Israel, the West and shameless hypocrisy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2018

UK British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson [Financial Times/Flickr]

The current crisis between Britain and Russia offers yet another example of the shameless hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Israel and almost any other country. Why bring Israel into the attempted murder of two people on the streets of Britain in which Russia, not Israel is implicated? I do so because of the sudden regard for international law that has resurfaced in Western political circles.

Speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russia of using military-grade nerve agent and stated that the two were clear, “that the use of such agent is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a flagrant breach of international law.” A day earlier, he claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had been in breach of international law for the past 10 years because it had been stockpiling nerve agent during that period. Conservative Party chairman Brendan Lewis, speaking on Peston on Sunday, also referred to Russia’s action as being in breach of international law.

Johnson was backed by the EU’s Foreign Ministers who adopted a statement of support for Britain. “Any such use [of nerve agent] is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order,” they said.

Shortly after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the US, France, Germany and Britain issued a joint statement condemning the attack, which took place in the small English city of Salisbury: “It is an assault on UK sovereignty, and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law.”

Accusations that Russia has been in breach of international law have in the past related to its action against the Ukraine and what the West sees as its occupation of Crimea, which Russia disputes. In March 2017, the US Mission in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that, “The United States remains deeply concerned about ongoing Russian violations of international law and defiance of OSCE principles and commitments in Crimea.”

The statement further accused the Russian occupation authorities of “continuing to commit serious abuses against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and all others who oppose Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.”

When the late Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in 1990, the international community only allowed that occupation to stand for seven months. The Iraqi dictator had annexed Kuwait, declaring it to be his country’s 19th province. However, a coalition of forces from 35 countries was formed to free Kuwait, which ejected the Iraqis in early 1991. No one then talked of the Kuwaiti resistance against Iraq’s occupation as “terrorism”.

Both Iraq and Russia faced sanctions for what the international community regarded as illegal acts in Kuwait and Ukraine respectively. There is talk now about further sanctions against Russia following the attack in Salisbury. There are even calls for the English football team to boycott the FIFA World Cup, due to take place in Russia this summer. Responding to a question in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson told fellow MPs that if Russia is implicated then he thought it would be “difficult to see how UK representation at the World Cup can go ahead in the normal way.”

Some in the West are questioning how Russia can continue to hold a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which allows it to wield a veto whenever it chooses. This, it is argued, means it can vote down any resolution that criticises Moscow or its allies, or even considers imposing sanctions on, say, the Syrian government for its actions.

Here, then, is the hypocrisy of the West, which seems hell-bent on singling Israel out for exceptional protection from criticism or meaningful sanctions despite its 50-year long illegal occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese land, and its 70-year ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Just like Russia and Iraq, Israel has annexed illegally-occupied land, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The US has been severely critical of Russia for its use of the veto when it comes to Syria and Iran. In 2015, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, claimed that Russian vetoes were “putting the UN Security Council’s legitimacy at risk.” Her successor Nikki Hayley even threatened that if Russia continues to use its veto then the US may have to take unilateral action against Iran. This was after Russia vetoed a resolution that had been watered down from a condemnation of Iran for violating an arms embargo on Houthi leaders in Yemen to “noting with particular concern”.The particular hypocrisy of the US lies in its own use of the veto power on 43 occasions in support of Israel, the last of which was against criticism of its own action in recognising Jerusalem as capital of the Zionist state in December last year. This does not include the number of times that the threat of the US using its veto resulted in resolutions not even making it to a Security Council vote, including an attempt by the PLO to secure recognition of Palestine as a state in 2014.

Britain’s hypocrisy can be demonstrated in its support for sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and its support for sanctions against Russia but its absolute refusal to consider sanctioning Israel for any matter, including its illegal colonial-settlement enterprise and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UK has actually worked to oppose any boycott or sanction against a state that stands accused of Apartheid by an ESCWA report which was sanctioned by the UN but was then taken down under pressure from the US and Israel.

