Six million Palestinians are a fact Trump and Netanyahu can’t ignore forever

First published by the Middle East Eye on 1/6/2018

Abandoned by the world, Palestinians could find strength in demographics

The political climate is ripe for Israel to achieve, in only a matter of months, victories it would once have only dreamed of attaining over a number of decades. The primary reason for this? Donald Trump.

During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House in February 2017, the US president dismissed longstanding policy on the political solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one… As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

With regards to the US embassy moving to Jerusalem, he said at the time: “I’d love to see that happen. We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care – great care, believe me. And we’ll see what happens. Okay?”

Two-state solution

All of the above is contrary to international law and longstanding international consensus. The international community’s long-time position has called for a two-state solution with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as a shared capital, and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.

Trump’s key advisers, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and lawyer Jason Greenblatt, have collected thousands of air miles on trips to the region, mostly to Israel and Palestine – but also to key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Visits to Palestine were a smokescreen.

It appears that instead of working on a just peace deal, Trump’s team was working on ways to implement, one step at a time, Netanyahu’s vision for “peace”. A crucial prerequisite was to convince key Gulf states that to secure US support against the Iranian threat, they had to befriend or deepen their friendship with Netanyahu.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE obliged. While the two Gulf states publicly distanced themselves from any dialogue with Israel, clandestine engagements were taking place – facilitated, it seems, by Kushner. Far from the Palestinian issue remaining front and centre of the Arab world’s agenda, Trump’s team managed to convince them that it was an impediment to their plans.

They began to deliver for Trump and Netanyahu within months of the American president’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which was about telling the Arab and Muslim world that he was boss. The chequebooks were out, with billions promised on the spot. Shortly after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went there too, to be told to accept Trump’s deal.

Silence of Arab leaders

The Arab regimes also acceded to Trump’s demand that they contain the anger of the Arab street when he announced his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there. Again, they obliged. Yes, there were demonstrations, but there was no significant individual or collective action either by the Arab or Muslim world. “The sky’s still up there. It hasn’t fallen,” beamed Nikki Haley, US representative to the UN.

Even when the move coincided with Israel’s 70th anniversary of what it calls its independence – which the Palestinians call the Nakba – and when more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, Arab leaders were silent save for cursory condemnations.

Donald and Melania Trump with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (AFP/Saudi royal palace/Bandar al-Jaloud)

Guatemala and Honduras followed the US lead, as was expected – and again, not a whisper from the Palestinian people’s historical backbone. The UK and most EU states took what appeared to be a principled stand and boycotted – though they would not describe it as that – the opening of the US embassy. But that stance turned out to be only symbolic, as the UK’s Foreign Office confirmed that British officials would meet their US counterparts in the embassy. While the EU has not officially announced its stance on using the embassy, it would be surprising to see it break away and stand up to the US.

Netanyahu can tick off one of the main goals he wanted to achieve, and which Trump has delivered: US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He can mark as a “work in progress” the elimination of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, which Trump is attacking through the defunding of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

In US ambassador David Friedman, Israel has an ally on the ground. He is working hard to erase the term “occupation” from the State Department’s vocabulary, claiming that settlements amount to less than two percent of the West Bank. It seems that no one in the administration sees these settlements as illegal; Greenblatt believes they are not an obstacle to peace.

A race against time

In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump gave substantial weight to facts on the ground, and almost no weight to international law. This is music to the ears of Israeli politicians, for whom international law is an inconvenience. With a US president prepared to ignore the law and longstanding agreements, Israeli politicians are pushing ahead with new demands to recognise more facts on the ground.

They appear to be in a race against time to extract as much as they can while Trump and his pro-Israel team are in office. Next on the list of demands is US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the illegally occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz claimed that the subject was “topping the agenda” in talks with the Trump administration. He used the Iran card to justify this, saying: “The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognise Israel’s Golan sovereignty with an American statement, a presidential proclamation.”

