How long before the Israeli flag flies over Riyadh?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/11/2017

A general view from the Arabic Islamic American Summit at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 May, 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]

A general view from the Arabic Islamic American Summit at King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 May, 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency]
At a recent MEMO conference entitled “Crisis in Saudi Arabia: War Succession and Future”, I asked Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed of the London School of Economics if she thought that the Israeli flag would be flying over Riyadh within the next two years.

“In terms of an Israeli flag in Makkah or in Riyadh,” she replied, “well, you don’t need to raise the flag to have contacts.” She distinguished between the rush to normalisation with Israel by Gulf leaders, and their citizens, referring to a recent anti-normalisation conference in Kuwait, which she hoped would contribute to the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “At least it means that those rulers who are doing that [normalising relations with Israel] do not represent everybody in the Gulf. There are people who are worried and still care about Palestinian rights.”

My question was of course about the symbolism of the Israeli flag flying in Riyadh. Would the young pretender to the Saudi throne, Mohammed Bin Salman, actually establish formal, above the table relations with the Zionist state? For a man who has just carried out a purge, during which he held some of his key rivals and the wealthiest and best-known Saudis under house arrest, raising the Israeli flag would not be such a big deal in the absence of any tangible opposition.

There have, of course, been robust reports of growing normalisation between Israel and Gulf States, essentially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They have included an “unofficial” visit to Israel by retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki in 2016; he met the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Director General and a group of Knesset members to “encourage dialogue in Israel on the Arab Peace Initiative.” The initiative offers Israel normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world in exchange for an end to the occupation of Arab land; it was launched in Beirut in 2002 by the then Saudi Crown Prince (and now late King) Abdullah.

Israel has not agreed to the proposal, while the international community failed to exert sufficient pressure on it to accept what it has craved since its establishment on Palestinian land in 1948. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted as much in response to my question at the aforementioned conference. Had he done enough while in office to put pressure on the Israelis to accept the Arab Initiative? No, he replied, we should have exerted more pressure.

Another prominent Saudi keen on normalisation with Israel is Prince Turki Bin Faisal Al-Saud. The former chief of Saudi intelligence and Ambassador to the US and Britain now has a history of engaging with Israeli officials and former officials. It started with a handshake with the then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in Munich in 2010. His most recent encounter was as a member of a panel organised by the Israel Policy Forum along with Efraim Halevy, the former director of the Mossad spy agency; the event was held in a New York synagogue. The conversation was not about the Arab Peace Initiative or how peace might be brought to the holy land, but about US President Donald Trump’s approach towards Iran. While Al-Faisal has shared platforms with Israeli officials before, this was his first panel in a synagogue; he hoped “it would not be the last.”

It seems that meetings between Israelis and Saudis are taking place at the very highest level. Israeli media reported that Mohammad Bin Salman himself made a visit to Israel in September, which included a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This was denied by non-other than General Eshki, who claimed: “The Crown Prince did not visit Israel, and I did not visit Israel. Everyone should know that according to Saudi law, no Saudi official is officially allowed to shake hands with an Israeli.” In fact, he certainly has visited Israel. According to Haaretz, “While this wasn’t an official visit, it was a highly unusual one, as Eshki couldn’t have travelled to Israel without approval from the Saudi government.”

While Saudi Arabia continues to deny any contact with Israel, evidence is mounting to the contrary. In an interview on Army Radio, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, confirmed but did not characterise the contacts or give details when asked why Israel was “hiding its ties” with Saudi Arabia. “We have ties that are indeed partly covert with many Muslim and Arab countries,” he explained, “and usually (we are) the party that is not ashamed. It’s the other side that is interested in keeping the ties quiet. With us, usually, there is no problem, but we respect the other side’s wish, when ties are developing, whether it’s with Saudi Arabia or with other Arab countries or other Muslim countries, and there is much more … (but) we keep it secret.”

