Are potential successors to Mahmoud Abbas making their bid?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/5/2017


Who will replace Abbas? Protesters carry pictures of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 3. (AP)

Mahmoud Abbas holds all four of the top political positions in the Palestinian leadership. He is the president of the state of Palestine, president of the Pales­tinian National Authority (PNA), head of the Fatah movement and chairman of the Palestine Libera­tion Organisation’s executive committee.

Once he is unable to discharge these duties either through death or illness, the Palestinian people have been wondering who would take any of or all four roles. After all, Abbas is 82 years old.

The starting position, since they were all held by Yasser Arafat, is that they would be taken by one person and it is reasonable to assume it would be a man. Until the seventh Fatah congress at the end of 2016, Abbas had refused to name a deputy, choosing to rely on the Palestinian Constitution in the event of a successor needing to be found.

Article 37 of the 2003 amended Basic Law states that the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) would take over and elections would be called within 60 days.
There was much speculation about whether Abbas would appoint a deputy and if the position would go to Marwan Barghouti, a long-term political prisoner in Israeli jails who some see as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas chose a deputy but it was not Barghouti. Instead, he picked Mahmoud al-Aloul, former Nablus governor and labour minister in the PNA. While this is a strong indication Abbas would see Aloul as his successor as leader of Fatah, he did not appoint him to be deputy president of the PNA. This, intentionally or otherwise, leaves the door open to other hopefuls who aspire to fill one, if not all, other three key positions in the Palestinian leadership.

The popular Barghouti has been leading a hunger strike, now in its second month, by more than 1,000 political prisoners trying to secure basic rights in Israeli prisons. Israel accused him of instigating the hunger strike to position himself as the strongest candidate to replace Abbas.

The same accusation of leader­ship aspirations through confront­ing Israel has been levelled at another senior Fatah figure. Israel has accused Jibril Rajoub, presi­dent of the Palestinian Football Association, of repeatedly pursu­ing the sanctioning or expulsion of Israel from FIFA, both for its alleged mistreatment of Palestin­ian football players and for allowing teams in settlements to play in its leagues, against FIFA regulations. Rajoub is a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, president of the Palestinian Olympics Committee and former head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank.

Abbas made sure that another political rival and critic was excluded from Fatah’s seventh congress — Mohammed Dahlan, former head of the Preventive Security Force who was ousted when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. He now lives in the United Arab Emirates.

Just prior to the congress, the Palestinian Constitutional Court gave Abbas “full authority to cancel the immunity of any parliament member, when the legislative council is not con­vened,” a statement published by official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said. That would have applied to Dahlan had he decided to enter the West Bank to attend the Congress.

Other possible candidates to succeed Abbas include Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of the revered Arafat and a former foreign minister and Palestinian repre­sentative to the United Nations; Majid Faraj, the current intelli­gence chief; and Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister and finance minister.

With Israel’s emphasis on the security role of the PNA going forward, it is perhaps safe to assume that it would want to see a security-minded candidate emerge as a potential leader to succeed Abbas rather than necessarily the one who is most qualified politi­cally or has the widest possible appeal to Palestinians.

It is also unlikely that anyone from the new generation of possible leaders will break through this time. Expect someone from the old guard to win when Abbas is no longer president.

Abbas-Trump meeting brings little hope for Palestinians

First published in the Arab Weekly on Sunday 14/5/2017

London – Palestinian Authority Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas fi­nally had his day at the Trump White House.


The US president, stand­ing in front of the Palestinian flag at their news conference on May 3, lauded Abbas for his role as signa­tory to the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel, his commitment to fighting “terrorism” and for secu­rity cooperation with Israel. Trump described how the two sides worked “unbelievably well together… They work together beautifully.”

Trump urged the Palestinian pres­ident to work against incitement and reiterated that a peace agree­ment could not be imposed on the Israelis and Palestinians but that the United States would “do whatever is necessary” to help the two sides reach such an agreement.

Trump held back on publicly de­manding the Palestinian Authority end payments to families of pris­oners or those killed during attacks on Israelis, something Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had pushed for prior to the meeting.

Abbas cited the Arab peace initia­tive, which calls for two states with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and a fair solution for the refugee issue. The Palestin­ian president praised Trump’s “cou­rageous stewardship” and “great ne­gotiating ability.”

Trump tweeted about the meet­ing, saying: “It was a great honour to welcome President Abbas to the White House today. We’re hoping for a great agreement between the Palestinians and Israel that allows both peoples to live in safety and in peace.” The tweet was later inexpli­cably removed.