Prominent members of the British government and long-established members of Conservative Friends of Israel work overtime to shield Israel. Environment Secretary Michael Gove, to his utter disgrace, labelled the peaceful and moral Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), designed to pressure Israel to comply with international law, as “anti-Semitic”. Gove has even called for Britain to move its Embassy to Jerusalem in a move that would be against international laws and conventions.

Britain has now indicated that it might not send members of the Royal family to the World Cup in Russia but has announced that Prince William — second in line to the throne — will make an official visit to Israel this year despite its continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, its illegal annexation of Jerusalem, its Apartheid Wall and its illegal siege on Gaza which has been said to constitute collective punishment and is thus a war crime.

Palestinians and their supporters, therefore, have ample reason to call out the international community for its hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to dealing with Israel, whose illegal actions and breaches of international law have accompanied its whole 70-year existence. Remember this fact the next time that a Western politician defends Israel’s breaches of international law as “acts of self-defence”. It is the only country in the world to which the permanent members of the UN Security Council and others in the West grant such exceptional immunity.

 

Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/2/2018

The Palestinian president has called for an international conference by mid-2018 to recognise Palestine as a state, but prospects are bleak amid US bias towards Israel

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and triggered the move of the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump’s Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. “This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?” he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard “truths”. Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had “expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say”, and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem.”

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: “There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

‘Deal of the century’

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.

The call by Abbas for an international conference appears dead in its tracks when one considers the last attempt by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, to hold one in far more favourable political conditions, in the dying days of the Obama administration.

The conference was attended by some 70 countries, excluding Israel and the Palestinians, with Britain sending a low-level official instead of its foreign secretary. Even well-informed followers of the conflict would struggle to recall what the Paris conference achieved; its call for the status of Jerusalem not to be changed unilaterally was disregarded by Trump almost exactly a year later.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, awaits Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the Security Council on February 20, 2018, as US presidential adviser Jared Kushner looks on (AFP)

The US administration is continuing to develop its “deal of the century”, with Haley recently cautioning that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would “love” it. Palestinians will have to reject the deal if, as leaks have suggested, the core issues of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees are taken off the table.

Israel, meanwhile, will have a great hand in influencing the deal, but it will still claim that it falls short of meeting its security needs – but that it can work with Trump’s administration to improve it. The more they “improve” it, the less favourable it will be to Palestinians, who will be castigated for again “disrespecting” the administration.

Cards stacked against Palestinians

How could an international conference be held under this kind of near-certain outcome, and why did Abbas misguidedly specify an almost impossible date for the process, knowing the cards are stacked against him?

The only factor that could reshuffle the cards would be a change in the Israeli prime ministership. While the prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu staying in power change from day to day, his absence could change the game – but with a weak left and an emboldened Israeli right, it is unlikely that either a left-led coalition or a pragmatic, right-leaning leader would come through.

You need only list the names of the potential prime ministers to conclude that a change in leadership would merely diminish peace prospects further: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. None have a desire to see an end to the settlement enterprise or the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, or to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Gabbay, who leads the Labor party, opposes the removal of even the most isolated outposts, and he told a meeting of party activists that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”

Climate of hatred

This is hardly a group of individuals that really want to see a just peace. And why would they not take advantage of a US administration that is solidly behind Israel’s expansionist goals?

The pro-Israel lobby in the US worked for decades to see an American administration that would not only acquiesce to Israeli demands, whatever they happen to be, but even use talking points produced by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to make the case.

Among others, these talking points include comments about how “the settlements are not an obstacle to peace”, references to “realities on the ground” and “Israel’s security needs”, and remarks about how Israel is “unfairly treated” and picked on disproportionately considering everything else that is happening in the Middle East.

Trump’s disruption through his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have produced a climate much more favourable to peace – that is, if he had recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and conditioned the building of two embassies on the conclusion of peace talks based on international law, within, say, two years.

