UN General Assembly brings no respite for Palestinians

First published by TRT World on 28/9/2018

Between Donald Trump touting a two-state solution and Benjamin Netanyahu preoccupied with Israel – the plight of the Palestinians was once again largely ignored at the UN.

All eyes were on US President Trump during the UN General Assembly this year as he made his second address to the world body.

His speech will be remembered for the outburst of laughter when he tried to laud his administration’s achievements which he claimed “accomplished more than almost any…in the history of our country”.

Trump went on to claim that world leaders were laughing with him and not at him,” which simply is not supported by images from the whole, the whole world saw.

In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was again on-form recounting his achievements in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He affirmed his belief that he “had taken Jerusalem off the table,” defunded the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, closed the PLO Mission in Washington DC and ceased all funding to the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had broken off all contact with the US Administration following its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and the US Embassy move.

Sitting next to Trump, Netanyahu seemed pleased.

But he certainly wasn’t expecting what came next and perhaps even Trump’s advisors didn’t either, judging by some of the images of his son-in-law and Special Advisor, Jared Kushner.

Trump suddenly announced “I like the two-state solution”, a position he had not taken when the two leaders first met in 2017 and indeed one that Netanyahu has major problems with as he does not believe in a two-state solution.

“That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling,” he continued.

Looking at the Israeli PM, Trump acknowledged Netanyahu’s rejection saying “You may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but that’s mine.”

Netanyahu did not respond.

While reporters were picking their jaws off the floor at the remarks, Trump then qualified his remarks saying “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he concluded, “I can live with either one.”

The Trump Administration had given Netanyahu so much that he must have felt that the issue of a Palestinian state was also off the table as far as Trump was concerned.

However, the US president continues to remind the world that he is a property tycoon who sees everything as a business deal wher historic Palestine is a piece of real estate to be negotiated, detached from history and rights.

Both Palestinians and Israelis sit atop sixty years of conflict which amply shows that this is much more than just a piece of real estate – and Trump has so far failed to convince either side to see it his way: if you don’t get the contract, you simply move onto the next potential deal.

For both sides, history shows that it is a matter of survival, of life and death.

Netanyahu, props, and little substance

With both Netanyahu and Abbas yet to speak to the UN General Assembly, analysts and commentators were wondering how the respective speeches would be rewritten following Trump’s comments.

Netanyahu did not wait and told reporters that “everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.”

He had in the past questioned what sovereignty means and talked of a Palestinian state ‘minus’. He defined this by saying “I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us”.

Netanyahu expects Trump to accept the Israeli approach where any possible peace scenario would leave security control of territories west of Jordan, in Israel’s hands. He also added that he assumed any American plan would reflect this principle.

When it came, Netanyahu’s speech made little reference to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He restricted his comments to the demonisation of the Palestinians and accused the Palestinian Authority of paying families of Palestinian prisoners and ‘terrorists’ as he called them.

Netanyahu hoped “the day will soon arrive when Israel will be able to expand peace, a formal peace, beyond Egypt and Jordan to other Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu defended the Israeli Knesset’s passing of the Nation State Bill—which many commentators claim cements Israel’s status as an Apartheid state—that gives only Jewish people in Israel the right to self-determination.

He claimed that condemnation of Israel for racism is “the same old antisemitism with a brand new face.”

The main focus of Netanyahu’s speech, as it frequently is, was Iran. He had his usual prop, maps and images of what he claimed was the location and entrance to an Iranian nuclear site.

A weak representative

Abbas spoke before Netanyahu, and it was billed to be historic, but it failed to live up to its billing and it was noticeable that the hall was not as full as it normally is.

Certainly not as full as when Abbas applied, and was granted, an upgrade to Palestine’s status to a non-member state in 2012.

Abbas told the GA that there would be no peace without “an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital” and stressed the capital would be East Jerusalem, not in East Jerusalem, countering leaks from the ‘deal of the century’ suggesting Abu Dis as the future capital. He opened his speech with “Jerusalem is not for sale, and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining”.

Abbas referred to the Palestine National Council, which instructed him “to suspend the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel until Israel recognises in its turn the State of Palestine on the fourth of June, 1967 borders.”

Parliament had also instructed him “to approach international courts, including the International Criminal Court (the ICC) to investigate Israel’s breaches of treaties and the aggressions by the Israeli occupying forces and settlers against our people, on our land and our holy sites.”

Abbas referred to Israel’s Nation State Law, explaining that “this law will inevitably lead to the creation of one racist state, an apartheid state, and thus nullifies the two-state solution.”

He reminded the GA that “the United Nations had condemned the apartheid South African state in several resolutions in the past,” and then challenged anyone to define Israel’s borders.