In exchange for cooperation with the Trump Administration and Israel to combat the perceived threat from Iran, Saudi Arabia seems to be willing to sacrifice Palestinian rights. In fact, it is ready to throw Palestinians to the dogs. It is reported that when Bin Salman recently “summoned” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Riyadh it was to tell him either to accept the “ultimate peace deal” —which will be made in Israel and marketed by Trump — or resign.

Saudi attracts US attention by singing Israel's tunes - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

What the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and all other normalisers appear to ignore is that Israel takes and never gives. It will take normalisation but give nothing in exchange. If they think that Israeli jets will ever fly over Riyadh or Abu Dhabi to protect its newly found allies from a fictitious Iranian air strike, then they are deluded. They only need to look at Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab states which have long normalised relations with Israel, to see which party has benefited from their peace deals.

Mohammad Bin Salman would do better to support the BDS movement against Israel rather than normalise Saudi Arabia’s relations with the Zionist state; that is, if he is serious about supporting the Palestinians to attain their rights. Moreover, if Mahmoud Abbas has to choose between accepting an unacceptable deal or resign, then I say to him resign now with honour, before the Israeli flag is indeed flying proudly on the Riyadh skyline.

Palestinians should put more focus on their case internationally

First published by the Arab Weekly in 12/11/2017

The PLO should join more international bodies and conventions and use these to pressure Israel back to the negotiating table.

If it is to make progress to­wards realising its people’s legitimate right to self-deter­mination in their homeland, the Palestinian leadership needs to take stock and weigh its options.

The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the so-called deal of the century US President Donald Trump’s advisers are work­ing on will be made in Tel Aviv, not Washington or Ramallah. It will be a deal of the century designed to strengthen Israel’s hold on the land from the river to the sea. It will not be based on respect or adherence to international law and will not deliver an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, the minimum the Palestin­ians would accept as a resolution to the conflict.

It will certainly not include a return of Palestinian refugees to their homes. This will make a deal impossible to accept. The reper­cussions would be disastrous for the Palestinians as they will once again be blamed for the failure.

It would be disastrous for the Palestinian leadership to wait for the above scenario to materialise. It must set its own agenda and make rapid progress on it.

The Palestinians have no option but to escalate their efforts to inter­nationalise their case and to pursue measures that would bring some form of accountability on Israel through peaceful means. This they can do with a more united leader­ship as the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas evolves. Yes, the road ahead is rocky but promising.

The United States has effectively closed the door on accountability through the UN Security Council, where, if needed, it will always wield the veto. In the UN General Assembly, where the United States does not enjoy the right to veto resolutions, the Palestinians can initiate them and win but they will remain unenforceable. The Palestinians are enjoying greater success in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where the United States does not hold a veto. Significantly, the council is about to publish a database containing the names of companies complicit in Israel’s occupation. This has raised strong condemnation from both Israel and the United States.

The United States may decide to leave the UNHRC as an expression of anger at what it sees as obses­sive criticism of Israel as it has done with UNESCO. This may dis­suade other international bodies and conventions from accepting the state of Palestine as a mem­ber, knowing that it will use this primarily to bring accountability on Israel for violations that come under the scope of the organisa­tion in question. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s response should be to join more internation­al bodies and conventions and use these to pressure Israel back to the negotiating table or face greater accountability.

For example, it should work for Israel’s suspension from football’s world governing body, FIFA, for operating football teams in the illegal settlements.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation should vigorously pursue Israel through the Interna­tional Criminal Court (ICC), which it joined in 2014. A focus on the illegal settlements is the clear­est case to bring. Other countries regard the settlements as illegal as does international law. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Net­anyahu recently promised never to dismantle a settlement and to expand the illegal enterprise.

While the Palestinians and the ICC would come under enormous pressure not to act, surely it is an action the Palestinians must pur­sue with vigour.

The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the conse­quences of escalating this battle would be costly for them. They will need strong support from Arab allies who should insist on Israel agreeing fully to the 2002 Arab peace initiative as a start. The ini­tiative spells out clearly what Israel needs to do for it to reap the huge benefits normalisation of relations with the Arab and Muslim world would bring.

