What’s next for Jerusalem?

First published in the Arab Weekly on 17/12/2017

Coming up with creative ideas to bring peace is laudable but rewarding Israel for its illegal policies can only reignite the conflict.

For Palestinians, De­cember 6 may well be remembered as “Black Wednesday,” the day when the United States defied international law and consensus on the status of Jerusalem and recognised it as the capital of Israel.

East Jerusalem is unanimously recognised by the international community as illegally occupied. This was reinforced in the dying days of the Obama administration in UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

There is no clear explana­tion why US President Donald Trump chose this time to make his announcement on Jerusalem and moving the US Embassy. It seems at odds with his Middle East advisers’ efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

An objective assessment of the announcement’s effect can only conclude that it will not help their efforts to bring peace, unless, of course, translating Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demands is the “ultimate deal” Trump wants to seal.

Trump claimed that he judged recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city “to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestin­ians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agree­ment.”

No independent analyst say this would contribute to peace-mak­ing. Neither do any significant world leaders.

Judging by the anger the deci­sion created around the world, Trump’s judgment is very lacking. In the final communique of its summit in Istanbul, the Organisa­tion of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held the US administration “fully responsible for any repercus­sions of it refusing to disavow this unlawful decision, taking it as a clear desertion by the US administration of its role as peace broker.”

The OIC dismissed the decision as “a gift to Israel for its continu­ous renouncement of agreements and blatant breach to internation­al legitimacy.”

The call was also for OIC members to impose political and economic restrictions on nations, officials, parliaments, companies and individuals “recognising Israeli annexation of Al-Quds Al-Sharif, or engaging in any form with measures aimed at perpetu­ating Israeli colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The move has, however, em­boldened Netanyahu to make recognition of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s capital by the Palestinians a condition of the “ultimate deal.”

Trump justified his announce­ment in several ways.

First, he was implementing the decision of the US Congress in 1995, “the Jerusalem Embassy Act,” which mandated the US ad­ministration to move the embassy by 1999. However, US President Bill Clinton and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed waivers delaying the implemen­tation of the act and Trump has continued the practice.

Second, Trump argued “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.” However, East Jerusalem is not part of Israel and therefore it cannot be claimed to be part of its capital. There is no question Israel has no sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

Third, Trump claimed “we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality.”

“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government,” Trump said.

He failed to understand that Israel was locating instruments of government in Jerusalem exactly to create a “reality” that it hoped would strengthen its claim to the city.

Acknowledging this reality is rewarding aggression and illegal­ity. It is a parallel policy to that of illegal settlement construction to create more acts on the ground.

Trump claimed that Jerusalem is the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. That is not factual. What state has Jerusalem been a capital of for thousands of years?

Trump failed to accept that the Palestinian people have had a long and continuous presence in his­toric Palestine and Jerusalem and that if he truly wished to achieve peace he must acknowledge this.

It is telling that the White House said, a day after Trump’s Jerusa­lem announcement, that deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, a more moderate voice in his administration, was resigning.

Coming up with creative ideas to bring peace to the holy land is laudable but rewarding Israel for its illegal policies can only reignite the conflict. What is next for Jerusalem is a greater Israeli drive to push Palestinians out. Jerusalemites will do all they can to stay home.

The worst ever deal? Trump declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

First published by the Middle East Eye on 4/12/2017

2017 has been a dreadful year for the Palestinians and it could be about to end on an even worse note as Trump may hand Jerusalem to Israel on a plate


Palestinians had hoped that 2017, the year that marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the Nakba and 50 years since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, would bring them an apology from the UK for Balfour and recognition by the world that the injustice which they have suffered for so long should come to an end soon.

Those hopes were dashed.

Instead of an apology, Britain expressed great pride in the part it had played in the creation of Israel and the silence of the international community was deafening.

Trump declaration

As the Palestinians licked their wounds and once again raised the spectre of taking Israeli officials to the International Criminal Court (ICC), pressure came from the Arab countries to refrain from so doing. The Trump administration threatened to shut down the PLO Washington Office if the Palestinians went ahead with their ICC bid.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Riyadh to be told in no uncertain terms that he either accepts the peace deal being formulated by the Trump administration or resigns.