Instead, Trump clearly staked out his side, fuelling a climate of hatred and fear. Hope in the Holy Land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely.

Unless he finds the courage and wisdom to retract his decision, the hope tap will remain off, and no amount of pleading by Abbas or a change in Israel’s leadership will be able to force it back on. This is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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

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

Photo: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018 (AFP)

The PA must rise to the dangers facing the cause or make way for new leadership

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/1/2018

Israel’s extremist, settler-led government is on a roll. US President Donald Trump’s Christmas gift of recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his consequent surrogate bullying in the UN General Assembly on behalf of the colonialist entity has sent its leaders into a frenzy of actions that will have far-reaching consequences. Trump has in his Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley, a pro-Israeli figure that David Ben Gurion could only have dreamed of.

Haley stood alone in the UN threatening states that disagreed with the US decision – US President Donald Trump “will be watching the vote carefully” and “requested I report back on those who voted against us …” she told them. In the event the bullying had a limited effect with the General Assembly voting 128 in favour, nine against, with 35 abstentions. Not even the threat to cut US funding to some of the poorest states in the world worked on this occasion.

In her letter to the UN GA members prior to the vote Hayley attempted to play down the significance of Trump’s move arguing he was simply implementing the will of Congress expressed through the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act but that “the president’s announcement does not affect final status negotiations in any way, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”, and that “the president also made sure to support the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites, and did not advocate changes to arrangements at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif”, Haley added in her letter.

Thankfully, from a Palestinian standpoint, the threats had little impact.

The reward for those countries which voted with Israel was a reception that Nikki Hayley organised at the UN which could have been held in a broom cupboard considering that the grand total of attendees according to the vote was nine.

On its part, Israel sought to increase its influence on poor countries by establishing a $50 million fund to support development in poorer countries and establish diplomatic backing, according to Israeli media reports. Israel had been trying to increase its influence, particularly in Africa, to garner backing internationally, including at the UN. Her efforts in Africa seemed to be making some headway until a summit organised by Togo was cancelled under threat of boycotts from a number of countries and pressure from others.

For now, Israel will take what it sees as a major breakthrough in its colonial project – America’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. It is noteworthy that rather than reiterate his UN ambassador’s stance that the final status of Jerusalem – including boundaries – was still up for negotiations, Trump contradicted her in a tweet claiming: “We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.” He did not explain how or what. However, he went on to threaten the PA saying: “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Trump and Hayley’s contempt for the Palestinian leadership and people is now out in the open. Not only are they threatening to cut the PA’s funding, they have now moved to target the most vulnerable Palestinians, those refugees reliant on services from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA. Hayley explicitly threatened to cut funds to UNRWA “unless the Palestinians went back to the negotiating table”.

It is doubtful that the Trump administration really understands the potential impact of the moves they have threatened to make. Much of the funds the US passes to the PA are to ensure its security services continue to suppress Palestinian resistance against Israel’s occupation and it is therefore in Israel’s interest. Curtailing UNRWA’s ability to provide employment and services, particularly in Gaza, is likely to lead to an uprising whose format no one can predict with certainty. An area that has been under siege for 11 years, has suffered from three Israeli wars and that is deprived of electricity and free entry and exit is at boiling point. Again, keeping the situation calm and under control is in Israel’s interest.

As for Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, he must feel that he can contain this anger as he has now called for UNRWA to be dismantled, arguing it was “an organisation that perpetuates the Palestinian problem”. “It also enshrines the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’,” he told a weekly cabinet meeting. His solution was that UNRWA “should pass from the world”.