Abbas reserved some of his strongest criticism for the American Administration which he claimed had reneged on all the commitments between the two sides.

He said, “it’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the deal of the century, but what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Only humanitarian solutions, because when they remove off the negotiation table, Jerusalem, refugees and security – what is left?”

Abbas called on countries that do not recognise Palestine to do so, especially those that support a two-state solution and recognise Israel but not Palestine.

“No. You have to recognize both states. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to remind you again that Israel has not implemented any one of the hundreds of General Assembly resolutions. There are 705 resolutions issued by the General Assembly since 1947 to date and Security Council resolutions since 1948 to date not a single resolution has been implemented by Israel.”

Abbas warned that Israeli aggression, supported by its legal system, is now threatening the status of Al Aqsa mosque claiming, “now we are told that the Israeli Supreme Court will issue a decision to divide Al-Aqsa, spatially and time-wise.”

The Palestinian president also criticised Hamas for failing to agree to the recent efforts by Egypt to secure reconciliation between Abbas’s Fatah and Hams, laying the blame at Hamas’s door.

He called on the Palestinians to “remain patient, steadfast and to continue to sacrifice until we achieve independence and self-determination and to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital and not in Jerusalem”.

Fend for yourselves

And so the annual UN pilgrimage ends with the Palestinians weak and divided, pleading for protection for innocent civilians losing their lives at the hands of their brutal occupiers. Their Arab and Muslim allies continue to be cajoled into believing improving relations with Israel would endear them to Trump’s America and will bring protection from the Iranian threat.

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ has turned into the ‘slap of the century’ for Palestinians left with little to negotiate for.

A strong and emboldened Israel can continue expanding and entrenching its hold on Israel-occupied territories. Abbas’s hopes for an international peace conference that broadens and better reflects the international community’s interests in resolving the conflict did not gain any traction.

It is only through their numbers—nearly 13 million strong—and their steadfastness and resistance, that Palestinians can keep their cause alive. They are in this for the long term and they will not allow Israel to complete the Zionist project.

They will outlast Trump and his administration, which while giving Israel quick wins now, will in the long term bring harm not only to Palestinians, but to peace for everyone in the region.

What’s the point of negotiating for peace when Israel gains without it?

First published by TRT World on 5/9/2018

As America makes one concession after another to Israel, is it any wonder Israel doesn’t seek peace with the Palestinians?

On a recent visit to Lithuania, the birthplace of his grandmother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that that he sees ‘no urgency’ in advancing US President Donald Trump’s peace plan or what is commonly referred to as the ‘ultimate deal’ or ‘deal of the century’. “It is his business if he wants to promote it,” he added.

Netanyahu’s comments came soon after Trump suggested Israel will “pay a higher price” in the negotiations because of the embassy move and that it was “the Palestinians’ turn next”, adding that the Palestinians will get “something very good” in peace negotiations following his decision to relocate the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump made the comments at the end of one of his rallies in West Virginia. He did not indicate what this might be.

Contact between the Palestians and the US have been frozen on the orders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, following the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the subsequent move of the Embassy from Tel Aviv.

The next announcement from his administration was hardly a confidence-building measure or an incentive for the Palestinians to restart talks with the Americans.

In what the Palestinians saw as “the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool”, the Trump Administration recently decided to cut more than $200 million in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza, according to US officials.

Commenting further on the matter, PLO Executive Committee member Hana Ashrawi stated that “the Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.”

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to the US, said in a statement that the Trump administration “is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine.” Zomlot saw the recent move as “another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda.”

Zomlot was also referring to Trump’s decision to defund UNRWA, the United Nations Agency which delivers services to the Palestinian refugees and his attempts to find ways to remove the refugee status of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians still living in exile since 1948 claiming the status should not be inherited.

Aid cuts to the Palestinians continued as the Trump administration announced it was ending its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), having withheld $45 million back in January. This leaves the Agency with a $417 million deficit, which if not cleared would mean school closures for 500,000 children in its five areas of operation at the end of September.

The collapse of UNRWA would be disastrous for Palestinians but will be welcomed by Netanyahu who has argued that it ‘perpetuates’ the issue of the refugees.

Recently leaked emails confirmed Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has tried to convince King Abdullah of Jordan to end the refugee status of 2 million Palestinian residents living in Jordan as the US attempts to significantly reduce the number recognised from the current 5 million to a much smaller number.

In fact, with seemingly unlimited support from Trump and his pro-Israel ‘negotiating team’, Netanyahu is working to gain as many more wins as possible in what he sees as uniquely favourable times.

Netanyahu has already contributed significantly to convincing the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of severe sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and is demanding Iran pulls all its troops out of Syria. While he has not as yet succeeded in this, he will keep plugging away and may yet pull this off.

