Mientras los Estados árabes normalizan su relación con Israel, los votantes británicos presionan a los parlamentarios en favor de Palestina

First published in Spanish by the Middle East Monitor on 4/12/2018

Noviembre ha sido un mes extraordinario para la normalización entre los Estados árabes e Israel. Podrías pensar que Israel ha resuelto sus disputas con sus vecinos – quizá aceptando e implementando la iniciativa de paz árabe, por ejemplo, – y que un Estado palestino con Jerusalén Oriental como capital está cerca de ser una realidad. Sin embargo, lo que ha hecho Israel es desafiar al mundo a declarar su estatus de apartheid tras aprobarse su Ley del Estado-Nación; seguir construyendo colonias ilegales en territorio palestino; encarcelar a miles de palestinos; demoler casas y otros edificios propiedad de palestinos; y asesinar semanalmente a manifestantes pacíficos en la frontera nominal con la Franja de Gaza.

Benjamin Netanyahu, y su esposa. Después le dio una plataforma de conferencia al ministro de Transportes israelí, Yisrael Katz, para que delineara su visión de un proyecto ferroviario que unairía Haifa con el Golfo. Equipos deportivos israelíes compitieron en Emiratos Árabes Unidos y Qatar, mientras que Bahréin expresó su deseo de establecer canales diplomáticos con Israel. Para colmo, el príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí, Mohammad Bin Salman, recibió apoyo de Netanyahu. Esta es la misma Arabia Saudí que hace poco prohibió que los palestinos pudieran poseer documentos de viaje válidos para visitar Makkah y Medina en peregrinación, supuestamente por orden del custodio de las Mezquitas Sagradas, el rey Salman. ¿Quién lo habría creído posible?

Los palestinos conocen y confían en el apoyo del pueblo árabe, pero ahora ha quedado claro que el apoyo de una parte sustancial de sus gobiernos es simbólico. De hecho, los Estados árabes se han convertido más bien en las animadoras del próximamente anunciado “acuerdo del siglo” de Donald Trump, que está dispuesto a dejar caer unos pocos millones de dólares para convencerlos de que acepten el acuerdo de rendición definitiva.

El pueblo árabe – incluidos los palestinos – está oprimido por sus gobiernos, que les niegan sus derechos civiles y políticos. Tienen poca o ninguna influencia sobre las decisiones que toman en su nombre sus gobiernos, a los que no han elegido, y, por lo tanto, apenas influyen en las decisiones que tienen un impacto en la causa palestina.

Aunque desean que los árabes recuperen su apoyo inquebrantable a la causa, los palestinos han empezado a buscar en otros lugares, particularmente en donde puedan influir a las decisiones del gobierno, incluso aunque el efecto no sea inmediatamente evidente. Un buen ejemplo de esto es Reino Unido, donde se han celebrado manifestaciones en apoyo a los palestinos de Gaza desde el inicio de las protestas de la Gran Marcha del Retorno el 31 de marzo. Además, muchos votantes británicos presionan a sus parlamentarios y a su gobierno en favor del pueblo de Palestina.

El lobby anual pro-Palestina del parlamento en Westminster se celebra en la fecha exacta o alrededor de ella del Día Internacional de la Solidaridad con el Pueblo Palestino; el 29 de noviembre. La ONU lo introdujo en 1977 para que coincidiera con la aprobación de la resolución 181 de la ONU, el Plan de Partición, en 1947.

LEER MÁS: Cientos de miles de londinenses se unen en contra de la prohibición contra los musulmanes

El lobby de este año fue organizado de nuevo por la Campaña de Solidaridad Palestina. El objetivo era que ciudadanos corrientes de Reino Unido se reunieran con sus parlamentarios y discutieran sobre el problema palestino. Este año, los dos temas que se plantearon estuvieron relacionados con los niños palestinos prisioneros y con el fin del comercio de armas con Israel. Una moción temprana (EDM) 563 sobre la detención militar de niños palestino es la cuarta EDM con más firmas de esta sesión parlamentaria. Mientras tanto, la EDM 1305 pide la “suspensión de venta de armas a Israel”.

Algo menos de 3.000 miembros del público británico participaron en el lobby la semana pasada. Contactaron con 600 de los 650 parlamentarios para expresar su preocupación sobre los niños prisioneros y el comercio de armas. Otros parlamentarios cuyos electores no pudieron viajar a Westminster atendieron a varias reuniones informativas organizadas por el PSC, tanto como para mostrar su apoyo como para aprender más al respecto. La mayoría de los partidos con parlamentarios estuvieron representados.

