moment Trump considered leaving the Security Council, Israel and its lobby would soon bring him to his senses. After all, the US veto is Israel’s veto on the council.
For a man who claims to put “America first”, I challenge the US president to withdraw his country from the UN.
– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding 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: The United Nations Human Rights Council is pictured on 13 March 2018 in Geneva (AFP)
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 25/6/2018
UK Prince Williams arrives at the Marka International Airport to hold official visits in Amman, Jordan on 24 June 2018 [Shadi Nsoor/Anadolu Agency]
As Britain’s Prince William arrives in Israel for a royal visit that will also see him visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories, does he really understand the country upon which he is bestowing an air of normality? The same question would apply to any world leader or dignitaries making a similar trip to the state of Israel as it is currently constituted.
Members of the British royal family have, of course, made visits to other states with highly questionable values and human rights records. However, in the current climate, the Foreign Office rightly shies away from organising such a trip to, for example, Myanmar because of its appalling treatment and displacement of the Rohingya Muslims, which has created a major refugee problem.
Similar consideration should have been given before pushing the second in line to the throne to undertake a trip to Israel, which was founded in 1948 on the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians to make way for Jewish immigrants; it has rightly been called “ethnic cleansing” and is an ongoing process. Palestinians continue to live in exile in refugee camps to this day, including those in Jordan, where William spent the first evening of the visit watching a recording of the England vs Panama football match with the Jordanian Crown Prince. Will he be briefed about the obstacles that Israel places in the way of Palestinians trying to play the beautiful game, and the sometimes targeted shooting of them in the legs?
The prince could have visited Al-Baqa’a refugee camp, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited a couple of days ago, highlighting the continuing Palestinian refugee problem that the world has failed to resolve. It is one of 10 camps registered with UNRWA, which altogether accommodate around one-fifth of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in the Hashemite Kingdom.
In a carefully choreographed visit to Israel and Palestine, the prince will meet the leadership of a people still under occupation, the Palestinians, as well as the people who have been occupying and colonising their land for 51 years (70 if you count the original Nakba), the Israelis. He will meet carefully chosen Palestinians who will not remind him of Britain’s role in their predicament or ask why Britain continues to sell weapons to Israel and why it failed to condemn Israel’s massacres of Palestinians under siege in Gaza.
They will not talk about the Balfour Declaration or the British occupation under the League of Nations Mandate, or ask him why he has made the trip now, which his family had refrained from doing since Israel’s establishment. Nor will they ask him why Britain is rewarding Israel with his visit, when the situation on the ground is worse now than ever before for the indigenous Palestinians whose only crime was to live on the land that Zionists wanted as a homeland for people who did not come from there. They will not ask him the fundamental question of why he is visiting an Apartheid state that dominates and discriminates against even its own Palestinian citizens who make up one-fifth of the population.
The FCO will have emphasised to the Prince that Israel is not only an ally but also a democracy and that it shares western values to which Britain subscribes. However, it is unlikely that he would have been briefed in detail about the kind of democracy that Israel actually practices. It claims to be a Jewish and democratic state, but inherent in this is that its Jewish character always trumps democracy.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, recently stopped a bill from being discussed that would have given equal rights to all citizens. A bill calling for Israel “to be defined as a state of all its citizens” was disqualified from being placed on the Knesset’s agenda. Palestinian Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi, who the Prince is unlikely to meet, reaffirmed recently that, “A democracy does not exist without equality among its citizens.” Such equality is missing from Israeli-style democracy.
We can assume that this naked discrimination between citizens of the same country would not be something that Prince William would subscribe to, but his visit to Israel gives it the green light to continue.
The “Nation State Bill” passed its first reading earlier this year, and will define Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people”. The discriminatory implications of the Bill passing in its original format worry those who fight for equality between human beings, particularly citizens of the same state.
We can also safely assume that Britain would not establish as a matter of policy communities that are exclusively for people of one colour, creed or religion, but the illegal settlement enterprise enforced by Israel on occupied Palestinian land does exactly that. It builds homes, roads and other infrastructure for the exclusive use of its Jewish citizens. Even within Israel’s undeclared but internationally recognised borders, Jews live largely segregated lives from non-Jewish citizens.
Furthermore, it would be inconceivable for British communities to set up “Admissions Committees” to vet those wishing to move in. Prince William will not be told that in 2014 the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the “Admissions Committees Law” that allows Israel’s Jewish communities to exclude its Arab citizens from living in the same town, village or neighbourhood.