If all that was not enough, perhaps the biggest prize would be recognition of Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa Mosque and US support for the building of a Jewish temple on the site. A stake has been placed in the ground, with the image of a beaming Freidman being presented with a poster showing the compound with a Jewish temple in place of the Dome of the Rock. While the US embassy dismissed the significance of the image, Friedman’s record thus far has been staunchly pro-Israel and unconventional to say the least.

Non-violent resistance

Faced with all this and an ailing president devoid of any meaningful strategy, what are Palestinians to do? The Palestinian Authority could take former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s advice to “hold on and be strong”, and not yield to Trump’s demands.

They could finally begin the process of bringing Israeli leaders to account for crimes committed against Palestinians through the International Criminal Court, which would take time, and might well not end in success. They could also escalate their non-violent resistance, taking encouragement from the Great March of Return.

The most troubling facts on the ground for Israel, however, are the Palestinians – every one of the six million who remain in historic Palestine, plus the collective memory and attachment of the other six million in the diaspora. It may feel it is winning with Trump’s support, but it is losing the demography.

Unlike Israeli leaders, I see human beings as individuals, not numbers in a political game. However, in the absence of justice for Palestinians through traditional peaceful means, perhaps their numbers in historic Palestine constitute a winning card.

How about a national Palestinian strategy for strengthening their hand with more babies? More demographic facts on the ground will eventually “trump” Israel and Trump’s recognition of Israeli facts on the ground.

– 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 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: Protesters waving Palestinian flags stamp on burning prints of US flags and President Donald Trump during a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip on 15 May 2018 (AFP)

70 years of Nakba: Why can’t Palestinians walk home?

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/5/2018

All who are interested in peace in historic Palestine must remember that we did not choose our occupiers; they chose Palestine, knowing it was not an empty land, and we paid with our lives and rights

I would not be writing these words today if Israel had not been created in my homeland, Palestine, against the will of indigenous Palestinians. I might instead be writing to celebrate the independence of a democratic Palestine in which indigenous Jews, Christians and Muslims lived as equals, building the country together after the end of the British Mandate. Palestine would be a full member of the United Nations; it might even have been allowed to enter the Eurovision song contest and won.

Had Israel been created in Wales instead, against the will of Welsh people, I might be writing in solidarity as they commemorated their trychineb (the Welsh word for “catastrophe”). Thankfully for the great Welsh people, they were spared the creation of Israel in their homeland and the expulsion of their people to neighbouring countries.

Atrocious massacres

Palestinians are again in mourning, commemorating 70 years since their catastrophe, which resulted from the creation of Israel in their homeland. They are still seeking their legitimate rights, principally their right to return home.

Many words will be written about what happened in the lead-up to, and during, the Nakba. Those seeking to justify Zionist crimes will argue that it was the victims’ fault for fleeing their homeland, rather than the reality that they were driven out, many at gunpoint, seeking refuge from Zionist Jewish terror. Yes, it was Zionist Jewish terror that deliberately drove Palestinians away from Jerusalem, Yaffa, Haifa and Akka, along with villages such as Deir Yassin and Qibya, the scenes of atrocious massacres by Zionist terrorists.

Israel continues to deny the Nakba, has legislated to punish those who commemorate it, and has denied Palestinians their rights, including the right of return

Palestinians are not the first or only people to flee for their lives. You need only look at Syrians today to see what human beings do in order to survive and to ensure the safety of their children. They take whatever possessions they can carry and run, but always with the expectation to return once the violence ends.

Nobody would deny the Syrian people their absolute right to return to the homes they left, and if they were destroyed, they would be helped to rebuild them. The outcome of what happened in 1947-48 was a catastrophe, which non-Palestinians could only truly understand if it happened to them.

Denying the Nakba

The population of my city of residence, Birmingham, is 1.1 million – almost that of the entire Palestinian population that inhabited historic Palestine in 1948. I can imagine the catastrophe that Brummies (what residents of Birmingham are lovingly called) would have felt had more than half of that population been terrorised into leaving their beloved city, with most never being allowed to return, as their homes were handed over to non-Brummies. Their lives in Birmingham would have become memories overnight, while the trauma of their dispossession would have been carried through generations.

