What better offer does Israel have than the Arab Peace Initiative?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 20/8/2017

The last serious, sus­tained effort to bro­ker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians was made during the Obama administra­tion by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry. He tried over nine months to advance peace talks but his efforts met with failure and the breakout of the 50-day war on Gaza in 2014.

In his final speech before leav­ing office, Kerry laid most of the blame for the talks’ failures on the Israelis. He claimed that while Is­raeli Prime Minister Binyamin Ne­tanyahu publicly supports a two-state solution, his coalition “is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” which are “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history.”

Kerry then presented his princi­ples for a future final status agree­ment: An Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights for all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both countries; an end to the occupa­tion, while satisfying Israel’s se­curity needs, with a demilitarised Palestinian state; and end to all claims by both sides.

Just before the end of the Obama administration’s term, France called a conference of stakehold­ers to discuss a possible way for­ward but that too failed to move matters. Some, including British representatives, thought it odd that the two parties to the conflict were deliberately not invited.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, is leading attempts to broker the “ultimate deal.” He has expressed uncertainty about the United States’ ability to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Pales­tinians and told a recent gathering “there may be no solution.”

On August 1, China issued its own four-point plan to move the matter forward: Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state, upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, coop­erative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli set­tlement building, taking immedi­ate measures to prevent violence against civilians and calling for an early resumption of peace talks, coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint par­ticipation at an early date” and promoting peace through devel­opment and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel. None of the main parties have reacted to the plan.

There is, therefore, no short­age of initiatives from the inter­national community. The most serious one to come out of the Middle East was the Arab Peace Initiative, which was announced by then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in Bei­rut in 2002. The initiative calls for normalising relations between the Arab region and Israel, in ex­change for a full withdrawal by Israel from occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestin­ian refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

The initiative was met with en­thusiasm by former US President George W. Bush and generally sup­ported by former President Barack Obama. Trump has referred to it as a basis for the “ultimate deal.” He has said he is in favour of what­ever the two parties agree upon, whether one state or two.

Israel’s reaction from the outset was lukewarm. Its position can be summarised as recognising some of the initiative’s positive ele­ments while insisting that there are issues it would not compro­mise on, including the return of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and complete with­drawal from occupied Arab land.

Netanyahu rejected the ini­tiative in 2007, when he was the leader of the opposition. He told visiting Arab foreign ministers that “the withdrawal from Gaza two years ago proved that any Is­raeli withdrawal — particularly a unilateral one — does not advance peace but rather establishes a ter­ror base for radical Islam.”

In 2015, he stated “there are pos­itive aspects and negative aspects to it.” While noting that the situ­ation has changed in the 13 years since the deal was proposed, Ne­tanyahu asserted that “the gen­eral idea — to try and reach un­derstandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”

Israel probably believes that some Arab countries see it as a potential ally against Iran and are therefore more likely to offer it more concessions on the final out­come of a deal with the Palestin­ians. The recent tensions in and over Jerusalem showed that was unlikely but Israel still did not feel the need to accept the Arab Peace Initiative.

Al-Aqsa attack: Palestinians all but abandoned

First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/7/2017

With a weak response from Arab and Muslim countries to unprecedented restrictions at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Palestinians are left alone to defend the holy site from Israel’s incursions


The implications of the deadly incident last Friday at Al-Aqsa go way beyond the right to prayer.

Five Israeli citizens were killed during the attack at the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is the most sacred site in Judaism and is known as the Temple Mount. 

The three attackers, cousins from the Jabareen family, hail from the Arab Israeli city of Um Al-Fahm, which sits just inside the Green Line, and were on the security forces’ radar as a potential threat.

The two Israeli police officers killed in the incident were from Israel’s minority Druze community. One came from the mostly Druze but also Arab town of Maghar and the other from the Druze village of Hurfeish.

The bodies of the police officers were handed over quickly to the families and were buried on the same day, while Israeli officials are still holding those of the attackers.

