I was interviewed by On the News Line for Press TV, which was transmitted on 16/4/2018
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/3/2018
There is nothing like a trip to Beirut and a visit to Palestinian refugee camps to remind visitors of the nub of the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba which refugees continue to endure to this day. They were thrown out of their homeland simply because another people wanted to make it their own and were prepared to use all means possible to have it, regardless of the catastrophic impact this would have on fellow human beings. The Palestinians did not ask to be occupied by the British or the Zionists and did not offer their land for another people, who would?
The 750,000 expelled in 1948 have now grown to nearly six million, most of whom are refugees living in camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The others are not formally refugees but like their fellow Palestinians – who are formally refugees according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – have an unshakeable connection to historic Palestine and wish to realise their right to return peacefully to their towns and villages in historic Palestine.
In 1948, 100,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon. According to UNRWA their numbers grew to an estimated 452,000 by 2015, living in 12 refugee camps. However, a consensus carried out by Lebanon in 2017 reported a much lower figure of 174,000. Asked to explain the difference the Agency’s spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP: “UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon”. In addition to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the consensus found that 17,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria had also moved into refugee camps in Lebanon as a result of the security situation there.
I am currently in Lebanon and ahead of Land Day, which is marked today, I took the opportunity to visit Sabra and the Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The names are infamous for a massacre that was carried out by Lebanese militia under the watch of the Israeli army during their devastating invasion of Lebanon between 16 and 19 September 1982. Estimates of how many were massacred vary between 800 and 3,500 mostly Palestinian civilians but also some Shias. The man in control of the area was none other than Ariel Sharon who went on to become Israeli prime minister.
I visited the Bourj Al-Barajneh camp last year and was therefore better prepared for what I was about to see than I was last year. To reach the Shatila camp from Sabra, you walk through a busy market which winds its way to the entrance where you are met with Palestinian flags and those of some of the factions. Images of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, abound, though there are far more of the man Palestinians lovingly call Abu Ammar than there are of Abu Mazen.
If you have just come from some of the affluent neighbourhoods in Beirut, entering the camp is like a time warp into a different era. No smart blocks, no wide roads or shops selling designer clothes and certainly no Porsches or Jaguars. Mopeds are the most common means of transport and even they have to occasionally slow down to pass one coming in the other direction. You encounter row upon row of winding alleys hardly large enough for two people to pass at the same time. But it is the electricity cables that hang overhead that characterise the camps. I had hear about them but seeing them is a different thing.
Israel and its supporters would want you to blame Lebanon for the conditions in the camps, which the government acknowledges are desperate. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a “duty” towards Palestinians and acknowledged, “Over the past decades, the social and humanitarian problems faced by Palestinian refugees have accumulated, and the reality in the camps has become tragic on all levels,” However, he insisted Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalisation. Hariri knows, neither do they.
They want to return to Palestine and they have a right to return according to UN Resolution 194, which resolved on 11 December 1948 that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
However, Israel has always refused to implement it – as it has countless other UN resolutions – claiming it would spell the end of the state. The international community is also complicit in the plight of the refugees for it has not acted in 70 years to pressure Israel to allow them to return. The Arab countries have also been found wanting. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative –which the Palestinian Authority accepts – lowered the ceiling from the right of all refugees to return to finding a “just solution”. What could be more just than their unconditional return?
The refugees have therefore been left with no alternative but to take matters into their hands. This started in 2011 when, on 15 May, refugees made their way to the border with Israel in a number of bordering countries. In Lebanon, their protests were met with live fire from Israeli border soldiers which resulted in the death of 11 civilians and injuries to 100. Israel’s claimed Lebanese forces shot them.
Frustrated by the lack of progress to deliver their rights, Palestinians are once again on the move to remind the world of this unfinished business, their return. This time they have chosen Land Day and the besieged Gaza Strip to be the theatre for this latest episode in their quest to return, the “Great March of Return”. Figures show that 80 per cent of the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. They include those refugees from Najd, a Palestinian village bordering Gaza that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and on whose land an Israeli settlement was created. It is called Sderot a city that is home to 24,000 Israelis and lies less than a mile from the border. Readers will recognise it as a colony that has received many rockets fired from Gaza and has become part of itinerary of visitors to Israel who stand and sympathise with the residents without giving a second’s though to the Palestinians just across the border on whose land it now exists.