Reaction to the meeting was mixed. A headline in the pro-Hamas website Al-Resaleh read: “Abbas ap­plauds himself alone in Washing­ton” and characterised the situation as Abbas “alone in the wrestling ring” with Trump and completely powerless.

The Jerusalem daily Al-Quds sig­nalled approval of the meeting with the headline: “Trump: I welcome President Abbas in the White House as a peacemaker.” While Al-Ayyam, a news site sympathetic to the Pal­estinian Authority, said the compro­mise Abbas was offering Trump was in “Israel’s interest” but that the ex­treme Israeli right-wing would reject it anyway.

Nasser Laham, editor-in-chief of Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency, wrote that Abbas did not take anything new to the White House in terms of demands and warned that any kind of “honey­moon” between Trump and the Arab world would be over quickly if the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

Writing on the web site of Al Ja­zeera, Palestinian lawyer and ana­lyst Diana Buttu said the Trump-Ab­bas meeting was, for Palestinians, as expected “useless.” She character­ised the emphasis on “process” as a perusal of “the same failed strat­egy pursued by three US presidents, spanning six administrations and 24 years.”

Hani al-Masri, director general of Masarat, a Palestinian organisation focused on formulating strategic policies and studies, acknowledged that by meeting Abbas and calling him “president,” Trump endowed legitimacy on Abbas, which may counter what seems to be an at­tempt to regionalise the Palestinian issue.

Masri noted that, in his address, Abbas failed to mention the daily struggles of the Palestinians and the impact of the continued settle­ments, home demolitions, evictions and the prisoner hunger strike. Mas­ri warned that focusing again on the role of the United States, important though it is, ignores to some extent the changing voting pattern of some key countries as was seen in a recent UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem.

Trump is planning to visit the Holy Land, possibly emphasising his commitment to securing the ul­timate deal. But he has yet to pro­vide a foundation for this deal that would assure Palestinians it would be based on international law or meet the minimum requirements for justice that they expect.

While talk of the peace process kicks into life once again, Israel ap­pears to continue breathing a sigh of relief that there is nothing to fear from the Trump administration. On the contrary, it will feel emboldened to build and expand while the Pal­estinians once again pin their hopes on others.

الحصاد: بلفور … قرن من الظلم 

مشاركتي في برنامج الحصاد على قناة الجزيرة بتاريخ ٢٢/٤/٢٠١٧

 

The Palestinian leadership must embrace the Conference for Palestinians Abroad

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 6/3/2017

In my last article for MEMO, I wondered whether the Conference for Palestinians Abroad (CPA) could lead to Palestinian unity of vision. It was a privilege to be with an estimated 6,000 Palestinians from 50 countries in Istanbul for the conference, which took place on 25 and 26 February, both as a founding member and to test that question.

The dates are important because I believe that the launch of this conference will mark a milestone in the Palestinian struggle for justice, freedom, equality and the restoration of our rights. The 26 February will forever by the day when Palestinians who live outside Palestine and who are refused the right to return to their homeland said loud and clear that enough is enough. We will no longer be sidelined or ignored, either by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO, our non-representative representative); Israel (the cause of our catastrophe); or those in the “international community” who had a hand in our dispossession and expulsion from our homeland by Zionist terrorists in 1948 and who continue to deny us our rights to this day.

The unequivocal message from Istanbul was that the Palestinians will not give up their right to return to the places from which we were ethnically cleansed. This was exemplified by Palestinian poet Mohammed Abu Daya who brought his original title deeds to the conference and after a moving speech handed them to one of his many grandchildren, imploring him to commit to returning, and receiving a promise from him that he will struggle to return to that very plot of land one day. Some may see this as unrealistic and theatrical. However, that would be to misunderstand the core Palestinian issue. The struggle has always been about Palestinian refugees returning to their homes instead of languishing in the diaspora, whatever political structure exists in historic Palestine.

Reaffirming the right of return was at the heart of the conference but the final statement also reaffirmed the commitment by Palestinians in involuntary exile to liberate Palestine from the “river to the sea”. Such language is usually mistranslated by Zionists to mean the destruction of Israel and “throwing the Jews into the sea”. That is pure propaganda from Zionists who, by the way, happen to believe that the Palestinians must be thrown out of their own land for there to be a truly Jewish state west of the River Jordan.