Next on the Israeli prime minister’s agenda is the status of the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and effectively annexed in 1981. His Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz describes endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old hold on the Golan as the proposal now ‘topping the agenda’ in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.

In a recent visit to Israel, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton dampened Israeli hopes of imminent recognition claiming “I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government.”

However, Netanyahu will surely continue to pursue it. With such wins in record time and at zero cost, it is perhaps not surprising that Netanyahu is “in no hurry for peace”.

What about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians are facing the most challenging period in their history since the Nakba. The division between Hamas and Fatah, the 11-year long siege on Gaza, US blind support for Israel and the changing geopolitics in the Middle East puts them in an extremely weak bargaining position.

However, should they see any hope in Trump’s comments in West Virginia that he really has “something very good” to offer them, what could that be?

Interestingly, there have been no leaks about what this may mean for the Palestinians, unlike leaks that preceded announcements of pro-Israel measures such as the embassy move or the attack on UNRWA.

Trump is unlikely to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, include a two-state solution in his plan, pressure Israel to accept any Palestinian refugees, pressure Israel to end settlement construction or to bring an end to the 11-year old siege on Gaza. Netanyahu would not agree to any of these but more importantly, it is difficult to expect Trump’s pro-Israel team to even suggest any of these.

Speculation on this has to be based on how any initiative would address the core issues to be resolved in the conflict. They have generally been acknowledged to be borders, Jerusalem, settlements and the refugees. If Trump believes he has taken Jerusalem off the table, is minimising the issue of the refugees, making no noises about increased settlements construction and not even mentioning a two-state solution, then it is highly unlikely that he can offer the Palestinians anything that they could accept.

The American president, a businessman, is likely to see “something very good” simply in terms of an improved economy or ‘money’, while taking into account ‘facts on the ground’ as Israel presents them to him and its unending security needs.

This could come in the form of economic development in Gaza or the northern Sinai, as leaks indicating Egypt may be called upon to cede some 700 km of the Sinai for an expanded Gaza, where an airport, seaport and possibly an electrical power plant could be based. There is talk about a railway line that links the Gulf States and Jordan with the Mediterranean through Israel and the OPTs, which could have stations in Palestinian territories.

With a weak and divided Palestinian leadership, an American administration which is completely on Israel’s side, Netanyahu is working overtime to secure further gains while Trump is in power and before he is impeached, since almost not a week goes by without some speculation that it might happen.

However, Netanyahu should rest easy in the knowledge that if Trump is impeached, he has in Vice President Pence a more committed and stable ally and supporter of Israeli policies. He will be in no greater hurry to deliver a ‘just peace’ than Trump or Netanyahu. The Palestinians will continue to suffer.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

With Israel’s Nation State Law in place, violence against Palestinians will get worse

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/8/2018

Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinian during a protest in Nablus West Bank on 15 February 2018 [Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu Agency]

Ever since Israel passed the Nation State Law, Palestinians and neutral observers have been wondering about its possible impact on the substantial Palestinian minority in Israel as well as those living under occupation in the rest of historic Palestine. The law says that Israel is the state for Jews all over the world and that only Jews have a right to self-determination therein. It also demoted the status of Arabic, which has up to now been recognised as an official language. The law further proclaimed illegal Jewish settlements to be a national value. The Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or living under its occupation, did not feature.

The signal going out to Jewish Israelis is that this is their land, even though its borders remain undefined, albeit they are assumed to be from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. Non-Jewish Israelis have no rights in the land, despite the fact that the Palestinians are the indigenous people. The natural conclusion to this “logic” is that they should leave of their own accord, otherwise ways will be found to make their lives so unbearable that they leave out of fear, as happened in the 1948 Nakba when the majority of the Palestinians were expelled.

The world’s shameful silence at Israel’s open declaration that it is a de facto Apartheid state was deafening. If a state can pass such a discriminatory law and get away with it, then it can do anything.

Netanyahu: Nation state law grants all Jews ‘automatic’ immigration rights to Israel

It is worth noting that Israel passed this law shortly after a bill was disqualified from being tabled in the Knesset; that proposed legislation called for equal rights for all Israeli citizens, something we take for granted in real democracies. Readers are reminded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered “Arabs” voting in the last elections as such a threat that he appealed to his supporters to go out and vote, because “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.” So much for the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East”. The reality is that Palestinian citizens of Israel — 20 per cent of the population — have always been seen as a threat rather than an asset. Israel is very aware of the “demographic threat” that they pose, simply for having beautiful babies.The Israeli government can now use the Nation State Law as a backdrop to expand the gap further between its Palestinian citizens and their fellow citizens who happen to be Jews, particularly in relation to creating more settlements within the 1948 borders and further restricting building in Palestinian communities. Jew-only communities can use entirely legal “admissions committees” to ban Palestinian Israelis from moving in, fearing that they may sully their neighbourhood. The recent demonstration in the northern town of Afula against the sale of one house to a Palestinian family is testament to the increasingly racist nature of Israeli society.Sadly, it does not stop at demonstrations or the pretence of a state that upholds international norms for a democracy or a fair legal system. Palestinians, both citizens and occupied, face increasing violence simply for who they are and that they remain in their land.