I have no doubt that Mancunians, Geordies, Liverpudlians and Londoners would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Brummies until they were allowed to return, welcoming them into their homes as they sought refuge from their tormenters.

Israeli security forces stand guard during a protest organised by Palestinians on 10 May 2018 (AFP)

This analogy can be applied to any group of people expelled by another group. However, what is different here is that the wrong committed by Zionism, and then by Israel, has never been righted. Israel continues to deny the Nakba, has legislated to punish those who commemorate it, and has denied Palestinians their rights, including the right of return.

Israel has neither given all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea equal rights, nor accepted the creation of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders to end its occupation, considered illegal under international law. In fact, it denies there is an occupation in any part of historic Palestine.

Israel has annexed territories it occupies illegally, including East Jerusalem, and has sought recognition of the whole of the holy city as its capital, rather than accepting that it could be the capital of Israel and Palestine. It continues to build illegally in the occupied territories and is considering legalising outposts it has thus far considered illegal.

Demonising Palestinians

Israel has continued its siege on Gaza, now in its 11th year. It controls all access to historic Palestine, including access to the occupied territories, and has implemented a policy to deny entry to human rights activists and campaigners who have supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Having failed to silence criticism of its policies, it has cynically sought to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Most significantly, perhaps, Israel has sought to demonise Palestinians. It portrays us as a lesser people, with violence as part of our DNA – a bunch of terrorists with limited intelligence. That, to me, is the most abhorrent of all the abhorrent actions Israel has taken against us since its creation.

What is troubling is that supposedly civilised westerners who claim they fight for equality and human rights, including those holding the highest offices of state, have adopted this narrative, or at least continue to support Israel despite the facts that are there for all to see.

While people across the globe sympathise with Palestinians and understand Israel’s crimes, the political elite refuse to represent their citizens and continue to support Israel when, had its actions been committed against their own citizens or against Jews, they would not rest until it was punished.

How can anyone explain to Palestinians the stance of the US in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s, but not Palestine’s, capital? How can western leaders support Israel’s claim to self-defence when it kills and maims thousands of Palestinians in major wars against Gaza, or the daily trickle of killings in the West Bank?

International silence

The world’s silence as Israeli snipers used sophisticated weapons, including some supplied by the West, to pick off Palestinian civilians one by one as they marched to return home through the Gaza border has been deafening. The silence in the face of the deaths and injuries of medics and journalists has been particularly galling.

I remind all who are interested in peace in historic Palestine that we did not choose our occupiers. They chose Palestine, knowing it was not an empty land, but one that had a people – my people, Palestinians who have paid with their land, lives and rights.

The families that hailed from Najd would walk home, given a chance to do so, as would the families hailing from dozens of other ethnically cleansed villages in the Gaza district

Seventy years after the Nakba, Palestinians decided they could not wait any longer. Enough is enough. It was time to go home, and that was the reason for the Great Return March. If the refugees did go home, Gaza would no longer be the most densely populated place on earth; its population of two million would fall to 400,000, as 80 percent of its residents are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine.

They would not need large sums of money to be repatriated. They could simply walk to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948.

The Palestinians want to return in a climate of peace. It is in their interest and would be in compliance with UN Resolution 194. The existing residents would also need help to accept justice and 194. In most cases the houses were demolished and other houses built on their site. Clearly, negotiations  would need to take place to find a long term resolution that both sides agree to.

Take the example of Najd, a village just 14km north of Gaza City, whose population of 700 Palestinians was expelled in May 1948 by the Negev Brigade. Its inhabitants fled to Gaza. On its land, the Israelis built Sderot, a town that now has a population of 24,000.

Israeli officials take foreign dignitaries to show them the remains of “rockets” fired from Gaza that landed in or around the town, but they do not mention that they are actually standing on land that was once Najd, before it was ethnically cleansed of Palestinians.

The families that hailed from Najd would walk home, given a chance to do so, as would the families hailing from dozens of other ethnically cleansed villages in the Gaza district.