The Palestinians should insist that a return to talks should be based on international law and well-known UN resolutions on the conflict. The Palestinians have op­tions. More of the same is not one of them.

The US kicks the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal into the long grass

First published by the Middle East Eye on 30/8/2017

Just days after a US delegation visit to Israel and Palestine, Netanyahu declares that Israel will no longer uproot settlements. Any dreams of peace anytime soon are a long way off

 

Say what you want about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he doesn’t mince his words.

“We are here to stay, forever,” he said earlier this week during an event in the settlement of Barkan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace. We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen anymore.”

Coming just days after the visit of US President Donald Trump’s “peace team” to the region, led by his senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the timing of Netanyahu’s comments are highly significant.

The readout from the US team’s meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu was largely devoid of content. However, as brief as it was, it confirmed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ warnings that Trump’s peace process plans – and perhaps his White House overall – are in turmoil.

“I have met with Trump envoys about 20 times since the beginning of his term as president of the United States,” Abbas reportedly told delegates from the Israeli political party Meretz during a recent visit.

“Every time they repeatedly stressed to me how much they believe and are committed to a two-state solution and a halt to construction in the settlements. I have pleaded with them to say the same thing to Netanyahu, but they refrained. They said they would consider it but then they didn’t get back to me,” Abbas said, according to the delegates’ notes.

“I can’t understand how they are conducting themselves with us … Inside [Trump’s] country, there is chaos in the administration.”

The administration may indeed be in chaos, but whether intentionally or out of incompetence, it has kicked the peace process into the long grass and emboldened the Israelis in the process.

A peace plan mystery

Kushner and the rest of the Trump team’s recent visit to the Holy Land was preceded by a whistlestop tour of key Arab countries. It is important to note that no substantive messages emerged about Trump’s proposed peace plan.

The US embassy rstatement from the 23 August meeting between the Americans and Jordan’s King Abdullah II omitted any reference to discussions about the much vaunted two-state solution.

However, quoting a statement from the Royal Court, Jordanian media reported that “talks focused on efforts to push forward the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and relaunch serious and effective negotiations between the two sides based on the two-state solution, which is the only way to end the conflict”.

A subsequent report in Al-Hayat newspaper, attributed to a PA source, said that Trump’s team had indicated that a settlement freeze could not be a precondition for resumed peace talks and that building would continue.

However, a senior White House official told the Times of Israel that Al-Hayat’s report was “nonsense” and said that the comments were never made.

In their meeting with the Palestinians, the visiting delegation reportedly asked for a three to four month grace period to present their ideas. A former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath also said that the Palestinians told the Americans that its demands are “the end of the occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the resolution of all permanent status issues, including the right of return for [Palestinian] refugees.”

These demands are the longstanding position of the Palestinians and have not shifted at all.

No room in ‘Netanyahu land’

While the Palestinian position remains consistent, Netanyahu, perhaps feeling emboldened more than ever, continues to harden Israel’s position.

When he promised during the 2015 elections that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch, those seeking to shield Israel from criticism claimed it was just electioneering.

However, this week, Netanyahu went further when he said there would be “no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel”. Netanyahu is not talking about two states with land swaps. He is not talking about “keeping the settlement blocks” along the Green Line. He is talking about all settlements. This has nothing to do with electioneering but rather his long-held beliefs.

There is no room in Netanyahu land for a Palestinian state.

In fact, in June, Israel recently laid the foundations for a new settlement. “After decades, I have the honour to be the first prime minister to build a settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said at the time, referring to the occupied West Bank with its biblical name.

Netanyahu sees the land of historic Palestine from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea as Israel. There is no room in “Netanyahu land” for a Palestinian state.

Increasingly emboldened by the lack of pressure from the international community to move seriously towards peace or face sanctions, Netanyahu is moving the debate from the real issue – how to end a 50-year long occupation – to Israel’s security needs.

He told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on his first visit to the Holy Land this week that Israel’s “most pressing problem” is Hezbollah and Syria, claiming that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had smuggled weapons into Lebanon for Hezbollah.

