Le pire accord de l’histoire ? Trump veut faire de Jérusalem la capitale d’Israël

Middle East Eye 6/12/2017

Année terrible pour les Palestiniens, 2017 pourrait s’achever sur une note encore plus amère puisque Trump s’apprête à offrir Jérusalem à Israël sur un plateau

Les Palestiniens espéraient que l’année 2017, qui marque le centenaire de la déclaration Balfour, les 70 ans de la Nakba et les 50 ans de l’occupation de la Cisjordanie, de Jérusalem-Est et de Gaza par Israël, serait également marquée par les excuses du Royaume-Uni pour la déclaration Balfour et par la reconnaissance internationale de la nécessité de mettre un terme rapidement aux injustices qu’ils subissent depuis si longtemps.

Leurs espoirs ont été balayés.

Plutôt que de faire des excuses, la Grande-Bretagne a exprimé sa grande fierté quant au rôle qu’elle a joué dans la création d’Israël, dans le silence assourdissant de la communauté internationale.

La déclaration Trump

Tandis que les Palestiniens pansaient leurs blessures et menaçaient à nouveau de poursuivre les responsables israéliens devant la Cour pénale internationale (CPI), les pays arabes ont fait pression pour les en dissuader. L’administration Trump a menacé de fermer les bureaux de l’OLP à Washington si les Palestiniens entamaient leur démarche auprès de la CPI.

Le président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas a été convoqué à Riyad pour se voir annoncer sans ambages qu’il n’avait d’autre choix que d’accepter l’accord de paix formulé par l’administration Trump ou de démissionner.

Il semblerait que l’annus horribilis 2017 puisse se terminer sur une note encore plus amère pour les Palestiniens. Et les spéculations vont bon train : une « autre déclaration » serait en préparation.

Selon plusieurs médias, le président américain s’apprêterait à émettre ce que l’on pourrait appeler la « déclaration Trump », selon laquelle les États-Unis reconnaissent Jérusalem comme capitale d’Israël. Un seul autre État considère cette allégation comme vraie : Israël.

Ce faisant, Trump va « offrir » la ville, sacrée pour les trois religions monothéistes, à un État extrémiste et colonisateur pour en faire sa capitale, au mépris du droit international et du « consensus international sur son statut ».

Les Palestiniens considèrent que Jérusalem-Est est leur capitale et la plupart des États considèrent qu’elle est actuellement occupée illégalement.

Lors de son discours à la conférence de l’AIPAC en 2015, Trump avait promis : « Nous transférerons l’ambassade américaine dans la capitale éternelle du peuple juif, Jérusalem ». Toutefois, lorsque l’opportunité de passer à l’action s’est présentée en juin, il s’est abstenu.

Pour ce faire, il avait signé une dérogation reportant le transfert de six mois. Trump a suivi en cela les pas de Bill Clinton, George W. Bush et Barack Obama qui avaient signé des dérogations similaires (35 au total) depuis l’adoption, à une écrasante majorité, du Jerusalem Embassy Act par les deux chambres du Congrès en 1995.

À mesure que le choix entre la dérogation et l’autorisation du transfert de l’ambassade approchait, Israël et le lobby pro-israélien américain ont exercé une pression croissante pour que Trump respecte la promesse qu’il avait faite avant d’être élu. Son ambassadeur en Israël, David Friedman, est sur le point de devenir le premier ambassadeur des États-Unis en Israël à opérer depuis Jérusalem.

« Si Trump reconnaît Jérusalem, sacrée pour les trois religions monothéistes, en tant que capitale d’Israël, il offrira la ville à un État extrémiste colonialiste » (AFP)

Jérusalem-Est et Jérusalem ouest

Dore Gold, ancien directeur-général du ministère israélien des Affaires étrangères, a déclaré devant le Congrès qui siégeait sur « les défis et les opportunités du déplacement » de la capitale : « le président Donald Trump s’est engagé à cet égard et je crois qu’il s’en tiendra à ce qu’il a dit », en référence à la promesse de Trump de transférer l’ambassade.

Le vice-président américain Mike Pence a fait naître l’espoir d’un possible transfert de l’ambassade lors de son discours à l’occasion d’un rassemblement en commémoration du 70e anniversaire de la résolution 181 de l’ONU qui prévoyait la partition de la Palestine mandataire en un État juif et un État arabe.