En un mitin celebrado después del lobby, muchos parlamentarios se pronunciaron en favor de la causa palestino, subrayando la necesidad de acciones y no palabras. Se notó que los que habían visitado Palestina e Israel y habían visto la situación de primera mano eran los más concienciados.

El nuevo embajador palestino en Reino Unido, el doctor Husam Zomot, expresó el agradecimiento el pueblo palestino a los “héroes” involucrados en el lobby. Destacó la importancia de estos esfuerzos, especialmente el momento en el que se realizan, “debido a la campaña de los grupos de extrema derecha, que demuestran ser inflexibles anti-internacionalistas, anti-liberales, anti-democráticos, anti-solidarios y anti-apertura.” En particular, el embajador elogió a los activistas pro-Palestina por centrarse en “la defensa del Derecho internacional.” Aunque señaló que los problemas de los niños palestinos y del comercio de armas con Israel son importantes, también enfatizó en la construcción de asentamientos ilegales israelíes y en la situación de la Agencia de la ONU para los Refugiados de Palestina en Oriente Medio (UNRWA). Se refirió a la importancia de reforzar la ley en Reino Unido, bajo la cual, argumentó, “la importación de productos de asentamientos es ilegal.”

Zomlot pidió al gobierno británico que reconociera al Estado de Palestina y afirmó que “ningún otro acto sería más relevante y efectivo a la hora de conseguir paz y justicia.” Señaló que los palestinos no entienden la renuencia a ofrecer tal reconocimiento. “No comprendemos por qué el gobierno tarda tanto. No entendemos por qué, dado que el pueblo británico expresó hace cuatro años su voluntad mediante la elección de sus parlamentarios, el reconocimiento aún no se ha implementado.” Después recordó a la audiencia la responsabilidad histórica de Reino Unido y la moción de reconocimiento presentada por la primera parlamentaria británica de descendencia palestina, la demócrata liberal Layla Moran.

El embajador palestino habló después de que la secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores “en la sombra”, Emily Thornberry, insistiera en que un futuro gobierno del Laborista “reconocerá inmediatamente al Estado de Palestina, e instará a nuestros aliados internacionales a que sigan nuestro ejemplo, no a su debido tiempo, no cuando sea el momento adecuado o ninguna de esas fórmulas que se inventa el gobierno actual de los tories.” También se comprometió a que Reino Unido celebraría una conferencia internacional de emergencia para abordar las necesidades humanitarias del pueblo palestino y de todas las personas expulsadas de sus hogares y obligadas a vivir en campamentos de refugiados en el extranjero debido a las acciones de Israel. Además, quizá, lo más importante, pidió que se llenara el déficit causado por la insensible decisión de Trump de cortar la financiación a la UNRWA.

Thornberry también enfatizó en que Reino Unido debe usar su posición como miembro permanente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU para “exigir que se actúe cuando Israel viole el Derecho internacional.” Declaró que era hora de exponer la hipocresía de Estados Unidos y otro países que “exigen acciones e investigaciones independientes cuando otros países rompen esas leyes, pero hacen oídos sordos con Israel. No es suficiente. Debemos juzgar de forma igual y es hora de que seamos más valientes y audaces en cuando a la paz en Oriente Medio.”

La secretaria de Exteriores “en la sombra” afirmó que un gobierno laborista “estará dispuesto a decir en voz alta que es vergonzoso que las Naciones Unidas y el Consejo de Seguridad hayan permitido que, durante décadas, Israel haya ignorado con impunidad todas las resoluciones aprobadas por la ONU, y exigirá acciones efectivas para reforzarlas.” Dado que Estados Unidos demostrara claramente no ser un mediador imparcial para la paz, Thornberry dijo que Reino Unido y toros países deberían intervenir para reavivar las conversaciones entre las partes basándose en principios y en un calendario claros para establecer una solución de dos Estados.

El parlamentario Andrew Slaughter, defensor de los derechos palestinos, subrayó la importancia de la participación de Thornberry en el mitin, que quizá no habría sido posible hace tan sólo unos años. Exigió la prohibición de la llegada de bienes provenientes de asentamientos, pero no un boicot per se a los asentamientos.

