Trump should appoint pro-Palestinian advisers

First published by the Arab Weekly on 1/6/2017

Trump’s senior advisers and ambassadors hold pro-Israel views with no counter view seemingly present.


Phot: Diversity needed. Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (R) and US President Donald Trump (L) chat as White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is seen in between them, during their meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, on May 22. (Reuters)

During his recent trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, US President Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region, achieving what he has repeatedly named the “ultimate deal.”

At a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump said: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” promising: “We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”

While there were calls from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for Trump to demand that the Palestinian Authority stop payments to families of prisoners and those whom Palestinians consider martyrs, Trump did not do this publicly.

Trump spent a day in Israel meeting with its leaders and minutes in Bethlehem meeting with Abbas. Initial reports indicated positive meetings in both areas but recent revelations about Trump’s meeting with Abbas suggested that he yelled at the Palestinian leader, accusing Abbas of “deceiving” him about the Palestinian Authority’s role in inciting violence against Israel.

Public statements did not indicate such a rift. Speaking at the Israel Museum, Trump said: “I had a meeting this morning with President Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace.” He then said: “In my meeting with my very good friend Binyamin, I can tell you also that he is reaching for peace. He wants peace.”

However, for that to happen, Trump needs to be provided with advice that represents the conflict in a balanced manner. His Middle East adviser during his campaign was Walid Phares who is of Christian Maronite Lebanese heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel stance. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian view.

Since his election, Trump has surrounded himself with advisers on the Middle East who were likely to hold views closer to the Israeli position. His senior adviser on the Middle East is his Jewish Orthodox son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The son of holocaust survivors, the real estate mogul’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El.

Trump’s special representative for international negotiations is Jason Greenblatt, his company lawyer from New York who is an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think the United States or any other party should try and impose an agree­ment on Israel.

Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel is David Friedman, an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, who is committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. He, too, does not believe the settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.

When it came to the United Nations, Trump picked Nikki Haley, a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for overly criti­cising Israel. She recently prom­ised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — a key lobby group for Israel — that “the days of Israel bashing are over.”

She recently threatened that the United States may pull out of the UN Human Rights Council over its “chronic anti-Israel bias.”

An assessment of Trump’s team reveals that his senior advisers and ambassadors hold pro-Israel views with no counter view seemingly present.

It can be argued that the lack of one or more pro-Palestinian advisers or even ones with no record of supporting Israel is a handicap to the US president and goes against the principles of serious deal making.

If Trump is serious about finding “the ultimate deal,” he should insert an alternative view into his senior team or he likely faces failure.

الحصاد: بلفور … قرن من الظلم 

مشاركتي في برنامج الحصاد على قناة الجزيرة بتاريخ ٢٢/٤/٢٠١٧

 

The Palestinian leadership must embrace the Conference for Palestinians Abroad

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 6/3/2017

In my last article for MEMO, I wondered whether the Conference for Palestinians Abroad (CPA) could lead to Palestinian unity of vision. It was a privilege to be with an estimated 6,000 Palestinians from 50 countries in Istanbul for the conference, which took place on 25 and 26 February, both as a founding member and to test that question.

The dates are important because I believe that the launch of this conference will mark a milestone in the Palestinian struggle for justice, freedom, equality and the restoration of our rights. The 26 February will forever by the day when Palestinians who live outside Palestine and who are refused the right to return to their homeland said loud and clear that enough is enough. We will no longer be sidelined or ignored, either by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO, our non-representative representative); Israel (the cause of our catastrophe); or those in the “international community” who had a hand in our dispossession and expulsion from our homeland by Zionist terrorists in 1948 and who continue to deny us our rights to this day.

The unequivocal message from Istanbul was that the Palestinians will not give up their right to return to the places from which we were ethnically cleansed. This was exemplified by Palestinian poet Mohammed Abu Daya who brought his original title deeds to the conference and after a moving speech handed them to one of his many grandchildren, imploring him to commit to returning, and receiving a promise from him that he will struggle to return to that very plot of land one day. Some may see this as unrealistic and theatrical. However, that would be to misunderstand the core Palestinian issue. The struggle has always been about Palestinian refugees returning to their homes instead of languishing in the diaspora, whatever political structure exists in historic Palestine.