The Jabareen family established three mourning tents in Um Al-Fahm which were quickly taken down on the orders of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On Monday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested the attackers homes may be demolished.

The coming days may see a rise in tensions between the Palestinian and Druze communities in Israel following the attack. Druze participation in the Israeli security forces is resented by Palestinian citizens of Israel and by Jerusalem residents who often face them at Al-Aqsa’s entrances. 

Not since 1969

Immediately after the attack, the Israeli authorities cleared the Holy Sanctuary of all who had come to pray, religious leaders and the employees of the Waqf, the body which administers the site, and then closed it. The Friday prayers scheduled to take place were cancelled and the call for prayers were silenced.

That had not happened since an Australian set the mosque on fire in August 1969, two years after Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six Day War.


Israeli forces guard a road leading to the main entrance of Al-Aqsa on Monday. Streets and shops were empty as Palestinians protested the new security measures (MEE)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Netanyahu and “expressed his strong condemnation over the fatal Jerusalem shootout and the Israeli closure of the holy Islamic site of al-Aqsa mosque,” according to the Palestinian press agency WAFA.

Abbas stated his “rejection of any violent incidents from any side, especially in places of worship” and called on Netanyahu to “end the closure imposed on the holy site, warning of the consequences of such measures”. 

Netanyahu assured Abbas that the “status quo” would not change at the compound, calling for all sides to stay calm. Palestinians did not appreciate Abbas’ condemnation and his standing is likely to reduce further, making him an ever weaker partner for peace.

How we got to here

The “status quo” which was established after Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the Holy Sanctuary, Muslims had a right to pray while non-Muslims, including Jews, could visit the site but not pray or perform other religious rituals there.

Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem was acknowledged in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan which stated that Israel “respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem”.

But the treaty stops short of giving Jordan any legal, political or religious authority over Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly pushed the limits of the “status quo”, particularly through larger and more frequent visits by Jewish settlers, religious leaders and politicians to the sites which Palestinians and the Waqf see as incursions, because they are not coordinated with the Waqf. This has caused repeated tensions between Israel and Jordan, leading to concerns among Palestinians that Israel is working to impose its sovereignty over the site.

In 2003, fearing that Israel was changing the status quo in Jerusalem, Abbas signed an agreement with Jordan’s King Abdullah which solidified Jordan’s custodianship of Muslim and Christian places in the holy city.

A statement from the Jordanian palace said: “In this historic agreement, Abbas reiterated that the king is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al-Aqsa mosque.”

The agreement also emphasised “the historical principles agreed by Jordan and Palestine to exert joint efforts to protect the city and holy sites from Israeli Judaisation attempts.”

Lukewarm regional reaction

While Jordan recalled its ambassador in 2014 in protest of Israeli practices at the site, its reaction to last Friday’s incident and the closure of the mosque has been rather low key.

King Abdullah condemned the attack in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, but slammed Israel’s two-day closure of the mosque and demanded it be reopened.

On Saturday evening, before he left for his state visit to France, Netanyahu said: “I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount. We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there.

“I decided that as of Sunday in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures.”

Netanyahu’s statement, in itself, is contradictory because the measures he detailed are not part of the status quo. However, there has been no further reaction from Jordan, which is of concern to Palestinians who had expected stronger action from the king.

However, Palestinians are also dismayed at what they see as a broader, low key reaction to the closure of the mosque from the Arab and Muslim world with the exception of Qatar whose minister of foreign affairs said the closure was “a severe violation of holy Islamic sites and a provocation to millions of Muslims around the world”.

The Arab League called for Al-Aqsa to be opened immediately and for any change in the status quo to be stopped. Egypt and Turkey put out rather mild statements. Turkey expressed its regret over the incident, insisted the site must stay open and Israel’s closure immediately cancelled.

