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

وراء الحدث: تقييم أول مائة يوم من عهد الرئيس الأمريكي دونالد ترامب

أذيع على قناة الغد العربي يوم ٣٠/٤/٢٠١٧

The Arabs have handed Israel a dream start to the 21st century but it still wants more

This article was first published by the Middle East Monitor on 8/3/2016

The Arabs have handed Israel a dream start to the 21st century but it still wants more

To Palestinians, the creation of Israel in their homeland in 1948 was a catastrophe known as the Nakba. Not only were they dispossessed of their land but three-quarters of the population was also driven into neighbouring Arab countries by Zionist Jewish terrorism. Since then, the Palestinian refugees have demanded that they be allowed to return home in accordance with international law and UN Resolution 194 but very few have actually been allowed to return by Israel, which now occupies the whole of historic Palestine. The international community has simply stood and watched as Israel has continued to colonise the land and enforce a most brutal military occupation that is designed to make the lives of the indigenous Palestinians who still live there so miserable that they will want to leave.

Arab countries which were naturally sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight have attempted both through diplomatic and military means to support them in their pursuit of freedom, return and independence but their attempts have largely failed. The last serious military attempt to recapture occupied Arab land was in 1973 when Israel’s occupation was threatened; but for US military support for the Israelis it could have resulted in significant gains. While this was followed by a decision from the oil producers amongst the Arab States to impose an oil embargo on key supporters of Israel, including the USA, this was eventually suspended and the momentum was lost without any real change on the ground.

Instead, it was a unilateral diplomatic move by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to break the impasse that resulted eventually in the 1979 Camp David peace treaty. However, this also resulted in a fatal division in the united Arab front against Israel as well as Sadat’s assassination. Israel went on to conclude a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 and the taboo of direct negotiations with the Palestinians was broken when the Oslo Accords were concluded in 1993. The next most significant development in the search for peace was the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offered Israel normalisation with all Arab and Muslim countries in return for the end of the occupation of Arab lands and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Over a decade later, Israel has still not responded to this initiative.

Even with these diplomatic breakthroughs and a very willing Palestinian partner, Israel has shown little interest in further peace deals, despite its public statements to the contrary. It remains a belligerent colonial state that millions of Arabs continue to see as an enemy. The Palestinians face arguably the worst conditions they have ever experienced both in historic Palestine and in the refugee camps. The situation is particularly desperate for Gaza, which has been under siege for nearly a decade, and for refugees in neighbouring Arab countries. Those in Iraq were targeted after the fall of Saddam Hussein and denied refuge by some Arab countries, resulting in some being resettled in South America. Those in Syria, who in comparison with others had enjoyed a relatively decent existence, found themselves on the move again when the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Many found refuge with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and others made the perilous journey to Europe together with Syrian refugees that resulted in further suffering and, in some cases, death.

The promising Arab Spring, which gave hope to millions, has seen a reversal in almost every country where it took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are in turmoil, while Egypt has lost its leadership position in the Arab world following the short rule of elected President Mohamed Morsi, and is now colluding with Israel in the ongoing siege of Gaza. The turmoil has been exacerbated by the rise of the so called “Islamic State”, Daesh, which has grown into a monstrous terror entity that is flourishing despite months of bombardment by a loose international coalition and the entry of Russia into the fray. Interestingly, Daesh has threatened almost all neighbouring states, except Israel.

When Israel looks towards its neighbours it claims that it faces major security challenges, making any “concessions” to the Palestinians untimely. However, when one considers the destruction of the Iraqi army following Saddam’s fall and the weakening of the Syrian forces as they fight on many fronts, Israel must view the current situation with some satisfaction, particularly as it sees its old enemy Hezbollah distracted by its engagement in Syria. Even on the political front, the Gulf States have bought into the idea that the real threat they face is from Iran, not Israel, and Israeli officials have been speaking with satisfaction about the “cooperation” and shared interests Israel now has with the GCC countries. If they are being honest, Israeli officials and analysts would agree that the Arabs have handed Israel a dream start to the 21st century.

As such, you would think that Israel would be satisfied with its strengthened security and its military superiority which the USA guarantees will continue, but no. It uses the chaos in neighbouring countries to argue against ending the occupation of Arab land, including the occupied Palestinian territories, as doing so would impair its own security. Instead, it demands that the world should consider the Iranian, Hezbollah and Daesh “threats”.

Israel should be thanking its lucky stars that it is where it is and should be finding a resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians which addresses legitimate grievances and will bring it long term security. It could accept the Arab peace deal, which will also reduce its undoubted isolation. However, there is no sign of this happening. In fact, the talk in Israel is about the annexation of more Palestinian land and that any resolution to the Syrian crisis must “address Israel’s interests and red lines.”

The reality is that Israel’s isolation is increasing because of its continued refusal to end its belligerence along with its growing reputation as an apartheid state in which racism and intolerance towards non-Jews are escalating. Its desperate attempts to combat the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement may be supported by Western governments but the resolve of ordinary citizens around the world to increase Israel’s isolation is growing. It should also realise that unlike the Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals, the Palestinians now almost outnumber Israel’s Jewish citizens and have no plans to capitulate, submit or leave. Its dream start to the 21st century looks set to morph into a nightmare of its own making.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at http://www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

MBC TV gives Arab Kids a Voice

Recent years have seen a spate of talent shows on ArabTV, especially on the Saudi channel MBC. The shows gave effectively been franchises of well know western ones such as the Voice and …. Got talent. 

One of the most memorable moments was when Palestinian singer, Mohammed Assaf won Arab Idol in 2014. He managed to join the show by the skin of his teeth,jumping over the fence around the venue in Cairo having been delayed on his way from Gaza. He has become a star since then and most Palestinians point to his achievement as an example of what many could achieve if they were given freedom and independence.

This year I was persuaded to watch the Voice kids. The format will be familiar to readers. Three judges sit in big red chairs and if they like a voice they press a big button to turn and see the singer. If more than one does so, the singer has to choose which famous singer he or she want to join in the latter stages.

  
I was moved to write these words having been stunned watching children as young as seven perform with such panache and skill that stunned the well know judges. Children from as far west as Morocco, as Far East as Bahrain, as far north as Syria and as far south as Egypt brought the house down in 2-minute bursts. 

  
What brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion were a number that were refugees. One was a Palestinian boy from Lebanon, another an Iraqi refugee from Lebanon and a number of Syrian children.

To watch these amazing children look for the YouTube channel for MBC the Voice kids.

Our war torn Middle East has been cruel to all but particularly to the children. Some have seen loved ones die in front of their eyes, seen their families lose everything and have been without schooling for years.

Thank you MBC for giving some of these kids the chance to show their talents but also to remind the Arab world that things can be different. Given half a chance our children will excel and make great contributions to humanity. 

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

The Middle East Monitor publiched my article on 15/1/2016

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

  
Image from the Middle East Monitor
In his first speech of 2016, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reviewed the situation facing the Palestinians and set out his approach for the forthcoming year. He started with the major achievement of 2015, the formal recognition of Palestine by the Vatican. He noted that the Pope had surprised the PA delegation by ordering the raising of the Palestinian flag during his last trip to Rome. He looked forward to further recognitions in the near future.

He did not refer to any other major achievements in 2015. However despite characterising the PA in the past as an “Authority without authority”, due to Israeli actions, this time he referred to its shear existence as a “major achievement for the Palestinian people”. He committed to not allowing it to collapse. He also committed to ending the “leaking” of Palestinian land to anyone else. He was referring to the ongoing campaign by Zionist individuals and organisations to purchase land from Palestinians through shady deals with owners. He was also possibly referring to the Greek Orthodox Church which had sold land to Israel.

As to the current situation, Abbas claimed that all Palestinian protests are peaceful but are met with brutal force. He elaborated that “a stone thrower is shot from a distance of 100 metres even if the stone only travels 10 metres, therefore not reaching the occupation’s soldiers”. This has resulted in the number of prisoners reaching 7,000, including many children some as young as ten. He warned: “It is dangerous for the young people to feel that the only option open to him is violence.”

Abbas claimed that he “will not allow the status quo to continue”. He wanted a halt to the “cancerous settlements” and reaffirmed that all settlements are illegal, including the so called large settlement blocks. He said “the settlers must leave as they did from Gaza”. He argued that that the Israelis continue to suffocate the Palestinians. “Leave us alone”, he said in desperation. His message to the Israelis was: “We are here and will not leave. We will not allow an Apartheid state. We want a fully sovereign Palestinian state.”

The PA President expressed his view that solving the conflict would end extremism and terror in the region, though he was not forthcoming with how he would change the status quo. “The Palestinians fulfil their obligations while the Israelis don’t,” he argued.

Despite all this, Abbas extended the hand of peace to the Israelis and committed the Palestinians to achieving this through “peaceful negotiations”. It is worth pausing for a moment to absorb this new term. Have the negotiations with Israel that have lasted over twenty years been anything but peaceful? Were the Israelis dragged to the negotiating table under threat of, or exercise of violence? Clearly this has not been the case; otherwise far fewer violations of international law would have been committed by Israel, including the growth of the “cancerous settlements”.

Negotiations with Israel over the past twenty two years have not only failed, they have been catastrophic. They have allowed Israel to expand settlements and to increase the number of settlers to over 600,000 in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. PLO Executive Secretary and the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat admitted this in interview withAljazeera in October 2015. He confirmed that he had given up on negotiations with Netanyahu, calling them “a waste of time”. He predicted that a decision about disbanding the PA would be made by the end of 2015. This contrasts Abbas’ promise in his recent speech not to allow the PA to collapse.

An attempt by Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to restart talks was flatly rejected by his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, following meetings in Amman and Cairo in July and August last year. Erekat told an IPSI dialogue audience that he warned Shalom that there would be a “sea of blood” if the current impasse continued but his warning fell on deaf ears. In November 2015, US President Barack Obama concluded: “Right now, barring a major shift, the parties are not going to be in the position to negotiate a final status agreement.” With the US effectively declaring an end to its engagement, at least until the end of Obama’s reign and with most US Presidential candidates declaring that they side with Israel, the status quo, which everyone claims to be unsustainable, is set to continue for years.

In his recent speech, Abbas reminded the audience that the Arab Initiative was still on the table. That once Israel ended its occupation of Arab land and the two-state solution was implemented, 57 Arab and Muslim states would normalise relations with Israel but that “Israel refuses to consider it seriously, therefore, what do they want”?

He called for an international conference that widens the group involved in seeking a solution, particularly since the Middle East Quartet had failed. He suggested that this conference should then set up a committee to find a solution, similar to that which oversaw the Iran deal.

However, with the world’s attention currently consumed by the threat of Daesh and how it can be defeated, and President Obama seeing his second term out, prospects for an international conference are negligible. No one, apart from Abbas, talks about it.

Meanwhile, the current escalation of violence continues. The PA is helpless to stop it. It has also failed or chosen not to nurture the escalations in-order for them to become a strong, peaceful intifada that is costly to the occupier. The PA’s repeated threats to re-evaluate its relationships with Israel, including the Oslo Accords and in particular the infamous security cooperation have to this date remained threats, further eroding the credibility of the PA with the Palestinian people. The PA supports a boycott of settlement goods. However, it does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This should be revisited as it is another peaceful and effective way of exerting pressure on Israel.

There are also no prospects of the US or bodies such as the UN, the Arab League or the Quartet intervening with an initiative unless Israel begins to feel the cost of the occupation. The Palestinians may feel that an investigation of Israeli crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2016 and joining more international bodies could pressure Israel. However, those steps are unlikely to be sufficiently costly on their own for Israel to change its ways.

حوار تلفزيوني حول الانقسامات في حزب العمال البريطاني تجاه حرب جوية على داعش في سوريا

30/11/2015

شاركت في لقاء على قناة الحوار في لندن حول الانقسامات في حزب العمال البريطاني تجاه رغبة الحكومة البريطانية المشاركة في الحرب الجوية على داعش

  

Britain’s security dilemma: to bomb or not to bomb?

My latest column for the Middle East Monitor

Britain’s security dilemma: to bomb or not to bomb?

30 November 2015

The issue of whether Britain should join the multitude of nations already bombing Syria is one of the most important questions facing parliament for some time. Prime Minister David Cameron made the case for bombing last week and hopes to have convinced MPs of all parties to back him.

The argument is that Daesh is a major security threat to Britain and if proof is needed then the recent Paris atrocities should provide it. Cameron insisted that there is almost an obligation on Britain to support allies already bombing the group in Syria, including France. 

The Royal Air Force is already bombing Daesh in Iraq, of course, and the territory under its control includes swathes of both Iraq and Syria; the group does not recognise the international border between the two UN member states.

Britain wants President Bashar Al-Assad to step down and believes that the Syrian army is responsible for over 200,000 deaths since the uprising — now a civil war with international involvement — started in 2011. However, Cameron is clear that the air strikes he proposes would only target Daesh and not the Assad regime. He is also adamant that he will not put British Army boots on the ground.

The issue is in danger of splitting the already troubled Labour Party. Leader Jeremy Corbyn has a long-standing history of opposing war. The record shows that he was right to oppose the Iraq invasion and war which brought devastation to the country and a rise in terrorism, with groups like Al-Qaeda flourishing.

Now we have a plethora of armed groups, a “Free Syrian Army” and many states bombing Daesh in Iraq or Syria, or both. And then there is Russia, a recent entry onto the scene under the pretence of attacking Daesh but, according to other states involved in Syria, actually attacking anti-Assad groups.

The world faces a hugely complicated situation requiring both a diplomatic and military plan. In addition, if we have learnt anything at all from the disaster in Iraq, then a post-war plan is a must if the same mistakes are not to be repeated.

Will RAF air strikes make us safer in Britain? 

I think not, and it is illogical that the government’s answer to this question is “Yes”, not least because it is now very apparent that the Paris atrocities were planned in Europe and not in Syria or Iraq. The answer for me lies in better intelligence gathering. There is a need for greater emphasis on national intelligence gathering and stronger transnational coordination, particularly in Europe.

Britain enjoys far stricter border controls which the Schengen Area countries lack. As such, the chances of terrorist cells entering the UK from Europe are more unlikely. It is also much more difficult — as far as I am aware — for anyone to purchase clandestine weapons in Britain than it is in the rest of the EU.

We are told that the British security services have successfully foiled a number of terrorist attacks this year. My conclusion, therefore, is that air strikes on their own are futile in reducing the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain, but greater and coordinated intelligence can be much more effective.

Should Britain do nothing in Syria? 

I believe that Britain and all the other states involved in Syria need a plan and suggest that it needs to have the following elements:

  • Establish no fly zones and safe havens inside Syria to stem the tide of refugees leaving the country.
  • Curb sources of funding and arms for Daesh and continue to degrade its ability to sell oil.
  • Work with Turkey to stem the tide of fighters wanting to join the group from outside Syria.
  • Accept that the Syrian regime is there to stay and engage with it, bringing it back into the fold of the international community (see below).
  • Broker a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and the opposition groups as it requires the focus of both to defeat Daesh.
  • Support the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces.
  • Build a coalition against Daesh to include all of the states currently engaged in Syria, but with the Syrian army and opposition groups playing a central role.
  • Use this improved situation to develop a long-term political solution for Syria. This will include a reconciliation process.
  • Begin the process of an accelerated reconstruction of Syria working with the Syrian government.

I accept that, for many, bringing the Syrian regime back into the fold is a step too far, especially with regards to Bashar Al-Assad, but it is in my view the only entity that could eradicate Daesh on the ground. It does, however, need to shift the focus of its army to fighting the group after having established a ceasefire with the opposition.

The time for war crimes trials can come once Syria and Iraq are stabilised. Until then, the destruction of Daesh as an entity on the ground and as an ideology is of paramount importance.