La última oradora del mitin pensó que esto era inadecuado. Lubnah Shomali, de BADIL – el Centro de Recursos para la Residencia de los Palestinos y Derechos de los Refugiados – sostuvo que no bastaba con hablar de solidaridad, con reconocer a Palestina y con prohibir los productos provenientes de asentamientos. Fue más allá y argumento que, ya que Israel no distingue entre productos israelíes y de asentamientos, tampoco deberíamos hacerlo nosotros; de hecho, deberíamos boicotear todos los productos israelíes. También pidió que se impusieran sanciones a Israel, ya que otros Estados están obligados a pedir cuentas por sus violaciones de las leyes y convenciones internacionales.

Shomali llevará a Palestina el enorme apoyo a los derechos palestinos del que ha sido testigo entre los ciudadanos británicos, que presionan a sus representantes elegidos no sólo durante el lobby parlamentario, sino también durante todo el año. Es triste decir que no será capaz de llevar la misma experiencia después de visitar cualquiera de los Estados árabes que están tratando de normalizar su relación con Israel. Puede que allí el pueblo quiera demostrar su solidaridad con los palestinos y presionar a su gobierno para ello, pero viven bajo sistemas políticas que no cuentan con instituciones representativas democráticas. Así, la voluntad del pueblo en estos países es, ahora mismo, inefectiva.

While Arab states normalise relations with Israel, British voters lobby MPs for Palestine

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 3/12/2018

November was an extraordinary month for normalisation between Arab states and Israel. You would think that Israel had settled its disputes with its neighbours — perhaps accepting and implementing the Arab peace initiative, for example, — and that a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital was close to reality. In fact, though, Israel has challenged the world to call out its Apartheid status following the passing of the Nation State Law; continues to build illegal colonies on Palestinian land; imprisons thousands of Palestinians; demolishes Palestinian-owned homes and other buildings; and kills peaceful protesters at the nominal border with the Gaza Strip on a weekly basis.

The Sultanate of Oman hosted an official state visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife. It then gave a conference platform to Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz to outline his state’s vision for a railway linking Haifa with the Gulf. Israeli sports teams competed in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, while Bahrain indicated its desire to establish diplomatic channels with Israel. To cap it all, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was given support for his position from Netanyahu. This is the same Saudi Arabia that recently banned Palestinians holding valid travel documents from visiting Makkah and Madinah for pilgrimage, presumably on the orders of the Custodian of the Holy Mosques, King Salman. Who would have thought it possible?

The Palestinians know of and rely on the long standing support of the Arab people but it has now become clear that support from a substantial number of their governments is tokenistic. In fact, the Arab states’ role has become more like cheerleaders for Donald Trump’s still to be announced “deal of the century”, and to be ready to put a few million dollars into the kitty to cajole them into accepting the ultimate surrender deal.

READ: Normalisation and a ‘regional solution’ are back on the agenda 

The Arab people — including Palestinians — are oppressed by their own governments, which deny them their civil and political rights. They have little or no influence on the decisions made in their names by their unelected governments and are therefore hardly able to influence the decisions which have an impact on the Palestinian cause.

While wanting to see the Arabs return to their unwavering support for the cause, the Palestinians look increasingly elsewhere, particularly where they can influence government decisions, even if the effect is not immediately obvious. A good example of this is in Britain, where demonstrations in support of the Palestinians in Gaza have been held since the start of the Great March of Return protests in the territory since 31 March. Furthermore, many British voters lobby their MPs and government on behalf of the people of Palestine.

The annual pro-Palestine lobby of parliament in Westminster takes place on or near the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, 29 November. The UN introduced this in 1977 to coincide with the passing of UN resolution 181, the Partition Plan, in 1947.

This year’s lobby was again organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The objective was for ordinary British people to meet their MPs and discuss the Palestinian issue with a particular focus. This year the two issues that constituents were asked to raise with their MPs were related to Palestinian child prisoners and an end to the arms trade with Israel. An Early Day Motion (EDM) 563 on military detention of Palestinian children, is the fourth most signed EDM in this parliamentary session. EDM 1305, meanwhile, calls for “a suspension of arms sales to Israel”.

Just under 3,000 members of the British public participated in the lobby last week. They contacted 600 out of the 650 MPs to express concern about child prisoners and the arms trade. Other MPs whose constituents were not able to travel to Westminster attended various briefings arranged by the PSC both to show their support and to learn more. Most of the parties with MPs were represented at these events.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) on an official diplomatic visit to Oman where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said on 25 October 2018 [PM of Israel/Twitter]

At a rally held after the lobby, many MPs spoke in support of the Palestinian cause, highlighting the need for actions more than words. It was noticeable that those who had visited Palestine and Israel to see the situation for themselves were the most outspoken.