At Haifa’s Kiryat Haim beach recently, three Palestinian Israeli citizens from Shafram were approached by a group of Jewish Israelis who asked them if they were “Arabs”. Their answer in the affirmative resulted in the inquisitors leaving only for a group of eight to return with weapons, attack them violently and yell, “You are Arab dogs, do not stay here.” They explained later that they were not doing anyone any harm on the beach, but that the attackers “just decided to hit us without cause. They almost killed us. We asked them to stop but they continued. They were removed only after other people arrived at the scene. We hope the police find them.” The Palestinians acknowledge that it was other Israeli Jews who came to their rescue.

They worry about nationalist attacks. “Unfortunately, despite the various condemnations against racism, it persists,” they added. “Who will be next?” The Israeli police have arrested a 23-year-old resident of Kiryat Haim on suspicion of attacking the three men.

Poll: 58% of Israelis support the Jewish ‘nation state law’

This incident is particularly worrying because it was an unprovoked attack on Palestinian Israelis just weeks after the passing of the Nation State Law. The only official condemnation reportedly came from President Reuven Rivlin, not Netanyahu.

This was not the first incident of such attacks by Israeli Jews on Palestinians. In May, bus driver Adham Badir, 38, was pepper sprayed and assaulted between Petah Tikva and Kafr Qasem by three young settlers simply for asking them to wait for the next bus as his was too full for them to bring their electric bikes on board.

A number of attacks have been carried out by members of far-right Jewish group Lehava, which is against romantic relationships between Palestinian men and Jewish girls. In April last year, five Israeli men and one juvenile, all of them Jews, were charged in connection with a series of brutal assaults on Palestinian men in the southern city of Be’er Sheva. The suspects confirmedthat they had been involved in at least six separate incidents between December 2016 and 6 April 2017 carried out with the aim of stopping their targets from pursuing romantic relationships with Jewish women.

In the Occupied Territories, settler violence has been a feature of the daily lives of Palestinians for years. The most high profile incidents were the murders of Mohammed Abu Khdair in Jerusalem in 2014 and the burning to death of the Dawabsheh family a year later. Added to this is a long list of daily attacks on property, crops and olive trees, normally overseen by the Israel Defence Forces, the self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world”. IDF soldiers openly admit that they are there to protect the illegal settlers, not the Palestinians.

Netanyahu promises to ease house demolitions in Druze communities post-Nation State Law

The soldiers recently faced a dilemma when 10 Jewish Israeli settlers attacked 4 Jewish Israeli peace activists from Ta’ayush who were documenting illegal construction in the unauthorised Jewish outpost of Mitzpe Yair. Just who do they protect? In the event, injuries occurred only on the peace activists’ side, leaving us to draw our own conclusion about which side the soldiers are on.

It is particularly worrying that Israel is “relaxing the rules” on gun ownership and allowing up to 500,000 more civilians to carry lethal weapons. This would allow veterans of Israel’s infantry units to obtain licenses more easily, as well as officers and commanders who have completed their reserve duty to keep their weapons. The implication is that the overwhelming majority of those who will benefit will be Jewish Israelis. This poses a real threat to Palestinians across historic Palestine — Israel and the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem —from trigger-happy Israeli Jews.

International solidarity activists have also faced violence from settlers and the IDF. Norwegian activist Kristen Foss, 43, was shot with rubber bullets on two occasions by soldiers, in the abdomen on 18 August and in the ankle almost a week later. She was taking part in demonstrations in Kafr Qaddum to express solidarity with the residents’ demand for the reopening of the direct road to Nablus and access to their farmland.

Calls for violence against Palestinians including “death to the Arabs” are a regular feature of right-wing rallies and extremist gangs. Thousands chanted this in Rabin Square in 2016 as the crowd gathered in support of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier filmed executing 21 year old Abdul Fatah Al-Sharif in illegally occupied Hebron, even though the young Palestinian was already incapacitated having been shot by other soldiers following an alleged knife attack. Azaria was convicted of manslaughter, though in the event he only served only half of his 18-month sentence. Even more troubling was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated calls for Azaria’s pardon.

Hebron shooter Azaria: ‘I have no remorse whatsoever’

Upon his release in May, Azaria received a hero’s welcome when he returned to the scene of the crime. Activists of the far-right Otzma Yehudit group organised his homecoming.