Concern for the third holiest site to Muslims usually triggers demonstrations in many Arab and Muslim countries in which protestors chant, “We would sacrifice our lives and our blood for you Al-Aqsa”. That chant was heard in Jerusalem and Jordan, but nowhere else.

In fact, the overall response from the Arab and Muslim world ranks amongst the weakest ever recorded. This may be an outcome of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, which was brought about by US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region and the focus during that visit on terror. 

After Riyadh

While Palestinians will argue that for a people under a 50-year illegal occupation, attacks against “the occupation forces” are legitimate forms of resistance and therefore not terror, the prevailing climate following the Riyadh conference is less supportive.

The issue of terror, though no clear definition has emerged of what it is, is at the heart of the unprecedented standoff between Qatar and four other Arab states including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

While the Palestinians are angered by Israel’s interference in their right to unimpeded access to Al-Aqsa, which Israel may gradually reinstate, albeit under stricter security arrangements, the situation will not return to what it was prior to the attack unless Jordan acts decisively.

With an the Arab world which favours Israel and America’s normalisation-led approach to regional peace, Jordan may feel it lacks the support of its Arab brothers to secure a return to the status quo.

The conclusion for the Palestinian people, especially the residents of Jerusalem, is that they have been abandoned.

Not only have they lost the backing of their Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters in their pursuit of liberation, independence and freedom, the defence of Al-Aqsa, cherished by 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world, has been left to the 300,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who face a most brutal and merciless occupier.

Israeli ministers will be exchanging high fives for making the most of an opportunity to take over the revered site, but history shows that humiliating Palestinians and leaving them with little hope will lead to more violence.
Photo: Israeli border guards detain a Palestinian youth during a demonstration outside the Lions Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound, due to newly-implemented security measures by Israeli authorities which include metal detectors and cameras, in Jerusalem’s Old City on 17 July 2017 (AFP)

Interview: ‘It seems Abbas has led Palestinians to a dead end’

Interview by Muslim Press on 3/7/2017

Muslim Press has conducted an interview with British Palestinian academic and writer on Middle East Affairs Kamel Hawwash about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is playing in this regard.

“It seems Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. Gaza is still under siege ten years on, the settlements continue to grow in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over 6,000 prisoners still languish in Israeli jails, reconciliation with Hamas has failed and the refugees have not been able to return to their homes in historic Palestine,” Prof. Hawwash said.

Here’s the full transcript of the interview:

Muslim Press: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has recently met with US President Donald Trump. What’s your take on this meeting? Does Abbas speak for all Palestinians? 

Kamel Hawwash: Abbas’ first meeting with the American President in Washington seemed to have gone well. Donald Trump even tweeted that he was ‘honoured’ to meet the Palestinian President but he then deleted the tweet. He continued to repeat his belief that bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the ‘ultimate deal’. The second meeting was less positive. Reports suggested that Trump focused on what Israel calls Palestinian incitement, which had been fed to trump during his meeting with Netanyahu, hours earlier. Trump is said to have accused Abbas of lying to him about his actions to end incitement. It also emerged that Trump had raised the issue of the PA’s monthly payments to families of Palestinian prisoners and martyrs (those killed while allegedly attacking Israelis, including occupation forces). As to the peace process then little emerged from the meetings to give the Palestinians hope. However, Abbas was still committed to negotiations, brokered by the Americans.

MP: Has Israel been pressuring the PA since Trump was elected? 

Kamel Hawwash: Israel has been moving the goal posts again. It is now raising the issue of ending Palestinian ‘incitement’ as a major issue in advance of any negotiations and is requiring that the PA ends payments to families of prisoners and those the Palestinians see as martyrs. It has further been attempting to relegate the importance of reaching a deal with the Palestinians to a secondary issue that is part of a regional deal rather than important in its own right. This has to be set against the context of what Israel claims to be thawing relations with some of the Gulf States and the talk of partial normalisation between Israel and key players in the region including Saudi Arabia.

