Interview for Muslim Press

First published by Muslim Press on 7/3/2017

‘Moving US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be explosive’

In an interview with Muslim Press, British Palestinian academic and writer on Middle East Affairs Kamel Hawwash said, “Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be explosive as assessed by the Muslim world, the Palestinians and Jordan.”

Below, the full transcript of the interview has been presented.

Muslim Press: Recently, the White House said that further expansion of Israeli settlements “may not be helpful” to ending the conflict. How do you analyze such statement?

Kamel Hawwash: The Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem are illegal. The USA considers them to be ‘illegitimate’. They have been seen by the international community as an obstacle to peace. To simply refer to them as only unhelpful to ending the conflict, encourages Israel to continue to build hammering the final nail into the 2-state solution coffin. In his joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last month, President Trump asked Nentanyahu to hold back on settlement building when a clear statement that Israel must halt all settlement building would have had a far more helpful impact on the prospects for peace.

MP: Israel’s High Court has ordered the removal of parts of a Jewish settlement outpost that were built on private Palestinian land, hours after parliament passed a law legalizing similar cases. How do you assess the court’s order?

Kamel Hawwash: The pretence that some settlements are legal and others illegal is a false description of reality as they are all illegal. The distinction between ones built on private Palestinian land and Israeli land wrongly claims to be ‘state land’ is the distinction used. This is rejected by everyone, except Israel whatever its own courts rule.

MP: What’s your take on Donald Trump’s “two-state” switch? How would this affect Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Kamel Hawwash: In declaring that he will live either with one state or two states as a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict has effectively put to bed long standing US policy which was for a 2-state solution. This has raised confusion everywhere as it is not clear what he means by a one-state solution, except he says he is for whatever the two parties agree to as if there was some symmetry and equality of power between them. The impact of this shift is still being assessed by both parties to the conflict and other stakeholders and it is not as yet clear how they will interpret this.

MP: Trump has also said that Washington was working to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What would be the consequences of this action?

Kamel Hawwash: Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be explosive as assessed by the Muslim world, the Palestinians and Jordan. It is against longstanding policy of the International Community and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is against international Law. It is therefore not even in America’s strategic interest for the move to go ahead when its stated strategic interest is in resolving the conflict as a whole.

MP: Is the recent UNSC resolution an effective move to restore the rights of Palestinian people?

Kamel Hawwash: UNSC 2334 restated the position of the international community on Israeli settlements calling them illegal restating the existence of an illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, it was passed without a mechanism for enforcing it. This has allowed Israel to flout it with impunity, announcing thousands of new settlement units since its passage and more specifically since Trump’s election. The International Community must apply sanctions on Israel for it to end this illegal enterprise.

MP: Iran has held a conference supporting the Palestinian intifada. What could you say about this?

Kamel Hawwash: The Palestinian people have a right under International Law to resist the illegal occupation of their homeland. Rising against this violent occupation is a means of achieving this. Lessons to be learnt from past uprisings should be considered and the most effective means of ending the occupation should be shared. The Palestinian people are committed to peaceful means of achieving this.

2017 is the year of sad anniversaries for Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 19/2/2017

Israel continues to violate UN resolutions with im­punity and Palestinians can expect more bad anniversaries to mark.


A 2016 picture shows a Palestinian youth waving the national flag on the 68th anniversary of the Nakba (AFP)

2017 is the year of anniver­saries for Palestinians. Sadly, none can be celebrated.

The first of these will be May 15th — the 69th an­niversary of the catastrophe, known as the Nakba when Israel was cre­ated in the Palestinian homeland without their permission. It also marks the period when 750,000 Palestinians were driven out to neighbouring countries by Zionist gangs and Israeli armed forces.

Early June brings the 50th an­niversary of the six-day war, when Israel captured the remainder of historic Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai. While Sinai was returned to Egypt, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights remain occupied. This occupation is seen as illegal by the international community. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan is not recognised by any other country.