“I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate,” Guterres responded, adding that the “idea, intention or will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective.”

Netanyahu also called upon Gutteres to “end the discrimination against Israel in some branches of your organisation”, an accusation shared by the US administration and frequently raised by US Ambassador to the UN Nicky Hayley who has promised to end it several times.

On Wednesday, two days after his meeting with Netanyahu, Gutteres called for Israel’s blockade against Gaza to end. It seems their meeting may not have gone as well as the Israeli president thought.

Sign of things to come

While it is dangerous to predict the future, I will take this risk today. As Netanyahu and Abbas prepare to address the UN General Assembly in September, we can read the signs from this week to guess what they will say.

Abbas will plead with the UN to bring decades of Palestinian of suffering to an end, halt illegal settlements and help protect the (non-existent) two-state solution. He is likely to be armed with a recent petition signed by thousands of Palestinian pupils calling on Gutteres and all defenders of human rights to intervene to protect them from Israel’s daily violations which Palestinians have endured for 50 years.

Abbas may ask for the UN to recognise the state of Palestine and may also indicate that if the peace process fails, he will be left with no options but to head to the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, may focus on the unfair criticism of Israel, on the real issues as he sees them – which amount to Israel’s self-defined and elastic-security needs. He will talk about the threats from Iran in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the failure of the UNIFIL to do its job and the need to rearticulate its mandate.

On peace with the Palestinians, he will say that settlements are not an obstacle to peace and argue that neither the unilateral actions by Palestinians, nor the imposition of a solution will bring peace. The real obstacle to peace, he will claim, is the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

He will laud the growing “under the table” relations with key Arab countries which share his concerns about Iran, but he will still portray Israel as the victim, not the Palestinians.

It seems that the ultimate deal President Trump seeks is a long way off and, any peace initiative, when it comes, will be biased in Israel’s favour.

Israel will continue to colonise and the Palestinians will continue to suffer a lack of peace or hope for the current and the next generation, neither of which will bring Israel any security.

– 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 commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe 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: US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Richard Falk: People must shame UN for quashing ‘apartheid Israel’ report

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2017

Professor Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur for Palestine, was hosted in London by the Middle East Monitor yesterday as part of his book launch tour. He introduced his book “Palestine’s Horizon Toward a Just Peace” eloquently to a packed hall. He had earlier been met with a barrage of hate by a Zionist mob at the London School of Economics. Thankfully, this particular session was not interrupted by the yobs.

However, the real interest of the audience seemed to be in a more recent publication which he co-authored with Virginia Tilley for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was launched on 15 March concluded that

“Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”

Rather than prompting a debate in the UN and the Security Council, its publication and conclusion was met with outrage by Israel and its ally the United States. Pressure was exerted on the recently appointed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to quash the report. This he did by directing ESCWA to withdraw the report because it did not have his approval. The demand was rejected. ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Dr Rima Khalaf, eventually resigned from her role and the report was taken down form ESCWA’s website. A spokesman for the UN Chief confirmed “that Guterres had ordered that the report to be taken down but sought to make clear that the request was ‘not about content’ but about ‘process’.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report to Der Sturmer – a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic. Both US and Israel envoys to the UN welcomed the secretary-general’s action with Danny Dannon claiming “anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to the practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”

Palestinians who had initially welcomed the report condemned Guterres’ actions. Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement:

“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible.”

She explained, according to WAFA, that the report constitutes

“a step in the right direction and highlights the true reality on the ground, which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and military occupation.”

She called on Guterres to do what is right, reinstate the ESCWA report and “undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would be bestowing Palestine’s Medal of the Highest Honour in recognition of Khalaf’s “courage and support” for Palestinians.

The rigorous report, authored by two highly respected academic experts said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.” But also stated that “only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative.”

Speaking in London, Falk suggested the key addition the report makes to the discussion about the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians is that it looks at the impact on a people as a whole. The report said the “strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people” was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through “distinct laws, policies and practices”. It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.