The new Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Husam Zomlot, expressed appreciation of the Palestinian people to the “heroes” involved in the lobby. He stressed the importance of such efforts, especially the timing, “because of the campaign by the extreme right wing groups who are adamant to be anti-internationalist, anti-liberal, anti-democratic values, anti-solidarity and anti-openness.” In particular, the Ambassador commended the pro-Palestine activists for focussing on the “upholding of international law.” While noting that the issues of Palestinian children and the arms trade with Israel are important, he also highlighted Israel’s illegal settlement building and the position of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees. He referred to the importance of enforcing the law in Britain under which, he argued, “importing settlement produce is illegal.”

Zomlot called for the British government to recognise the state of Palestine and claimed that “no act will be more relevant, would be more effective in bringing peace and justice.” He pointed out that the Palestinians do not understand the reluctance to offer such recognition. “We do not understand what is taking the government so long. We do not understand why, given that the British people expressed their will through their elected parliamentarians four years ago, recognition remains unimplemented.” He then reminded the audience of Britain’s historic responsibility and the motion for recognition tabled by Britain’s first MP with Palestinian heritage, the Liberal Democrat Layla Moran.

The Palestinian Ambassador spoke after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry insisted that a future Labour Government will “immediately recognise the state of Palestine, and will urge our international friends to follow suit, not in due course, not when the time is right or whatever formula this current Tory Government comes up with.” She also committed to Britain hosting an emergency international conference to address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and all of those displaced from their homes or forced into refugee camps abroad as a result of Israeli actions. Most importantly, perhaps, she called for the shortfall caused by Trump’s callous move to cut funding for UNRWA to be filled.

READ: Students from 30 UK universities protest against investment in Israel occupation 

Thornberry also emphasised that Britain must use its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to “demand action when Israel breaks international law.” She stated that it was time to expose the hypocrisy of the US and others “who demand actions and independent investigations when other countries break those laws but then turn a blind eye when it comes to Israel. It is not good enough. We must be even handed and it is about time we started being a little braver and a little bolder when it comes to peace in the Middle East.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary stated that a Labour government “will be prepared to say out loud that it shames the United Nations and it shames the Security Council that for decades Israel has been able to ignore with impunity all the resolutions that the UN has passed and demand effective actions to enforce them.” Since the US has effectively shut itself out from being a broker for peace, Thornberry said that Britain and other countries should step in to revive talks between the parties based on clear principles and a clear timeline to deliver a two-state solution.

Protest in Tunisia against the normalisation of Israel [File photo]

One long-term supporter of Palestinian rights, Andrew Slaughter MP, emphasised the importance of Thornberry’s participation in the rally, which may not have been possible just a few short years ago. He called for a ban on settlement goods, but not a boycott of settlements per se.

The final speaker at the rally thought that this was inadequate. Lubnah Shomali, of BADIL — the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights — contended that it was not enough to speak in solidarity, to recognise Palestine and to ban settlement products. She went further and argued that, since Israel does not distinguish between Israeli and settlement products, neither should we; in fact, we should be boycotting all Israeli products. She also argued for sanctions on Israel as other states are obligated to hold it to account for its breaches of international laws and conventions.

Shomali will take back to Palestine the tremendous support for Palestinian rights that she witnessed among British citizens, who put pressure on their elected representatives not only at the parliamentary lobby but also throughout the year. It is sad to say that she would not be able to take back the same sort of experience after a visit to any of the Arab states falling over themselves to normalise relations with Israel. The people there may want to show solidarity with the Palestinians and put pressure on their governments to act in support of Palestine, but they live under political systems that do not have any representative democratic institutions. The will of the people in such countries is, therefore, ineffectual at the moment.

If there’s no occupation, then where are equal rights?

First published by the New Arab on 26/11/2018

Israel has had a ‘normalisation‘ bonanza with a number of Arab Gulf countries in recent weeks without having to give anything in return.
What had previously been relations under the table are now out in the open. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu breached the decades-long taboo of an Israeli prime minister making an official visit to an Arab state with whom Israel does not hold a peace treaty. The surprise visit was to Oman, for a meeting with Sultan Qaboos. 

Observers were further shocked by visits from Israeli sport and culture minister, Regev, to the United Arab Emirates and transport minister Yisrael Katz, to Oman.