It seems that the annus horribilis 2017 might be ending on a worse note for the Palestinians. Speculation is rife that “another declaration” is in the making.

According to several media reports, the US president is likely to issue what might be called the “Trump Declaration”, that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There is only one other state that considers it to be that, Israel.

In doing so, Trump will “hand” the city, holy to the three monolithic religions, over to an extremist, settler colonialist state to call it its capital, in defiance of international law and the “international consensus on its status”.

The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem to be their capital, which most states recognise as currently under illegal occupation.

In his speech to the AIPAC conference in 2015, Trump promised: “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” However, when provided with the opportunity to action the move in June, he decided not to.

He did this by a waiver that delays for six months implementation of the move. Trump followed in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama that have signed similar waivers (a total of 35 times) since both houses of Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 with overwhelming majorities.

As the next date for signing the waiver or sanctioning the embassy move approached, pressure mounted from Israel and the US pro-Israel lobby for Trump to deliver on his pre-election promise. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is itching to be the first US ambassador to Israel to operate out of Jerusalem.

If Trump recognises Jerusalem, holy to the three monolithic religions, as Israel’s capital, he will be handing the city over to an extremist, settler colonialist state (AFP)

East and West Jerusalem

Dore Gold, the former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, told a congressional hearing on “the benefits and challenges of relocating” Israel’s capital that “President Donald Trump has made a commitment in that regard and I believe he will stand by what he has said,” referring to Trump’s promise to move the embassy.

US Vice President Mike Pence raised hopes of a possible embassy move when he spoke at a gathering to commemorate the 70th anniversary of UN Resolution 181, which called for the partition of British Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

He chose that occasion to announce that “President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”.

If the speculation translates into reality, Trump may choose to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with some caveats, while once again postponing the actual move.

He may even consider distinguishing between East and West Jerusalem as Russia’s Foreign Ministry did last April in a statement that said: “We reaffirm our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

However, Trump is consistently unpredictable and he may go the whole way and declare in around 30-words perhaps: “As US President, I am proud to announce that I have decided to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

He can argue that this is only one of many commitments made during the 2016 election campaign that he is now fulfilling.

Arab and Muslim reaction

What would be the reaction in Palestine, Israel and the rest of the world? Will it ignite the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim street? Will it bring a confrontation between Iran and Israel any closer?

Will this be the last straw for the Palestinian leadership? Will it trigger a severing of relations between the PLO and the US and even an implementation of the often raised threat of the PA dissolving itself and Mahmoud Abbas handing the keys to his Muqata’a headquarters to Benjamin Netanyahu?

Will the anger be directed at the US and its impulsive president, the occupying power Israel or the Palestinian Authority and its president? We live in such uncertain times that any of the above or a combination of them may be possible, when they would once have been discounted as impossible.

The Arab world, in a state of turmoil and with leadership in some countries moving to the next generation, has relegated the Palestinian issue behind the threat of Iran and the “fight against terror” and the ongoing chaos in a number of “Arab spring” locations.

The Palestinian Authority has already warned about the dire consequences that would result from such a move and President Abbas has been in contact with Arab and other world leaders requesting their support in dissuading Trump from this action.

He may have been reassured by the statement from Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubair, at a recent Mediterranean Dialogue event in Rome, that any change to the status of East Jerusalem would enrage the Arab world.

US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering statements in Jerusalem in May (AFP)

However, the reported close relationship between Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman seems to be focused on heaping pressure on the Palestinians to concede ground rather than on Israel. If the price for US support for Saudi Arabia against Iran is conceding Jerusalem then would the young prince be able to resist?

Abbas has found support from most recipients of his calls but whether this will translate into sufficient pressure is questionable. Those Palestinians expecting a more robust response from Iran are likely to be disappointed.

