مشاركتي في برنامج أحداث وأصداء على قناة المغاربية بتاريخ 14 مارس 2018
First published by the Middle East Eye on 19/1/2018
The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve
During the last Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas made reference to football when describing some of the Palestinian achievements in recent years.
He reminded the audience that in 1934 Egypt denied the Palestinian team a place in the football World Cup after beating them by one goal to nil. He further proudly reminded them that in 2009 Palestine was ranked 179th in FIFA’s world ranking.
It, however, jumped to 80th place in the recently released ranking while Israel was in 98th”despite all the efforts they have made”, he said.
While Abbas attributed this achievement to the great efforts of the Palestinian Football Association he, nonetheless, added that it was because sport is not politicised and that anyone who wants to participate can do so regardless of which political faction – if any – he/she belonged to. He quipped that “one day we might even rank higher than America”.
His reference to football was interesting but in a different sense.
Could the Palestinian leadership learn any lessons from the beautiful game? If Palestine was a team in one of the English leagues, how would its leadership win regularly, move up each league, be promoted and then win the ultimate prize of the championship or, to complete the analogy, its freedom and independence?
In football, as in politics, one needs to create winning teams, both on and off the pitch. Football clubs are in the market for talent, buying the best players around but also growing their own. The pressures of the modern game are such that they cannot afford to stand still, particularly as they see teams around them strengthen their positions.
If we take the 23-year period since the Oslo Accords, we find the Palestinians moving further and further away from their goal, but unlike an English football team which would be constantly strategising, buying and selling players and changing their coaching team, the Palestinian team has been a permanent fixture.
It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem
Abbas, and his most senior colleagues, are in their late seventies or eighties – just look at the images from the PCC conference and you will struggle to see a young person either at the top table or in the front row.
Within a match, a football coach will start with a formation – and what may be his best team – but will change it if things are not going according to plan. He will sometimes play a defensive formation and at other times an attacking formation.
He will rest players and bring young players on to “blood” them, thus helping to ensure freshness and continuity. The Palestinian team has stagnated for decades.
Alex Ferguson had 27 highly successful years at Manchester United. He built a base – initially then a winning team – but his 13 English Premier League trophies were not won with the same team but three or four teams.
Many of the key players in the Palestinian team are still there 24 years after Oslo.
A leadership in waiting
If the argument for keeping the Palestinian “old guard” is because of their knowledge and experience then a close look at the opposite side, Israel, destroys that argument. The “old guard” in Israel have largely gone, making way for “fresh talents” such as Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely and Danon.
They happen to be extremists and it may be that in the long run their leadership leads Israel to isolation and disaster but that is a different story. They have been given a chance to develop their political skills at the highest level.
Where is the next crop of Palestinian leaders going to come from? Can anyone name five that are gaining in prominence? Surely a people that number nearly 14 million in historic Palestine, the refugee camps and the diaspora, a highly educated people, have produced a leadership in waiting.
At 62, Saeb Erekat is one of the younger members of the Palestinian “old guard”. He has been involved in negotiations since the Madrid conference and has been the Palestinian chief negotiator since 1995. He has repeatedly resigned but his resignation has never been accepted by President Abbas.
The Palestinian leadership needs drastic changes to meet the challenges ahead. The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve.
While it is part of Middle Eastern culture to respect elders and to hold those who made huge sacrifices in the past for the cause in high regard, the time comes when they either retire gracefully or are removed by the Palestinian people.
It is true to say that the task facing any Palestinian leadership, young or old, experienced or not, is massive. They face a highly organised, strategising foe that has been working for over a century to take their homeland, to keep it and over time to eject them all from it. Make no mistake about Israel’s ultimate aim.
It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem. They largely act as if Palestine has been liberated, a state with ministers, ministries and the trappings of power when in fact even Abbas needs permits from Israel to move from one city to another and when the Palestinian prime minister can be stopped for speeding by the Israeli army in the West Bank.
A game of two halves
But the Palestinian leadership made its greatest misjudgments during the negotiations with Israel, led by Erekat, whose overly generous concessions were exposed by Al Jazeera in Palestine papers, which included offering Israel the “biggest Yerushalayim in history”.
Abbas chose only negotiations with Israel as the way to achieve peace and somehow misunderstood America’s bias towards Israel under successive administrations. Did it really require that Trump blow the cover of the pretence of even-handedness for Abbas to see the bias?
Even when he had opportunities to really pressure Israel, such as the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall and the Goldstone Report, Abbas, and his team, let them go to waste. Neither were used to good effect.
It was the leadership’s decision not to make the best use of both the report and the ruling thinking that this would somehow force Israel to make concessions. That was poor judgment in abundance.
The famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
For the Palestinian people, Palestine is much more than life and death and they want to see a leadership that aims high. They can take a leaf from another famous English football manager. Bill Nicholson, a former manager of Tottenham, said: “It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.”