– 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: A girl raises a Palestinian flag as a boy holds a wooden key symbolising return at the Gaza border on 13 May 2018, during a demonstration commemorating the Nakba (AFP)

US embassy move is a day of mourning and a warning

First published by the Middle East Eye on 14/5/2018

As Trump celebrates the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Israel should recognise that the next generation of Palestinians will never stop fighting back

The vultures are circling again, this time on a mission to take another bite out of Palestine’s heart, Jerusalem, 70 years after savaging her to create Israel and in the process driving any remaining doves of peace into the sea.

As Israel celebrates on Monday the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump believes that by doing so, the Palestinians’ dreams of freedom will be dealt the final fatal blow, forcing them to accept that it will never happen.

Failure to acknowledge the Nakba

The “leader of the free world” is sending his son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner; his special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt; and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, with Ambassador David Friedman to mark the embassy move and Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence. All four – including his daughter, who converted to Judaism – would qualify for Israeli citizenship. Their hearts and minds are all firmly on Israel’s side.

To them, like the original Zionists who decided that Palestine would be theirs, indigenous Palestinians are at best an inconvenience and at worst a violent people driven by an inexplicable hatred towards their invaders and oppressors.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery

If Trump’s team had any morals or feelings for the Palestinian people, they would join them in commemorating the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, a day later. Neither they nor their hosts have acknowledged the wrongs done to Palestinians or shown any sensitivity towards them. The rush to move the embassy to coincide with the Israeli celebrations was deliberate, calculated and humiliating.

Palestinians can be excused for taking this to mean that far from wanting to see them attain their legitimate rights, they just hate them.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians by force in two stages: the western part in 1948 and the east in 1967. Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, yet it continues to keep it by force.

Its status as illegally occupied was reconfirmed by the judgement of the International Court of Justice in 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and UNESCO in 2017.

Israel’s facts on the ground

If Trump was genuine about finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted to help the two sides peacefully share the land, he could have announced that the US recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

He could have subjected this to a set of conditions, including that the city must remain undivided, that illegal settlement-building must stop and be reversed, and that changes to the demography and Israel’s Judaisation policy must cease.

Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more ‘reality’ he will recognise

He could then have set a date by which a Palestinian state would be created on 1967 borders and a resolution reached to all outstanding issues between the two sides in accordance with international law.

Instead, Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more “reality” he will recognise. Only the staunchest supporters of Israel in his administration could have convinced him that this decision would bring peace any closer.

People walk near the compound of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street on 11 May 2018 (AFP)

The international community (minus the US and Israel) rejected his decision, both in statements and at the UN Security Council and General Assembly. However, it has taken no action to pressure Israel to return to genuine peace negotiations.

Trump’s decision unleashed anger and protests in every corner of the world, but the reality is that the protests could not be sustained beyond the initial few weeks after the announcement, and the anger has not been channelled into a strategy by Palestinians or their supporters to reverse it.

Entrenching the occupation

The decision, however, helped to precipitate the peaceful Great March of Return, in which Palestinians in Gaza camped at the fence separating them from the homes from which they were violently driven through Zionist Jewish terror in 1948. Palestinians once again reminded the world that they are still waiting to return to the parts of Mother Palestine from which they were expelled 70 years ago. They will never give up this right, whatever facts on the ground Israel creates.

Israel continues to deny them this right by force, with peaceful protesters, journalists and medics being gunned down by Israeli snipers who are heavily protected and hundreds of metres away. It will take whatever it gets, whenever it can, to entrench its occupation, and it will continue to oppress Palestinians and build on their land until the Zionist project is complete.

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Palestinians face reckoning with US administration in a shifting Middle East

Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion thought that “the old will die and the young will forget” when asked what to do with those Palestinians who remained. Well, the old died, as did he, but the young have not forgotten.

Their unshakeable connection to every inch of Mother Palestine has been handed down from one generation to the next. Israel has to deal not only with the six million who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but another six million refugees who yearn for return. That is a reality that Trump does not understand, but the Israelis do, and they are continuously troubled by it.