Organisers of the Great March of Return insisted it will be a peaceful procession and that “it is a procession of human right that demands an implementation of the right of return.” according to spokesman Ahmed Abu Rteime. He insisted the Palestinians would only be armed with “the camera and the word” assuring that “there will be no burning of tyres, stone throwing or any confrontation with the Israeli occupation forces”. He said that the protestors would keep a 700 metre distance from the border.
“We are talking about a new style of peaceful resistance. Our goal is to revive our cause politically and peacefully,” said Abu Rteima.
The Israeli army’s response has been typically belligerent warning “these demonstrations might be used as a cover to damage the security infrastructure or harm the Israeli citizens or soldiers.” The Israeli army vowed that its forces would respond with a strong hand against such attempts. Israeli planes dropped leaflets and flyers in Arabic to the eastern areas of the Gaza Strip, warning residents not to approach the borders fence.
Israel, which killed disabled and wheelchair bound Ibrahim Abu Thuraya in December 2017, is certainly prepared to use live ammunition on peaceful protesters. Palestinians will bravely bring their plight to the attention of the world today but those of us looking on from the outside fear for their safety.
Instead of the Israeli army attacking the Palestinian refugees, the residents of Sedrot should be inviting those hailing from Najd to return to their hometown. That would be a much better way to mark Land Day. It would also give great hope to the refugees in Shatila camp and others.
I was interviewed by Press TV on 7/3/2018
First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/2/2018
The Palestinian president has called for an international conference by mid-2018 to recognise Palestine as a state, but prospects are bleak amid US bias towards Israel
At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and triggered the move of the US embassy there.
Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.
While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump’s Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.
Criticism from ambassadors
In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. “This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?” he asked.
Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.
The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.
The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard “truths”. Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had “expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say”, and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem.”
US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: “There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”
‘Deal of the century’
If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.
The call by Abbas for an international conference appears dead in its tracks when one considers the last attempt by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, to hold one in far more favourable political conditions, in the dying days of the Obama administration.
The conference was attended by some 70 countries, excluding Israel and the Palestinians, with Britain sending a low-level official instead of its foreign secretary. Even well-informed followers of the conflict would struggle to recall what the Paris conference achieved; its call for the status of Jerusalem not to be changed unilaterally was disregarded by Trump almost exactly a year later.
The US administration is continuing to develop its “deal of the century”, with Haley recently cautioning that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would “love” it. Palestinians will have to reject the deal if, as leaks have suggested, the core issues of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees are taken off the table.
Israel, meanwhile, will have a great hand in influencing the deal, but it will still claim that it falls short of meeting its security needs – but that it can work with Trump’s administration to improve it. The more they “improve” it, the less favourable it will be to Palestinians, who will be castigated for again “disrespecting” the administration.
Cards stacked against Palestinians
How could an international conference be held under this kind of near-certain outcome, and why did Abbas misguidedly specify an almost impossible date for the process, knowing the cards are stacked against him?
The only factor that could reshuffle the cards would be a change in the Israeli prime ministership. While the prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu staying in power change from day to day, his absence could change the game – but with a weak left and an emboldened Israeli right, it is unlikely that either a left-led coalition or a pragmatic, right-leaning leader would come through.
You need only list the names of the potential prime ministers to conclude that a change in leadership would merely diminish peace prospects further: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. None have a desire to see an end to the settlement enterprise or the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, or to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.
Gabbay, who leads the Labor party, opposes the removal of even the most isolated outposts, and he told a meeting of party activists that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”
Climate of hatred
This is hardly a group of individuals that really want to see a just peace. And why would they not take advantage of a US administration that is solidly behind Israel’s expansionist goals?
The pro-Israel lobby in the US worked for decades to see an American administration that would not only acquiesce to Israeli demands, whatever they happen to be, but even use talking points produced by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to make the case.