Il a choisi cette occasion pour annoncer que « le président Donald Trump étudi[ait] sérieusement quand et comment transférer l’ambassade des États-Unis de Tel-Aviv à Jérusalem ».

Si cette spéculation se réalise, Trump décidera peut-être de reconnaître Jérusalem en tant que capitale d’Israël, avec quelques réserves, tout en reportant à nouveau le transfert effectif.

Il envisagera même peut-être de faire la distinction entre Jérusalem-Est et Ouest comme le ministre russe des Affaires étrangères en avril dernier dans une déclaration en ces termes : « La Russie réaffirme son attachement aux principes approuvés par l’ONU pour un règlement du conflit israélo-palestinien, avec Jérusalem-Est comme capitale du futur État palestinien. En même temps, nous devons affirmer que, dans ce contexte, nous considérons Jérusalem-Ouest comme la capitale d’Israël. »

Toutefois, Trump est toujours imprévisible et pourrait aller jusqu’au bout en déclarant, en une trentaine de mots : « en tant que président des États-Unis, je suis fier d’annoncer que j’ai décidé de transférer l’ambassade américaine en Israël de Tel Aviv à Jérusalem, la capitale éternelle du peuple juif ».

Il pourra soutenir qu’il ne fait qu’appliquer l’un des nombreux engagements qu’il a pris lors de la campagne électorale de 2016.

Les réactions arabes et musulmanes

Quelle serait la réaction en Palestine, en Israël et dans le reste du monde ? Cela enflammera-t-il les rues de Palestine, du monde arabe et du monde musulman ? Cela nous rapprochera-t-il d’une confrontation entre l’Iran et Israël ?

S’agira-t-il de la dernière goutte qui fera déborder le vase pour les dirigeants palestiniens ? Cela provoquera-t-il une rupture des relations entre l’OLP et les États-Unis, voire l’exécution de la menace souvent brandie d’une autodissolution de l’AP et de l’abandon par Mahmoud Abbas des clés de la Mouqata’a, son quartier général, à Benyamin Netanyahou ?

La colère sera-t-elle dirigée contre les États-Unis et leur président impulsif, contre la puissance occupante israélienne ou contre l’Autorité palestinienne et son président ? Nous vivons dans une époque tellement truffée d’incertitudes que n’importe lequel de ces scénarios est possible, voire une combinaison entre ces scénarios, alors qu’ils auraient été considérés comme impossibles autrefois.

Traduction : « La reconnaissance par Trump de Jérusalem comme capitale israélienne malgré les résolutions de l’ONU détruirait tous les efforts déployés en faveur de la paix. Les tentatives d’annexion et les colonies doivent être condamnées et non encouragées. »

Le monde arabe, en proie aux troubles et dont le leadership est transmis à la prochaine génération dans certains pays, a relégué la question palestinienne derrière la menace de l’Iran, la « lutte contre le terrorisme » et le chaos qui continue de toucher un certain nombre de points chauds du « Printemps arabe ».

L’Autorité palestinienne a déjà formulé des mises en garde contre les conséquences désastreuses qui résulteraient d’une telle initiative et le président Abbas est entré en contact avec des dirigeants arabes et d’autres dirigeants mondiaux pour demander leur soutien afin de dissuader Trump d’agir de la sorte.

Peut-être a-t-il été rassuré par la déclaration du ministre saoudien des Affaires étrangères Adel al-Joubeir, qui, lors d’une récente session du Dialogue méditerranéen à Rome, a affirmé que tout changement apporté au statut de Jérusalem-Est ferait enrager le monde arabe.

Poignée de mains entre le président américain Donald Trump et le Premier ministre israélien Benyamin Netanyahou à l’issue de déclarations faites à Jérusalem, en mai dernier (AFP)

Cependant, les rapports décrits comme étroits entre le gendre et conseiller de Trump Jared Kushner et le prince héritier saoudien Mohammed ben Salmane semblent destinés à accabler davantage les Palestiniens afin de les forcer à céder du terrain à la place d’Israël. Si le prix du soutien américain apporté à l’Arabie saoudite contre l’Iran est la cession de Jérusalem, le jeune prince sera-t-il capable de résister ?

Même si Abbas a recueilli du soutien auprès de la plupart des destinataires de ses appels, il convient de se demander si cela se traduira par une pression suffisante. Les Palestiniens qui attendent une réponse plus ferme de l’Iran risquent d’être déçus.