June also marks the tenth anni­versary of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

In November, two events that ir­revocably changed the future of his­toric Palestine will be marked. No­vember 29th is the 70th anniversary of the UN General Assembly passing Resolution 181, which recommend­ed the partition of Palestine at the end of the British Mandate.

The resolution recommended the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states and a special interna­tional regime for the city of Jerusa­lem. While the Zionist movement accepted the resolution, the Pales­tinians and Arab states rejected it because they viewed it as violating the principle of self-determination

November 2nd is perhaps the most significant anniversary. This year marks the centenary of what the Balfour declaration, the letter from British Foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild of the Zionist Federation in which he stated:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The declaration was made before Britain was given the mandate on Palestine and without any consulta­tion with the indigenous popula­tion of Palestine. Through this, Britain prom­ised a land it did not have to a people who did not live on it without consulting those whose land it was.

Last December, in a speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel, British Prime Minister Theresa May referred to the Balfour declaration as “one of the most important let­ters in history” and that “it demon­strates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people”. She said “it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride”.

In his address to the UN General Assembly in 2016, Palestinian Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas stated: “We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declara­tion, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injus­tice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, includ­ing by the recognition of the state of Palestine…This is the least Great Britain can do.”

It seems Abbas’s words fell on deaf ears. Not only has Britain refused to apologise, May recently rolled out the Downing Street red carpet for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

In the meantime, Israel continues to violate UN resolutions with im­punity and Palestinians can expect more bad anniversaries to mark.

Only through unity can the Palestinians counter Paris and Trump

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 17/1/2016

Image of the Middle East peace talk about Israel-Palestinian territories’ in Paris, France on January 15, 2017 [Cem Özdel/ Anadolu Agency]

Image of the Middle East peace talk about Israel-Palestinian territories’ in Paris, France on January 15, 2017 [Cem Özdel/ Anadolu Agency]

Many more air miles have been collected and many more fine dinners have been consumed in five-star Parisian restaurants off the backs of the Palestinian people, to bring together representatives of 70 countries at a conference to regurgitate the “only way forward” — the two-state solution — to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is, of course, obvious to any objective observer that this “solution” is dead in the water. The final communique could have been written by any one of the participants on their home computer.

Unusually, I find myself in agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Paris conference was “useless”, albeit for different reasons, which I will come to. However, he went too far when rejecting it before it was even convened, claiming that the conference was “Palestinian deceitfulness under French auspices, aimed at adopting further anti-Israeli positions.” Describing it as “among the last twitches of yesterday’s world,” Netanyahu added that, “Tomorrow’s world will be different, and it is very near.”

Full article here

Could the Palestine-Israel conflict destroy the UN?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 15/1/2017


The vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestin­ian territories brought relations among the international body, Israel and the future US administration to a head.

The United States unusually abstained on the resolution that criticised Israel while all other members of council voted in fa­vour of it. Israel was outraged, particularly since it thought it had managed to have the text taken off the table after Israeli officials and the incoming Donald Trump administration pressured Egypt to withdraw it. However, the resolu­tion was brought forward 24 hours later by New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela.

Israel called the resolution “shameful” and immediately recalled its ambassador to New Zealand, punished Senegal by can­celling aid agreements and hauled in all other remaining ambassadors for a telling off at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The matter did not end there. Is­rael threatened to cut its contribu­tion to the United Nations, thought to be $40 million a year, in protest of the resolution. It recently an­nounced that it would withhold $6 million of that contribution, which a Twitter posting by Israeli Ambas­sador to the United Nations Danny Danon claimed “represents the portion of the UN budget allocated to anti-Israel bodies”.

He argued that “it is unreasona­ble for Israel to fund such entities” but did not elaborate on which bodies would be hit by the cut.

The passing of Resolution 2334 also created ructions in the United States, with US President-elect Donald Trump claiming the resolu­tion would “make it much harder to negotiate peace” but also tweet­ing that, as to the United Nations, things would be different after he is sworn into office January 20th.

The US House of Representa­tives overwhelmingly approved a non-binding bipartisan resolution that rebukes the United Nations for criticising Israeli settlements. The resolution called for the Security Council resolution to be “repealed or fundamentally altered”. A simi­lar bipartisan measure has been introduced in the Senate.