In March, a Jewish town in the Galilee region of northern Israel cancelled the sale of land for new homes in the community after it “became clear that more than 50 per cent of those purchasing the plots were Arab citizens”. Hundreds of Jewish Israelis demonstrated recently in Afula against the sale of a home to an Arab family.
The prince will not be told about Israel’s discrimination against the Bedouin Community in the Negev Desert. Since its creation on Palestinian land in 1948, it has not recognised 35 villages, which it deprives of services, simply because they are populated by Bedouin. He will not be told that the Bedouin village of Um Al-Hiran will be demolished to make way the Jew-only settlement of Hiran.
William will not be told of more than 65 laws on the statute book that discriminate against non-Jews in the state, including the law of return and marriage between Israeli citizens and Palestinian citizens from the occupied territories. Nor will he visit Hebron to see modern day Apartheid in action, with an illegal occupation to boot. He will not visit Gaza to see the impact of the 11-year long siege, so he will not visit the home of Razan Al-Najjar, the 21- year old medic who was gunned down and killed by an Israel soldier while helping the injured.
The prince will not be told that Jewish and Arab women are segregated in hospital maternity wards or that Bedouins are not allowed into a swimming pool because locals threatened to “boycott the pool if Bedouin were allowed in.”
Even as a military man himself, Prince William will not visit a military court to see Palestinian children shackled and abused while they await conviction as almost all charges against them are upheld by the courts whose jurisdiction does not apply to Israeli Jews.
The above is but a taste of the discriminatory state that Prince William is honouring with his visit. Does such an openly racist state deserve this honour? What will it take for the so-called international community and civilised western states to see Israel for what it has become and move from protecting it from accountability for its crimes to sanctioning it for its continued breaches of international laws and conventions?
The timing of the visit is very much linked to Britain’s exit from the European Union and its desperation to sign trade deals post-BREXIT. Prince William is being used by the government to extract such a deal with a rogue, Apartheid state that will take anything on offer and continue to discriminate against Palestinians with impunity, emboldened by this royal visit.
First came America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and now we have a visit by a senior member of the British royal family, despite Israel’s appalling human rights record What incentive does it have to stop abusing Palestinians and their legitimate rights and aspirations?
I was interviewed by Claire Gilbody-Dickerson for RT on 22/6/2018
The Duke of Cambridge will be visiting Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) between 24-28 June. He is expected to meet with Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his office in Ramallah.
Yet the Prince’s travel itinerary released last week made no mention of a visit to the besieged enclave of Gaza, where Israeli forces have used live ammunition against largely unarmed protestors in recent months.
The Red Cross reports 120 people were killed and 13,000 injured since the Great Return March began on March 30, when Palestinians started protesting for their right to return to the lands they were stripped of when the State of Israel was founded.
Professor Kamel Hawwash told RT Palestinians still “lay the blame at Britain’s door” for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But a visit by the Prince to the hospitals in Gaza would have helped “boost the morale”.
Hawwash said among others, the Duke could have visited the home of 21-year-old volunteer medic Razan Najar, who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while giving first aid to injured protesters.
“It would have shown some sympathy, that there is someone who is not political and who is making a humanitarian gesture visiting the home of someone killed for no other reason,” the council’s vice president said.
But Hawwash instead claimed the main reason for the trip is the UK wanting to hammer out a free trade deal with Israel ahead of Brexit, and Prince Williams is merely “part of it.”
Saying the visit could not take place at a worse time because of the current turmoil, Hawwash said: “The royal family has held off making a statement since Israel’s foundation in 1948 and what has changed?
“Has it ended its occupation? Does it treat its citizens, the Israelis and the Palestinians equally? Has it really committed to peace with Palestinians? No. And if that’s the case what is the point of a making royal visit now?”
Hawwash added that “if Palestine wasn’t inside of Israel he probably wouldn’t have visited.”
Israel has defended its use of live fire against the Palestinian protesters saying it was necessary to defend its land from Hamas – Palestine’s leading political party which is deemed a terrorist organization by the US and EU.
Prince William recently angered Israeli politicians by referring to East Jerusalem as part of the occupied Palestinian territories in a statement which outlined details of his trip.
Israel’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin hit back on Facebook saying Jerusalem was “unified” and “has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years.”
Elkin wrote: “It’s regrettable that Britain chose to politicise the Royal visit. Unified Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for over 3,000 years and no twisted wording of the official press release will change the reality. I’m expecting the prince’s staff to fix this distortion.”