Netanyahu, emboldened by an irrational American president but one who has sided with Israel during the election campaign and since his installation, is calling the shots with seemingly no one is able to stop him. The Knesset recently passed a bill, which amends the Basic Law of 1980 titled “Jerusalem, Capital of Israel”, in a way that would make it more difficult for future governments to return parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s own party, Likud, unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for the annexation of illegal Israeli West Bank settlements. This indicates the direction of travel of Netanyahu’s own party, which is now not that far behind the even more extreme elements of his coalition. Education Secretary Naftali Bennett has been urging annexation of the West Bank for years claiming “the time has come to say Israel is ours”. His fellow Jewish Home colleague and Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked stated“We’re here for 50 years already, and we will be here for another 5,000 years. Our policy is clear: Settlement in the entire Land of Israel and normalisation of life in Judea and Samaria”.

Israel’s plans to entrench the occupation are being complemented by further oppression of the Palestinians and their supporters under the pretence of democracy. The Israeli Knesset recently approved a first reading of the death penalty bill which would allow the authorities to execute Palestinian prisoners accused of taking part in “operations against Israeli targets”. The claim is that the death penalty would serve as a deterrent. However, it is reasonable to assume that a Palestinian who sets out to carry out ‘an operation’ against heavily armed Israeli soldiers knows full well that s/he is likely to be killed and therefore the deterrence claim is illogical. It is worth noting that the death penalty would not be extended to Israelis accused of violence against Palestinians.

Israel’s claim to be ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ was further eroded when it released a ‘blacklist’ of 20 organisations whose activists would be barred from entering the country and therefore the Occupied Palestinian Territory, essentially for supporting or promoting boycotts or the BDS campaign. It is also ‘investing’ a further $72 million into efforts to combat the movement.

None of the moves in the past month indicate a desire for peace by Israel, but rather a misguided conclusion it has come to that it can now make rapid progress towards completing its colonialist project in the era of Trump. However, from a Palestinian perspective, the situation is as dangerous as it has ever been.

It is extremely worrying for Palestinians that their tired leadership is devoid of any ideas or a strategy for liberation. The ageing Mahmoud Abbas refuses to do the decent thing and retire. He has promised to make “important decisions in 2018”, but his record shows a dearth of such decisions.

The forthcoming meeting of the PLO’s Central Committee in Ramallah should produce a new strategy. However, there are reports that there have been no significant consultations with the various factions and therefore the meeting could end up with Abbas presenting them with a fait accompli, reinventing negotiations as the only way forward but under a different framework not led by the US. That would be disastrous.

What is needed is much more radical. I suggested elements of what a future strategy could include in a recent article in MEMO which has started a debate. The Palestinian people cannot afford to leave their future in the hands of those that have proved their failure. They need to take back control of their liberation movement and fast.

Blacklisted: Why I will not allow Israel to defeat me

 

First published by the Middle East Eye on 9/1/2018

We will continue to work using all peaceful means to support the Palestinians until they have attained their rights whatever the price Israel attempts to extract from us

I do not have to imagine the anguish – yet determination – felt by the activists who are likely to be denied entry by Israel following the publication of its blacklist of organisations to be targeted for supporting the Palestinian people. I was denied entry at Tel Aviv airport in April 2017 shortly after the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted to ban supporters of boycotts against Israel.

Being denied entry to my homeland by a representative of a state that was built on the dispossession of my people was very difficult to grasp.

Denied entry

I had travelled with my wife and five-year-old son to spend the Easter vacation with family in Jerusalem. They were allowed in but I had to endure a 12-hour wait in a holding room for a flight back to Birmingham.

The British embassy told me they could not help as Israel was a “sovereign country”, but Israel is not sovereign over the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) including East Jerusalem where I was too be based.

Those wishing to visit the OPT can only do so via Israeli-controlled entry points either along the River Jordan or Tel Aviv airport.

I had mixed feelings about my experience – a combination of anger, helplessness and humiliation. But at no point did I regret anything that I had done that may have led to my being denied entry. I did, however, quickly understand more clearly than ever what it feels like to be a Palestinian refugee, to be so close to my homeland and not to be able to step out of the airport to see it, to smell it and to feel it. I always have this incredible feeling of belonging to the place as soon as I see the majestic Al-Aqsa mosque as I drive to the Mount of Olives where my wife’s family have lived for centuries.