Among others, these talking points include comments about how “the settlements are not an obstacle to peace”, references to “realities on the ground” and “Israel’s security needs”, and remarks about how Israel is “unfairly treated” and picked on disproportionately considering everything else that is happening in the Middle East.
Trump’s disruption through his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have produced a climate much more favourable to peace – that is, if he had recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and conditioned the building of two embassies on the conclusion of peace talks based on international law, within, say, two years.
Instead, Trump clearly staked out his side, fuelling a climate of hatred and fear. Hope in the Holy Land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely.
Unless he finds the courage and wisdom to retract his decision, the hope tap will remain off, and no amount of pleading by Abbas or a change in Israel’s leadership will be able to force it back on. This is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.
– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018 (AFP)
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/2/2018
Since US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent decision to cut American funding to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has announced formally and repeatedly that Washington cannot continue in its traditional role as the sole sponsor of the peace process. Speaking shortly after Trump’s announcement in December, Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians have been engaged with the President’s advisors to achieve the “deal of the century” but “instead we got the slap of our times”. He concluded that, “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator… We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.”
At that point, the PA President suggested that the UN should take over as mediator. However, since then, the PA has been searching for an alternative to the US sponsorship which has been based on bringing together a wider group of influential countries to oversee negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Israel has been silent on the matter, enjoying the complete US bias in its favour, whether from Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman or the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley.
During his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Mike Pence received a hero’s welcome as he committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The Palestinians refused to meet him. Trump saw this as an act of disrespect to Pence and the US, and threatened the PA with further cuts in American aid unless they returned to the negotiating table.
The next port of call for the Palestinians for a sponsor of the peace talks was the European Union. Abbas visited the EU headquarters in Brussels recently an
d held talks with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. If Abbas thought that the EU was ready to take a sole or significant role in the peace process, he was disappointed. Mogherini reiterated longstanding EU positions: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states… based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law.” She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “Including to UNRWA.” She did not respond to Abbas’s call for the EU as a bloc to recognise the State of Palestine.
In a press conference a few days later, before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters, Mogherini told reporters that any framework for negotiations must involve “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”
This must have come as a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which had hoped that the Americans could be sidelined from the peace process.
There are few alternatives for the Palestinians to pursue. France’s attempts to secure a greater role in the peace process resulted in the Paris Conference which took place in much more favourable conditions at the end of the Obama Administration, but it tuned into a damp squib. The conference went ahead but little came out of it, and it has had no follow-up to speak of.
The Chinese, put forward their 4-point peace proposal last August:
- Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state.
- Upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians, and calling for an early resumption of peace talks.
- Coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date.”
- Promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel.
While little has been heard of the proposal’s potential since last year, the Chinese stepped up their efforts to play a greater role in the peace process following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. However, responding to a question about China’s possible future role at a regular press briefing on 21 December, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “China’s position on the Palestine issue is consistent. We support and actively promote the Middle East peace process. We support the just cause of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights… We are willing to continue offering constructive assistance to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
The Chinese hosted a symposium last December bringing together Palestinians and Israelis in a bid to break the impasse. The session culminated with the production of a non-binding position paper known as the “Beijing Initiative”, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Zionist Union MK Hilk Bar said in a closing statement was intended to prove that “it is possible and necessary to break the political deadlock and encourage the two leaderships to return to the negotiating table.” A leading member of the Palestinian delegation added: “We have to search for another approach to the peace process… It must include the superpowers and China, maybe one of these parties who can play a major role.”
Attempts by Russia, another UN Security Council member to take a leading role in the peace process, go back many years but have not succeeded.
Palestinians have recently favoured an arrangement that mirrors the P5+1 which developed the Iran Nuclear Deal Agreement, which was concluded in 2015. The P5+1 refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A similar arrangement could still see the US involved but not monopolising the framework for negotiations.
A possible starting point here could be the Quartet, known formally as the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”
On the face of it, the Quartet, with an upgrade of its senior team, could be the readymade answer to the Palestinian demand for a downgrading of the US role rather than Washington being excluded altogether. That may go some way towards meeting Israel’s insistence that the US has to be an important player in any future set of negotiations.
The Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at Brookings evaluated the Quartet’s performance in 2012 in its paper “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem“. It concluded that, but for some early successes up to 2003, the Quartet has not provided any tangible benefits, except “ensuring American engagement in the peace process.”
The Palestinians could request that certain countries are added to the group to provide their role with some prominence. These could include Japan, Egypt and China, and perhaps Britain as it leaves the EU. In other words a Q4+ format could be developed, possibly under UN leadership.
The advantage of the above arrangement, which will be challenging to bring together, is that the basic structure already exists. It is likely that the Palestinians would agree to such a grouping, leaving the US and Israel almost certainly rejecting it. However, this would show Palestinian flexibility and confirm US and Israel rejectionism.
There is a need for an alternative framework for negotiations to resolve the conflict other than the 25 years of futile talks led by the Americans whose bias towards Israel is guaranteed and blatant. The longer the void left by the Palestinian rejection of a role for the US exists, the longer that the status quo will continue, allowing Israel to march ahead with its colonial project. A revamped Quartet plus-plus is well worth serious consideration.
First published by the Middle East Eye on 6/2/2018
If it is to be taken seriously as a broker for peace, the EU must make disruptive decisions to pressure Israel, just as the US has been doing against Palestinians
The past few weeks have been transformational for the prospects, or rather lack thereof, for peace between Israel and Palestine.
US Vice President Mike Pence gleefully confirmed in a speech to the Israeli Knesset that his country’s embassy would move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, as the US administration announced it would withhold $65m for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides services for Palestinian refugees.
This, coupled with US President Donald Trump’s insinuation that millions of dollars in US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) should be cut after their “disrespectful” snub of Pence, has confirmed the current administration’s bias towards Israel, underscoring the PA’s conclusion that the Americans cannot play a role in any future peace process.
Bullying and blackmail of Palestinians
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the US, said in a speech to the Middle East Institute that Trump had backstabbed Palestinians, not only taking Jerusalem off the peace table, but also taking “the table altogether”.
The Americans continue to claim they are developing the “deal of the century” while using a combination of bullying and blackmail to attempt to force Palestinians back to the negotiating table, from which they believe they have removed both Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return.
In his highly analysed speech to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Central Council, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recommitted to negotiations and peaceful popular resistance as the two strategic pillars to reclaim Palestinian rights.
However, the PA has shown little leadership in developing a national strategy for popular resistance, and is continuing security cooperation with Israel – which Abbas has called “sacred”.
The central council recommended the suspension of this security cooperation and, for the first time, urged the PLO’s executive committee to adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a means of pressuring Israel. It also recommended suspension of the PLO’s recognition of Israel and announced the expiration of the Oslo Accords.
The PLO’s Executive Committee recently met in Ramallah to discuss the Central Council’s recommendations. It agreed to set up a higher level committee to study the recommendation to suspend recognition of Israel. No date was set for it to report on this important decision.
There was no mention of the recommendation -made for the second time- to suspend security cooperation with Israel. In terms of a change in the PA’s strategy for achieving Palestinian rights, there was little emerging from the meetings of the Central Council or Executive Committee.
Reiteration of longtime position
The key change the PA might be pursuing is a search for an alternative to the US as a sponsor for future peace talks. The PA initially saw the EU as the prime body to replace the US; shortly after his speech in Ramallah, Abbas flew to Brussels to meet Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy.
What he heard was a reiteration of the EU’s longstanding position. Mogherini said: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as shared capital of the two states … based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law”. She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “including to UNRWA”.
For his part, Abbas thanked the EU for its financial support and asked that it continue to play a political role in the Middle East peace process. He reiterated the Palestinian commitment to fighting “terrorism, violence and extremism“.
In a direct snub to the PLO Central Council, Abbas affirmed his commitment to previously signed agreements- meaning Oslo Accords – to which he said Palestinians had adhered, and urged Israel to implement its responsibilities under the deals. He also called on EU member states to recognise the state of Palestine.
In a subsequent announcement, Mogherini pledged the EU would contribute an additional €42.5 ($53m) to Palestinians after Trump’s decision to cut support, including €14.9m to “preserve the Palestinian character of East Jerusalem”.