That may not be enough for Israel or its supporters in the United States. Lawmakers, includ­ing US Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, want to see US funding to the United Nations cut unless the Security Council repeals Resolu­tion 2334.

The call was supported by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, who told Fox News: “I think a new president and Congress that wants to make sure that every penny of your money is going to something that protects and defends and advances US interests — I think there’s a lot of changes that could happen at the United Nations.”

If implemented, the cut in UN funding would not be the first such incident. In 2011, the United States and Israel withheld funding for UNESCO following the admission of the Palestinian territories to the UN agency. The move resulted in the suspension of the two coun­tries’ voting rights two years later.

The United States pays 22% of the world’s contributions to the UN budget, much more than any other country. By comparison, Israel’s contribution is 0.4%.

The effects of a serious cut in US funding of the United Nations would be severe. While the most visible activity of the United Na­tions in recent weeks has been through the Security Council, much of the work the world body and its agencies do is largely invis­ible to the masses.

The United Nations works on some of the world’s most pressing challenges from the humanitarian needs of survivors of earthquakes in Japan and Haiti to political crises and violence in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.

Not only is funding important to the United Nations’ operation but so too is America’s leadership and engagement.

Despite the very legitimate scepticism about the ability of the United Nations to deliver on security and justice in the Middle East and despite Israel’s contin­ued violations of Security Council resolutions, the United Nations remains a critical organisation for the people of the region.

As Resolution 2334 showed, there are times when the United Nations can help Middle Eastern causes by, at the very least, keep­ing them at an appropriate level of prominence. This is what Resolu­tion 2334 did and its ramifications continue.

It is worth noting that the name “United Nations” was coined by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was first used in the Declara­tion by United Nations of January 1st, 1942, when representatives of 26 countries pledged their govern­ments to continue fighting against the Axis powers in the second world war.

It would be ironic if the same country were to put the future of the United Nations in jeopardy by severely cutting its contribution to the world body.

Protesting the UN resolution on Israel’s illegal settlements could lead to the destruction of the United Nations.

UN resolution 2334 must be seen as a tool, not just a victory

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/7/2017

Image of the UN Security Council resolution that called Israel to stop settlement activities on Palestinian territories on December 23 2016 [Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency]

Image of the UN Security Council resolution that called Israel to stop settlement activities on Palestinian territories on December 23 2016 [Volkan Furuncu / Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinians were set to conclude that their cause had been severely damaged in 2016 when the UN Security Council delivered a timely Christmas gift on 23 December: Resolution 2334. The resolution declared the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be occupied illegally and that Israeli settlements in both areas are in contravention of international law. Furthermore, it distinguished between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967.

While it was a major surprise to everyone when Egypt circulated a draft text of the resolution on the 22 December, prospects for it to be agreed looked good until the Egyptians announced that they were postponing the resolution. The decision was made under pressure from Israel as well as, significantly, the incoming Trump administration.

The following day brought a further surprise when four member states of the Security Council decided to bring the resolution to a vote; it was passed with fourteen out of the fifteen council members voting in favour while the United States refrained from using its veto to protect Israel. Rather than voting for a resolution which matched decades of official US policy regarding the illegality of settlements, the American ambassador to the UN abstained. The result of the vote was greeted with an unusual round of applause ringing around the famous Security Council chamber. Predictably,the Israelis were outraged; they rejected the resolution, called it “shameful” and accused the outgoing Obama administration of stabbing them in the back by abandoning the long-held US position to protect Israel from “one-sided resolutions” by wielding its veto.

Those proposing the resolution quickly incurred the wrath of Israel, which recalled its ambassador from New Zealand and cut aid to Senegal. Ambassadors of other members of the council, including permanent members, were summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry — on Christmas Day — while the US ambassador was called in for a meeting with Prime and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It has to be said that while Israeli religious leaders were banning Christmas trees in Israel, the other SC — Santa Claus — who has not been over-generous with gifts to the Palestinians in recent years, ensured that resolution 2334 brought them some Christmas cheer. However, the question that has arisen since is whether or not the Palestinians will harness the opportunity presented or squander it as their leadership has done on at least two previous critical occasions.