On the blacklist

The two weeks I spent back in Birmingham separated from my wife and son could have been extremely difficult under the circumstances. However, I was damned if I was going to sulk or allow Israel to defeat me. Rather than curtail my activism I wrote my story up, was interviewed by the media, wrote more op-eds about Israeli violations and tweeted just as much, if not more.

Being denied entry to one’s homeland by a representative of a state that was built on the dispossession of your people is very difficult to take (AFP)

One of the reasons I was denied entry was I had a high profile in one of the organisations that appear on Israel’s blacklist, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which has been campaigning for justice for Palestinians for nearly 40 years.

I had spent eight years as vice chair of the organisation but had stepped down from this position at the time of my being denied entry for personal reasons. However, I had done enough to appear on Israel’s radar as a “problem”.

The PSC is non-partisan, working for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. It responded to the call from Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 to support a campaign organised by the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel until it ended the occupation, treated all its citizens equally and implemented the right of return for Palestinian refugees. All three demands are legal and moral.

Israel has attempted to present the BDS movement as anti-Semitic but this smear has no basis in reality.

The PSC worked closely with the BDS campaign and other organisations to pressure companies complicit in the occupation to reconsider their involvement, which led to some key successes including changes made by Veolia and G4S.

BDS success

In response to the BDS movement’s growing successes, Israel has dedicated a minister, Gilad Erdan, and a ministry funded to the tune of millions to combat BDS activities but has failed to counter it through argument. It has resorted to legal means to bully those who may be tempted into supporting BDS, especially in the US and in Europe.

In the US, where Israel enjoys blind support, individual states have passed legislation that would punish those companies that may be suspected of refraining from doing business with Israel and to exact a price from individuals who support boycotts.

France has already effectively outlawed boycotts of Israel, using strict laws against “inciting discrimination”, while the UK has attempted to stop local authorities boycotting Israeli companies through their specific ethical procurement guidance.

When the UK tried to apply similar pressure to local authority pension funds they were challenged by the PSC, which defeated the government in this matter. Yousef Munayyer, the director of the Campaign for Palestinian Rights, called the group’s inclusion a “badge of honour”.

In a show of defiance, a number of the organisations on Israel’s blacklist have come out to call their inclusion a badge of honour. They are in agreement that they will not be dissuaded from continuing to fight for justice for the Palestinian people and will even redouble their efforts.

Some have reported new members joining following the publication of the list. My guess is some organisations not included are feeling left out and will do even more in the coming years in support of the Palestinians.

It is personal

However, I, like Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, am hit doubly hard by the ban. First, I for now and Rebecca potentially are unable to visit Israel and the OPT to show our solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving for peace.

However, for her as an American Jew married to an Israeli with relatives there and myself as a Palestinian with relatives there, the impact on us is severe. It is personal.

The ban stops us ever seeing elderly members of our families. Certainly in my case my two remaining uncles are likely to die before I am next able to visit my homeland.

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as its capital, Israel has embarked on a set of measures to entrench its occupation, to complete the Judaisation of Jerusalem and to shut down criticism of its criminal policies.

It is even working to introduce the death sentence for Palestinians accused of carrying out operations against it. Those measures hardly indicate a desire by Israel for peace or that the conflict is about to end.

Against this background, Israel can be assured of one thing: individuals such as myself and organisations like the PSC will not be bullied. The peaceful but oppressed Palestinian people need us now more than ever.

We will continue to work using all peaceful means to support them until they have attained their rights whatever price Israel attempts to extract from us.

We are on the right side of history, while the Israeli regime, which continues to delegitimise itself through its actions, will be consigned to the dustbin of history. This is not a threat, but remember apartheid South Africa?