On the political front, Mogherini told reporters in Brussels that any framework for negotiations must involved “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”
Sustaining the status quo
Thus, far from rising to the occasion and using its historic and financial ties to Israel and Palestine to play a greater political role in formulating a way out of the current impasse, the EU will simply sustain the status quo.
Nine European states, including Sweden, already recognise Palestine as a state and it seems Slovenia may be next – yet the EU as a bloc has not given any indication that it may follow suit. The EU continues to support Israeli universities through its research programme, Horizon 2020, though it distinguishes between institutions on either side of the Green Line. Its position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law has not been matched with commensurate action.
It took the EU many years to simply take a position that goods from the illegal settlements should be labelled. To counter Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the EU could have moved to ban goods from the settlements and to compel businesses and banks to seize any activities that support their continued existence through trade. However, there are no signs it will do this.
Following the decision by Israel to deny entry to human rights activists from EU member states for their solidarity and support for BDS, including European elected officials, the EU could have moved to impose a tougher visa regime or even ban settlers from EU countries due to their violation of international law. This would include some senior Israeli politicians and members of the extremist Israeli government who are not committed to a two-state solution and have called for annexation of the West Bank.
Action-light versus action-heavy
The EU could ban the sale of arms to Israel, as these could be used to violently entrench the occupation and to attack Gaza.
The reality is that the EU has the tools to match its words with action, but it has thus far shied away from using any of them. Its policy can be seen as action-light.
In contrast, America’s support for Israel is action-heavy, politically through the use of its veto in the UN Security Council and financially through providing it with half of its annual aid budget, while threatening to reduce the pittance it gives to Palestinians to bully them into negotiations.
If the EU is to be taken seriously as a broker for peace, it must make disruptive decisions to pressure Israel – moves as significant as America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Can the EU walk the walk or will it simply continue to talk the talk?
Translated from English
Published on the Middle East Eye édition française on 22/1/2018
Mahmoud Abbas va demander à l’Union européenne de reconnaître l’État de Palestine. Mais la cause et les sacrifices consentis par des millions de Palestiniens méritent beaucoup plus que ce que les dirigeants actuels ont accompli ou ne pourront jamais offrir
Lors de la dernière réunion du Conseil national palestinien à Ramallah, le président Mahmoud Abbas, en évoquant certaines des réussites palestiniennes des ces dernières années, a filé la métaphore du football.
Il a rappelé qu’en 1934, l’équipe palestinienne – battue un but à zéro – avait été privée par l’Égypte d’une place en Coupe du monde de football. Il leur a rappelé avec fierté qu’en 2009 la Palestine s’était classée 179e au classement mondial de la FIFA.
Elle est toutefois passée à la 80e place du classement récemment publié, alors qu’Israël se trouvait en 98e position, « malgré tous les efforts qu’ils ont déployés », a-t-il souligné.
Abbas attribue cette réussite aux efforts considérables de la Fédération palestinienne de football, mais ajoute toutefois qu’elle est aussi due au fait que le sport n’est pas politisé – et que quiconque voulant y participer peut le faire indépendamment de la faction politique à laquelle il appartient. Il a prédit en plaisantant qu’« un jour, nous pourrions même nous placer avant l’Amérique ».
Sa métaphore du football était intéressante, mais dans un sens différent.
Les dirigeants palestiniens pourraient-ils tirer des leçons de ce beau sport ? Si la Palestine était une équipe appartenant à l’une des leagues anglaises, comment son leadership gagnerait-il régulièrement, grimperait-il dans chaque ligue, serait-il promu et gagnerait-il ensuite le prix ultime du championnat voire (pour compléter la métaphore) sa liberté et son indépendance ?
En football, comme en politique, il faut créer des équipes gagnantes – sur le terrain comme en dehors des stades. Les clubs de football sont sur le marché pour détecter les talents, acheter les meilleurs joueurs du moment, mais aussi pour faire progresser ceux qu’ils ont déjà. Les pressions du jeu moderne sont telles qu’on ne peut se permettre de rester les bras croisés, d’autant plus quand on voit les équipes voisines renforcer leurs positions.