Resistance lives on

Both of my parents were born in Jerusalem. My father has passed away; my mother is still alive, but has no right to return to her town of birth. A Jewish lady from any part of the world, with no connection to her city, can decide to move to Jerusalem today and be welcomed by Israel and given citizenship, but my mother can’t.

Peace will come to the holy land when my mother can return, and when Jewish Israelis see Palestinians as human beings like them with rights, and not inferior beings.

Trump’s US embassy move is a day of mourning for Mother Palestine, but also a day of warning to Israel that a younger Palestinian generation will take the baton to keep hope alive and resist until Palestinians attain their rights, living peacefully with all in their historic homeland, and Jerusalem is freed from the colonialist vultures.

– 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: A Palestinian protester stands over cartoons of US President Donald Trump and pictures of him defaced with a blue Star of David during a demonstration in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 20 December, 2017 (AFP)

La vision d’Abbas pour la paix a été tuée dans l’œuf

Publié initialement par Middle East Eye, édition française on 2/3/2018

Le président palestinien a appelé à la tenue d’une conférence internationale d’ici la mi-2018 pour reconnaître la Palestine en tant qu’État, mais les perspectives sont moroses face au parti pris américain en faveur d’Israël

Lors d’une récente réunion du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU, le président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas devait prononcer ce qui a été annoncé par ses conseillers comme un discours important décrivant son plan de paix après la fin tumultueuse de l’année 2017, lors de laquelle le président américain Donald Trump a promis de reconnaître Jérusalem comme capitale d’Israël et d’y transférer l’ambassade des États-Unis.

Avant son discours, Abbas a sondé un certain nombre de parties prenantes au processus de paix afin de voir si ces dernières étaient disposées à jouer un rôle plus important. Il a notamment rencontré la chef de la diplomatie européenne Federica Mogherini et le président russe Vladimir Poutine afin de demander à un groupe plus large de superviser les négociations internationales et d’assurer la reconnaissance d’un État palestinien.

Si Mogherini et Poutine ont tous deux rejeté la décision de Trump au sujet de Jérusalem, aucun des deux responsables n’a manifesté sa volonté de voir les États-Unis être mis de côté dans toute initiative de paix future.

Fustigé par les ambassadeurs

Dans son discours, Abbas a relayé sa vision de l’avenir et a demandé vers qui les Palestiniens pouvaient se tourner pour concrétiser leurs droits si le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU les décevait. « Ce Conseil de sécurité est la plus haute entité auprès de laquelle les peuples du monde entier cherchent refuge et demandent une protection ; après ce conseil, nous remettrons notre problème entre les mains du Tout-Puissant. En effet, si notre peuple ne peut obtenir justice ici, à qui devrions-nous donc nous adresser ? », a-t-il demandé.

Abbas a demandé plusieurs choses, notamment la tenue d’une conférence de paix internationale d’ici la mi-2018 qui reconnaîtrait la Palestine en tant qu’État, la mise en œuvre de l’Initiative de paix arabe et l’abstention de toutes les parties quant à la prise de mesures unilatérales pendant le processus de négociation.

L’ensemble de mesures convenu devrait être approuvé par le Conseil de sécurité.

Les ambassadeurs d’Israël et des États-Unis ont par la suite ridiculisé Abbas, qui a quitté la scène immédiatement après son discours et qu’ils ont accusé d’avoir fui des « vérités » difficiles à entendre. « Je m’attendais à ce que M. Abbas reste pour entamer un dialogue, mais encore une fois, il s’est enfui au lieu d’écouter ce que nous avions à dire » a déclaré l’ambassadeur israélien Danny Danon, qui l’a accusé de ne plus faire « partie de la solution ». « Vous êtes le problème », a-t-il ajouté.