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing 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 www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe writes here in a personal capacity.

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

Photo: A Palestinian boy walks past a mural calling on people to boycott Israeli goods in the al-Azzeh refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem (AFP)

What options does Abbas have after that General Assembly vote?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 27/12/2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech during extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey on 13 December 2017 [Onur Çoban/Anadolu Agency]

 

As the dust settles on a significant week at the UN, in which America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was rejected roundly by the international community, the Palestinians have made a commitment not to engage with the US in any future peace talks. Where, though, can the Palestinian President turn to next? What options does Mahmoud Abbas have?

A divided, and in some cases apathetic, Arab world has been experiencing political turmoil since the confrontation emerged this year between the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one hand, and Qatar on the other. As young pretenders to their respective countries’ thrones experiment with war and politics, the US and Israel can take a back seat in the hope that Arab states will weaken each other without any interference on their part.

Palestine is no longer a priority for some Arab countries, except where they can exert pressure on the weak leadership in Ramallah to please Washington and, in turn, the Israelis. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, they believe that they will be protected from Iran if they can deliver the complete submission of the Palestinians to Israel’s wishes.

The EU, which rejected Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, saw some of its own members abstain in the vote in the UN General Assembly. The Russians and Chinese, important members of the Security Council, also have limited, if any, influence on Israel or the Palestinians when compared with the Americans. The Palestinian President’s options for an alternative “honest broker” that Israel will accept are thus non-existent.

It has taken Mahmoud Abbas over two decades to admit that the US is so biased in favour of Israel that it cannot play an even-handed role in the search for a just peace. Why it has taken him so long to realise this so obvious fact is a mystery. Successive US administrations have taken their lead from Israel on this issue. It was always the case that any “offer” to the Palestinians would be put to the Israelis first, and that only after they had applied their “security” test to it and given the green light would it be put to the Palestinians.

This formed the core of an exchange of letters between former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and George W Bush in 2004. “In light of new realities on the ground,” wrote the then US President, “including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” He added that, “The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”

While Bush referred in his letter to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as forming the basis for negotiations, the Israelis worked hard to ensure that the talks which followed were not referenced to any such international decisions.

The Palestinians fell into this trap by failing to insist on international law and Security Council Resolutions as the basis for any talks. This included the last “serious” attempt to bring peace by Barack Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, which not only failed to bring peace but was also immediately followed by the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. Kerry persuaded the Palestinians to return to talks lacking in any reference to international law.

Before leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for the failure of the talks he had initiated on the Israelis after, of course, reminding everyone of Obama’s “deep commitment to Israel and its security”. His explanation for the Obama administration’s abstention on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 concerning the illegality of Israel’s settlements — instead of the usual veto of anything critical of Israel — was that the vote was about “preserving” the two-state solution. “That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbours.”

The incoming Trump administration disassociated itself from Resolution 2334, with the president-elect himself promising that “things will be different” when he entered the White House. He has certainly been true to his word. While asking Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements”, Trump moved away from the US position on two-states: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

Trump’s pro-Israel advisers have spent months meeting with the two sides to the conflict. While promising to put a deal on the table soon, this came to a halt when Trump announced on 7 December his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intention to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv.

Following the US veto of a Security Council resolution rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then a large majority voting to pass the same resolution in the General Assembly, Abbas announced last week that he is severing his ties with the US when it comes to the peace process. The Palestinians, he declared, will not “accept any plan from the US” due to America’s “biased” support of Israel and its settlement policy. He also said that the US plan — Trump’s much-vaunted “deal of the century” — “is not going to be based on the two-state solution on the 1967 border, nor is it going to be based on international law or UN resolutions.”

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to state that, “Abbas declared he was abandoning the peace process and did not care which proposal the United States brings to the table.” Putting a spin on it that is incomprehensible to the rest of the world, Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting, “I think that once again, something clear and simple emerges: The Palestinians are the ones who do not want to solve the conflict.” He will do or say anything to distract us from the glaringly obvious reality that it is Netanyahu’s far-right government that is fully to blame for the lack of peace.