A liberation strategy

The 193 countries that recognise Palestine are almost certain to reject the move. The EU is likely to dismiss the move and maintain its position with member states keeping their embassies in Tel Aviv and perhaps refusing to conduct business in a US Jerusalem embassy

However, some states which have sided with Israel in the UN General Assembly including Australia and Canada may be tempted to follow suit. In 2014, Australia’s Attorney General told the Senate that his country will no longer recognise East Jerusalem as “occupied”, implying it is Israeli territory.

Early indications are that there will certainly be protests in Gaza and the West Bank but most Palestinians are unable to reach the US Embassy in Tel Aviv as they need permits to enter Israel which will not be forthcoming for this purpose.

Those Palestinian citizens of Israel, who constitute a fifth of Israeli population, and other Israelis who see how problematic this is for long-term peace prospects, may reach the embassy but these protests are unlikely to be sustained.

This would pose a great challenge to Jerusalemite Palestinians who rose against the closure of Al-Aqsa mosque last summer, protesting peacefully until the holy site was reopened and the security measures Israel wanted to implement were removed.

They may protest outside the US Consulate in East Jerusalem but this is not going to be effective unless an organised campaign, that includes them, demands that Trump rescind his declaration gathers momentum and succeeds quickly.

Protests are therefore more likely to be virtual with “Twitter storms” and appropriate hashtags being shared, which would initially be successful in raising the issue but will not, in the end, change the decision.

The Palestinian Authority has based its whole strategy for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as capital of a future Palestinian state effectively making East Jerusalem a redline.

If that is crossed, just what would Trump’s “ultimate deal” actually offer? Leaks have indicated that Jerusalem and the right of return of refugees will be postponed but that Israeli settlements would remain and no settlers would be required to leave.

It seems that the time has come for him to take a leaf out of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s famous Brexit policy that no deal is better than a bad deal and call it a day.

If it is to be “Black Wednesday” and Trump recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital then it would surely be time for the PA to dissolve and for the Palestinians to develop their strategy for liberation and the attainment of their rights.

That is of course unless the PA has a “cunning” plan which Abbas is holding so close to his chest that he has not discussed with anyone, otherwise it would have been leaked.

أحداث وأصداء: عن بيان منظمة التعاون الإسلامي عن الأحداث في المسجد الأقصى

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Israel is sleepwalking towards tyranny not practising democracy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 28/7/2017

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Let me start by acknowledging that democracy is in short supply in the Middle East. However, only one state claims to be a democratic state. In fact, Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world”.

Increasingly, extremist Israeli governments with no respect for international law, international humanitarian law or international norms have been using the pretence of democracy to entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and to place the state’s Jewish identity above democracy. The Nation State Bill, making its way through the Knesset, seeks to do just that, despite claims a future draft would tone this down.

All is not well with democracy in Israel. Every so often former, senior Israeli politicians or retired security personnel warn that Israel is edging towards apartheid and even more recently towards tyranny.

Former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned that Israel’s policies are leading towards naked apartheid; Barak said as recently as last month that Israel was on a “slippery slope towards apartheid”.

Former Israeli officials were blind to the impact of their policies while in office. After all, the settlement project saw a major expansion during Barak’s reign. How is it that he could not see the devastating effect of this on the prospects for peace? It is also true that when it comes to settlements, current Prime Minister Netanyahu needs no excuse to expand the enterprise but still uses this as punishment for perceived Palestinian indiscretions such as joining world bodies or conventions.

To many observers the label of apartheid is already justified. Anyone who has visited the occupied Palestinian town of Hebron can testify that they saw apartheid, felt it and smelt it.

In April former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon warned that the country’s political system had sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”. They were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery that was threatened with closure after hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ayalon explained that “incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy anymore,” adding that “this is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late”.

Attacks on human rights organisations within Israel are nothing new. Breaking the Silence,B’TselemAl-Haq, Peace Now and Yesh Din have all been demonised and individuals issued with death threats. MK David Bitan called for the citizenship of B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad to be revoked simply because he criticised Israel’s occupation to the United Nations Security Council.

In 2017 Israel passed a law compelling NGOs to reveal their foreign funding which would allow the government to lobby those states that fund these critical NGOs. This scrutiny does not to extend to those that support and fund illegal settlements.