Une stratégie de libération

Il est quasiment certain que les 193 pays qui reconnaissent la Palestine rejettent l’initiative. L’UE devrait la rejeter et maintenir sa position ; ses États membres devraient garder leur ambassade à Tel Aviv et peut-être même refuser de faire des affaires dans une ambassade américaine installée à Jérusalem.

Cependant, certains États qui se sont rangés du côté d’Israël à l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies, dont l’Australie et le Canada, pourraient être tentés de suivre le mouvement. En 2014, le procureur général australien a déclaré au Sénat que son pays ne reconnaîtrait plus Jérusalem-Est comme étant « occupée » et la considérerait de ce fait comme un territoire israélien.

Les premières indications nous orientent certainement vers des manifestations à Gaza et en Cisjordanie ; néanmoins, la plupart des Palestiniens ne peuvent atteindre l’ambassade américaine à Tel Aviv dans la mesure où ils ont besoin de permis pour entrer en Israël, ce qu’ils n’auront pas s’ils souhaitent y entrer dans ce but.

Les citoyens palestiniens d’Israël, qui constituent un cinquième de la population israélienne, tout comme d’autres Israéliens qui voient à quel point cette situation est problématique pour les perspectives de paix à long terme, pourraient rallier l’ambassade, mais ces protestations ont peu de chances d’être prolongées.

Cela représenterait un grand défi pour les Palestiniens de Jérusalem qui se sont soulevés l’été dernier contre la fermeture de la mosquée al-Aqsa en protestant pacifiquement jusqu’à la réouverture du lieu saint et jusqu’au retrait des mesures de sécurité qu’Israël souhaitait mettre en œuvre.

Ils pourraient protester devant le consulat américain à Jérusalem-Est, mais cela ne sera efficace que si une campagne organisée, qui exhorterait Trump à revenir sur sa déclaration et qui les inclurait, prend de l’ampleur et rencontre un succès rapide.

Les protestations seront donc plus probablement virtuelles, avec des « tempêtes de tweets » et des hashtags appropriés, ce qui pourrait permettre initialement de soulever le problème, sans toutefois donner lieu à un revirement de décision.

L’Autorité palestinienne a fondé toute sa stratégie pour résoudre le conflit israélo-palestinien sur une solution à deux États avec Jérusalem-Est comme capitale d’un futur État palestinien, ce qui fait de Jérusalem-Est une ligne rouge.

À LIRE : EXCLUSIF : Pour les Palestiniens, l’« accord ultime » de Trump est un ultimatum

Si celle-ci est franchie, qu’offrirait donc réellement l’« accord ultime » de Trump ? Des fuites ont indiqué que les questions de Jérusalem et du droit au retour des réfugiés seraient reportées, mais que les colonies israéliennes seraient maintenues et qu’aucun colon ne serait obligé de partir.

Le moment semble venu pour Abbas de s’inspirer de la fameuse politique du Brexit employée par la Première ministre britannique Theresa May, selon laquelle l’absence d’accord est meilleure qu’un mauvais accord, et de s’en arrêter là.

S’il doit être question aujourd’hui d’un « mercredi noir » et si Trump reconnaît Jérusalem en tant que capitale d’Israël, alors il sera sûrement temps pour l’AP de se dissoudre et pour les Palestiniens de développer leur stratégie de libération et de quête de leurs droits.

À moins, bien sûr, que l’Autorité palestinienne n’ait un plan « malin » qu’Abbas cacherait si bien contre sa poitrine qu’il n’en aurait discuté avec personne pour éviter les fuites.

 

A tale of two embassies and the ‘ultimate deal’

First published in the Arab Weekly on 3/12/2017

The continuing discussions on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem raise serious doubts with the Palestinians.

 Risks ahead. The exterior of the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv. (AFP)

US Vice-President Mike Pence recently confirmed that “President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusa­lem.”

Pence raised the contentious issue at a gathering to commemo­rate the 70th anniversary of UN Resolution 181, which called for the partition of British Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

Pence said the Jewish people “deserve their eternal homeland” and spoke of their right “to be the masters of their own fate like all sovereign nations” but he made no reference to the Palestinian people or to their right to self-determination in their historic homeland.