The 2002 Arab League’s Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel full normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world in return for peace with its neighbours – and which it rejected – has effectively been surpassed with normalisation at no cost.

The normalising Arab countries appear to have succumbed to Trump’s pressure to normalise first, and hope that peace follows. Trump’s advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt have collected many air miles doing work for Netanyahu, shuttling between Tel Aviv and Arab capitals, convincing Arab leaders that Iran is the threat, not Israel, and that Israel could be their ally in combating the threat from Tehran.

The Trump administration appears to have succeeded in shifting their focus away from the Palestinian issue which has until recently been the central obstacle to normalisation. I talk here of course about Arab leaders, not people, for whom the Palestinian issue is still a central issue.

The question though, is how can normalisation first, bring peace? Cynics and optimists alike are of the view that it will not bring peace. For Israel’s supporters and lobbyists, what is important is quiet, not peace.

This was illustrated by their failure to call on Netanyahu to return to meaningful negotiations, and to show ‘good faith’, while supporting Israel’s recent attack on Gaza following its botched operation to abduct or assassinate a Hamas commander in Khan Younis. 

After his visit to Oman, Netanyahu cut short his visit to France, where he was scheduled to attend the commemoration of 100 years since the World War I Armistice truce. 

He swapped a seat on the front row there for security meetings in Tel Aviv, following renewed violence in the Gaza Strip. 

Israel’s supporters, including Trump’s team, blamed the Palestinian resistance for responding to Israeli aggression. Netanyahu was faced with a choice of either a full-scale war on Gaza, or reinstating a ceasefire.

Both would be politically costly, though only one would also result in more deaths and injuries. Thankfully, Netanyahu chose the former. The political price he paid was the resignation of his Defence Minister and rival, Avigdor Lieberman together with pro-war demonstrations by Israeli settlers.

In between his normalisation PR trip and the botched operation in Gaza, Netanyahu provided yet more evidence that normalisation with Arab states would not bring peace. 

He stated at a Likud factional meeting that claims that Israel occupies the Palestinians are absurd, and that “Occupation is nonsense. Empires have conquered and replaced entire populations and no one is talking about it”.   

What truly matters is strong diplomacy, Netanyahu added. “Power changes everything in our policy with Arab countries.”

According to The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu told his party colleagues that concessions are regarded as a weakness in the Middle East, which don’t bring about lasting change. Instead, “aligning [Arab] interests with Israel, based on Israel being a technological superpower, must lead the way.”

If Jerusalem is recognised by the US as Israel’s capital, with small countries planning to join the US in moving their embassies from Tel Aviv and with plans afoot to void the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, added to Netanyahu’s declaration that there is no occupation, what exactly are Arab countries expecting in return for normalisation?

Netanyahu has declared that Israel must maintain security over the whole of historic Palestine in any future deal, but that is not all.

According to the controversial Nation State Law which was passed into basic law in July, only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel, whose borders remain unknown and settlements are not illegal. If this is to be the case, there are no items remaining on an agenda for any future talks. 

Israel will therefore continue to rule over all those who inhabit the land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but without affording the equal rights that democratic states would offer. 

This qualifies it as the 21st century’s only Apartheid state.

When millions of people around the world call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel, the Arab states choose this very moment to normalise. This is not a politically wise decision. 

The Palestinians yearn to return to the very homes they and their parents were expelled from in 1948, which international law supports as a basic human right. 

The Palestinian National Council recently decided to mandate the PLO’s Executive Committee to withdraw recognition of Israel, as it continues to deny recognition of Palestine and the rights of Palestinians. 

Now is the time for Palestinians to call for equal rights for all who live in historic Palestine, and for the Palestinian refugees to return. A truly democratic state for all would end the dispute about what is or is not occupied now. It would also surely bring peace to the Holy Land, and only then, deserved normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world.

Israel’s botched operation in Gaza comes with consequences

First published by the Arab Weekly on 18/11/2018

The Palestinian group behind that attack scored a public relations victory because it refrained from firing until Israeli soldiers left the bus.

War advocacy. Israeli residents from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon demonstrate against the Gaza ceasefire, on November 14. (AFP)

War advocacy. Israeli residents from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon demonstrate against the Gaza ceasefire, on November 14. (AFP)

A botched Israeli operation 3km inside Gaza resulted in both physical and political casualties, the latter including Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned to protest what he said was a lack of determination in the Israeli government to inflict a major blow on Hamas

Lieberman also objected to the transfer of $15 million, donated by Qatar, to pay the salaries of Hamas-employed public servants, which the Palestinian Authority had refused to pay.