Israel’s targeting of the media is constant and is hardly a sign of democracy. It regularly raids offices of Palestinian radio and TV stations and confiscates equipment. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed Israel 91st out of 180 countries, way behind many Western-style democracies that it claims to emulate including Germany (16), France (39), UK (40) and the US (43). Palestine was ranked 135th.

During assaults on Gaza, Israel deliberately attacked buildings housing media channels, which caused damage and casualties. Israel’s most recent attack on the media came during the recent coverage of protests and Israeli army violence at Al-Aqsa. The Israeli Prime Minister threatened to close Al Jazeera’s offices accusing its journalists of “inciting violence,” a claim the Qatari owned network strongly rejects.

In recent months Israel has escalated its war on freedom of speech both at home and abroad, particularly in relation to proponents of the BDS movement. While it generally claims the movement is ineffective, it has appointed Gilad Erdan as minister for strategic affairs to combat individuals and organisations that pursue this tactic for pressuring Israel.

At the 2016 Yediot Achronot conference which attacked BDS, Israel’s transport minister Yisrael Katz called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Thankfully, Barghouti is still alive but he was banned from travelling abroad for a period of time and was recently arrested on allegations of tax evasion, which he denied.

Israel has also turned its attention to critics abroad. In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law that would empower the immigration authorities to deny proponents of the BDS movement abroad entry to Israel. Commenting on the new law Erdan said “the rules of the game have changed,” and that organisations seeking to harm Israel’s “national security” through boycotts would be denied entry to the country.

A few days after the law was passed Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Hugh Lanning, was denied entry to Israel. A few days later I was travelling with my wife and son to visit family in East Jerusalem when I was also denied entry. This was particularly ironic given it is the year Britain plans to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The first question I was asked during my interrogation was whether I had heard of the new BDS law. I believed that I was denied entry because of my role in PSC where I am a member of the executive committee, and our promotion of BDS. I did wonder at the time whether the law would be applied equally to Jews holding foreign passports and residing abroad who supported BDS or a more limited boycott of the illegal settlements.

When campaign director for Code Pink, Ariel Gold, made it into Israel recently I noted that a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and of BDS had been allowed in. However, she was ‘outed’ in the press and accused of “tricking” her way into the country, which she denied. She is now worried about being denied entry in the future.

At least Gold made it to Tel Aviv. On the 23 July Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise and two other faith leaders were not allowed to board a flight to Tel Aviv by Lufthansa on the orders of Israel. Wise is from Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s important to remember that Israel has a Law of Return for Jews but denies the right of return to Palestinians.

Israel’s borders extend as far as it wants them to and in Alissa’s case they extended all the way to Washington and will be coming to an airport near you if critics of Israel decide to visit. Israel has developed criterion for entry denial and will demand that airlines deny boarding to individuals in their country of departure.

The implications for critics of Israel and organisations that promote BDS are clearly significant in term of accessing the country to show solidarity with Palestinians. However, they are unlikely to be perturbed about campaigning for the rights of Palestinians and promoting BDS, unless Israel’s lobby in key countries succeeds in wrongly criminalising BDS as the US is currently attempting to do.

In reaction to recent events around Al-Aqsa, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi – a key Netanyahu ally – threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba”. The reference here is to the Arabic term for catastrophe or the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 and then 1967. How democratic is that?

It seems to me that Israel has found it difficult to reconcile its role of delivering the Zionist project and acting as a democracy. It has to deal with non-Jews that it wishes had all been ethnically cleansed in 1948. Their sheer existence is a demographic threat and as we saw recently in Jerusalem, if they had all gone the ‘third Temple’ would have been built by now in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a state only for Jews.

Israel claims to be Jewish and democratic but the reality is that it is a settler, colonialist and apartheid state with a stockpile of nuclear weapons to boot.  It seems that if democracy does not deliver its colonialist aims then – as some of its own senior citizens fear – it will head towards tyranny. I acknowledge that Israel is not there yet but the direction of travel worries me as a Palestinian and should worry Israelis who want to make peace with their neighbours.

Those that support Israel in the West should also worry. Will they heed the fears of former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon, or will they only know it when it is too late.

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