The US vice-president chose this key anniversary in the conflict because it would imply recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as the Israelis attach great significance to such a move. While Israel sees Jerusalem as its “united eternal capital,” this is not recognised by any country, which explains the reason why all embassies are in Tel Aviv. Some countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France, have consulates in East Jerusalem that conduct diplo­matic and consular services for the Palestinians.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump made an explicit promise regarding the embassy move. He said during a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: “We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jeru­salem.” However, when provided with the opportunity to put the proposed move into action last June, he decided not to. He did this by a waiver that delays for six months implementing the move.

Trump followed in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who signed similar waivers since both houses of Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 with over­whelming majorities.

Trump’s action disappointed the Israeli government. The White House explained that while “Pres­ident Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the president’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance.”

The continuing discussions on moving the US Embassy raise serious doubts with the Palestin­ians as to whether the US admin­istration is pursuing policies that lack the neutrality required of an honest broker. Trump’s team members are known for their support for Israel and its settle­ment enterprise, which calls into question their ability to formulate a peace deal that could meet the minimum Palestinian demand.

The status of another embassy or mission has raised alarm with the Palestinians, that of its own Palestine Liberation Organisa­tion (PLO) representative office in Washington. In recent weeks, the head of mission, Husam Zomlot, on whom the PLO has bestowed the title of ambassador to the United States, received a letter from the US State Department informing him the office would be shut down unless the PLO enters “direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

However, it seems the real rea­son for the move was to extract from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas a promise that he would not pursue Israeli leaders in the Interna­tional Criminal Court (ICC). The PA started the process that the Trump administration said would breach conditions imposed by Congress that prohibited the PLO from taking a case to the ICC.

Initially, the PLO reacted angrily, describing the move as “extortion” and accusing the Trump administration of bowing to pressure from the Israeli gov­ernment. It threatened to cut off communication with the Trump administration. However, Abbas later pledged not to take steps to prosecute Israeli officials in inter­national courts. It appears that this led to the Americans renew­ing the licence for the PLO office on condition the PA begin uncon­ditional talks with Israel and does not take steps to prosecute Israeli officials in international courts.

It can be argued that the US ad­ministration is delaying the move of its embassy in Israel to Jerusa­lem to pressure Israel to engage in the peace process and equally the threat to close the Palestinian office in Washington to pressure the Palestinians to do the same in pursuit of the “ultimate deal.”

Israel will pay no price for the delay, however, while the Pal­estinians will pay a heavy price to keep their Washington office open: It will cost them their trump card of being able to pur­sue Israeli leaders in the ICC.

How long before the Israeli flag flies over Riyadh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinians should put more focus on their case internationally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netanyahu is redefining ethnic cleansing not pursuing genuine peace

First published on the Middle East Monitor on 10/11/2017

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Benjamin Netanyahu/Facebook]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not known for missing an opportunity to push peace further into the distant future. The dust had not even settled on the Balfour Centenary, which the Palestinians marked with anger and Israel and its supporters celebrated, before Netanyahu took to the air to absolve Israel of any fault for the lack of progress towards peace. Israel is in a difficult neighbourhood and therefore its security needs are such that meeting these is almost incompatible with a Palestinian state.

In an interview with the well-known BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr, he trotted out the usual talking points. Israel, he said, “stands out as a beacon of democracy, a beacon of self-restraint in a sea of trouble”. As for the Israeli army, “there is no more moral army in the world,” he said. The settlements “are an issue but I don’t think they are the issue”. Instead he believes the issue “is the 100-year-old refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary”.  Netanyahu took issue with Marr regarding the settlements, saying “the idea that Jews cannot live in Judea [the West Bank] is crazy”. When challenged that it is Palestinian territory, which the UN says is a flagrant violation of international law, he said that it is “disputed territory”. He even claimed that the settlements are “a side issue for Palestinians too,” arguing that he is continuing to work for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine.

On the prospects for a Palestinian state he said that the Palestinians “should have all the powers to govern themselves and none of the powers to threaten us”. Marr pushed him on whether this means the end of the two-state solution and the move to a different solution – one state. “No,” he replied, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I’ll be clear about that”. He argued that it was about the kind of state that emerges. To him it would have to be demilitarised and recognise the state of Israel. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has already met both these conditions. In signing the Oslo Accords, the PLO recognised the state of Israel while Israel did not recognise a Palestinian state, but rather the PLO as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people”.