On 9 July 2004, for example, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an unambiguous Advisory Opinion on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. One of its key rulings was that, “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law, to cease the construction of the Wall, to dismantle its structures, and to repeal or render ineffective all related legislative and regulatory acts; Israel is further under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the Wall.”

Despite initial celebrations by the Palestinian leadership and Palestinians, this judgement lay largely underutilised by the former. Twelve years on and Israel has not suffered any consequences for its continued breaches. On the tenth anniversary of the judgement, 86 legal experts wrote to then UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions highlighting continued Israeli breaches and recommending ways by which Israel’s impunity could be challenged.

Moreover, following Israel’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza in 2008/9, the UN Human Rights Council commissioned a report into the war which was headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone. The report contended that the blockade on Gaza was (and, therefore, still is) “collective punishment”, concluding that the attack on Gaza had been directed at the “people of Gaza as a whole.”Some of Israel’s actions constituted war crimes, it found, and the denial of rights of the Palestinians in Gaza “could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.” The report also accused Hamas of committing war crimes.

Once again the Palestinians had an opportunity to use an independent statement both to highlight criminal Israeli policies and to seek legal means to punish it for its crimes. However, the PLO chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas caused outrage by delaying a vote in the UN Human Rights Council at the time, under pressure from the Americans. The Goldstone Report has lain unused ever since; in fact, under yet more external pressure the author subsequently retracted parts of it.

An objective assessment of the performance of the Palestinian leadership in the international arena more recently shows that it has secured some important victories. The most important was perhaps the upgrade of Palestine’s status in the UN when it was elevated to a “non-member observer state” in 2012. The overwhelming vote, with 138 states in favour to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau and the US) not only gave a much-needed boost to Palestinians but allowed Palestine to seek membership of dozens of international organisations and accords. Crucially, it paved the way for it to seek justice for Palestinians through the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Indeed, the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, a move that they hoped would open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials. They have since requested the ICC to open investigations into the 2014 war on Gaza, Israeli practices against Palestinian prisoners and the illegal settlement project.Following its admission to UNESCO in 2011, Palestine applied to join 15 international bodies and conventions in 2014.

These moves have borne some fruit. Last October, the Palestinians took Israeli violations of occupied East Jerusalem to UNESCO and, despite tremendous pressure from Israel and its supporters, managed to secure a resolution on this matter, which troubled the pro-Israel lobby.

The Palestinians must now build on these gains and, in particular,having the world’s attention on illegal settlements following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Increasing efforts should be placed on documenting illegal settlement activities, through the PA working with NGOs that already have a track record in this area. Perhaps a visible ministry specifically for combating settlements – similar to Britain’s Ministry for BREXIT — could be set up which combines the documentation of statistics on the impact of settlements and the development of peaceful strategies to resist them. A further task would be to put pressure on governments, particularly permanent members of the Security Council who voted for resolution 2334, to articulate policies for extracting a cost for Israeli violations of the terms of the resolution. The cost of the settlement enterprise must rise to such a level that Israel will conclude that is unsustainable, as it did when the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

A collective effort involving the Palestinian leadership must be tireless in challenging Israeli violations through legal avenues such as the ICC as well as a major diplomatic mission to pressurise other governments to act. The Palestinian people must take their own responsibility to boycott Israeli goods, particularly those made in settlements, even more seriously. Finally, Palestinians in the diaspora must pressure their own governments to accept that, without real pressure, an Israel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump will continue with its violations of human rights and international law.

The challenge is immense, but Resolution 2334 has provided an opportunity for many actors to rally around one specific issue that Israel insists is controversial, but which every other state believes is not: its illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The resolution must be seen — and used — as a tool, and not just another diplomatic but ultimately toothless victory.

Expecting more of the same for Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/12/2016

London – Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are looking back with deep concern at a year in which they saw their struggle for freedom and independence bat­tered.