MP: What are the results of Abbas’s policies toward Israel for Palestinians?

Kamel Hawwash: It seems Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. Gaza is still under siege ten years on, the settlements continue to grow in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over 6,000 prisoners still languish in Israeli jails, reconciliation with Hamas has failed and the refugees have not been able to return to their homes in historic Palestine. In addition, the PA’s security coordination with Israel is seen as ‘sacred’ by Abbas which the Palestinians find difficult to understand when Israel continues to flout all agreements signed with the PA. The lack of hope is the most dangerous outcome from his policies, despite a small number of achievements, including the upgrade in Palestine’s status to a UN non-member observer state in 2012.

MP: Trump has said he will find peace between the Palestinian people and Israel. How would that be possible while Israel is still expanding illegal settlements?

Kamel Hawwash: It is difficult to see how Trump can bring peace between the two sides considering how biased his team of negotiators is and his in favour of Israel and his choice of US Ambassador. The three key players, his son-in-Law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman, could easily be on the Israeli side as they support much of Israel’s policies, especially the settlement enterprise. Trump has not appointed a single adviser who could be seen as pro-Palestinian or indeed an American of Palestinian heritage. He has abandoned long standing US policy regarding the illegitimacy of the settlements and does not mind if the parties want a 2-state or one-state solution. His vision is rather confused.

MP: What’s the significance of Jared Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas?

Kamel Hawwash: This may have finally exposed the bias of the American team towards Israel. Reports indicate Kushner had left his meeting with Netanyahu for Ramallah effectively to pass on Israeli demands to the PA rather than offer some balance or provide an indication of his ideas for relaunching the peace process.

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

Pro-Israel positions likely to continue with new British landscape

First published by the Arab Weekly on 2/7/2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May

There are ques­tions with regards to what effects the snap elections have on British foreign policy towards Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, won 318 seats in parliament but that was eight seats short of the major­ity needed to allow her to form a government. She is looking for support from North Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which secured ten seats.

Although still in opposition with 262 seats, the Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, fared much better than expectations when the elections were announced in April.

An examination of the various parties’ policies on the Palestin­ian territories and Israel reveals that Labour, in its own words, is “committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution — a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.”

It advocated “both an end to the (Gaza) blockade, (Israeli) occupation and settlements and an end to (Palestinian) rocket and terror attacks.” Significantly, Labour pledged to “immediately recognise the state of Palestine” if it formed the next government.

The Liberal Democrat’s policy on the issue was similar. How­ever, it supported recognition of the independent state of Pales­tine “as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.”

The 2017 general election saw Britain’s first MP with Palestinian heritage, Layla Moran, secure a seat in parliament for the Liberal Democrats. Before the election, she spoke of how her Palestinian background made her interested in engaging in politics.

She pointed to the influence of her great-grandfather, who told her that Jerusalem was once a place “where you had Jews, Christians and Muslim communi­ties coming together, who were respectful of each other,” as quoted by the New Arab. “That’s the kind of vision I want for the world, where differences are respected and we are open and tolerant of each other’s views,” she said. “I continue to believe that a society like that is possi­ble.”

With only 12 MPs in the House of Commons, the Liberal Demo­crats will have limited influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Scottish National Party stated that it would “continue to work with international partners to progress a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East, pursuing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine” but did not commit to recognition.

The Conservative manifesto made no mention of the conflict and neither did that of the DUP.

It will be the Conservative Party, with its longstanding policy of supporting a two-state solution to the conflict and its stance that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, that will rule.

However, the Conservatives’ long-standing support for Israel will only be strengthened by the agreement with the DUP. The Northern Irish party is also a supporter of Israel.

On hearing of a possible agreement, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush said this would be “positive news” both for Britain’s Jewish community and Israel.

The DUP is staunchly pro-Israel. In the vote requesting the British government to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014, the party’s MPs opposed it.