What started as a limited covert operation — Israeli media reported that members of the elite unit were disguised in women’s clothes — to abduct or assassinate a commander in the armed wing of Hamas’ armed wing Ezzeldin al-Qassam ended with seven Palestinian fighters dead.

However, the Palestinians killed the Israeli group’s commander and one of his companions. Israeli helicopters scrambled to evacuate the unit and Israeli jets destroyed the vehicle they used for the operation close to the Gaza fence.

Israel thought it could conduct a limited operation, leave the Gaza Strip with its attack team intact and withstand a small reaction of the firing of a limited number of rockets from Gaza. It would then present itself as the victim of Palestinian terror.

It once again failed to account for the resilience of the Palestinians, particularly in the tiny besieged strip, into its risk assessment before the operation. Not only did Palestinian groups fire back with nearly 400 rockets causing tens of injuries, images of a bus carrying soldiers on the Israeli side of the fence that was targeted with apparent ease made a mockery of Israel’s security provision.

The Palestinian group behind that attack scored a public relations victory because it refrained from firing until Israeli soldiers left the bus, controlling the amount of damage that could have been inflicted — and possible consequences.

The incident was shown on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, which was targeted and its main building demolished by an Israeli strike.

Far from inflicting a severe blow on Hamas, Israel is at war with itself, with Lieberman’s resignation and his calls for others to consider their positions possibly leading to the collapse of the coalition government and perhaps early elections.

A week is a long time in politics. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu started the week making a surprise official visit to Oman.

Two other ministers followed on open trips to the Gulf. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev visited the United Arab Emirates and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz attended a transport conference in Oman. The Israeli flag was raised in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

There were rumours of possible diplomatic relations being established between Bahrain and Israel. A possible long-term truce with Hamas appeared to be near completion and plans were presented to create a sea route between Gaza and Cypress, to ease the siege on Gaza.

The Americans were said to be readying themselves to reveal the Deal of the Century, US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, in early December.

By the end of the week, Netanyahu was back in Tel Aviv to deal with the fallout from the botched operation and the ensuing violence. He cut short his visit to France, where he was pictured in the front row of commemorations of the centenary of the Armistice Day. On his return to Israel, he was met with images of Israeli citizens burning tyres in protest of the decision to end the bombardment of Gaza. This is a measure of the effect of the failed operation.

Yet another truce appears to have been secured between Israel and the Palestinian groups in Gaza. This was met with celebrations in Gaza, which saw this and the resignation of Lieberman as a victory for the Palestinian resistance. The truce will bring relief to Israelis in the neighbouring settlements, despite their protests.

The Israeli operation showed friendly Arab countries that normalising relations with Israel would not encourage Israel to engage in serious efforts for peace with the Palestinians. Also, Israel will not go to the aid of Arab states in the unlikely event of an Iranian strike against them.

The messy operation should be a wake-up call for Arabs to review their strategies towards Israel.

Gaza strikes: Israeli impunity grows as Arab states normalise ties

First published by TRT World on 13/11/2018

 

The botched Israeli operation, and airstrikes, in Gaza, comes while a truce is under discussion with Hamas. Is bombing the Palestinians into submission, Benjamin Netanyahu’s idea of a negotiation?

Israel is quite literally playing with fire.

It launched a botched operation 3km into the Gaza strip, whose objectives are still unclear, but which seems to have been an attempted abduction or assassination of a senior member of the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The special forces unit used a civilian vehicle, and its members were reportedly disguised in women’s clothes. The alleged target, Nour Baraka was killed, as were six other resistance fighters.

Israeli forces lost one of their commandos, and another was reported injured. Things could have been much worse for Israel if it had not been for the overwhelming firepower it used to rescue its forces out of Gaza.

Hamas and Israel have since exchanged attacks, with Palestinian resistance groups firing tens of projectiles into Israel with reports of tens of injuries, while in return Israel launched rounds of airstrikes, which targeted among others, the homes of Hamas leaders, including Gaza’s speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Bahar.

Israel also bombed and destroyed the building that houses the Al Aqsa television station in Gaza City. A 19-year-old Israeli soldier was severely wounded after “an anti-tank missile” hit a bus in southern Israel’s Shaar HaNegev regional council area, Haaretz reported.

Israeli representatives have been laying blame at Hamas’s door for the escalation. However, Israel triggered it, and on this occasion, it is firmly to blame for the death on both sides.