Reaffirming the right of return was at the heart of the conference but the final statement also reaffirmed the commitment by Palestinians in involuntary exile to liberate Palestine from the “river to the sea”. Such language is usually mistranslated by Zionists to mean the destruction of Israel and “throwing the Jews into the sea”. That is pure propaganda from Zionists who, by the way, happen to believe that the Palestinians must be thrown out of their own land for there to be a truly Jewish state west of the River Jordan.

They are forever looking for means to achieve this, claiming that “Jordan is the Palestinian state” or that a state can be created in the Sinai to which the Palestinians in “Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank) can be sent, by force if necessary. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has no qualms about claiming the whole of historic Palestine for Israel. “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she believes. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, buoyed by Donald Trump being in the White House, claims that there will not be a Palestinian state. Indeed, the far-right Bennett has called for the annexation of most of the illegally-occupied West Bank, starting with the illegal colony-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and bringing it under Israeli “sovereignty”.

Standing next to Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed two conditions that must be met before “peace”: The Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and, “Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.” The latter is de facto Israeli sovereignty over historic Palestine from the river to the sea. While he has not explicitly called for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, Israel would continue to rule over an occupied people for ever, making their lives so miserable under the pretext of security that they would leave of their own accord. In Zionist terminology, this is known as “silent transfer” and it is very much part of Israel’s strategy for a Palestinian-free land.

None of the above inflammatory statements by the most senior Israeli ministers has been condemned by any member of the so called international community. It seems that Western governments are happy for Zionist Israelis to claim the whole of historic Palestine as theirs, but not for the Palestinians whose land it is to do so. If modern day Zionists with no real connection to historic Palestine can lay claim to the whole land on the basis of what they claim to be a Biblical legacy, then surely Palestinians have every right to lay claim to their homeland, which they inhabited prior to Israel’s creation was forced upon them and from which they were expelled over the past 70 years.

I must stress that I did not get any impression from the CPA that liberating Palestine would necessitate or result in the mass expulsion of Jews, unlike the mass expulsion of Palestinians which took place in 1948. The conference focused on the emergence of a just political solution with the right for Palestinian refugees to return at its heart. Had I detected any sense of the former at the conference, I would certainly have withdrawn.

The failure of the two-state solution demonstrates the need for creative thinking to meet the needs of those who truly wish to coexist in historic Palestine. A solution is needed which would end separation. There should be no racist settlements built only for Jews or a new town built only for non-Jews. The solution must allow all who inhabit historic Palestine to live in peace wherever they desire. It should allow those refugees in Gaza, Jenin, Syria, Brazil, Europe and elsewhere to return to their land and homes. A reconciliation commission would need to be set up to deal with the details where the reclamation of exact sites is not physically possible.

Following the Trump-Netanyahu press conference in Washington, the Palestinian leadership’s 24-year long negotiations strategy — the charade of the peace process since signing the catastrophic Oslo accords — has collapsed. The PLO has been almost silent since that 15 February media circus, apart from calling for the international community not to abandon the two-state solution, bringing new meaning to the term “flogging a dead horse”.

It is time for fresh thinking that can strengthen the hand of a future, democratically-elected Palestinian leadership. The 6.3 million Palestinians abroad can play a vital role in shaping this. However, in the absence of a clear plan by the PLO to revitalise diaspora input, the CPA is the only game in town. The outcome of the conference was a commitment to continue to build both the new institution and Palestinian community, as well as lobby organisations abroad.

What is needed for this to materialise is for every Palestinian outside the borders of their homeland to make a commitment for contributions to the struggle in his or her adopted country. They should be knocking on the doors of their local decision-makers, lobbying for a just solution. They should take a more active part in the political system through joining political parties and standing for both local and national elections. They should be supporting and joining local solidarity groups, both as activists and donors. They should be forming alliances with other human rights groups and Jewish groups committed to justice for Palestinians. They should raise their voices in the media, locally and nationally, using articulate and convincing speakers and writers. They should also be knocking on the door of the PLO leadership in support of the CPA to ensure that the message is received and it is understood that they will no longer accept being ignored.