As Britain digests the outcome of a truly extraordinary general election, one thing can be guaranteed. In the year Britain and Israel celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, despite repeated requests by the Palestinians that it should be apologising for its effects on them, Britain will continue to take pro-Israel positions.

That is, of course, unless another general election is called on account of government dysfunction and Labour wins a majority in parliament.

Mahmoud Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. He must go 

First published by the Middle East Eye on 29/6/2017

The president has hit a new low, cutting the salaries and electricity of Palestinians in Gaza. The next intifada will be against the Palestinian National Authority and this should worry Israel and Abbas


Photo: A photo of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from 2016 (AFP)

The embattled 81-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been in power since 2005. His reign has not brought the Palestinian people any closer to freedom and independence, but where is he leading them to now?

Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in January 2005 following Yasser Arafat’s death under suspicious circumstances in November 2004. He is president of the state of Palestine, leader of Fatah and chairman of the PLO. He is committed to negotiations with Israel based on a two-state solution, and has been since he signed the 1993 Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn to great cheers. 

In short, he has played a hugely significant role in leading the Palestinians as a negotiator, a prime minster and a president and, while the blame for his administration’s failure can be shared among a number of key personnel, he set the overall direction of travel and must therefore carry the can for its disastrous consequences.

Under his watch, the Palestinians scored a small number of successes, including an upgrade of Palestine’s membership of the United Nations to a non-member observer state in 2012 allowing it to join several international organisations including UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. This was part of a strategy to internationalise the conflict.

Abbas may well argue that another of his successes has been the security coordination with Israel instigated under Oslo. It is one of the strongest cards Palestinians have to threaten Israel. Abbas has, however, called it “sacred”, arguing, “If we give up security coordination, there will be chaos here. There will be rifles and explosions and armed militants everywhere,”

Beyond this list, it is difficult to point to any other significant successes. On the contrary, Abbas’ setbacks and failures have put the Palestinian cause in the worst position it has been since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Peace process 

The Oslo Accords were meant to deliver a Palestinian state within five years. Twenty-four years and countless negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian side, mostly led for the Palestinians by Saeb Erekat, later, and there is no Palestinian state

And while 136 member states of the UN recognise Palestine, of the so-called international community, only Sweden has afforded this recognition to the Palestinians. Significantly, neither Israel, nor the US recognise Palestine as a state, arguing recognition should only come at the negotiation table.

The last significant attempt at peace talks, led by US secretary of state John Kerry, ended in complete failure in 2014 and was followed by Israel’s third war on Gaza in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. As he was leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for failure of the talks at Israel’s door, singling out its settlement policy led by the “most right-wing” government in its history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Israeli electorate that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch in 2015. A significant number of his cabinet colleagues are against a state ever materialising and believe in the annexation of significant chunks of the West Bank to Israel.

Abbas remains committed to restarting negotiations with Israel and is now banking on the Trump administration to launch another initiative.

Settlements

In 1993, the number of settlers in the West Bank including East Jerusalem stood at 148,000. By the time Abbas had taken over as president, they had reached 440,000. Under his presidency, the number has risen to almost 600,000.

They live in 127 illegal settlements “recognised” by the interior ministry as “communities” and about 100 illegal “outposts”. In 2005, Israel vacated 16 settlements in Gaza under Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” plan.

The ever rising number of settlers and settlements has for many analysts already ended the prospect of a viable Palestinian state emerging.

Relationship between PNA and Hamas

Ever since its creation in 1987 shortly after the start of the first intifada, Hamas has pursued a significantly different approach to the conflict than Abbas’s Fatah party based on the liberation of historic Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic state in the area.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again

In 2006, it decided to combine its military strategy with participation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections which it won handsomely. Abbas accepted the results and asked Ismael Haniyeh to form a government, which was then boycotted by the international community.

Following a bloody confrontation between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza in 2006, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza which continues to this day. The Egyptian border crossing at Rafah has effectively been closed since January 2015.