The incident is in keeping with Israel’s reputation for negotiating with one hand and murdering with another. It just cannot be trusted.

It is not clear why Israel chose this moment to escalate matters. It decided to do this while a truce with Hamas was being negotiated through Egypt, which would have brought some relief to the besieged strip.

There was the talk of a sea route from Cyprus to Gaza to be installed to allow relatively free movement of cargo and presumably people in and out of Gaza that the Qataris had been negotiating. The two million besieged Palestinians were enjoying nearly 16 hours of electricity per day for the first time in years.

The Qatari Ambassador Mohammed al Emadi brought suitcases full of cashtotalling around $15 million to pay for the salaries of Hamas workers, who had not been paid in six months. In return, he could be heard asking a senior Hamas representative to “ensure calm.”

This was an explicit reference to scaling back the Great Return March to the Gaza fence, which has continued unabated since March.

Palestinians suffer as the world cosies up to Netanyahu

Further afield, Israel was enjoying quite sensational normalisation with Gulf states, with whom it has no official diplomatic ties.

Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have warmed, even leading Netanyahu to stress the importance of Saudi Arabia’s stability, in what analysts saw as clear reference to protecting the Saudi Crown Prince from any accountability for the Jamal Khashoggi urder in the Kingdom’s Istanbul Embassy.

Benjamin Netanyahu was on the front row for the commemoration of centenary of Armistices day in France. US President Trump’s special Adviser, Jason Greenblatt has been briefing pro-Israel supporters about the long rumored ‘ultimate deal’ which he told supporters of Israel in London would be made public as soon as the beginning of December.

Having handed Israeli recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and worked overtime to close UNRWA—both long desired by Netanyahu—it is almost certain the ‘deal’ would provide Israel with more gifts and be impossible for the Palestinians to accept.

Israel was winning the diplomatic and PR war, while the Palestinians were increasingly isolated. This makes it even more bizarre that it would seek to ignite a war on Gaza just as it was making such wins.

The botched attack forced Netanyahu to scupper home from France to decide on the next steps to yet again punish Gaza for the Israelis breaching a ceasefire or understanding of a ceasefire. As he was on his way, it was reported the Israeli military was requiring Tel Aviv airport to change flight routings in fear of rockets from Gaza reaching its main airport.

It seems Israeli leaders are now so certain of complete impunity—not only provided by the West but a normalising Arab world—that it can diplomatically win without any costs while exercising state terror on the Palestinians to perhaps finally beat them into submission.

Israel perhaps hopes this will send them scuttling to Trump to accept any deal both in Ramallah and Gaza.

Having failed to quell the peaceful Great Return March, Israel is back to her old tricks of crying wolf and painting Palestinians as terrorists to justify its violence. The normalising Arab states should take note. Israel cannot be trusted, especially under the current Netanyahu regime.

Whatever calculations Netanyahu and his extremist government made when they sanctioned the attack in Khan Younis, they once again failed to factor in the bravery and resilience of the Palestinian people.

As Israeli tanks amass at the Gaza fence, Israel can be sure that yes it can kill tens, hundreds or thousands with its American supplied weapons, but it will not break the Palestinians.

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

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Israel has done nothing to deserve normalisation with the Arab world

First published by the Middle East Eye on 12/11/2018

Growing normalisation has left Palestinians struggling to understand what happened to the Arab world’s support for the Palestinian cause

 

Our Arab brothers – as none of our leaders are women – have stabbed us in the front and the back, abandoning us politically while embracing Israel.

Israeli flags could soon be flying in the skies of some Gulf states, while they pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a “peace” deal that is unacceptable.

I say this as a Palestinian who has watched sickening images of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu – the leader of an oppressive apartheid state, with bucketloads of Palestinian and other Arab blood on his hands – being welcomed with open arms, together with his wife, by the ailing sultan of Oman.

Enshrining apartheid

Setting aside his leadership of the settlement enterprise, repeated wars on Gaza and the killing of hundreds of peaceful Palestinian protesters at the Gaza fence, Netanyahu recently dismissed the five-decade occupation of the Palestinian territories as “nonsense”. He also fast-tracked Israel’s nation-state law, enshrining apartheid into Israel’s basic law.

Netanyahu’s surprise trip to Oman was closely followed with a visit to the sultanate by Israeli Transport and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. At the International Road Transport Union meeting in Muscat, he outlined Israel’s plan for a railway that would link the Gulf states via Jordan with the Mediterranean through the port of Haifa. This is the same extremist minister who called for the “targeted killings” of leaders of the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in 2016.