L’ambassadrice américaine Nikki Haley s’est également montrée très critique : « Il y a la voie des exigences absolutistes, de la rhétorique haineuse et de l’incitation à la violence, a-t-elle constaté. Cette voie n’a mené à rien et continuera de ne mener à rien d’autre que des difficultés pour le peuple palestinien. Autrement, il y a la voie de la négociation et du compromis. »

« L’accord du siècle »

Si le président palestinien s’attendait à quitter la scène sous les applaudissements enthousiastes du Conseil de sécurité, il a dû être très déçu. Si c’est de cet organe qu’il attend l’approbation de son plan, la convocation d’une conférence internationale pour cet été et la reconnaissance de la Palestine en tant qu’État, alors il aurait tout aussi bien pu s’épargner le déplacement.

L’appel d’Abbas en faveur d’une conférence internationale semble avoir été tué dans l’œuf lorsque l’on songe à la dernière tentative effectuée par la France, membre permanent du Conseil de sécurité, pour en organiser une dans des conditions politiques bien plus favorables, à savoir pendant les derniers jours de l’administration Obama.

La conférence a rassemblé environ 70 pays, dont ne faisaient pas partie Israël et les Palestiniens, tandis que la Grande-Bretagne a envoyé un responsable de second rang au lieu de son secrétaire aux affaires étrangères. Même les observateurs bien informés du conflit auraient du mal à se rappeler ce à quoi la conférence de Paris a abouti, alors que l’appel lancé à l’issue de celle-ci pour que le statut de Jérusalem ne soit pas modifié de manière unilatérale a été ignoré par Trump presque un an plus tard, jour pour jour.

Nikki Haley, ambassadrice américaine auprès des Nations unies, attend le discours du président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas devant le Conseil de sécurité, le 20 février 2018, sous les yeux du conseiller présidentiel américain Jared Kushner (AFP)

L’administration américaine continue de développer son « accord du siècle », alors que Haley a récemment averti que ni Israël, ni les Palestiniens n’allaient « l’apprécier ». Les Palestiniens devront rejeter l’accord si, comme des fuites l’ont laissé entendre, les questions centrales concernant Jérusalem et le statut des réfugiés palestiniens sont retirées de la table.

Israël aura pour sa part une grande influence sur l’accord, mais continuera d’affirmer que celui-ci ne répond pas à ses besoins en matière de sécurité – même s’il peut coopérer avec l’administration de Trump afin de l’améliorer. Plus ils l’« amélioreront », moins il sera favorable aux Palestiniens, qui seront fustigés pour leur « manque de respect » vis-à-vis de l’administration américaine.

Les jeux sont faits d’avance contre les Palestiniens

Comment une conférence internationale pourrait-elle être organiser avec ce genre de résultat quasi-certain et pourquoi Abbas a-t-il, de façon peu judicieuse, spécifié une date quasiment impossible à tenir pour ce processus, sachant que les jeux sont faits d’avance en sa défaveur ?

Le seul facteur qui pourrait rebattre les cartes serait un changement au poste de Premier ministre israélien. Alors que les chances de voir Benyamin Netanyahou rester au pouvoir évoluent de jour en jour, son absence pourrait changer la donne – mais avec une gauche faible et une droite israélienne enhardie, il est peu probable qu’une coalition de gauche ou un dirigeant de droite pragmatique en ressorte.

Il suffit d’énumérer les noms des Premiers ministres potentiels pour conclure qu’un changement de dirigeant ne ferait qu’affaiblir davantage les perspectives de paix : Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. Aucun ne désire la fin de l’entreprise de colonisation ou de l’occupation illégale de Jérusalem, ni l’émergence d’un État palestinien indépendant.

Gabbay, qui dirige le parti travailliste, s’oppose à la suppression des avant-postes, même les plus isolés, et a déclaré lors d’un meeting devant des activistes du parti : « Les Arabes doivent avoir peur de nous. Ils tirent un missile, on en tire vingt. C’est tout ce qu’ils comprennent au Moyen-Orient. »

Un climat de haine

On est loin d’un groupe d’individus qui veulent vraiment une paix juste. Et pourquoi ne profiteraient-ils pas d’une administration américaine solidement rangée derrière les objectifs expansionnistes d’Israël ?

Le lobby pro-israélien aux États-Unis a travaillé pendant des décennies pour obtenir une administration américaine qui, en plus de consentir aux exigences israéliennes, quelles qu’elles soient, emploie même les arguments produits par le ministère israélien des Affaires étrangères pour les défendre.