Despite many attempts at reconciliation between the two factions, the division between Hamas and Fatah remains deep. Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah rules the West Bank. The two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have paid a heavy price for this division.

Price paid by Palestinians in Gaza increases – again

Frustrated by a lack of progress in ending the division, but perhaps playing to the Israeli and American gallery under US President Trump, Abbas has recently undertaken several steps to pressure Hamas which may result in the formal separation of Gaza from the West Bank.

In recent weeks, he slashed the salaries paid to 60,000 civil servants in Gaza and informed Israel that the PNA would no longer pay for the electricity it supplies to Gaza which has reduced the supply to the strip to a couple of hours a day.

This hits not only ordinary Palestinians hard, it also hurts vital services such as hospitals and sewage treatment works. The PNA has also reportedly cut its funding to the medical sector depriving it of badly needed equipment and medicines.


Young Palestinians in Rafah burn Abbas’ portrait during a protest against the Israeli blockade of of Gaza in April 2017 (AFP)

However, reports that the PNA has been blocking the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza outside the strip have truly angered Palestinians everywhere.

Many that I have spoken to both inside Palestine and in the diaspora described this as “shameful”. “How can Abbas impose collective punishment on his own people while maintaining security cooperation with Israel?” one asked.

If Mahmoud Abbas thought his actions would hurt Hamas and bring it to heal, then he has once again miscalculated badly. Reports have emerged of talks between Hamas and Abbas’s arch-rival Mohammed Dahlan which could see the latter return as leader in Gaza.

And if Abbas thought his hard-line approach against Hamas would endear him to Trump and his senior advisers then his recent, frosty meeting with Jared Kushner surely confirms the opposite. The more he gives, the more Israel and its American backers led by a fanatically pro-Israel team will want.

This time his actions against Hamas may give the Americans something Israeli leaders crave: a final separation between Gaza and the West Bank. This would certainly fulfil Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet’s vision of a Palestinian state “only in Gaza” and the annexation of the West Bank, giving the Palestinians limited autonomy there.

Whatever strategy Abbas has followed is unravelling. He is leading the Palestinians to further fragmentation and separation.

It is time he admitted this and stood down. If not, then his own miscalculations could hasten the end of his rule. Even those around him that have benefited handsomely from his rule must now realise the game is up.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again. This time it will be against their own expired leadership which has now denied babies and cancer sufferers in Gaza medical treatment for political purposes. The next intifada will be against the Muqata’a. This should worry Israel as much as Abbas.

Every picture tells a story; can the Palestinians expect any justice from this bunch?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/6/2017


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (3rd L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

Throughout his first trip abroad as US president, during which he visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region. It would be, he said, the “ultimate deal.”

He promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”

In order to put the “ultimate deal” together, it is reasonable to expect that a team with knowledge of both sides of the conflict would be gathered together to determine the facts and the rhetoric before a truly honest broker could succeed in the task. No such attempt at balance was made during Trump’s election campaign; his Middle East adviser then was Walid Phares, who is of Lebanese Christian Maronite heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel position. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian perspective.

As president, we now see that the team that Trump has put together to launch another attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians not only lacks any balance whatsoever, but is also tilted entirely in Israel’s favour.

Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently returned to the US after a 15-hour trip to the Holy Land during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the PA’s Abbas. The photograph circulated of his meeting with Netanyahu is a revealing snapshot of the team planning to launch Trump’s new peace initiative; every picture tells a story, and this one is no different.

Kushner himself is an orthodox Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors. The real estate developer’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El. He started his visit in his new role as Trump’s “senior adviser” by offering condolences to the family of Israeli police officer Hadas Malka who died during an attack by Palestinians recently. Although he would have a much longer list to choose from, he did not seek out the family of any Palestinian killed by Israel to show that he understood the suffering on both sides.