The Palestinians end the year with no sign of reconciliation be­tween the main political factions Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Gaza’s siege continues unabated, Jewish settlements are expanding and Israeli settler in­cursions into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque grow in number and fre­quency.

Fatah’s seventh congress includ­ed a marathon 3-hour speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that simply confirmed com­mitment to the established direc­tion of travel. Abbas was re-elected party chairman and he, in turn, re­affirmed his commitment to nego­tiations with Israel for the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with minor land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution of the refugee problem.

The Palestinians find their cause, which once took centre stage, com­peting with Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen for international attention. Israel has benefited from the di­version of attention away from its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and its daily oppressive practices.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly reminds his allies that Israel faces major threats in a tough neighbourhood. He claims that this is the wrong time for Israel to concede territory to the Palestinians, which may al­low either Hamas or the Islamic State (ISIS) to establish a foothold in the West Bank, threatening Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport.

The status quo is that Israel effec­tively controls the whole of historic Palestine, further colonises Pales­tinian land, judaises Jerusalem and blockades Gaza. The Palestinian Authority provides it with security cooperation that Abbas considers sacred. Israel is therefore comfort­able, despite occasional uprisings.

Add to that a deal with the out­going US administration to deliver $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years and a promise to protect it from any criticism or im­position of a peace deal at the UN Security Council and 2016 can be considered to have been an excel­lent year for the 68-year old state.

However, that is not the end of the good news for Israel. The 2016 Republican Party platform for the first time rejected the description of Israel as “an occupier”, omitted any mention of a two-state solu­tion and conflated settlements with Israel itself.

During the campaign, US Presi­dent-elect Donald Trump first de­clared his intention to be “neutral” on the Palestinians and Israel so as to broker a deal but he changed his tune when he spoke at the con­ference of the main Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He not only de­clared his unwavering support for Israel but promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusa­lem, a position his advisers reiter­ated after his election.

If implemented, this would break long-standing US policy and is guaranteed to generate unprec­edented anger among Palestinians and their supporters around the world.

US President Barack Obama has, it seems, given up on any last-minute moves to reignite the peace process or to impose some pres­sure on Israel through the Secu­rity Council. However, he remains committed to the two-state solu­tion, despite some senior Israeli of­ficials’ calls for it to be abandoned.

Speaking at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of senior Israeli and US policymakers, US Secretary of State John Kerry concluded that “more than 50% of the ministers in the current Israeli government have publicly stated they are op­posed to a Palestinian state and that there will be no Palestinian state”.

He said Israeli settlement con­struction is a deliberate obstacle to peace and warned that such expansion was undermining any hope of a two-state solution. Kerry was speaking as the Knesset was about to move forward on a bill that would legalise illegal settle­ment outposts in the West Bank, despite the world being united in considering all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem il­legal.

Efforts by France to have a peace conference before the end of the year also failed. French President François Hollande could not even convince Netanyahu to attend a pre-Christmas meeting with Abbas in Paris. Netanyahu would only ac­cept such an invitation if France gave up on its peace initiative, ren­dering the meeting useless.

Perhaps the real reason for Netanyahu declining the French invitation is that on January 20th Trump moves into the White House. Why engage with France or anyone else when Trump and his administration are making the right noises as far as Israel is concerned?

Trump’s election has further em­boldened Israeli leaders including Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”. This conclusion by Bennett is a reflec­tion of Israeli thinking at the high­est level.

While many have been argu­ing for some time that Israel has been making a two-state solution impossible through changing the situation on the ground, it is now being declared dead by its main backer, the United States.

It is therefore likely that as the centenary of Balfour Declaration is marked in 2017, together with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli oc­cupation, we will be no nearer to a resolution to the conflict. With this the Palestinian leadership is likely to turn to international institu­tions, including the International Criminal Court, to pursue actions against Israel to at the very least remind the international commu­nity of the need to find a solution.

As for ordinary citizens around the world, it seems that support­ing the Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) is the main form of effective solidarity they can exercise to help the Palestinians reach their legitimate goals of free­dom, equality and independence.