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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

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes is, in fact, an own goal

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 25/8/2017

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes is now almost a daily occurrence. The reasons vary but the phenomenon is ultimately a form of collective punishment; the humiliation of the occupied by the occupier and a means to achieve “demographic control” of occupied Palestinian territory.

The Zionist state publicises the demolition of homes of the families of Palestinians who are alleged to have attacked Israelis, whether civilians or occupying forces; Israel claims that this is a deterrent to others who might be contemplating such attacks. Demolition can happen immediately after an attack or some days later; families await their fate not knowing when the roof over their heads will be destroyed by an Israeli bulldozer.

The most recent of these demolitions was of the family home of Omar Abdel Gelil Al-Abed from the village of Kobar near Ramallah. Abed is accused of killing three Israeli settlers on 21 July in the nearby illegal settlement of Halamish in the West Bank. As with other demolitions, this was carried out under heavy protection from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) accompanied by clashes with local residents.

Israel demolishes home of Palestinian resistance fighter

Israel may also “seal” the home of an assailant rather than demolish it, as was the case with Hassan Ankosh, one of three young Palestinians who carried out an attack at Damascus Gate in occupied Jerusalem. The homes of the other two assailants were demolished. The decisions were approved by Israel’s High Court.

However, Israel has never demolished the homes of Jewish Israelis who have attacked Palestinian civilians. On the same day that Israeli forces delivered demolition orders to the families of four Palestinian assailants, the Supreme Court decided not to demolish the homes of three Israelis convicted of brutally killing 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdair in 2014. Jewish terrorist Yosef Haim Ben-David and two minors were convicted of kidnapping and burning the Palestinian teenager to death in 2014. The Israeli court rejected the Abu Khdair family’s petition to demolish the homes of the terrorists; retired Israeli judge Elyakim Rubinstein ruled that too much time had passed between the “abominable act of murder” and the submission of the petition.

The judge’s ruling was telling. He emphasised that “Regulation 119” in Israeli law permitted the demolition of homes of anyone suspected of “terror activity” and of their “accomplices and supporters,” whether they are Jewish Israelis or Palestinians. “We can understand how the victim’s family feels… we are dealing with a deterrent and not a punitive measure. It should be remembered that the perpetrators were given lengthy prison sentences,” added Judge Neal Hendel, reiterating the Israeli government’s contentious claims that such punitive demolitions deter “terrorists” from carrying out attacks.

#CollectivePunishment

More recently, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arguedfor the demolition of the homes of the Israeli Arab citizens from Umm Al-Fahm whose attack at the entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque triggered the closure of the holy site and subsequent standoff between Palestinians and security forces.

There is, of course, no evidence that demolishing the family homes of Palestinians deters others, otherwise the attacks would by now — after thousands of demolitions — have surely stopped altogether. In fact the demolition of Ghassan Abu Jamal’s home in 2015 was followed by an attack by his cousin Alaa a week later. “Alaa knew what the consequences of an operation were for the family,” commented Muawiyah Abu Jamal, “but when he was humiliated in front of his three sons, it obviously hurt his sense of pride.”

Palestinians see these demolitions as a form of collective punishment against the families of assailants who had nothing to do either with planning or carrying out such attacks.

Israel demands compensation from residents after demolishing their homes

The aftermath of Israeli bulldozers razing Al-Araqeeb village in Negev [Sarah Stern‏/Twitter]

Image of Israeli bulldozers after demolishing the Arab Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb [Sarah Stern‏/Twitter]

Some Palestinian homes are demolished due to a “planning policy” which in practice is the mechanism for controlling the demography through Israeli policies designed to ensure a Jewish majority from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and in specific areas such as the prized city of Jerusalem.

The discriminatory policy of denying planning permits for Palestinians to build on their own land or to extend existing homes to accommodate natural growth is well documented. This denial is particularly significant in Jerusalem, where Israel regularly approves plans for illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, but denies permits to Palestinians a stone’s throw away for home extensions of just a few square metres. Israel has often argued that building within existing illegal settlements is necessary for the same “natural growth” argument which it refuses to accept from Palestinians.

#Silwan

The Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya has been awaiting approval for an infrastructure plan for over 15 years but it seems that it must wait a lot longer. In the meantime, some of its residents have built on their privately-owned land but have either had their homes demolished or, in a further humiliating act, have had to demolish their own homes to avoid extortionate fines by the Municipality if it carried out the demolition. This was the case of Firas Saleh, who was forced to demolish his own home, in front of his children, or pay $80,000 for the privilege of the Israeli authorities demolishing it. The children had helped to build it and were devastated. Khaled Mahmoud had his 4 bedroom apartments demolished, making 40 people homeless. He had been trying to secure a building permit since 2002 without success. Both families undertook to rebuild their homes.

Another Palestinian neighbourhood under constant threat of house demolition or eviction is Silwan on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem. The most recent victims were the Abu Sneineh family whose home was demolished in early August but was partially rebuilt by the family and neighbours, only to see the new structure demolished by the Israelis as well.

Others who are targeted regularly by Israel for home demolitions are the Bedouin Palestinians on both sides of the Green (1949 Armistice) Line. The “unrecognised” villages of Al-Araqib and Umm Alhiran have been targeted for demolition of all structures, with the former being demolished and rebuilt at least 114 times since 2010. Israel wants to move the Bedouins to American-style reservations and build Jew-only settlements on the site of Umm Alhiran. The residents of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank have also lived under the threat of eviction and demolition of their village.

In the past three weeks, Israel has targeted Palestinian schools in Jabal Al-Baba and Jubbet Al-Dhib, and confiscated the only source of power for a school in Abu Nuwar by removing its solar panels. In the case of Jubbet Al-Dhib, its pupils started the new school year with lessons in tents.

Palestinians hold Friday prayers at Jerusalem home under threat from settlers

Posters are placed outside the Shamasna home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem. The family faces imminent evacuation to make room for Israeli settlers who claim they own the property. The posters read 'No to occupation' and 'Sheikh Jarrah is Palestinian'. [Twitter/Quds TV]

Friday prayers area held on 11 August 2017 outside the Shamasna home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem to show solidarity as the family is facing imminent evacuation to make room for Israeli settlers who claim they own the property. [Twitter/Quds TV]

With no evidence that demolishing homes of Palestinian attackers really deters others, and knowing that house demolitions can only increase the hatred of Israel amongst Palestinians, it appears that this policy has failed spectacularly in what it sets out to do. Israel often accuses the Palestinian Authority of incitement and blames it for attacks against Israelis. However, it is to the Israeli occupation and its carefully developed oppressive policies that we should look for incitement.

Would you think kindly of an occupier who has just taken the roof from over your head for any reason whatsoever, let alone political reasons? Israel’s demolition policy is, in the end, a spectacular own goal.

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.