In the picture too is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Trump’s company lawyer from New York is also an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think that the United States or any other party should try to impose an agreement on Israel. In a recent visit to the Zionist state, Greenblatt met with leaders of the settlement movement, including the Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

The final member of the US trio in the official photograph is David Friedman, Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel; an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is also committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Like Kushner, he has close ties with the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El. Indeed, Friedman heads Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organisation which recently funded a five-story block in the Israeli colony built on occupied Palestinian territory. Friedman does not believe that the colony-settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.

Representing Israel in the picture is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has led the far-right Israeli government for a total of 13 years, alongside Israel’s US-born ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who has been in post for the past 4 years. During the 2015 Israeli election campaign Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he now insists that Israel must keep security control “west of the River Jordan” in any peace deal. He was prime minister during the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, including more than 350 children, were killed.

Everyone in the picture of Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu is a Zionist Jew; not a single American of Palestinian origin or US advisor with even slightly less partisan views, never mind pro-Palestinian. Of course, I do not wish to imply that Jews cannot help deliver a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis — there are many who are active in the peace movement — but it is difficult to see how Zionist Americans, whether Jewish or not, can be even-handed in their endeavours to get the “ultimate deal”.

Anyone looking among Trump’s team for some counterbalance to the pro-Israel views championed by Kushner, Greenblatt or Friedman will be sorely disappointed. Another of the president’s senior appointments is US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley; it is hardly surprising that she is a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for being “biased” in its criticism of Israel’s illegal activities. She recently promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington — that “the days of Israel bashing [at the UN] are over.”

Hayley went to Israel in between the Trump and Kushner visits, providing Netanyahu with an opportunity to heap praise upon her and her boss. “President Trump and you, I think, have changed the discourse, have drawn new standards, and everybody’s taking up, and that’s great,” Netanyahu gushed. “Again, I felt that the UN would collapse, you know, that whole scaffolding of lies would just collapse. I think you’ve put in that simple word, truth.”

The “truth” is that with a blatantly pro-Israel team in place who believe in Israeli settlements but are not committed even to the concept of two states, the Palestinians cannot rely on the US to act as an honest broker and deliver peace.

It was, therefore, bewildering — though not, perhaps, surprising — to hear one of Mahmoud Abbas’s top advisers express the PA’s anger at a new illegal settlement being built. “[This is] a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” claimed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as if this would generate some reaction from Washington. It has not and will not. With Kushner et al calling the shots, how could it?

The Palestinian leadership is in a real bind, mostly of its own making. This goes back several years, particularly since Abbas took over and pinned his colours solely to the mast of the “peace process” with Israel bereft of any reference to international law and under US patronage. It is blindingly obvious that America will always side with Israel and if pressure is ever exerted on anyone, it will be on the Palestinians to make yet more concessions.

To add to Palestinian woes, Trump has further succeeded in driving a real wedge between those Arab states that remain intact and the Palestinian cause. At the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Abbas looked isolated and had to work hard simply to ensure that the Arab peace plan was not watered down further to offer Israel more incentive to take it seriously. He then learnt that some Gulf States are considering partial normalisation with Israel in advance of a peace deal, which runs contrary to the Arab initiative.

The Palestinians need to accept that the strategy adopted by the PA has failed to deliver peace or even get the siege of Gaza lifted to alleviate the daily suffering of two million people. If any progress is to be made, the PLO and its institutions must be rebuilt and the Palestinians within and beyond historic Palestine have to be reconnected, working together for the same objective of achieving justice, freedom and equality. The Palestinians must rely on themselves for a change; relying on Trump’s team to deliver justice or anything but capitulation is preposterous.

When Congress celebrates the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, it defiles and redefines US values

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/6/2017

US Congress in session [File photo]

The American people missed a major incident in the US Congress last week which should have worried them immensely. Their elected representatives celebrated an illegal act on their behalf. Yes, the US Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel, and its illegal annexation in 1968. On 7 June, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, joined Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, the Speaker of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a simultaneous celebration of the “unification” of the city that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Addressing the participants on Capitol Hill and the Knesset, Netanyahu declared that, “Jerusalem will never be divided again.” He contrasted the city before 1967 – when his mother told him “You can’t go right, you can only go left,” due to Jordanian snipers – and visiting the Western Wall immediately after the Six-Day War.