Parmi ces arguments figurent notamment des propos stipulant que « les colonies ne sont pas un obstacle à la paix », des références aux « réalités sur le terrain » et aux « besoins d’Israël en matière de sécurité », ainsi que des remarques au sujet du « traitement injuste » réservé à Israël, qui serait pris à parti de manière disproportionnée compte tenu de tout ce qui se passe au Moyen-Orient.

À LIRE : Conflit israélo-palestinien : les belles paroles de l’Union européenne

Les interférences de Trump à travers sa décision de reconnaître Jérusalem comme capitale d’Israël auraient pu créer un climat beaucoup plus favorable à la paix – en l’occurrence s’il avait reconnu Jérusalem-Ouest comme capitale d’Israël et Jérusalem-Est comme capitale de la Palestine et conditionné la construction de deux ambassades à la conclusion de pourparlers de paix fondés sur le droit international, disons en l’espace de deux ans.

Au lieu de cela, Trump a clairement affiché sa position, alimentant un climat de haine et de peur. L’espoir en Terre sainte s’est fait rare au cours des dernières décennies et Trump a complètement coupé les vannes.

À moins qu’il ne trouve le courage et la sagesse de revenir sur sa décision, les vannes de l’espoir resteront fermées, et ni les plaidoyers d’Abbas, ni un changement de dirigeant en Israël ne pourra les rouvrir de force. C’est une mauvaise nouvelle pour les Israéliens comme pour les Palestiniens.

 

– 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 dirigeant palestinien Mahmoud Abbas prend la parole devant le Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies, le 20 février 2018 (AFP).

Traduit de l’anglais (original) par VECTranslation.

Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

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.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, awaits Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the Security Council on February 20, 2018, as US presidential adviser Jared Kushner looks on (AFP)

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)

Les dirigeants palestiniens devraient se retirer poliment ou être renvoyés par le peuple

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.

La métaphore

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.

Le président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas, lors d’une réunion du comité exécutif de l’OLP, en avril 2015 à Ramallah, en Cisjordanie (AFP)

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.

Joueuses palestiniennes lors d’un match de qualification contre la Thaïlande, pendant la Coupe d’Asie de football féminin, à Al-Ram, en Cisjordanie, en avril 2017 (AFP)

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).

Traduit de l’anglais (original) par Dominique Macabies.

Palestinian leadership should retire gracefully or be removed by the people

First published by the Middle East Eye on 19/1/2018

The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve

During the last Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas made reference to football when describing some of the Palestinian achievements in recent years.

He reminded the audience that in 1934 Egypt denied the Palestinian team a place in the football World Cup after beating them by one goal to nil. He further proudly reminded them that in 2009 Palestine was ranked 179th in FIFA’s world ranking.

It, however, jumped to 80th place in the recently released ranking while Israel was in 98th”despite all the efforts they have made”, he said.

While Abbas attributed this achievement to the great efforts of the Palestinian Football Association he, nonetheless, added that it was because sport is not politicised and that anyone who wants to participate can do so regardless of which political faction – if any – he/she belonged to. He quipped that “one day we might even rank higher than America”.

His reference to football was interesting but in a different sense.

The analogy

Could the Palestinian leadership learn any lessons from the beautiful game? If Palestine was a team in one of the English leagues, how would its leadership win regularly, move up each league, be promoted and then win the ultimate prize of the championship or, to complete the analogy, its freedom and independence?

In football, as in politics, one needs to create winning teams, both on and off the pitch. Football clubs are in the market for talent, buying the best players around but also growing their own. The pressures of the modern game are such that they cannot afford to stand still, particularly as they see teams around them strengthen their positions.

If we take the 23-year period since the Oslo Accords, we find the Palestinians moving further and further away from their goal, but unlike an English football team which would be constantly strategising, buying and selling players and changing their coaching team, the Palestinian team has been a permanent fixture.