The CPA needs to find a sustainable way to continue to function long into the future. For that, it will need to widen its membership base in order to put to bed accusations that it is led by one group. The more community organisations which join, bringing together the widest possible spectrum of Palestinian views, the more representative the CPA will be. In turn, the more effective that the CPA is, the louder will be the call to the PLO to wake up and respond to that half of the constituency that it is meant to serve but which it has ignored since 1993. It can take strength from blessing the CPA, working to encourage Palestinians abroad to join it and developing appropriate links to it, leading to elections for the Palestine National Council, the people’s parliament.

Can the PLO rise to this challenge, as it must? Can its necessary reform include true representation for Palestinians abroad? Not only do they hope that it can, but all Palestinians would also want this. Fulfilling its responsibility would strengthen its hand in uniting and representing the Palestinian people and seeking a just solution for them. Ignoring or smearing the CPA will only add to the PLO’s own weakness, bringing it to the point of irrelevance. No Palestinian would want that to happen or for it to be interpreted as a desired outcome of the gathering of 6,000 Palestinians in Istanbul last month.

Only through unity can the Palestinians counter Paris and Trump

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 17/1/2016

Image of the Middle East peace talk about Israel-Palestinian territories’ in Paris, France on January 15, 2017 [Cem Özdel/ Anadolu Agency]

Image of the Middle East peace talk about Israel-Palestinian territories’ in Paris, France on January 15, 2017 [Cem Özdel/ Anadolu Agency]

Many more air miles have been collected and many more fine dinners have been consumed in five-star Parisian restaurants off the backs of the Palestinian people, to bring together representatives of 70 countries at a conference to regurgitate the “only way forward” — the two-state solution — to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict. It is, of course, obvious to any objective observer that this “solution” is dead in the water. The final communique could have been written by any one of the participants on their home computer.

Unusually, I find myself in agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Paris conference was “useless”, albeit for different reasons, which I will come to. However, he went too far when rejecting it before it was even convened, claiming that the conference was “Palestinian deceitfulness under French auspices, aimed at adopting further anti-Israeli positions.” Describing it as “among the last twitches of yesterday’s world,” Netanyahu added that, “Tomorrow’s world will be different, and it is very near.”

Full article here

Israel welcomes Trump’s win with new anti-Palestinian laws

First published by the Arab Weekly on 20 November 2016

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States seems to have emboldened Israeli politicians, who clearly feel their strongest ally will provide them with the chance to end any hope of freedom or independence for the Palestinians.

Soon after Trump’s win, the Israeli cabinet approved two sets of draft legislation. One would retroactively grant legal status to illegal outposts across the West Bank in defiance of international law. The other would ban the use of loudspeakers to carry the adhan — Muslim call for prayer. The outpost legalisation bill is likely to pass in the Knesset, despite initial hesitation by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is now supportive.

Reaction from the administra­tion of US President Barack Obama against the illegal settle­ments was immediate and strong. US State Department spokes­woman Elizabeth Trudeau said Washington was “deeply con­cerned” by the proposal, express­ing hope that “it does not become law” as “this would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that’s inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and also break long-standing Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land”.

She added: “This legislation would be a dramatic advance­ment of the settlement enter­prise, which is already gravely endangering the prospects for a two-state solution.”

This was in sharp contrast to the deafening silence from the Trump camp. Trump, who claims to be a better negotiator than his competitors for the presidency, has not questioned the $38 billion aid package the United States gifted Israel for which it gets nothing in return regarding America’s policy of creating a two-state solution to the conflict.

The bill to silence the Muslim call for prayer drew no reaction from either the current or future US administrations. However, it angered Palestinians who say Israel is acting to please Israelis in illegal settlements who claim the call to prayer annoys them and is noise pollution. Palestin­ians see it as another attempt to erase Jerusalem’s proud non- Jewish religious and cultural heritage.