Formally, the international community does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel took by armed force from Jordan in 1967. It further considers Israel’s building of settlements for Jews in the occupied Palestinian areas as illegal. Even the United States itself considers the settlements to be illegitimate. The ICJ advisory opinion on Israel’s separation wall reaffirmed the “applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

In a recent resolution, UNESCO confirmed that East Jerusalem is “occupied” and that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.” Only ten countries, including Israel and the US, voted against this resolution.

An international consensus exists which does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On the ground, this is enacted through the location of all embassies in Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometres away on the coast. This includes the US Embassy. However, in 1995 the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which recognises the city as Israel’s “capital”; the Act further called for the embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem by May 1999, at the latest.

The fact that the US Embassy has not moved to Jerusalem is down to successive US presidents who realised the ramifications of this move and chose to sign twice yearly waivers keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, even though Clinton, George W Bush and Trump made unambiguous promises to move it during their election campaigns. In Trump’s case, the promises were so recent that there was an expectation around the world, and hope in Israel, that he would do it early in his term. However, he too baulked at the move once in office and, having just returned from the Middle East, decided to sign a waiver on 1 June to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, much to the disappointment not only of Israel but also his own newly installed pro-Israel Ambassador, David Friedman. However, Trump and future presidents will continue to come under pressure from the pro-Israel Lobby through its stooges in Congress to push for the implementation of the Embassy Act.

#USEmbassy

It can therefore be argued that for Congress to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “reunification” of Jerusalem is in keeping with a long tradition of supporting Israel, right or wrong. However, illegal acts are surely not something that Americans should sanction or celebrate.

Consider this, for example: if Saddam Hussain’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait — like the occupation of Jerusalem, it was also deemed illegal at the time — was still in place, would Congress this year be celebrating the 27th anniversary of its “reunification” with Iraq? I understand the difference between Israel, a US ally, and Iraq. However, from the perspective of international law, the occupations of Iraq and Jerusalem (and the other areas captured by Israel in 1967) are illegal and therefore celebrating either is to celebrate illegal acts. In fact, while the US assembled a coalition of states to eject Iraq from Kuwait by force, it has acquiesced to Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab lands by not even placing any pressure on successive Israeli governments to end it. The US has further provided Israel with half of its international aid budget for the foreseeable future to ensure its “security”, and continues to protect it politically and diplomatically through the wielding of its veto in the UN Security Council.

In an astonishing move to shield Israel from criticism, all 100 US Senators signed a letter to the UN Secretary General in April demanding that it is “treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing.” The implication is that Israel’s defiance of dozens of UN Security Council resolutions, its 50-year occupation and repeated military offensives — and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity — against Gaza puts it in “good standing”.

America’s continued and unconditional military aid to Israel was heavily criticised by religious leaders in 2012. The signatories urged “an immediate investigation” into possible violations by Israel of the US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act, which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defence”. However, Congress has never investigated whether Israel violates US law or not.

America’s much-vaunted democratic values include liberty, justice and equality. When it comes to Palestinians, though, the US — through its elected representatives — acts regularly to deny them these same values. America does not seek equality for all Israeli citizens, 20 per cent of whom are Palestinians against whom state-sanctioned discrimination is rife. Nor has the US acted to deliver liberty for Palestinians in the same way that it did for the Kuwaitis; instead, America denies the illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land. Moreover, when it comes to the Jerusalem Act and the celebration of its illegal occupation, the US Congress certainly does not deliver justice to the Palestinians. In all of this, Congress defiles and redefines the values it claims to uphold for its own citizens. This is total hypocrisy.