As for Mahmoud Abbas, he has to choose between acknowledging his failure over 23 years to advance the cause of the Palestinians, or going back to the drawing board, assessing the strengths of the Palestinian people and looking for ways to raise the cost to Israel of its military occupation of Palestine. The higher the cost, the quicker that Israel will address the Palestinians’ grievances as they seek to attain their rights.

The Palestinian Authority President’s starting point should be to develop a liberation strategy that excludes reliance on non-Palestinians for its delivery, whilst making it supportable by others, both governments and citizens alike.

The elements of such a strategy should include the following:

  • The development of options for raising the cost to Israel of the occupation.
  • A declaration that the Oslo Accords are null and void. Israel has done this in all but name.
  • To demand UN Security Council protection for the Palestinian people.
  • To end the PA’s security coordination with the occupation, as it is both immoral and a free service to Israel that brings no benefits whatsoever to the Palestinian people.
  • To ask the UN to set up a coordination mechanism for necessary interaction with Israel on humanitarian matters.
  • To ask the Arab League to withdraw the Arab Peace Initiative immediately.
  • To restate that the Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return is non-negotiable.
  • To demand that any future negotiations with Israel are based on equal rights for all who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and acknowledge that this is the only way to achieve real peace.
  • To call on the UN Secretary-General to adopt the ESCWA report — “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” — that he has withdrawn.
  • To launch cases at the International Criminal Court against Israel and Israeli officials immediately, starting with the illegal settlement issue.
  • To offer unqualified support for the entirely peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and call for its escalation.
  • The immediate lifting of all sanctions imposed by the PA in Ramallah on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
  • The implementation of the reconciliation agreement with Hamas.
  • An escalation of the peaceful and popular resistance movement in Palestine.
  • The launch of a reformed and inclusive Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
  • A serious engagement with Palestinians in the diaspora and a move towards elections to the Palestinian National Council.

Many of the points listed above should have been guiding principles in the past, but were overlooked in the PA’s pursuit of a pointless “negotiations first and last” policy which has failed by any measure.

Such a strategy will come with a price. It will bring isolation to the Palestinians and will have an impact on them in ways that will make their lives even more difficult. However, the alternative is that they continue to be oppressed with no end in sight if the current policies remain in place. The Palestinians have shown on numerous occasions that they are prepared to pay the necessary price for liberation but they must be told how this will be achieved by a leadership that they have had the chance to elect.

Any objective assessment will conclude that the current leadership is incapable of delivering what the Palestinians deserve and to which they aspire. It must therefore stand aside and allow the younger, talented generation of Palestinians come to the fore and lead their people. The New Year cannot be allowed to bring more of the same at the hands of Abbas and his team. He has other options; he must exercise them.

Israel’s ‘realities on the ground’ make a solution to the conflict harder to achieve

First published by the Middle East Eye on 23/12/2017

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution

On 23 December 2016, the last UN Security Council Resolution on Palestine and Israel was passed. The resolution reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlement activities stating that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

It reiterated the demand that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”.

The resolution also underlined that “it will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”. It called upon “all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

Parting shot

While resolution 2334 addressed other issues included in the Middle East Quartet report, I will focus on the issue of settlements and differentiation between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

As for the reporting mechanism, the UNSC resolution requested that the UN Secretary General was “to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution”.

The resolution was a parting shot for the Obama administration as it was preparing to hand the reigns over to Donald Trump’s administration. In an unprecedented move for the US – which traditionally vetoes resolutions criticising Israel – it abstained, while the other 14 permanent and elected members of the council voted in favour.

Explaining the US decision to abstain, the representative of the United States said it had been “a long-standing position of her country that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability”. She emphasised, however, that her vote today had not been straightforward.