This somewhat contradicts Guterres’ claim that due process was not followed. In reality though, the secretary-general must have been expecting the knocks on the door and the endless phone calls from US and Israeli representatives and decided he had ultimate say about what report is produced in the UN’s name regardless of its rigour and scholarly review. It is no secret to say that the new Trump Administration signalled – even before taking office – that what it judged to be unfair treatment of Israel by UN bodies would end, regardless of Israel’s flagrant breaches of countless UN Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law.

When asked how to make the report more effective within the UN system following its removal, Falk said the best strategy would be “to raise the visibility of this issue at this time and shame the UN into taking seriously its own study”.

“I am confident enough that if the study is examined by intellectual sources around the world, they will, even if they don’t agree with its conclusions they will regard it as a serious objective undertaking.”

Falk went on to reveal that after submitting the report, ESCWA anonymously sent it for evaluation to three of the most distinguished international jurists around the world and that “each of them acting separately submitted very positive reports”. Only one submitted suggested changes which the authors duly made.

Reflecting on the way the UN had dealt with the ESCWA report, Falk likened its treatment to what happened to the Goldstone report on Israel’s 2008/9 war on Gaza which Goldstone later regretted. Falk assured his audience “I am not Goldstone fortunately” referring to the request that he and Tilley repudiate their own report, which he confirmed “was of course a little bit unrealistic”.

When asked what advice he has for the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, Falk recognised the difficult position the Palestinian leadership is in admitting they are “between a rock and a hard place”. He acknowledged that “it is easy to criticise them but hard to be them”. However, he suggested the Palestinian leadership has an opportunity here “to take this path of emphasising the moral and legal high ground, which they have started to do.” He suggested this would be building on the 2012 upgrade in Palestine’s UN status to a non- member observer state which he described as a “ghost state”, and initiating proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to the 2014 attack on Gaza and the illegal settlements. He acknowledged that the ICC itself is under tremendous political pressure and it is not clear “whether anything tangible would emerge out of this”.

Falk suggested that “[for the Palestinians] taking this report seriously would be another way of advancing their campaign to say international law is on our side. Israel’s administration of the Palestinian people is an international crime and generates the collective responsibility of international society.”

The challenge for them, he argued, would be “either you refute the finding of apartheid or you act upon it. If you act upon it you have a responsibility to do whatever is possible to end the commission of that crime or be complicit in its effects.”

It is now up to supporters of justice to shame the UN and for the Palestinian leadership to seize the opportunity the report presents to garner further support for their cause but more importantly action against Apartheid Israel.

Interview about Police attempt to question Israeli politician Tzipi Livni

I was interviewed by Russia Today about the British Police’s attempt to question Israeli politician Tzipi Livni about possible war crimes. 

Link here

Report on http://www.rt.com here

Palestinians don’t attack Israeli soldiers in pursuit of ‘economic peace’

The Middle East Eye published this on 2/3/2016

Palestinians don’t attack Israeli soldiers in pursuit of ‘economic peace’

Following France’s stuttering attempt to restart the peace process, US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman. This could lead to a meeting between Israel and the PA possibly in July, bringing together Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abbas is not against the idea.

However, Israel’s response was much more lukewarm. Deadly attacks by individual Palestinians, mostly on Israeli occupation forces, continue while the overall situation remains tense and could suddenly explode. Realising this, Israel decided to pacify Palestinians through the release of some tax revenues it has been withholding, some easing of travel restrictions, the reinstatement of a few VIP passes and by issuing some more work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel. This was communicated to the Palestinians at a meeting between the Israeli and PA finance ministers.

However, the real driving force behind these measures is an attempt to shore up the Palestinian Authority which a number of Israeli politicians fear is near collapse.

Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin spelt this out in a speech he recently gave at Bar-Ilan University: “The question is not if the PA collapses but when it is going to collapse,” Elkin said. “It can happen in a month or two or a year or two tops.” He was concerned about the Israeli government’s lack of concern about this, saying, “I’m not sure that the government has passed the diagnostic stage and realised the dramatic change we are facing.” He was further concerned that Abbas’ “control on the ground is diminishing”.