Far from showing any remorse for what he did, Azaria has said, “I have no remorse. I am completely at peace with myself. I acted as needed. I went with my own [inner] truth. I acted in the most proper way possible and what happened afterwards [his trial and conviction] should not have happened.” What message does that send to other young Israelis?

The lack of condemnation or even concern by Israeli leaders about rising Jewish Israeli violence against Palestinians serves to embolden the extremists. Israel’s leadership feels emboldened and protected by US President Trump and his administration, as well as the silence of the Arab and Muslim world; Netanyahu now feels that he can do whatever he wants with complete impunity.

The future, post the passing of the Nation State Law, is worrying for Palestinians across historic Palestine. They need protection from Israeli violence, which is currently going unchallenged. Is the so called “international community” willing to help, or even capable of doing so?

How the US is sidelining Palestinian refugees

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/8/2018

Dual approach involves starving UNRWA of funding and trying to strip Palestinians of their refugee status

There are indications that a truce between Hamas and Israel is close to being concluded, bypassing the Palestinian Authority.

The main commercial access point to Gaza, Kerem Shalom crossing, has been reopened after a period of closure amid recent heightened tensions. But whatever short-term relief this provides for Palestinians in Gaza will not address Palestinians’ long-term demands.

The US continues to work on a “peace plan” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without the input of Palestinians. Elements have already been implemented, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the defunding of services for Palestinian refugees via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Concealing the occupation

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has also been arguing that there is no illegal occupation. He wrote to the State Department last December, asking it to drop the terms “occupation” and “Israeli-occupied territories”.

He suggested using the term “West Bank,” which he described as “more neutral”. Friedman is a major donor to the the illegal settlement of Beit El and serves as president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the US fundraising arm of a number of institutions in the illegal settlement. He is also known to be against the two-state solution.

It was noticeable that the State Department’s 2017 human rights report replaced references to the “occupied territories” with “Israel,” “Golan Heights,” “West Bank” or “Gaza”.

Friedman does not recognise Palestinian refugees’ right of return, enshrined in  UN Resolution 194. His personal view is that “the goal ought to be to enable them to acclimate and to enter society in wherever they landed”.

Friedman prefers the UNHCR definition, which does not refer to the descendants of refugees, to the UNRWA definition, which states that “the descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration”.

UNRWA began operations in 1950 in response to the needs of about 750,000 Palestinian refugees; today, more than five million are eligible for its services.

‘Existential crisis’

The US appears to have turned its focus to “disappearing” Palestinian refugees from the issues to be resolved. But how can the Americans do this, while still appearing to offer a “deal of the century”?

What is emerging is a dual approach, which involves both starving UNRWA of needed funds and removing the issue of refugees altogether. Both are demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has argued that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee issue.

The US has gone along with this by slashing $300m in funding to the agency. In a radio interview last month, spokesperson Sami Mushasha said UNRWA was facing an “existential crisis“. An effort to raise additional funds, including conferences in Rome and New York, has still left the agency with a deficit of more than $200m, although concerns that Palestinian schools would not open in September have been allayed.

Palestinian refugees and Bedouins receive medical checkups and aid from UNRWA in the occupied West Bank on 9 August 2018 (AFP)

According to Mushasha, the emergency budget for Gaza and the West Bank had almost “disappeared overnight” because of the US cuts. Only life-saving food provisions to Palestinian refugees in Gaza would be funded. UNRWA, which employs 13,000 staff in the occupied Palestinian territories, has cut 113 positions in Gaza and 154 in the West Bank. In the ensuing protests, one Gaza man tried to set himself on fire.

But UNRWA has survived, which could be why the US special envoy for the Middle East, Jared Kushner, has been looking for ways to strip refugees of their status. In internal emails to senior US administration officials, Kushner said: “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA. This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

Right of return

According to an article in Foreign Policy, Palestinian officials revealed that Kushner pressed Jordan in June “to strip its more than two million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there”.

Ali Huweidi, the general manager of a Lebanon-based refugee rights organisation, told MEE that Jordan’s Palestinian refugees make up more than 40 percent of the refugees in UNRWA’s five areas of operation. If the agency were to cease providing these services, he said, Palestinian refugees would be transferred to UNHCR, which “would then seek to resettle Palestinian refugees in third countries. Once they are granted citizenship, their status as refugees falls.”

Both Jordan and Lebanon have rejected moves to transfer the provision of services for Palestinian refugees from UNRWA to host governments. Huweidi noted that Jordan views the agency as “an important strategic partner”. Lebanese officials have also indicated that the state could not take on UNRWA’s role, particularly in the areas of education and health.