The bill angered and united Christian and Muslim Palestin­ians. Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia Theodosios Atallah Hanna condemned the bill. Hanna said he considered the Israeli ban as “a dangerous and unprecedented step that comes as part of Israel’s racist policy aiming to Judaise Jerusalem”. Today, they are targeting mosques and tomorrow is the churches’ turn, he said.

Palestinian-Israeli members of parliament used their status to recite the adhan from the podium of the Knesset in defiance of the measure. Ironically, the bill’s progress through the Knesset is stuttering because ultraorthodox politicians fear it might restrict broadcasts from synagogues.

It is unlikely that the Trump camp, which is well-known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, will protest such restrictions to the freedom of worship. Israeli politicians expect upcoming US policies to be even more in their favour.

Right-wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett was quick to declare that “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”.

He concluded that “this is the position of the president-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple. The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
Jason Greenblatt, a legal adviser to Trump, said: “The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region but it’s certainly not Mr Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it’s an obstacle for peace — because it is not the obstacle for peace.”

Palestinians do not mourn the passing of war criminal Peres, even if Mahmoud Abbas does

I write on the eve of the burial of a war criminal. Shimon Peres, former Israeli Prime Minister and President died on the 28th of September at the age of 93. I mourn the fact that he never faced justice to answer for his crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese innocent civilians. I also mourn the truly nauseating specter of the leader of the Palestinians, President Mahmoud Abbas joining other world leaders at his funeral, if granted permission to do so. Palestinians met this move with disbelief. His decision shows how out of touch he is with the people he was elected to represent but who have since been denied the opportunity to consider whether he should continue to do so.

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Had Abbas seen peace come to historic Palestine, with Israelis recognizing Palestinians as equal human beings deserving of the realization of freedom and independence, then I might understand. However, that simply is not the situation on the ground and I do not need to describe it to those who follow the conflict as they know that peace is simply not on the horizon due to Israel’s lack of desire for it. It is comfortable with the status quo and in the absence of any sanctions by the International Community, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership which has left the Palestinian people have no credible strategy for ending the conflict.

Almost 69 years since the Nakba and the creation of Israel and 49 years since the occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine, Peres meets his maker knowing he played his part in the theft of Palestine and the destruction of the future of the Palestinian people. Israel’s creation has been a catastrophe for the Palestinians and Peres was one of the architects. Palestinians cannot forgive him for that because they still live with consequences. Over five million live as refugees in surrounding countries; others live under occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza and as second class citizens in Israel.

Make no mistake about it; Peres’s commitment was to Israel and the Zionist dream not to peace. If he was committed to peace there would have been no need for Oslo, simply a implementation of UN resolutions that would have ended the occupation and allowed the refugees to return. Instead, he fathered the settlement project which planted over 600,000 Israelis in colonies for Jews and only Jews.  I will always recall seeing him interviewed and denying that there was an occupation. “Who did we occupy it from?” he asked.

He was one of the most skilled communicators of the Israeli narrative and did his best to justify Israeli crimes, including those he sanctioned including that of Qana in Lebanon. He died never acknowledging his crimes or showing remorse for the Nakba.

peres-qana

For the Palestinian leadership to call him a man of peace is at odds with his legacy and how Palestinians perceive him. His supposed switch from settlement architect to man of peace resulted in the Oslo accords which have been catastrophic for the Palestinians. He, together with Rabin, Abbas and Arafat signed the Oslo Accords at the White House but that was no prelude to peace, it was a deal to allow Israel to colonize and steel. His Nobel Prize was awarded prematurely. We still do not have a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has shelved Oslo except when it needs to use it to justify its crimes, particularly in the Oslo designated area C. It regularly withholds Palestinian taxes  as punishment for what it considers Palestinian violence or peaceful diplomatic moves.

I won’t be shedding a tear when Peres laid to rest. The Palestinians have laid tens of their loved ones to rest because of his crimes. If there is a God that he is answerable to then he may finally face justice.