In the wider context, the real threat to Israel is the Iranian threat. In a Chatham House interviewearlier in the same week, Netanyahu argued that Iran was a “cause”; an expansionist country that wanted to gobble up small and medium-sized states as it moved towards the “larger states”. To him, Israel shares this fear with Sunni-majority countries. He presented Israel as the only example in the Middle East of what he called “modernity” vs. the “Medievalists,” which were both Shia and Sunni Islamists.

Netanyahu again reiterated his belief that the conflict would be finished if the Palestinians recognised a Jewish state. When challenged that in fact the Palestinians will not get a state but an “entity,” Netanyahu came clean. He argued that it was time to “to reassess whether the model we have of sovereignty and unfettered sovereignty is applicable everywhere on the earth”. He pointed to the British not wanting “outside control” on their economy, hence Brexit, and pointed to the lack of “economic sovereignty” that Greece has, referring to his “friend” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He argued that in the complex world we live in, there are constraints on what are considered sovereign powers.

His argument was that in the case of historic Palestine, the land was too small to divide. He said that he had presented to US President Donald Trump a map which showed the distance from the West Bank to the Mediterranean as 50 kilometres which he said was the same distance form “Trump Tower to the George Washington Bridge”. If Israel leaves the West Bank, then “militant Islam” would move in as happened in Gaza and Lebanon. It is either a “green flag” or a “black flag’. While not wanting to “govern the Arabs,” he wants overall security from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean: “For us the critical thing is to have the overriding security responsibility.” The demilitarisation of the West Bank would be done by Israel.

In other words, no Palestinian state will emerge but an entity which would have governing sovereignty but no security sovereignty.

At the same Chatham House event, Netanyahu described the demand for the removal of West Bank settlers as “ethnic cleansing,” comparing the settlers to Palestinian citizens of Israel. “From the Palestinian point of view, why do I have to take out Jews for peace? Do I have to take Arab citizens out of Israel for peace?” The comparison between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the illegal settlers is absurd. The Palestinians were there before Israel was created while the settlers were moved into the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in breach of international law. Their removal would correct a wrong.

This is not the first time Netanyahu has used this analogy. In 2016 he was rebuked for using it by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Obama administration. The Obama administration described it as inappropriate: “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. Perhaps Netanyahu feels that with Donald Trump in the White House, this approach will find favour.

Another term that needs adjusting according to Israel is refugee. The claim now is that Jews that migrated to Israel from Arab countries at its inception are refugees in the same way as Palestinian refugees deliberately driven out of Palestine in 1948 are regarded as refugees, despite the fact that they are not formally recognised as refugees by the UN.

In Netanyahu’s eyes, rather than Israel work towards meeting its obligations under international law for peace, he is attempting to create confusion and change the discourse to make ending the occupation and creating a sovereign Palestinian state a threat to Israel’s very survival. The two terms he is out to remould are now sovereignty and ethnic cleansing.

I wish he was using the brain power around him to pursue genuine peace with the Palestinians instead of thinking that the status quo and redefining a couple of terms will bring Israel peace or security.

Palestine must push back against loss of traditional allies

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 4/8/2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 July, 2017 [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

 

When the PLO asked the United Nations General Assembly for an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state” on 29th November 2012, the motion was passed by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. The vote was met with ecstatic celebrations by the Palestinian delegation and disappointment on the faces of Israeli diplomats. The Israelis knew this could be a game changer, for although they, together with their American ally had scuppered the attempt in the Security Council (UNSC) for full recognition of Palestine as a state, the new status would offer the Palestinians the opportunity to pursue their ‘internationalisation’ strategy.

Having failed to make progress in direct peace negotiations under the auspices of the Americans, the Palestinians used their newly found status to join an array of international organisations and conventions. Palestine had already secured membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the previous year, which resulted in Israel freezing its $2 million annual contribution to it.

On 12th April 2014, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the relevant documentation to join 15 treaties and conventions including the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the First Additional Protocol. Perhaps the most important organisation Palestine was able to join as a result of its upgraded status was the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it formally joined in April 2015. Joining the ICC allows Palestine to bring cases against Israeli officials for alleged crimes, including the 2014 war on Gaza and continued illegal settlement construction.