The Palestinian refugees I met on a recent trip to Lebanon all told me that they would not accept anything short of a return to their homes, a sentiment echoed by those participating in Gaza’s Great March of Return. Only then will peace come to the holy land.

How the US and Israel are working to transform Gaza into the Palestinian state

First published by the Middle East Eye on 26/7/2018

Trump’s team is focusing on how to force the Palestinians in Gaza – and Hamas – to submit and accept their dictates or face further misery

PALESTINIAN-GAZA-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-PROTEST

The heat is on – again – in Gaza, as Israel tightens its siege and continues to kill and maim at will. If the two million Palestinians in the world’s largest prison camp – Gaza – were seen as humans by the world, the 11-year-long immoral siege on the tiny slither of land would be lifted immediately.

Israel controls all access to the strip by land and sea, while Egypt joins in by regularly closing the Rafah crossing, denying the imprisoned population the right to the free movement in and out of their country that we all enjoy. There is no justification for Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing.

Vital means of life

The main commercial access from Israel, the Kerem Shalom crossing, was suddenly closed by Israel on 9 July, denying the strip of the vital means of life, including fuel, which powers the electricity generating station, reducing the supply of electricity to at most six hours a day. The distance fishermen could sail within to catch their fish was also reduced from six to three nautical miles.

Palestinians are forced to buy drinking water at six times the standard rate from private companies because, according to experts, 97 percent of the water is contaminated by sewage and/or salt.

Israel partially opened the crossing through which it “will be possible to transfer gas and fuel into the Gaza Strip, in addition to food and medicine”. However, fish swimming more than three nautical miles off the shore of Gaza remain safe.

Gaza’s residents continue to bury their dead, with over 150 now killed since the start of the peaceful Great Return March four months ago, shot or bombed by Israel at the fence that separates them from their homes, from which they were forcibly transferred in 1948.

Back in 2015, the United Nations

warned that Gaza may become uninhabitable in 2020. That is less than 18 months away but a quick search on the internet reveals no attempt to rehabilitate it or – as I wrote recently – to rescue its children.

Sinai-map (1)

The suffering of Palestinians in Gaza has also been exacerbated by the continuing Palestinian division which shows no sign of ending. Recent months have even seen the Palestinian National Authority imposing sanctions on Gaza in an effort to yield concessions from Hamas.

Price of geopolitical change

The changing geopolitical situation in the Arab world is also piling pressure on the Palestinians to accept what Arab leaders know the Palestinians could not accept as a resolution to their struggle for freedom, justice and equality. A resolution that is being cooked up between Tel Aviv and Washington.

In short, Gaza seems to be under constant attack as US President Trump’s team develop the “ultimate deal” to bring peace to the holy land while laying all the blame for a lack of peace at the door of Hamas and none at Israel’s door.

Any objective assessment of causes of the current situation would conclude that it is the lack of a just resolution to the conflict rather than the actions of Hamas or any other faction that causes the instability. Israel continues to illegally occupy the West bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and people under occupation have every right to resist until this occupation ends.

Efforts to end the conflict through US-sponsored talks have thus far failed to bring the justice and security the Palestinians deserve, 71 years after Israel was created in their homeland and against their will. There are no signs that the current “dream team” put together by Trump to bring peace to historic Palestine will succeed.

They are committed Zionists and firm supporters of Israeli policies, including the settlement enterprise. Jared Kushner is an assistant and senior adviser to Trump. Jason Greenblatt is an assistant to the president and special US representative for international negotiations. David Friedman is US ambassador to Israel. Each of them qualifies for Israeli citizenship.

The Zionist trio wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post which, rather than setting out their vision for peace for the whole of historic Palestine, focused solely on Gaza and was essentially an attack on Hamas for Gaza’s ills, laying no blame at Israel’s door.

netanyahu_1_0_0

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May 2018 (AFP)

In fact, it is revealing that their article made no mention of any of the ingredients which the international community has largely agreed would lead to peace, including a halt to settlement activity, a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a just resolution to the refugee issue.

The Republic of Gaza?

Clearly, the Nation State Bill, passed into law on 19 July and which claims the land of Israel as the Jewish homeland, giving any Jew from any part of the world a right to move to Israel, has helped focus the Trump team’s work on Gaza.

Working in cahoots with Israel, it seems Trump’s team is leaving issues related to the West Bank to Israel and focusing on how to transform Gaza into the Palestinian state or perhaps more clearly the Republic of Gaza.

Israeli hardliners will never accept the emergence of a state called Palestine but they could live with a label such as Gaza, perhaps expanded with land from the Sinai. While Israel would love to have the land of Gaza back as part of Israel, it would not want to have the two million Palestinians that inhabit it back with it.

The rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which Zionists call Judea and Samaria, is off the table. While Israel will continue to consider ways of emptying these areas – and indeed areas inside the Green Line – of the indigenous Palestinians, that is a longer term headache that it can work to resolve, including by transferring them to Jordan.

In simple terms, if Hamas could be removed or convinced to accept the Trump deal, economic peace would come to Gaza.

The level of naivety demonstrated by the Trump trio should not surprise anyone, as it is a true reflection of the dearth of experience in politics or diplomacy that their CVs reveal.

Their politics come straight off Netanyahu’s desk, where – seemingly – the “ultimate deal” was drafted, just like the US policy on the Iran nuclear deal before it. Their diplomacy appears restricted to how they can convince the Gulf states to pay for the economic peace they think they can deliver.

Supremacist ideology

While the “ultimate deal” has not been released, elements of it have already been implemented: the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the death of any meaningful two-state solution, and the threat to declassify the descendants of Palestinian refugees coupled with the systematic closure of the UN refugee agency.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is under attack because the Israelis believe it “perpetuates” the conflict. In January, the State Department announced that it was withholding $65m out of its $125m interim aid package earmarked for UNRWA stating that “additional US donations would be contingent on major changes” by the agency.

UNRWA-Gaza-Reuters

Palestinian employee of UNRWA hold a sign during a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Gaza City on Monday (Reuters)

Downsizing its operations to deal with the resulting deficit UNRWA faces was cited as the reason for the dismissal of hundreds of workers in the agency’s emergency programme. This has led to major protests by UNRWA’s workers and one worker threatening to burn himself.

Gaza’s beleaguered economy can hardly take another hit with UNRWA job losses and a reduction in its programmes, which provide vital sustenance, health and educational services.

As the Freedom Flotilla makes its way gingerly to the Gaza shores to bring basic medical supplies and solidarity with the Palestinian people, Israel and America are working to force the Palestinians and Hamas to submit and accept their dictates or face further misery.

The naive American trio will find that their immoral plans will fail as many before them have. Therefore, if they want a place in history as those who brought peace to historic Palestine, they need to come round to realising that once they see Palestinians as a whole, and those in Gaza in particular, as human beings with equal rights to Jews and others and not as a demographic threat to Zionism, peace is very possible.

For the sake of peace that we all crave, it is not Hamas or Fatah that need to go, but the supremacist ideology of Zionism.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinians prepare to set fire on an Israeli flag and portraits of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest at the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza city, on 13 April, 2018 (AFP)

 

Israel challenges the world: I am an Apartheid state, what are you going to do about it?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/7/2018

2013_12_3-Palestinian-Shuafat-refugee-camp281114_MUA_00-2 (1)

View of a Palestinian refugee camp behind Israel’s apartheid wall in east Jerusalem on 3 December 2014 [Muammar Awad/Apaimages]

Remember the date, 19 July 2018 is when Israel’s pretense of democracy, the Knesset  passed the Nation State Bill, which could more aptly be called, the “Jewish State Apartheid Law” where Jews dominate the Israeli Palestinian Arabs who are lesser than them, even if they are citizens. I deliberately did not say Israeli Jews because the law gives all rights in historic Palestine to Jews, not only in Israel but across the world, including those Jews that do not identify with the state.

My mother, who was born in Jerusalem before Israel was created, has no rights in the Holy city or her homeland but a Jewish lady with no connection to Israel can “return”, to a place she does not come from. The invaders, since they were not invited into our homeland, have enshrined the right to have my Palestinian homeland as theirs in law and also annulled my mother’s right to return, which is enshrined not in state but in international law. I can hear cries of “this is the Jewish homeland because we were here thousands of years ago”, really? If Jews – and it is only Zionists – believe they are entitled to return after thousands of years -which I reject – then how can they deny Palestinians the right to return after 71 years? In fact UN resolution 194 enshrined in international law gives Palestinians the Right of Return but there is no reference in international law to Jews having a “right to return” to historic Palestine.

Let me be clear, I am not denying Jewish, Christian or Muslim connection to holy sites in historic Palestine. However, Palestinians reject the notion of singling Jews out for a “right of return” to our homeland now and forever. No other people are afforded the right to a freehold on a plot of land forever and Jews should be no different.

Israel’s prime minister pushed the adoption of this bill now as he sees an opportunity to make major wins while US President Trump is in office and has given Israel carte blanche to implement any policies it wishes.

“A hundred and twenty-two years after [the founder of modern Zionism Theodore] Herzl made his vision known, with this law we determined the founding principle of our existence,” Benjamin Netanyahu said, adding that this is a “defining moment” for Israel.

“Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and respects the rights of all of its citizens.”