Si nous prenons la période des 23 ans écoulés depuis les accords d’Oslo, nous constatons que les Palestiniens s’éloignent de plus en plus de leur objectif mais, à la différence d’une équipe anglaise de football – qui ne cesse d’élaborer des stratégies, d’acheter et de vendre des joueurs et de changer d’entraîneurs –, l’équipe palestinienne a si peu été renouvelée.
Il est temps que les Palestiniens disent haut et fort que le leadership actuel fait partie du problème
Abbas et ses collègues les plus anciens ont entre 75 et 88 ans – quand on regarde des photos de la conférence du Conseil central palestinien (CCP), on peine à voir un jeune à la table d’honneur ou au premier rang.
Au cours d’un match, un entraîneur de football commencera par une formation donnée – censée être sa meilleure équipe – mais il la changera si les choses ne se passent pas comme prévu. Il misera parfois sur une formation défensive et parfois sur une formation offensive.
Il mettra certains joueurs au repos et placera sur le terrain des jeunes joueurs, pour qu’ils « se fassent les dents », contribuant ainsi à assurer fraîcheur et continuité. L’équipe palestinienne, elle, stagne depuis des décennies.
Alex Ferguson a connu 27 ans de succès à Manchester United. Il a construit une base – d’abord une équipe victorieuse – mais ses treize trophées de Premier League anglaise n’ont pas été remportés par la même équipe, mais par trois ou quatre.
Un grand nombre des principaux joueurs de l’équipe palestinienne sont toujours là, 24 ans après Oslo.
Un futur leadership
Si l’argument en faveur du maintien de la « vieille garde » palestinienne repose sur ses connaissances et son expérience, alors un examen attentif du côté opposé, Israël, balaie cet argument. En Israël, la « vieille garde » a largement disparu, laissant place à de « nouveaux talents », des Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely, ou encore Danon.
Il se trouve que ce sont des extrémistes et, sur la durée, leur leadership pourrait conduire Israël à l’isolement et au désastre (mais ce n’est pas le sujet). Ils ont eu l’occasion de développer leurs compétences politiques au plus haut niveau.
D’où viendra la prochaine génération de dirigeants palestiniens ? Peut-on en nommer cinq qui gagnent en notoriété ? Il est indubitable qu’un peuple qui compte près de quatorze millions d’habitants en Palestine historique, dans les camps de réfugiés, sans oublier ceux de la diaspora, et qui est très instruit, ne peut qu’avoir engendré un leadership dans l’attente d’émerger.
À 62 ans, Saeb Erekat est l’un des plus jeunes membres de la « vieille garde » palestinienne. Depuis la conférence de Madrid, il participe aux négociations – et, depuis 1995, en qualité de négociateur en chef palestinien. Il a démissionné à plusieurs reprises, mais sa démission n’a jamais été acceptée par le président Abbas.
Le leadership palestinien doit s’imposer des changements radicaux s’il espère se montrer à la hauteur des difficultés à venir. La cause, et les sacrifices consentis en son nom par des millions de Palestiniens, méritent beaucoup plus que ce que les dirigeants actuels ont accompli ou ne pourront jamais offrir.
Malgré la tradition du Moyen-Orient, de respecter les anciens et tenir en haute estime ceux qui, dans le passé, ont fait pour la cause d’énormes sacrifices, il arrive un moment où ils doivent prendre leur retraite avec grâce ou être renvoyés par le peuple palestinien.
Il est vrai que la tâche à laquelle sont confrontés les dirigeants palestiniens, jeunes ou vieux, expérimentés ou non, est énorme. Ils sont confrontés à un ennemi très organisé et stratège, qui en plus d’un siècle leur a volé leur patrie, tout fait pour la garder et, à terme, a la ferme intention de tous les en expulser. Qu’on ne se méprenne pas sur l’objectif ultime d’Israël.