East Jerusalem has been considered occupied, under international law, since 1967.
First published by TRT World on 5/6/2018
The US has effectively removed any facade of its status as ‘mediator’ between Palestinians and Israelis. Will it be possible for any peace process to move forward in the face of US and Israeli belligerence?
The Palestinians are at a crossroad, as they commemorate the 51 anniversary of the Naksa (day of the setback) when Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai desert – prospects for a peace treaty with Israel that would bring any form of justice appear further today than ever.
The intransigence of an extremist settler-led Israeli government has been strengthened by a US Administration that not only has Israel’s back, but is prepared to be isolated at the United Nations if it means protecting its ally.
If confirmation of this was needed, then the recent theatre at the UN Security Council should be sufficient.
The US vetoed a resolution that sought to bring protection for the Palestinian people from Israeli violence—in which at least 118 have been killed since March—mostly at the hands of Israeli snipers positioned high above the fence between Gaza and Israel, using lethal explosive bullets. If the bullets did not kill, the injuries they caused were devastating, resulting in many amputations.
Yes, the Security Council, which is mandated to ensure security, let the Palestinian people down at the behest of US UN envoy Nikki Haley’s raised hand. America’s isolation was compounded when Haley failed to secure a single vote for her resolution condemning Hamas for a volley of 70 rockets, which left the Gaza strip a few days earlier in response to Israel’s killings and frequent air raids on Gaza.
The US secured exactly one vote: that of the US itself.
The US had been isolated earlier in 2018 after US President Donald Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and in record time moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, absent of any peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Nikki Haley again had to raise her hand to veto a resolution rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, the US lost heavily when the same text was put to the UN General Assembly, where it has no veto. Haley resorted to threats to those that “disrespected” the US and indicated there would be consequences for doing so.
The Palestinian response to the US Embassy move, its subsequent defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and threats to close the Palestinian mission in Washington DC was to suspend all contact with the US administration.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has since refused to meet any American officials, specifically Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador David Friedman. He even recently shunned a delegation of Democrats on a visit to the region.
The Americans claim to be close to releasing “the ultimate peace deal”, which will apparently be presented for implementation after the holy month of Ramadan. With Trump declaring he has taken Jerusalem “off the table”; no prospects for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes; no plans to dismantle or evacuate any of the illegal settlements in East Jerusalem or the West Bank; it is likely to be a very thin document, which no Palestinian leader could sell to his people, whose sacrifices before and since Israel’s creation have been immeasurable.
There have also been major geopolitical changes in the region that weaken the Palestinian position. The threat of Iran has sent a number of Gulf States to seek US protection, which in turn has been used as leverage to cajole them into developing clandestine relationships with Israel and in some cases those relationships are out in the open. They even responded to Trump’s call to control the anger that his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital ignited, leaving Haley purring that the sky did not fall in after the announcement.
In the face of such monumental challenges, Abbas has developed his own peace plan, which he put to the UN Security Council and more recently to the Palestinian National Council. It is based on a “multilateral international mechanism”.
The plan would be based on the two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. In addition, it includes 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.
In essence, this plan is dead in the water unless the US approves it because it would have to eventually be put to a vote in the UN Security Council. It’s a safe bet to assume the Haley hand would be raised to veto.
In any case, there is no evidence that either the EU, Russia or China are willing or capable of holding a peace conference in mid 2018 as Abbas asks. We are already there and there is not a whisper of a possibility of this taking place.
It is therefore likely that the situation will revert to the status quo—which Israel can live with—but which the Palestinians have been unable to change.
Two options the Palestinians can pursue to raise the cost of the occupation to Israel are to continue to pursue criminal charges against Israelis in the International Criminal Court, and to escalate the popular non-violent resistance, which caught Israel off-guard and struggled to deal with except through violence. The third strand is to adopt and escalate the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as the Palestine National Council agreed at its recent meeting in Ramallah.
These are actions Palestinians can take themselves and with the help of supporters around the world, rather than relying on Arab or western governments to support them.
It is only once the cost of the occupation has risen to a level which troubles Israel that it will negotiate seriously for a just peace.
In his current mindset Abbas is unlikely to effectively develop an alternative strategy, along these lines. However, the 84 year old has health issues and may abruptly exit the political scene. That might just open the way for a new approach that delivers freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/5/2018
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.
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.