The Palestinian struggle with Zionism is a long one. A much-used phrase in football is that it is a “game of two halves”.
If the Palestinians take the last 70 years as the first half then they are many goals down to Israel and if they are to turn the match over in the next 70 years and score a late winner then they need a new team, a “dream team” that is dynamic, quick on its feet, equipped with fresh ideas and working to develop a new strategy for liberation that the current leadership has failed to deliver.
You sometimes have to be cruel to be kind. Time to blow the half-time whistle and prepare for a famous fightback that will lead to liberation.
– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @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: President Abbas heads a PLO Executive Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, September 2017 (AFP)
I was interviewed by Press TV on 12/10/2017
I was interviewed by Press TV on 8/10/2017
مشاركتي يوم ٢١/٧/٢٠١٧ ببرنامج وراء الحدث على قناة الغد
First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/5/2017
Mahmoud Abbas holds all four of the top political positions in the Palestinian leadership. He is the president of the state of Palestine, president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), head of the Fatah movement and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee.
Once he is unable to discharge these duties either through death or illness, the Palestinian people have been wondering who would take any of or all four roles. After all, Abbas is 82 years old.
The starting position, since they were all held by Yasser Arafat, is that they would be taken by one person and it is reasonable to assume it would be a man. Until the seventh Fatah congress at the end of 2016, Abbas had refused to name a deputy, choosing to rely on the Palestinian Constitution in the event of a successor needing to be found.
Article 37 of the 2003 amended Basic Law states that the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) would take over and elections would be called within 60 days.
There was much speculation about whether Abbas would appoint a deputy and if the position would go to Marwan Barghouti, a long-term political prisoner in Israeli jails who some see as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.
Abbas chose a deputy but it was not Barghouti. Instead, he picked Mahmoud al-Aloul, former Nablus governor and labour minister in the PNA. While this is a strong indication Abbas would see Aloul as his successor as leader of Fatah, he did not appoint him to be deputy president of the PNA. This, intentionally or otherwise, leaves the door open to other hopefuls who aspire to fill one, if not all, other three key positions in the Palestinian leadership.
The popular Barghouti has been leading a hunger strike, now in its second month, by more than 1,000 political prisoners trying to secure basic rights in Israeli prisons. Israel accused him of instigating the hunger strike to position himself as the strongest candidate to replace Abbas.
The same accusation of leadership aspirations through confronting Israel has been levelled at another senior Fatah figure. Israel has accused Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association, of repeatedly pursuing the sanctioning or expulsion of Israel from FIFA, both for its alleged mistreatment of Palestinian football players and for allowing teams in settlements to play in its leagues, against FIFA regulations. Rajoub is a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, president of the Palestinian Olympics Committee and former head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank.
Abbas made sure that another political rival and critic was excluded from Fatah’s seventh congress — Mohammed Dahlan, former head of the Preventive Security Force who was ousted when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. He now lives in the United Arab Emirates.
Just prior to the congress, the Palestinian Constitutional Court gave Abbas “full authority to cancel the immunity of any parliament member, when the legislative council is not convened,” a statement published by official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said. That would have applied to Dahlan had he decided to enter the West Bank to attend the Congress.
Other possible candidates to succeed Abbas include Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of the revered Arafat and a former foreign minister and Palestinian representative to the United Nations; Majid Faraj, the current intelligence chief; and Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister and finance minister.
With Israel’s emphasis on the security role of the PNA going forward, it is perhaps safe to assume that it would want to see a security-minded candidate emerge as a potential leader to succeed Abbas rather than necessarily the one who is most qualified politically or has the widest possible appeal to Palestinians.
It is also unlikely that anyone from the new generation of possible leaders will break through this time. Expect someone from the old guard to win when Abbas is no longer president.
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/12/2016
From the Middle East Monitor
2016 will be remembered for a new phrase that came to characterise popular uprisings against “the establishment” in the West. From the UK to the USA, “taking back control” struck a chord with the voters when it was adopted by Donald Trump in America and the leaders of BREXIT in the UK. The now infamous image in the golden lift at Trump Tower of President-elect Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage was made possible because voters wanted to take back control and thought they would secure it.
The Palestinians too want to take back control of their destiny but how can they achieve this?
In a year which saw their dreams of liberation, freedom and independence dashed once again, they feel their reliance on others to deliver these aims has simply failed. In reality though, it is their leadership which has failed because it has chosen to rely on others to deliver Palestinian rights, but also because it relies on others to ensure its very existence through funding. The Palestinian Authority has also suffocated attempts by the people to rise up against the occupation either collectively or through individual endeavours. As President Abbas has declared repeatedly, the “security cooperation” with Israel is “sacred”, though he does not admit that it only works one way, protecting Israel and never the Palestinians.