A major fear the Israelis have about the collapse of the PA is the end of the security cooperation Israel has enjoyed. This has reduced both its financial and physical (personnel) burden substantially. Abbas himself is committed to this cooperation calling it “sacred”. However, both the Israelis and the PA know full well that the current “rising” has been characterised by attacks that are not coordinated in any way and that are not linked to any particular faction. They are acts by individuals who for reasons only known to them decide to carry out these attacks.

The recent “sweeteners” offered by Israel are unlikely to bring an end to what Palestinians claim to be an intifada which has lasted five months and has seen over 180 mostly young people lose their lives to Israeli fire. Neither these nor any talk of “economic peace” come anywhere near convincing the Palestinians that attaining their legitimate rights is around the corner.

Israel again either fails to grasp the reasons behind this intifada or knows full well what they are but chooses to deal with it in an illogical and brutal way, thinking this will end it. Take Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s claim at a recent Israeli cabinet meeting that Palestinians are not preventing their children from committing stabbing attacks because “they know parents of slain assailants receive a grant and a stipend from the Palestinian Authority”.

This claim that Palestinian parents prefer their sons and daughters executed at checkpoints in order for them to receive a monthly salary is preposterous. However, this is a man who is fine with killing Palestinians. He recently called for the murder of “anti-occupation fighters” adding that “We have to bury Palestinian anti-occupation fighters in secret cemeteries and knock down all the homes in their native villages”.

Neither denial of Palestinian rights nor brutal violence has delivered security to Israelis but neither have economic sweeteners. If Israel does not understand the motives of attackers then it should carefully read Muhannad Halabi’s posts on his Facebook account before he attacked four Israelis on 3 October 2015 and was executed on the spot. He asked “How long will this humiliation and shame last, for how long? Do we stay silent? Do we stay humiliated? Is there room for peaceful methods? In law, yes there is room in the law. You have the full right to defend yourself by any means against someone wielding a weapon in your face. The resistance is within the limits of the law and is legitimate.”

As I see it he was saying “the third intifada has started. What is happening to Al Aqsa is what is happening to all our sacred places and what is happening to the women of Al Aqsa is what is happening to our mothers and sisters. I do not think that a people can accept humiliation. The people will rise and they are rising.”

It is that continuing, daily sense of humiliation by Israel, and its leaders’ lack of acceptance that the Palestinians have any rights that needs to be fundamentally addressed. It is the continuing occupation, imprisonment, home demolitions, land grab, refusal to allow the refugees to return, the expansion of settlements, and settler violence amongst other violations of their rights that drives some Palestinians to violence.

In addition, it is the lack of any real success that peaceful resistance initiatives have delivered. The weekly protests against the separation wall in Bil’in and other locations are met with brutal force and have not succeeded in reversing land confiscations for the wall or for expansion of the illegal settlements.

Even on the international stage moves such as those taken in the US, France and the UK to “criminalise” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are seen as proof that even this peaceful tactic is closed to them and their supporters.

The Palestinians are not rising for economic gain or, ultimately, for an economic peace but for freedom and independence. When Palestinians set out to attack Israeli soldiers, knowing it will almost certainly result in death and the demolition of their family’s home, they do not do this to help secure a few more work permits for Palestinians or a martyr’s stipend for their family. They do it out of desperation and a belief, rightly or wrongly, that their collective acts will hurt Israel sufficiently that it will finally address their grievances.

The fact that Israel refuses to understand this and to continue to deny Palestinians their rights is a characteristic of its colonialist endeavour. However, for the international community to also fail to grasp this makes any attempt at restarting talks for economic peace simply futile. Former Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair tried this for the whole of his tenure and failed.