They are forever looking for means to achieve this, claiming that “Jordan is the Palestinian state” or that a state can be created in the Sinai to which the Palestinians in “Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank) can be sent, by force if necessary. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has no qualms about claiming the whole of historic Palestine for Israel. “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she believes. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, buoyed by Donald Trump being in the White House, claims that there will not be a Palestinian state. Indeed, the far-right Bennett has called for the annexation of most of the illegally-occupied West Bank, starting with the illegal colony-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and bringing it under Israeli “sovereignty”.

Standing next to Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed two conditions that must be met before “peace”: The Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and, “Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.” The latter is de facto Israeli sovereignty over historic Palestine from the river to the sea. While he has not explicitly called for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, Israel would continue to rule over an occupied people for ever, making their lives so miserable under the pretext of security that they would leave of their own accord. In Zionist terminology, this is known as “silent transfer” and it is very much part of Israel’s strategy for a Palestinian-free land.

None of the above inflammatory statements by the most senior Israeli ministers has been condemned by any member of the so called international community. It seems that Western governments are happy for Zionist Israelis to claim the whole of historic Palestine as theirs, but not for the Palestinians whose land it is to do so. If modern day Zionists with no real connection to historic Palestine can lay claim to the whole land on the basis of what they claim to be a Biblical legacy, then surely Palestinians have every right to lay claim to their homeland, which they inhabited prior to Israel’s creation was forced upon them and from which they were expelled over the past 70 years.

I must stress that I did not get any impression from the CPA that liberating Palestine would necessitate or result in the mass expulsion of Jews, unlike the mass expulsion of Palestinians which took place in 1948. The conference focused on the emergence of a just political solution with the right for Palestinian refugees to return at its heart. Had I detected any sense of the former at the conference, I would certainly have withdrawn.

The failure of the two-state solution demonstrates the need for creative thinking to meet the needs of those who truly wish to coexist in historic Palestine. A solution is needed which would end separation. There should be no racist settlements built only for Jews or a new town built only for non-Jews. The solution must allow all who inhabit historic Palestine to live in peace wherever they desire. It should allow those refugees in Gaza, Jenin, Syria, Brazil, Europe and elsewhere to return to their land and homes. A reconciliation commission would need to be set up to deal with the details where the reclamation of exact sites is not physically possible.

Following the Trump-Netanyahu press conference in Washington, the Palestinian leadership’s 24-year long negotiations strategy — the charade of the peace process since signing the catastrophic Oslo accords — has collapsed. The PLO has been almost silent since that 15 February media circus, apart from calling for the international community not to abandon the two-state solution, bringing new meaning to the term “flogging a dead horse”.

It is time for fresh thinking that can strengthen the hand of a future, democratically-elected Palestinian leadership. The 6.3 million Palestinians abroad can play a vital role in shaping this. However, in the absence of a clear plan by the PLO to revitalise diaspora input, the CPA is the only game in town. The outcome of the conference was a commitment to continue to build both the new institution and Palestinian community, as well as lobby organisations abroad.

What is needed for this to materialise is for every Palestinian outside the borders of their homeland to make a commitment for contributions to the struggle in his or her adopted country. They should be knocking on the doors of their local decision-makers, lobbying for a just solution. They should take a more active part in the political system through joining political parties and standing for both local and national elections. They should be supporting and joining local solidarity groups, both as activists and donors. They should be forming alliances with other human rights groups and Jewish groups committed to justice for Palestinians. They should raise their voices in the media, locally and nationally, using articulate and convincing speakers and writers. They should also be knocking on the door of the PLO leadership in support of the CPA to ensure that the message is received and it is understood that they will no longer accept being ignored.

The CPA needs to find a sustainable way to continue to function long into the future. For that, it will need to widen its membership base in order to put to bed accusations that it is led by one group. The more community organisations which join, bringing together the widest possible spectrum of Palestinian views, the more representative the CPA will be. In turn, the more effective that the CPA is, the louder will be the call to the PLO to wake up and respond to that half of the constituency that it is meant to serve but which it has ignored since 1993. It can take strength from blessing the CPA, working to encourage Palestinians abroad to join it and developing appropriate links to it, leading to elections for the Palestine National Council, the people’s parliament.

Can the PLO rise to this challenge, as it must? Can its necessary reform include true representation for Palestinians abroad? Not only do they hope that it can, but all Palestinians would also want this. Fulfilling its responsibility would strengthen its hand in uniting and representing the Palestinian people and seeking a just solution for them. Ignoring or smearing the CPA will only add to the PLO’s own weakness, bringing it to the point of irrelevance. No Palestinian would want that to happen or for it to be interpreted as a desired outcome of the gathering of 6,000 Palestinians in Istanbul last month.