While Palestine struggles to have resolutions passed in the UN Security Council due to the likelihood that the US will wield its veto to protect Israel, in other forums where the veto does not exist, it has generally secured enough support to pass relevant motions. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regularly investigates Israeli human rights abuses and passes resolutions condemning its practices. UNESCO has passed important resolutions regarding Israeli policies in East Jerusalem and the status of Hebron’s old city and Al Aqsa Mosque that have raised severe criticism by Israel and its American backer; they were, however, unable to block these without the weapon of a US veto.

Despite these successes, support for the Palestinians in international forums is under threat from a sustained diplomatic effort by Israel to dissuade states and organisations traditionally hostile to it and supportive of the Palestinians to change course.

A Palestinian statehood resolution at the UNSC in December 2014 seemed to have secured enough votes to force the Obama administration to wield the US veto. That was until Nigeria, which has traditionally supported the Palestinians had a last minute change of heart and abstained; meaning the US did not need to exercise its veto. That was despite France, China and Russia voting in favour of the resolution. Nigeria’s Ambassador echoed the US position stating that the ultimate path to peace lies “in a negotiated solution”. This came after heavy pressure on the Nigerians which included telephone calls to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan by Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

In another first, India’s Narendra Modi made the first state visit to Israel by an Indian Prime Minister last July. Commenting on a visit in which he physically embraced Prime Minister Netanyahu he said that India and Israel shared a “deep and centuries-old” connection. Suffice to note that that connection had not translated into a similar visit by a sitting Indian Prime Minister since Israel’s creation in 1948. Furthermore, it is worth noting that India is now Israel’s biggest arms market worth about $1bn per annum.

Israel’s relations with China have been developing since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. China has moved from support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel to support for a nebulous “just and peaceful resolution” to the issue instead.

Football’s governing body, FIFA, which had been due to sanction Israel for allowing teams from the illegal West Bank settlements to participate in Israel’s league, against FIFA’s own rules. The move was kicked this into the long grass following a telephone call from Israel’s Netanyahu to FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino.

In recent months, particularly following US President Trump’s visit to the region, even Arab states that had unreservedly supported the Palestinians have shown signs of change. Netanyahu insists relations with Arab states which have largely been hostile to Israel is shifting. There has even been talk of limited normalisation by some Gulf States to incentivise Israel to halt settlement construction and re-engage in the “peace process” with Palestinians.

An even greater danger for the erosion of Palestinian support lies in Africa. Prime Minister Netanyahu has long been pursuing closer relations and support from the African continent. On a visit to Kenya in 2016, he said “There are 50 countries in Africa”, “Just about all of them,” he continued “could be allies of Israel. They vote at international forums, and I know people don’t believe this, but I think we can change the automatic majorities in the UN and so on if you begin to shift this.”

The next step in Netanyahu’s pursuit of this change is the forthcoming ‘Africa-Israel Summit’ which has been called for 23- 24 October in Lome, Togo. The Summit’s website sells it as a “framework that will permit the leaders of the trade, security and diplomatic sectors of Africa and Israel to meet, network and collaborate”. It quotes Netanyahu saying Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel”. The last time the Israeli and Togo leaders were due to meet was at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Summit in Monrovia, Liberia back in June. However, the meeting was cancelled following a scuffle between the two leaders’ body guards.

Netanyahu’s attendance at the annual conference was to try and garner support for Israel at the UN and other forums and to “dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies”. The conference saw Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe named the new chairperson of ECOWAS in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

Although the Africa-Israel Summit is still on schedule, pressure to cancel it appears to be growing. Morocco and the Palestinian Authority have reportedly been pressuring the Togolese President to cancel the summit and African countries to boycott it. This pressure must grow rapidly to avoid Israel reaping the fruits of its efforts in Africa, the continent which experienced apartheid in South Africa and which until relatively recently saw its fall. How can Africa, in particular, entertain Israeli apartheid?

The Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu has labelled Israeli policies as Apartheid for over a decade. “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” he said in a statement in 2014. “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”

The Palestinians may have assumed that Africa would resist Netanyahu’s charm offensive. However, increasingly it seems economic considerations trump human rights. The PLO has representative offices in 20 African countries. Apart from the North African Arab countries and other member states of the Arab League, Palestine has in South Africa and the African National Congress in particular strong supporters of the Palestinian cause. South Africa has been considering downgrading its embassy in Tel Aviv in protest at the lack of progress towards peace and Israel’s policies against the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership must use every ally to push back against Israel’s diplomatic offensive in Africa or face further erosion of support where it matters for the just Palestinian cause.