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.

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.

The US kicks the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal into the long grass

First published by the Middle East Eye on 30/8/2017

Just days after a US delegation visit to Israel and Palestine, Netanyahu declares that Israel will no longer uproot settlements. Any dreams of peace anytime soon are a long way off

 

Say what you want about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he doesn’t mince his words.

“We are here to stay, forever,” he said earlier this week during an event in the settlement of Barkan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace. We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen anymore.”

Coming just days after the visit of US President Donald Trump’s “peace team” to the region, led by his senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the timing of Netanyahu’s comments are highly significant.

The readout from the US team’s meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu was largely devoid of content. However, as brief as it was, it confirmed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ warnings that Trump’s peace process plans – and perhaps his White House overall – are in turmoil.

“I have met with Trump envoys about 20 times since the beginning of his term as president of the United States,” Abbas reportedly told delegates from the Israeli political party Meretz during a recent visit.

“Every time they repeatedly stressed to me how much they believe and are committed to a two-state solution and a halt to construction in the settlements. I have pleaded with them to say the same thing to Netanyahu, but they refrained. They said they would consider it but then they didn’t get back to me,” Abbas said, according to the delegates’ notes.

“I can’t understand how they are conducting themselves with us … Inside [Trump’s] country, there is chaos in the administration.”

The administration may indeed be in chaos, but whether intentionally or out of incompetence, it has kicked the peace process into the long grass and emboldened the Israelis in the process.

A peace plan mystery

Kushner and the rest of the Trump team’s recent visit to the Holy Land was preceded by a whistlestop tour of key Arab countries. It is important to note that no substantive messages emerged about Trump’s proposed peace plan.

The US embassy rstatement from the 23 August meeting between the Americans and Jordan’s King Abdullah II omitted any reference to discussions about the much vaunted two-state solution.

However, quoting a statement from the Royal Court, Jordanian media reported that “talks focused on efforts to push forward the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and relaunch serious and effective negotiations between the two sides based on the two-state solution, which is the only way to end the conflict”.

A subsequent report in Al-Hayat newspaper, attributed to a PA source, said that Trump’s team had indicated that a settlement freeze could not be a precondition for resumed peace talks and that building would continue.

However, a senior White House official told the Times of Israel that Al-Hayat’s report was “nonsense” and said that the comments were never made.

In their meeting with the Palestinians, the visiting delegation reportedly asked for a three to four month grace period to present their ideas. A former Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath also said that the Palestinians told the Americans that its demands are “the end of the occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the resolution of all permanent status issues, including the right of return for [Palestinian] refugees.”

These demands are the longstanding position of the Palestinians and have not shifted at all.

No room in ‘Netanyahu land’

While the Palestinian position remains consistent, Netanyahu, perhaps feeling emboldened more than ever, continues to harden Israel’s position.

When he promised during the 2015 elections that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch, those seeking to shield Israel from criticism claimed it was just electioneering.

However, this week, Netanyahu went further when he said there would be “no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel”. Netanyahu is not talking about two states with land swaps. He is not talking about “keeping the settlement blocks” along the Green Line. He is talking about all settlements. This has nothing to do with electioneering but rather his long-held beliefs.

There is no room in Netanyahu land for a Palestinian state.

In fact, in June, Israel recently laid the foundations for a new settlement. “After decades, I have the honour to be the first prime minister to build a settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said at the time, referring to the occupied West Bank with its biblical name.

Netanyahu sees the land of historic Palestine from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea as Israel. There is no room in “Netanyahu land” for a Palestinian state.

Increasingly emboldened by the lack of pressure from the international community to move seriously towards peace or face sanctions, Netanyahu is moving the debate from the real issue – how to end a 50-year long occupation – to Israel’s security needs.

He told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on his first visit to the Holy Land this week that Israel’s “most pressing problem” is Hezbollah and Syria, claiming that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had smuggled weapons into Lebanon for Hezbollah.

“I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate,” Guterres responded, adding that the “idea, intention or will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective.”

Netanyahu also called upon Gutteres to “end the discrimination against Israel in some branches of your organisation”, an accusation shared by the US administration and frequently raised by US Ambassador to the UN Nicky Hayley who has promised to end it several times.

On Wednesday, two days after his meeting with Netanyahu, Gutteres called for Israel’s blockade against Gaza to end. It seems their meeting may not have gone as well as the Israeli president thought.

Sign of things to come

While it is dangerous to predict the future, I will take this risk today. As Netanyahu and Abbas prepare to address the UN General Assembly in September, we can read the signs from this week to guess what they will say.

Abbas will plead with the UN to bring decades of Palestinian of suffering to an end, halt illegal settlements and help protect the (non-existent) two-state solution. He is likely to be armed with a recent petition signed by thousands of Palestinian pupils calling on Gutteres and all defenders of human rights to intervene to protect them from Israel’s daily violations which Palestinians have endured for 50 years.

Abbas may ask for the UN to recognise the state of Palestine and may also indicate that if the peace process fails, he will be left with no options but to head to the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, may focus on the unfair criticism of Israel, on the real issues as he sees them – which amount to Israel’s self-defined and elastic-security needs. He will talk about the threats from Iran in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the failure of the UNIFIL to do its job and the need to rearticulate its mandate.

On peace with the Palestinians, he will say that settlements are not an obstacle to peace and argue that neither the unilateral actions by Palestinians, nor the imposition of a solution will bring peace. The real obstacle to peace, he will claim, is the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

He will laud the growing “under the table” relations with key Arab countries which share his concerns about Iran, but he will still portray Israel as the victim, not the Palestinians.

It seems that the ultimate deal President Trump seeks is a long way off and, any peace initiative, when it comes, will be biased in Israel’s favour.

Israel will continue to colonise and the Palestinians will continue to suffer a lack of peace or hope for the current and the next generation, neither of which will bring Israel any security.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at 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: US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

أحداث وأصداء: عن بيان منظمة التعاون الإسلامي عن الأحداث في المسجد الأقصى

قناة المغاربية في ٢/٨/٢٠١٧

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKgswbGcnNI