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

Middle East Eye 6/12/2017

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

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

Leurs espoirs ont été balayés.

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

La déclaration Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jérusalem-Est et Jérusalem ouest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les réactions arabes et musulmanes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Une stratégie de libération

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A tale of two embassies and the ‘ultimate deal’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long before the Israeli flag flies over Riyadh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahmoud Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. He must go 

First published by the Middle East Eye on 29/6/2017

The president has hit a new low, cutting the salaries and electricity of Palestinians in Gaza. The next intifada will be against the Palestinian National Authority and this should worry Israel and Abbas


Photo: A photo of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from 2016 (AFP)

The embattled 81-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been in power since 2005. His reign has not brought the Palestinian people any closer to freedom and independence, but where is he leading them to now?

Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in January 2005 following Yasser Arafat’s death under suspicious circumstances in November 2004. He is president of the state of Palestine, leader of Fatah and chairman of the PLO. He is committed to negotiations with Israel based on a two-state solution, and has been since he signed the 1993 Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn to great cheers. 

In short, he has played a hugely significant role in leading the Palestinians as a negotiator, a prime minster and a president and, while the blame for his administration’s failure can be shared among a number of key personnel, he set the overall direction of travel and must therefore carry the can for its disastrous consequences.

Under his watch, the Palestinians scored a small number of successes, including an upgrade of Palestine’s membership of the United Nations to a non-member observer state in 2012 allowing it to join several international organisations including UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. This was part of a strategy to internationalise the conflict.

Abbas may well argue that another of his successes has been the security coordination with Israel instigated under Oslo. It is one of the strongest cards Palestinians have to threaten Israel. Abbas has, however, called it “sacred”, arguing, “If we give up security coordination, there will be chaos here. There will be rifles and explosions and armed militants everywhere,”

Beyond this list, it is difficult to point to any other significant successes. On the contrary, Abbas’ setbacks and failures have put the Palestinian cause in the worst position it has been since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Peace process 

The Oslo Accords were meant to deliver a Palestinian state within five years. Twenty-four years and countless negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian side, mostly led for the Palestinians by Saeb Erekat, later, and there is no Palestinian state

And while 136 member states of the UN recognise Palestine, of the so-called international community, only Sweden has afforded this recognition to the Palestinians. Significantly, neither Israel, nor the US recognise Palestine as a state, arguing recognition should only come at the negotiation table.

The last significant attempt at peace talks, led by US secretary of state John Kerry, ended in complete failure in 2014 and was followed by Israel’s third war on Gaza in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. As he was leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for failure of the talks at Israel’s door, singling out its settlement policy led by the “most right-wing” government in its history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Israeli electorate that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch in 2015. A significant number of his cabinet colleagues are against a state ever materialising and believe in the annexation of significant chunks of the West Bank to Israel.

Abbas remains committed to restarting negotiations with Israel and is now banking on the Trump administration to launch another initiative.

Settlements

In 1993, the number of settlers in the West Bank including East Jerusalem stood at 148,000. By the time Abbas had taken over as president, they had reached 440,000. Under his presidency, the number has risen to almost 600,000.

They live in 127 illegal settlements “recognised” by the interior ministry as “communities” and about 100 illegal “outposts”. In 2005, Israel vacated 16 settlements in Gaza under Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” plan.

The ever rising number of settlers and settlements has for many analysts already ended the prospect of a viable Palestinian state emerging.

Relationship between PNA and Hamas

Ever since its creation in 1987 shortly after the start of the first intifada, Hamas has pursued a significantly different approach to the conflict than Abbas’s Fatah party based on the liberation of historic Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic state in the area.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again

In 2006, it decided to combine its military strategy with participation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections which it won handsomely. Abbas accepted the results and asked Ismael Haniyeh to form a government, which was then boycotted by the international community.

Following a bloody confrontation between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza in 2006, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza which continues to this day. The Egyptian border crossing at Rafah has effectively been closed since January 2015.

Despite many attempts at reconciliation between the two factions, the division between Hamas and Fatah remains deep. Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah rules the West Bank. The two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have paid a heavy price for this division.

Price paid by Palestinians in Gaza increases – again

Frustrated by a lack of progress in ending the division, but perhaps playing to the Israeli and American gallery under US President Trump, Abbas has recently undertaken several steps to pressure Hamas which may result in the formal separation of Gaza from the West Bank.

In recent weeks, he slashed the salaries paid to 60,000 civil servants in Gaza and informed Israel that the PNA would no longer pay for the electricity it supplies to Gaza which has reduced the supply to the strip to a couple of hours a day.

This hits not only ordinary Palestinians hard, it also hurts vital services such as hospitals and sewage treatment works. The PNA has also reportedly cut its funding to the medical sector depriving it of badly needed equipment and medicines.


Young Palestinians in Rafah burn Abbas’ portrait during a protest against the Israeli blockade of of Gaza in April 2017 (AFP)

However, reports that the PNA has been blocking the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza outside the strip have truly angered Palestinians everywhere.

Many that I have spoken to both inside Palestine and in the diaspora described this as “shameful”. “How can Abbas impose collective punishment on his own people while maintaining security cooperation with Israel?” one asked.

If Mahmoud Abbas thought his actions would hurt Hamas and bring it to heal, then he has once again miscalculated badly. Reports have emerged of talks between Hamas and Abbas’s arch-rival Mohammed Dahlan which could see the latter return as leader in Gaza.

And if Abbas thought his hard-line approach against Hamas would endear him to Trump and his senior advisers then his recent, frosty meeting with Jared Kushner surely confirms the opposite. The more he gives, the more Israel and its American backers led by a fanatically pro-Israel team will want.

This time his actions against Hamas may give the Americans something Israeli leaders crave: a final separation between Gaza and the West Bank. This would certainly fulfil Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet’s vision of a Palestinian state “only in Gaza” and the annexation of the West Bank, giving the Palestinians limited autonomy there.

Whatever strategy Abbas has followed is unravelling. He is leading the Palestinians to further fragmentation and separation.

It is time he admitted this and stood down. If not, then his own miscalculations could hasten the end of his rule. Even those around him that have benefited handsomely from his rule must now realise the game is up.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again. This time it will be against their own expired leadership which has now denied babies and cancer sufferers in Gaza medical treatment for political purposes. The next intifada will be against the Muqata’a. This should worry Israel as much as Abbas.

When Congress celebrates the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, it defiles and redefines US values

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/6/2017

US Congress in session [File photo]

The American people missed a major incident in the US Congress last week which should have worried them immensely. Their elected representatives celebrated an illegal act on their behalf. Yes, the US Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel, and its illegal annexation in 1968. On 7 June, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, joined Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, the Speaker of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a simultaneous celebration of the “unification” of the city that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Addressing the participants on Capitol Hill and the Knesset, Netanyahu declared that, “Jerusalem will never be divided again.” He contrasted the city before 1967 – when his mother told him “You can’t go right, you can only go left,” due to Jordanian snipers – and visiting the Western Wall immediately after the Six-Day War.

Formally, the international community does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel took by armed force from Jordan in 1967. It further considers Israel’s building of settlements for Jews in the occupied Palestinian areas as illegal. Even the United States itself considers the settlements to be illegitimate. The ICJ advisory opinion on Israel’s separation wall reaffirmed the “applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

In a recent resolution, UNESCO confirmed that East Jerusalem is “occupied” and that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.” Only ten countries, including Israel and the US, voted against this resolution.

An international consensus exists which does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On the ground, this is enacted through the location of all embassies in Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometres away on the coast. This includes the US Embassy. However, in 1995 the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which recognises the city as Israel’s “capital”; the Act further called for the embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem by May 1999, at the latest.

The fact that the US Embassy has not moved to Jerusalem is down to successive US presidents who realised the ramifications of this move and chose to sign twice yearly waivers keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, even though Clinton, George W Bush and Trump made unambiguous promises to move it during their election campaigns. In Trump’s case, the promises were so recent that there was an expectation around the world, and hope in Israel, that he would do it early in his term. However, he too baulked at the move once in office and, having just returned from the Middle East, decided to sign a waiver on 1 June to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, much to the disappointment not only of Israel but also his own newly installed pro-Israel Ambassador, David Friedman. However, Trump and future presidents will continue to come under pressure from the pro-Israel Lobby through its stooges in Congress to push for the implementation of the Embassy Act.

#USEmbassy

It can therefore be argued that for Congress to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “reunification” of Jerusalem is in keeping with a long tradition of supporting Israel, right or wrong. However, illegal acts are surely not something that Americans should sanction or celebrate.

Consider this, for example: if Saddam Hussain’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait — like the occupation of Jerusalem, it was also deemed illegal at the time — was still in place, would Congress this year be celebrating the 27th anniversary of its “reunification” with Iraq? I understand the difference between Israel, a US ally, and Iraq. However, from the perspective of international law, the occupations of Iraq and Jerusalem (and the other areas captured by Israel in 1967) are illegal and therefore celebrating either is to celebrate illegal acts. In fact, while the US assembled a coalition of states to eject Iraq from Kuwait by force, it has acquiesced to Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab lands by not even placing any pressure on successive Israeli governments to end it. The US has further provided Israel with half of its international aid budget for the foreseeable future to ensure its “security”, and continues to protect it politically and diplomatically through the wielding of its veto in the UN Security Council.

In an astonishing move to shield Israel from criticism, all 100 US Senators signed a letter to the UN Secretary General in April demanding that it is “treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing.” The implication is that Israel’s defiance of dozens of UN Security Council resolutions, its 50-year occupation and repeated military offensives — and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity — against Gaza puts it in “good standing”.

America’s continued and unconditional military aid to Israel was heavily criticised by religious leaders in 2012. The signatories urged “an immediate investigation” into possible violations by Israel of the US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act, which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defence”. However, Congress has never investigated whether Israel violates US law or not.

America’s much-vaunted democratic values include liberty, justice and equality. When it comes to Palestinians, though, the US — through its elected representatives — acts regularly to deny them these same values. America does not seek equality for all Israeli citizens, 20 per cent of whom are Palestinians against whom state-sanctioned discrimination is rife. Nor has the US acted to deliver liberty for Palestinians in the same way that it did for the Kuwaitis; instead, America denies the illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land. Moreover, when it comes to the Jerusalem Act and the celebration of its illegal occupation, the US Congress certainly does not deliver justice to the Palestinians. In all of this, Congress defiles and redefines the values it claims to uphold for its own citizens. This is total hypocrisy.

Israel knows that it only has to bide its time to get everything it wants

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 22/5/2017


US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on 3 May, 2017 in Washington, DC. [Thaer Ganaim/Apaimages]

Recent commemorations of the 69th anniversary of the Nakba followed the long-awaited meeting at the White House between US President Donald Trump and his Palestinian Authority counterpart Mahmoud Abbas. While Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as political commentators and analysts, were busy digesting the public messages emanating from Washington in order to make sense of the future direction of the peace process, the Gulf States dropped a historic bombshell.

As the US president was preparing for his trip to the region to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the Wall Street Journal reported that some Arab states led by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates were proposing unprecedented steps towards normalisation in return for some Israeli “concessions”. Full details of the alleged offer have not been made public, but – as is often the case in such situations – there is probably no smoke without fire.

According to the WSJ, and as also reported by Haaretz, steps being considered include establishing direct telecommunication links between Israel and some of the Arab countries; permitting Israeli airlines to use Gulf airspace; and abolishing limitations on business with Israel. Additional normalisation steps being weighed up include the granting of visas to Israeli athletes and business people interested in visiting Gulf states.

Read: No, it is not unfair to criticise Israel

In return, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu would need to take significant steps to “advance the peace process with the Palestinians”, in particular the “freezing of construction outside settlement blocs” and “easing trade restrictions in the Gaza Strip.”

One suspects that on hearing this, the Israeli prime minister must have sat back in his chair and broke into politically-induced laughter. We can almost hear him chuckle to his aides, “You see, if you wait long enough, the Palestinians and the Arabs will make more concessions, so why hurry?”

Netanyahu has been trying to “direct” the new US Trump administration to view a solution to the Israel/Palestine issue through a regional rather than bilateral lens. Such a process would certainly not be one grounded in international law but rather “whatever the two sides want,” as Trump remarked famously during a White House press conference during Netanyahu’s visit back in February.

There was no talk of implementing the 2002 “Arab peace initiative”, which the recent Arab summit in Amman reaffirmed as the way forward for Israel to secure peace with the Palestinians in exchange for normalisation with all Arab and Islamic states. A prize well worth winning, one would have thought, for a country which craves recognition and acceptance, 69 years after its establishment on Palestinian territory. However, successive Israeli prime ministers have not responded formally beyond acknowledging that they are aware of it.

The Palestinian Authority has been conspicuous by its silence on the leaked discussion paper. Perhaps it is seeking clarification in private. Publically, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot, said, “We don’t mind a good relationship between Israel and the Arab world, [but] is this the entry to peace? Or is it the blocker?”

However, the cat is out of the bag. Netanyahu’s claims about relations with Arab states being at their best these days seem to be supported by this apparent shift in position which will not please the Palestinians, who expect Abbas’s tireless wish to resume negotiations. A senior Arab official was recently quoted as saying, “We no longer see Israel as an enemy, but a potential opportunity.” For his part, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz confirmed that “Much more is going on now than any time in the past. It’s almost a revolution in the Middle East.”

The Gulf states are far more worried about the perceived Iranian threat and are willing to see Israel join them in a counter plan to deal with Tehran. The danger is that if the Arab world makes such a generous offer to the Israelis seemingly without the consent of the Palestinians themselves, and Israel accepts it, then the people of Palestine have even fewer cards to play than they did before this paper was leaked.

By accepting as a “goodwill gesture” the freezing of illegal settlement construction outside (but not inside) the existing settlement blocs, the offer is a de facto acceptance that the settlements are there to stay. That gives Israel licence to define and redefine a settlement bloc as its expansionist policies determine, leaving less and less land for a Palestinian state or statelet in the West Bank. The offer does not even make reference to illegal colonies in occupied East Jerusalem, which are changing it rapidly from an Arab and Palestinian city to a Jewish one.

While Israel refuses to make public concessions to the Palestinians, the Arab world lowers the ceiling for what it will accept and by implication would pressure the Palestinians to accept. However, there is no evidence that Israel responds by lowering its own ceiling to anything near what the Palestinians would accept. It is likely that, as it has done in the past, it will take what it likes from an offer, and then produce all sorts of reasons as to why it can’t meet whatever obligations this offer would in turn place on it, citing its elastic “security” demands as evidence. It will take the offer to allow its aircraft to fly over Saudi Arabia with glee but then argue what is within or outside a settlement bloc. If there is disagreement on what illegal settlement building is permissible, will Gulf States then stop Israeli planes from using its airspace? Will they withdraw visas to Israeli athletes if the siege on Gaza is not eased?

Donald Trump’s approach to the Arab and Israeli conflict may well throw all cards up in the air but when they fall back to earth, will they favour the Israelis or the Palestinians? History shows that the current Palestinian leadership will take whatever crumbs are offered while Israel evaluates, hesitates and then prevaricates, realising fully that it is only a matter of time before a better offer will come along. In the absence of any significant pressure from the international community, it is more than happy to bide its time in order to get everything that it wants, on its own terms.