What Netanyahu did not tell us was were exactly are the borders of this state? What rights do its non-Jewish but indigenous Palestinian citizens have within its internationally recognised borders? Netanyahu and supporters of Israel should remember that the 20 per cent “minority” that they form would not have been a minority if it had not been for the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 of their brothers and sisters in 1948. Had they not been forced out through Jewish terror, their numbers would have been equal if not larger than the Jewish Israelis that now reside in historic Palestine. It would have been Jews that formed the minority.

Netanyahu also failed to explain the status of the occupied Palestinians who are not afforded citizenship in this state. What rights do they have? They are not citizens of Israel or Palestine.

Netanyahu

Much has been written since the Nation State Law was approved, but there has been insufficient outrage. The law has mostly been seen at worst as “controversial”. Israel has challenged the world to say no to state racism and Apartheid but the world has only expressed concern that the law could impede the now long dead peace process and wait for it, the two-state solution. Netanyahu challenged the world and the world is not ready for a fight for basic equality between citizens of a state.

Through its silence, the world arguably agrees that historic Palestine is homeland only for Jews. It agrees that the indigenous Palestinians have no rights, except those that the Jewish state agrees to give them out of the goodness of its heart and only if Israeli Jews agree. Jews can build settlements only for Jews and admissions committees can decide whether to allow the people whose land it is, the Palestinians, to live amongst them. They can decide whether Palestinian children can play in kindergartens with Jewish children and whether they can swim together in one pool.

By confirming “United Jerusalem” as their eternal capital, Israeli Jews can decide for how long Al-Aqsa Mosque can remain, majestically from a Palestinian point of view,  on the “Jewish Jerusalem” skyline. Who can forget the image of the notorious Palestinian hater and so called US Ambassador David Friedman beaming as he held a poster showing a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock?

Perhaps the US has already obtained assurances from some Arab and Muslim leaders that since Muslims already have two holy mosques in Makkah and Madina and Jews do not have one, that it would be acceptable to give Al-Haram Al-Sharif up for that purpose. After all it seems protection from the Iranian threat carries a heavy price. The installation of the Jewish temple could be part of the “deal”. I of course do not know if that is the case, but we live in bizarre times.

Israel has already curtailed the calling of the Muslim call for prayer, the Athan, because it disturbs the illegal Jewish settlers. Now, the language in which the call is made, Arabic, has been demoted from an official language of the state to having “a special status”. Another attack on the indigenous Palestinians.

If Israel was not a racist endeavour when created, it is now most certainly a racist state, unless of course a new definition of racism has been created which gives exception to the self-proclaimed Jewish state. A racist state deserves to be criticised, ostracised and isolated until it repents and removes all its racist laws. This law is only one of tens of laws that already discriminate against non-Jews.

However, what is most bizarre is that confirmation by Israel that it is a racist entity through the passing of the law could, according to the so called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism label as anti-Semites anyone daring to call it a racist or Apartheid entity.

There is no excuse for the world’s lack of action against racist Israel.

How can the US, the land of the free, support it now? The Zionist and Israel apologist Trump trio of Greenblatt, Kushner and Friedman have not issued any statement on this law. They, especially Greenblatt who is effectively tweeting for Israel, helped Israel with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and are working to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return. Their vision for peace almost supports the rapid implementation of the new law rather than condemn it.

The EU has, true to form, talked the talk but not walked the walk, expressing concern but no condemnation.

The Palestinian leadership has sleepwalked into this, typically with no strategy to counter it. The appropriate response to the passing of the law in the early hours of the 19th of July should have been for the PLO to declare an end to the disastrous Oslo Accords, to dissolve the Palestinian Authority with an immediate effect including an end to the immoral security coordination with the Apartheid state. The PLO has been mandated to de-recognise Israel by its Palestine National Council. That time has come. How can the Palestinians continue to recognise an Apartheid state which also denies all their rights and then sit with its representatives to negotiate a two-state solution which this law prohibits?

It is time for the Palestinians to review their struggle and adopt a call for equal rights for all who inhabit historic Palestine and a return for the refugees to their homes. The struggle would continue until these rights are realised.

#ApartheidState

All states, but particularly those that claim to be western style democracies, should have severed relations with Apartheid Israel, including those Arab states that have established relations with it.

As for the rest of those that support Israel both as individuals and organisations, enough is enough. This Israel is not a state that anyone can support or declare a friend. In particular, “friends of Israel” groups in UK political parties should shut themselves down or rename themselves appropriately as “Friends of Apartheid Israel”. That is what it should say on the tin. Honourable and Right Honourable members should then resign from these racism-supporting groups and instead join the BDS movement.

If Apartheid Israel is tolerated, next it will be Apartheid Myanmar and the door will be open for other states to court Apartheid. For the sake of our children let us not allow racism to be tolerated anywhere.