It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem

Abbas, and his most senior colleagues, are in their late seventies or eighties – just look at the images from the PCC conference and you will struggle to see a young person either at the top table or in the front row.

Within a match, a football coach will start with a formation – and what may be his best team – but will change it if things are not going according to plan. He will sometimes play a defensive formation and at other times an attacking formation.

He will rest players and bring young players on to “blood” them, thus helping to ensure freshness and continuity. The Palestinian team has stagnated for decades.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting of the PLO executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah in April 2015 (AFP)

Alex Ferguson had 27 highly successful years at Manchester United. He built a base – initially then a winning team – but his 13 English Premier League trophies were not won with the same team but three or four teams.

Many of the key players in the Palestinian team are still there 24 years after Oslo.

A leadership in waiting

If the argument for keeping the Palestinian “old guard” is because of their knowledge and experience then a close look at the opposite side, Israel, destroys that argument. The “old guard” in Israel have largely gone, making way for “fresh talents” such as Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely and Danon.

They happen to be extremists and it may be that in the long run their leadership leads Israel to isolation and disaster but that is a different story. They have been given a chance to develop their political skills at the highest level.

Where is the next crop of Palestinian leaders going to come from? Can anyone name five that are gaining in prominence? Surely a people that number nearly 14 million in historic Palestine, the refugee camps and the diaspora, a highly educated people, have produced a leadership in waiting.

At 62, Saeb Erekat is one of the younger members of the Palestinian “old guard”. He has been involved in negotiations since the Madrid conference and has been the Palestinian chief negotiator since 1995. He has repeatedly resigned but his resignation has never been accepted by President Abbas.

The Palestinian leadership needs drastic changes to meet the challenges ahead. The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve.

While it is part of Middle Eastern culture to respect elders and to hold those who made huge sacrifices in the past for the cause in high regard, the time comes when they either retire gracefully or are removed by the Palestinian people.

Palestinian female football players at a qualifying match against Thailand during the Women’s Asian Cup in the West Bank town of al-Ram in April 2017 (AFP)

It is true to say that the task facing any Palestinian leadership, young or old, experienced or not, is massive. They face a highly organised, strategising foe that has been working for over a century to take their homeland, to keep it and over time to eject them all from it. Make no mistake about Israel’s ultimate aim.

It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem. They largely act as if Palestine has been liberated, a state with ministers, ministries and the trappings of power when in fact even Abbas needs permits from Israel to move from one city to another and when the Palestinian prime minister can be stopped for speeding by the Israeli army in the West Bank.

A game of two halves

But the Palestinian leadership made its greatest misjudgments during the negotiations with Israel, led by Erekat, whose overly generous concessions were exposed by Al Jazeera in Palestine papers, which included offering Israel the “biggest Yerushalayim in history”.

Abbas chose only negotiations with Israel as the way to achieve peace and somehow misunderstood America’s bias towards Israel under successive administrations. Did it really require that Trump blow the cover of the pretence of even-handedness for Abbas to see the bias?

Even when he had opportunities to really pressure Israel, such as the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall and the Goldstone Report, Abbas, and his team, let them go to waste. Neither were used to good effect.

It was the leadership’s decision not to make the best use of both the report and the ruling thinking that this would somehow force Israel to make concessions. That was poor judgment in abundance.

The famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

For the Palestinian people, Palestine is much more than life and death and they want to see a leadership that aims high. They can take a leaf from another famous English football manager. Bill Nicholson, a former manager of Tottenham, said: “It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.”

The Palestinian struggle with Zionism is a long one. A much-used phrase in football is that it is a “game of two halves”.

If the Palestinians take the last 70 years as the first half then they are many goals down to Israel and if they are to turn the match over in the next 70 years and score a late winner then they need a new team, a “dream team” that is dynamic, quick on its feet, equipped with fresh ideas and working to develop a new strategy for liberation that the current leadership has failed to deliver.

You sometimes have to be cruel to be kind. Time to blow the half-time whistle and prepare for a famous fightback that will lead to liberation.

– 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 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: President Abbas heads a PLO Executive Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, September 2017 (AFP)