– 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 Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

 

It’s time that the Palestinian Authority embraced the BDS call

This article was published by the Middle East Monitor on 19/2/2016

It’s time that the Palestinian Authority embraced the BDS call

 Image from the Middle East Monitor

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been in the news recently following the British government’s decision to “ban” local authorities from applying their ethical procurement policies if this will result in boycotts of Israeli goods or companies complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestine. Significantly, this was announced not in Britain’s House of Commons but in Israel during a visit by Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock. The government moved swiftly to implement the policy without any parliamentary debate or vote. It issued a so-called procurement policy note informing public authorities that they would face “severe penalties” if they continue procurement boycotts on ethical grounds. The instruction notice said that “public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government.”

This move and similar steps taken previously by France and now possibly Canada to make boycotts of Israel illegal are at best illogical but, most worryingly, send a message to Israel that only it can determine whether to end the occupation and when. The tools to put civil society pressure on it to do so without delay are being stripped away.

On 20 October last year, France’s highest court of criminal appeal upheld the convictions of 12 Palestine solidarity activists for calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, finding them guilty “of inciting hate or discrimination”. Canada’s Trudeau government intends to join the Conservatives in condemning any individual or organisation participating in any boycott of Israeli products or services, including the United Church of Canada and the Quakers. They seem to be doing this with somewhat of a heavy heart, though, since they acknowledge that “most of the organisations and individuals supporting the BDS movement are doing so in good faith, believing it will somehow force an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its control over Gaza, and maybe some sort of peace deal.”

The attacks on those responding to and promoting the BDS call are illogical. Since the occupation is not a static beast, the longer that it goes on, the less chance there is of realising a two-state solution, which is what each of these countries claims is its national policy. Their actions thus far to convince Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity and end the occupation have amounted to nothing. The number of illegal settlers has reached 650,000 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Will they only act when the number of illegal settlers reaches a million, or even more?

For its part, the Palestinian Authority has not fully embraced the BDS call, choosing instead to focus on boycotting settlement goods and, even then, doing so intermittently. This goes as far back as 2010 when the then PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was seen tossing settlement products onto bonfires. However, away from the cameras there has not been a sustained effort to enforce a boycott to the degree that it has hurt the settlements.

In fact, President Mahmoud Abbas has been explicit in refusing calls for expanding this modest action to a full boycott of Israel in line with the BDS call. In 2103, he famously chose a trip to South Africa, of all places, during which he rejected the BDS campaign in the country. “No, we do not support boycotts of Israel,” he said, “but we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.” This caused outrage among Palestinians and their supporters despite a clarification issued later by the Palestinian Embassy in South Africa.

Just over two years after Abbas’s statement, the Palestinians find themselves not only in a worse position on the ground but also almost abandoned by their Arab allies, and with Israel succeeding in convincing its allies to attack supporters of the BDS movement and refraining from any peace initiative not to its liking. The most recent example was Israel’s rejection of the French efforts to convene a peace conference to breathe life into the dormant peace process.

The Palestinians therefore need to take the initiative. The PA’s insistence on pursuing an end to the occupation through peaceful means is not utilising its most successful tool, which is BDS. This peaceful means of putting pressure on Israel is home-grown. The call came from Palestinian civil society in 2005. Its aims are explicit, moral and legitimate, calling for an end to the occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and respect and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Considering Israel’s intransigence, actions on the ground and the death of dozens of Palestinians, mostly youngsters in the current uprising, it is time that the BDS call became the call from both Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian Authority. This should happen alongside a sustained campaign to discourage Palestinians from working in the illegal settlements before moving on to a complete ban. This acknowledges the difficulty of immediate implementation but at least indicates the direction of travel.

It would also send a clear message to the international community that without a peace deal and with no protection for Palestinians from Israel’s murderous actions and continued land theft, the people of Palestine are united in calling for an escalation of BDS as a peaceful resistance tool alongside the internationalisation of the conflict and the pursuit of war crimes trials in the International Criminal Court. After nearly 50 years of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, and twenty-two years of futile talks, it is time that the Palestinians played their part in delivering on US Secretary Kerry’s warning to Israel in 2014 that should his peace initiative fail, Israel could face “boycotts on steroids”.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at http://www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.