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.

Who sets US policy on Israel and Palestine?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 15/10/2017

With Trump, Tillerson, Trump’s advisers and his ambassador seemingly working in an uncoordinated manner, it may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the peace broth.

The president of the United States normally sets the broad objectives of the country’s foreign policy, which largely fol­low his party’s platform on the various issues. Day-to-day implementation is normally the do­main of the US State Department, with the secretary of state tradi­tionally being the person to lead the process and clock the required air miles to project the policy and attempts to deliver it.

Donald Trump, however, is no ordinary president and, while he set out his foreign policy dur­ing the election in the same way previous presidents have, he has acted differently when it comes to implementation. This has been the case on issues such as Iran and North Korea, which have caused tensions between the White House and the State Department, with political observers characterising Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s role as “clearing up the mess.”

Trump is certainly committed to bringing peace to the Palestinians and Israelis. It would be, he said, the “ultimate deal.” He promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”

However, unlike his predeces­sor, Barack Obama, who effec­tively passed the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians to his Secretary of State John Kerry, Trump appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior adviser on the Middle East. His other key appointments in relation to this were his company lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as special representa­tive for international negotiations, and his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, for the sensitive posi­tion of US ambassador to Israel.

All three key appointees have a strong record of supporting Israel but none of them had experience in foreign policy. They were appoint­ed to a task that has frustrated countless individuals who were far more experienced.

Kushner’s family’s foundation has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank set­tlement of Bet El. Greenblatt and Friedman are also strong support­ers of the settlement enterprise. While Abbas has met with both Kushner and Greenblatt on several occasions, he has refused to meet with Friedman because of the am­bassador’s determination to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Tillerson has made two visits to the Palestinian territories and Isra­el since his appointment. His visit in May ahead of Trump’s July visit to the region was his first to the Holy Land. Greenblatt and Kushner have made repeated visits.

None of the three has made a substantial announcement on how Trump’s “ultimate deal” would be reached or whether there would be a substantial change in US policy. They claim to still be in an “explo­ration and listening” mode.

However, Friedman has been outspoken since his appointment. He recently referred to the “alleged occupation” of the West Bank and followed it with the astonishing claim that Israel only occupies 2% of the West Bank and that the two-state solution “is not a help­ful term” and “has largely lost its meaning.”

He further stated: “I think the settlements are part of Israel” in comments that seem at odds with decades of US foreign policy. These statements could easily have come from Israel’s Foreign Ministry web­site. It was left to a State Depart­ment spokeswoman to reiterate there was no change in US policy.

With Trump, Tillerson, Trump’s advisers and his ambassador seemingly working in an uncoor­dinated manner, it may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the peace broth.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A peace plan mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No room in ‘Netanyahu land’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign of things to come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).  He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wave after delivering a speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

What better offer does Israel have than the Arab Peace Initiative?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 20/8/2017

The last serious, sus­tained effort to bro­ker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians was made during the Obama administra­tion by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry. He tried over nine months to advance peace talks but his efforts met with failure and the breakout of the 50-day war on Gaza in 2014.

In his final speech before leav­ing office, Kerry laid most of the blame for the talks’ failures on the Israelis. He claimed that while Is­raeli Prime Minister Binyamin Ne­tanyahu publicly supports a two-state solution, his coalition “is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” which are “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history.”

Kerry then presented his princi­ples for a future final status agree­ment: An Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights for all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both countries; an end to the occupa­tion, while satisfying Israel’s se­curity needs, with a demilitarised Palestinian state; and end to all claims by both sides.

Just before the end of the Obama administration’s term, France called a conference of stakehold­ers to discuss a possible way for­ward but that too failed to move matters. Some, including British representatives, thought it odd that the two parties to the conflict were deliberately not invited.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, is leading attempts to broker the “ultimate deal.” He has expressed uncertainty about the United States’ ability to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Pales­tinians and told a recent gathering “there may be no solution.”

On August 1, China issued its own four-point plan to move the matter forward: 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” and promoting peace through devel­opment and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel. None of the main parties have reacted to the plan.

There is, therefore, no short­age of initiatives from the inter­national community. The most serious one to come out of the Middle East was the Arab Peace Initiative, which was announced by then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in Bei­rut in 2002. The initiative calls for normalising relations between the Arab region and Israel, in ex­change for a full withdrawal by Israel from occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestin­ian refugee problem based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

The initiative was met with en­thusiasm by former US President George W. Bush and generally sup­ported by former President Barack Obama. Trump has referred to it as a basis for the “ultimate deal.” He has said he is in favour of what­ever the two parties agree upon, whether one state or two.

Israel’s reaction from the outset was lukewarm. Its position can be summarised as recognising some of the initiative’s positive ele­ments while insisting that there are issues it would not compro­mise on, including the return of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and complete with­drawal from occupied Arab land.

Netanyahu rejected the ini­tiative in 2007, when he was the leader of the opposition. He told visiting Arab foreign ministers that “the withdrawal from Gaza two years ago proved that any Is­raeli withdrawal — particularly a unilateral one — does not advance peace but rather establishes a ter­ror base for radical Islam.”

In 2015, he stated “there are pos­itive aspects and negative aspects to it.” While noting that the situ­ation has changed in the 13 years since the deal was proposed, Ne­tanyahu asserted that “the gen­eral idea — to try and reach un­derstandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”

Israel probably believes that some Arab countries see it as a potential ally against Iran and are therefore more likely to offer it more concessions on the final out­come of a deal with the Palestin­ians. The recent tensions in and over Jerusalem showed that was unlikely but Israel still did not feel the need to accept the Arab Peace Initiative.