The resolution was dismissed by Israel, whose representative said that those who had voted “yes” to the resolution had voted “no” to negotiations, to progress and to a “chance for better lives for both Israelis and Palestinians, and to the possibility of peace”.

He added that “the council had voted to condemn the State of Israel and the Jewish people for building homes in the land of Israel” and to deny “our eternal rights” in Jerusalem.

A timely action

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the council’s action, while long-overdue, “was timely, necessary and important”.  He dismissed claims of bias, saying “the only bias was against law, reason and the vision of two States as the most viable solution”.

He stressed the resolution required “vigilant follow-up if it was to be meaningful and salvage a two-state solution from relegation to history’s archives”.

Since the resolution was not formulated under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, it was always likely to be ignored by Israel as it has no teeth. Additionally, Israel has felt emboldened by a new US Administration, which has sided with it and claimed it is unfairly treated by the UN bodies.

US representative Nikki Hayley told the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC “the days of Israel bashing are over”. She claimed – without evidence – “when Resolution 2334 happened and the US abstained, the entire country felt a kick in the gut” adding “never did we not have the backs of our friends, and we don’t have a greater friend than Israel. To see that happen was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki , speaks on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on December 21, 2017 in New York City (AFP)

She claimed that “everyone at the United Nations is scared” to talk to her about the measure.

‘Vigilant follow-up’?

The resolution mandated the UN Secretary General to report on its implementation on a three-monthly basis. The picture that emerged is one of a flagrant violation of its call on Israel to halt settlement construction and a lack of differentiation by member states between Israel and the OPT.

In his first report in March 2017 Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, stated: “The reporting period has witnessed a notable increase in statements, announcements and decisions related to settlement construction and expansion.”

He reported that “In January, two major announcements were made for a total of 5,500 housing units in settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Within three weeks, some 3,000 housing units were advanced through the various stages of the planning process and over 240 units reached the final approval stage. Separately, tenders for some 800 housing units were issued.”

In June’s report, Mladenov informed the Council that no steps have been taken by Israel to cease settlement activity during the reporting period. “In fact – since the 24th of March – there has been substantial increase in settlement-related announcements as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued.”

UNSC 2334 has failed to bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land (AFP)

In September’s report  Mladenov reported that “Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.

“Activity during this period was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016.”

His final report for 2017 reported that “some 1,200 units in the occupied West Bank were approved for construction, approximately 460 of them in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim”.

Israel also advanced, through the various stages of the planning process, “some 1,400 housing units in Area C of the West Bank”.

Realities on the ground

His overall conclusion for the year was that “significantly more housing units were advanced and approved in 2017. In Area C, the number of units advanced and approved more than doubled from 3,000 in 2016 to nearly 7,000 in 2017. In East Jerusalem, the increase has similarly been from 1,600 in 2016 to some 3,100 in 2017.”

It is clear from the above that UNSC 2334 has failed to either bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land or for member states to act to distinguish between Israel and the OPT.

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution which is now well and truly buried, particularly if the leaks about the “deal of the century” or the “ultimate deal” being developed by trump’s pro-Israel team are to be believed.

When announcing his recognition of Jerusalem (including occupied East Jerusalem) as Israel’s capital, Trump referred to reality on the ground. He stated “today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

The message to Israel is that you create reality on the ground and the US will then recognise these new realities devoid of international law or UN Security Council resolutions.

The number of settlers residing illegally in settlements has grown without any notable interruption.

If they all remain, and indeed others are added, then there can be no two-state solution or a deal that the Palestinians can accept. Even if Trump is replaced at some point by a more responsible president, he or she will be left with realities that make a solution to the conflict ever harder to achieve.

Israel and its supporters in the US may be smiling and cheering now but they cannot expect the Palestinians to behave like a model occupied people and pick up the crumbs that remain to form their homeland.

The settlement enterprise has well and truly kicked peace into the long grass.