Haifa is just 130 kilometres south of Beirut. A united Arab world, working for its people, should be making Beirut the Mediterranean destination of the train line, bringing Syria into the project and bypassing Israel. It could use the achievement of a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria as the precondition for linking to an Israeli port.

As if welcoming two Israeli ministers to Oman was not enough, Israel scored a normalisation hat-trick with the bizarre visit of Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev to the United Arab Emirates, where she laughed and joked with her hosts in the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi. This is the same extremist minister who labelled African asylum seekers as “a cancer in our society”.

Israeli flag raised in Abu Dhabi

Regev was in the UAE to see the Israeli Judo team compete in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. A gold medal for Israel’s Sagi Muki saw the Israeli flag raised and the national anthem, Hatikva, played for his win. Back in Jerusalem and Hebron, Israel sought to silence the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, because it disturbs the illegal settlers’ sleep.

Qatar recently hosted the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and allowed an Israeli team not only to participate, but also to display Israeli national emblems. Qatar was one of the first Arab countries to open an official Israeli trade mission in 1996, and its news channel, Al Jazeera, was the first Arab TV station to host Israelis, citing its mission to allow both sides of the story to be told.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev visits the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in October (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said in February that he had met with Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa of Bahrain in Tel Aviv while he was visiting Israel. Kara said they met “to strengthen the relationship between our two countries”, boasting of the encounter as a sign of growing relations between Israel and Bahrain. In July, Bahrain hosted Israeli diplomats attending a UNESCO conference.

There have also been examples of Saudi officials visiting Israel or openly engaging with Israeli officials in other countries, including Prince Turki Bin Faisal and retired General Anwar Eshki. There were rumours the Saudi crown prince himself had visited Tel Aviv, though Saudi Arabia denied this. Saudi Arabia has also allowed Air India to fly through its airspace en route to Tel Aviv, in what may be a prelude to opening Saudi Arabia’s skies to Israeli carrier El Al.

Growing ‘Iranophobia’

This is normalisation on steroids, checked only by a small number of countries. In the Gulf, only Kuwait continues to oppose any warming of ties with Israel, while Tunisia and Algeria stand out in North Africa. Israel has formal ties and peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan, which have endured various stresses and strains but brought neither country the same benefits Israel has gained, particularly in terms of security and quiet on its borders.

With this growing normalisation, we Palestinians are entitled to ask why. What has Israel done to deserve this? What happened to the steadfast Arab and Muslim support for the Palestinian cause? What about the slogan that Palestine is not just a Palestinian issue, but an Arab and Muslim issue? Whatever happened to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002?

There is no doubt that on the Arab street’s support for Palestinian rights is still strong. It is at the regime level where the once-clandestine ties with Israel are now out in the open. Israel has successfully frightened the Gulf states in particular into a form of “Iranophobia”, sending them running for protection to the US, which has in turn convinced them that Israel is not an enemy but an ally.

US President Donald Trump has been quite brutal in reminding them how vulnerable they are – not only to an Iranian threat, but to any threat. He recently told King Salman of Saudi Arabia: “You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military.”

Former Saudi King Abdullah offered Israel the Arab “peace initiative” in 2002, while Yasser Arafat was under siege in Ramallah. It offered Israel a normalisation of relations with the Arab world if peace was achieved between Israel and Palestine. Israel never accepted this plan, and the Arabs have now bypassed it, without even an Arab League summit to bury it.

Changing course

In return, Israel has offered nothing, except for a shared fear of the Iranian threat and increasing supplies of security software and military hardware. It continues to threaten the sanctity of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron and to deny Palestinians their legitimate rights. It has no plans to accept a just peace with Palestinians or to return the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

If the normalising Arabs think that Israel would send its jets to protect their thrones in the unlikely event of an Iranian attack, then they are deluded, or at best, badly advised. It will sit back and enjoy seeing their respective countries destroyed, as it did watching the powerful Syria and Iraq reduced to rubble. I do not want to see that happen.

The situation is recoverable. They can change course and reinstate a united Arab front in support of Palestine and against apartheid Israel. They need look no further for inspiration than Paraguay, which had initially announced it would follow the US in moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only to reverse that decision.

That did, of course, come after a change in Paraguay’s leadership.

– 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 a regular columnist and 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: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Sultan Qaboos in Oman in October (Handout)