Il est temps que les Palestiniens disent haut et fort que le leadership actuel fait partie du problème. Ils agissent en grande partie comme si la Palestine avait été libérée, comme un État en bonne et due forme, avec ses ministres, ses ministères et ses pièges du pouvoir. Or, en réalité, même Abbas a besoin d’une autorisation d’Israël pour se déplacer d’une ville à l’autre et le Premier ministre palestinien risque toujours d’être arrêté par l’armée israélienne en Cisjordanie pour un excès de vitesse.
Jeu à deux mi-temps
Mais les dirigeants palestiniens ont fait leurs plus grandes erreurs de jugement lors des négociations avec Israël, sous la direction d’Erekat – dont les concessions trop généreuses ont été dénoncées par Al Jazeera dans les journaux palestiniens –, notamment lorsqu’a été offert à Israël, sur un plateau, le « plus grand Jérusalem de l’histoire ».
Si Abbas a choisi de négocier avec Israël, c’est uniquement comme moyen de parvenir à la paix. Mais il a sous-estimé le parti pris de l’Amérique en faveur d’Israël, quelles que soient les administrations successives. Abbas avait-il vraiment besoin que Trump vende la mèche pour qu’Abbas comprenne que l’impartialité des États-Unis n’est qu’un simulacre ?
Même lorsqu’il a eu l’occasion de faire réellement pression sur Israël – comme avec l’arrêt de la Cour internationale de justice sur le mur de séparation et le rapport Goldstone –, Abbas et son équipe, n’en ont pas profité. Aucune de ces deux opportunités n’a été utilisée à bon escient.
Les dirigeants sont responsables de la décision de ne pas avoir tiré le meilleur parti du rapport et de la pensée dominante selon laquelle Israël serait d’une certaine manière, obligée de faire des concessions. Ils se sont lourdement trompés.
Le célèbre dirigeant de Liverpool, Bill Shankly, a déclaré : « Certains pensent que le football est une question de vie ou de mort. Je suis très déçu de cette attitude. Je peux vous assurer que l’enjeu est bien plus important que ça ».
Pour le peuple palestinien, la Palestine est bien plus qu’une question de vie et de mort et il veut voir ses dirigeants mettre la barre très haut. Ils pourraient prendre exemple sur un autre célèbre entraîneur de football anglais, Bill Nicholson, un ancien dirigeant de Tottenham, qui a déclaré : « Il est préférable d’échouer en ayant visé haut que de réussir en ayant visé bas. Et nous, les Spurs, avons placé la barre très haut, si haut en fait que même l’échec aura pour nous saveur de gloire ».
La lutte palestinienne contre le sionisme dure depuis longtemps. Selon une expression très répandue dans le football, il s’agit d’un « jeu à deux mi-temps ».
Si les Palestiniens considèrent les 70 dernières années comme la première mi-temps de la rencontre, c’est Israël qui a marqué le plus grand nombre de buts. Et s’ils veulent avoir une chance de retourner la situation dans les 70 prochaines années, en marquant le but de la victoire en fin de match, ils ont besoin d’une nouvelle équipe, une dream team dynamique, réactive, fertile en idées neuves et qui œuvre à développer une nouvelle stratégie de libération, comme jamais les dirigeants actuels n’en ont élaborée.
Il faut parfois être cruel pour faire du bien. Obtenir la libération exige d’urgence de souffler le coup de sifflet final et de se préparer à une fameuse contre-attaque.
– Kamel Hawwash est un professeur britannico-palestinien d’ingénierie à l’Université de Birmingham et un militant de longue date pour la justice, en particulier pour le peuple palestinien. Il est vice-président du British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) et membre du Comité exécutif de la Campagne de solidarité avec la Palestine (PSC). Hawwash apparaît régulièrement dans les médias comme commentateur sur les questions du Moyen-Orient. Il dirige le blog www.kamelhawwash.com. Vous pouvez le suivre sur Twitter : @kamelhawwash. Il a rédigé cet article à titre personnel.
Les opinions exprimées dans cet article n’engagent que leur auteur et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la politique éditoriale de Middle East Eye.
Photo : Le président Abbas préside une réunion du Comité exécutif de l’OLP au siège de l’Autorité palestinienne à Ramallah, en septembre 2017 (AFP).