Fatah’s seventh congress
Fatah, the ruling party recently held its congress in Ramallah, the seventh since its establishment in 1959. It included a marathon three-hour speech by its past, present and future (elected by acclimation) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in which he reiterated his strategy for delivering Palestinian rights. In summary its internal strategy included reconciliation with Hamas, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, holding the Palestinian National Council. Its external strategy included continued negotiations with Israel, a “smart intifada”, pursuit of Israel through the ICC and continued “internationalisation” of the conflict through membership of organisations.
The reconciliation with Hamas is essential as a united Palestinian people and leadership can put to bed Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with or that the “moderate” Abbas cannot deliver on any agreements because Hamas runs Gaza. Reconciliation would also allow the Palestinian elections, long overdue, to finally take place. Abbas was firm in his insistence that “there can be no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.”
Abbas was not very forthcoming on what he meant by the “smart intifada” or “intifada of brains” though he did ask “the leadership” to be out there resisting peacefully with the people.
Peace talks have been dormant even since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative failed back in 2014 and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. Attempts at bringing the two sides together have failed to this day and despite Abbas’ brief meeting with Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral, the two men have not met. It has not been for lack of trying. Abbas confirmed that although he had accepted an invitation from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the latter declined the same invitation.
Attempts by France to bring the two men together and to hold a peace conference have also met with Palestinian acceptance and Israeli rejection. Israel’s spin on the reason for the rejection is that the meeting would follow a French-led peace conference, which it considers an effort to impose a settlement on it. Netanyahu spoke to Hollande and said that “if there is no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will come to meet Abu Mazen [Abbas] for direct talks without preconditions.” Israel further claimed that it will “not take part in an international conference that will not contribute to achieving peace”.
In reality, Israel is watching with satisfaction the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration in the US and expecting to be shielded further from any attempts to make a Palestinian state a reality. Why then should it engage wit Putin, Hollande or any other “broker” when Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his team do not see the two-state solution as explicitly part of his administration’s strategy?
Options for the Palestinians
The Palestinian leadership has largely relied on unwavering support for the Palestinian cause from the Arab and Muslim world. It regularly consults both about steps it plans to take to ensure they are on board. They in turn have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, particularly in international bodies. The Arab League also adopted the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, offering Israel normalisation of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the Arab states further to including “land swaps” in the initiative back in 2013. Israel has still not accepted the initiative to this day.
Arab states have also worked closely with the Palestinians in the United Nations, putting down resolutions both to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Their efforts in the Security Council have been scuppered by the US veto or US pressure on members that haVE led to potential resolutions falling by default. This included a resolution for the admission of Palestine as a full member. This pushed the Palestinians to the General Assembly to secure an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “Non-Member Observer state” in 2012, perhaps their most notable success in recent years. This was not only because it again demonstrated the overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, but because it allowed Palestine to join a multitude of international organisations and accords. This included the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UNESCO.
The ICC is still considering whether it can bring cases against Israelis involved in the 2014 war on Gaza and illegal settlements. The wheels of justice move slowly and to date the ICC has not declared whether and when it will bring cases against suspected Israeli war criminals. However, in a recent report, the court significantly confirmed that Israel was still in occupation of Gaza and that Jerusalem was illegally annexed. Israel suspects this indicates a leaning by the ICC towards the Palestinian view.
The ICC is one plank of the Palestinian “internationalisation of the conflict” strategy. Another important body is the UN Human Rights Council, which – due to a lack of US veto – often calls out Israeli actions in contravention of international law. The UNHRC produced an important report on the 2014 Gaza war which accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes.
A further significant plank of internationalisation is seeking protection for Palestinian cultural and religious sites through UNESCO’s membership. This again showed some success when UNESCO adopted a motion condemning Israel’s activities around Muslim sits in Jerusalem and while this eventually watered down under pressure from Israel’s supporting states; it still showed what the Palestinians can achieve through careful diplomacy and through their own efforts.
On the ground a recent refusal by PA security forces to allow Israeli army vehicles to enter Jenin is very much in line with the Oslo accords which included Jenin in “Area A” which handed security in the city to the PA. Again, an example of how Palestinians can take matters into their own hands using existing accords and international law.
As President Trump moves closer to the White House and having declared his support for Israel including a commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the PA is still banking on a last minute move by the Obama administration. It is sending a delegation to Washington to seek support for or at least an abstention, for a possible UNSC resolution condemning settlements. Despite suspicions that in its last few days the Obama administration may support such a move, I am not hopeful.
This should signal to the Palestinian leadership that relying on the US or other countries that support Israel when it really matters is unlikely to yield results. They must continue to explore and pursue avenues over which they can exercise some control. It seems that pursuing Israeli violations through international bodies is a sound strategy and the more avenues it can pursue for this the better. Internationalising the conflict is part of the Palestinians “taking back control” of their destiny.