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.

 

The worst ever deal? Trump declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

First published by the Middle East Eye on 4/12/2017

2017 has been a dreadful year for the Palestinians and it could be about to end on an even worse note as Trump may hand Jerusalem to Israel on a plate

 

Palestinians had hoped that 2017, the year that marked the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the Nakba and 50 years since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, would bring them an apology from the UK for Balfour and recognition by the world that the injustice which they have suffered for so long should come to an end soon.

Those hopes were dashed.

Instead of an apology, Britain expressed great pride in the part it had played in the creation of Israel and the silence of the international community was deafening.

Trump declaration

As the Palestinians licked their wounds and once again raised the spectre of taking Israeli officials to the International Criminal Court (ICC), pressure came from the Arab countries to refrain from so doing. The Trump administration threatened to shut down the PLO Washington Office if the Palestinians went ahead with their ICC bid.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Riyadh to be told in no uncertain terms that he either accepts the peace deal being formulated by the Trump administration or resigns.

It seems that the annus horribilis 2017 might be ending on a worse note for the Palestinians. Speculation is rife that “another declaration” is in the making.

According to several media reports, the US president is likely to issue what might be called the “Trump Declaration”, that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There is only one other state that considers it to be that, Israel.

In doing so, Trump will “hand” the city, holy to the three monolithic religions, over to an extremist, settler colonialist state to call it its capital, in defiance of international law and the “international consensus on its status”.

The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem to be their capital, which most states recognise as currently under illegal occupation.

In his speech to the AIPAC conference in 2015, Trump promised: “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” However, when provided with the opportunity to action the move in June, he decided not to.

He did this by a waiver that delays for six months implementation of the move. Trump followed in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama that have signed similar waivers (a total of 35 times) since both houses of Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 with overwhelming majorities.

As the next date for signing the waiver or sanctioning the embassy move approached, pressure mounted from Israel and the US pro-Israel lobby for Trump to deliver on his pre-election promise. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is itching to be the first US ambassador to Israel to operate out of Jerusalem.

If Trump recognises Jerusalem, holy to the three monolithic religions, as Israel’s capital, he will be handing the city over to an extremist, settler colonialist state (AFP)

East and West Jerusalem

Dore Gold, the former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, told a congressional hearing on “the benefits and challenges of relocating” Israel’s capital that “President Donald Trump has made a commitment in that regard and I believe he will stand by what he has said,” referring to Trump’s promise to move the embassy.

US Vice President Mike Pence raised hopes of a possible embassy move when he spoke 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.

He chose that occasion to announce that “President Donald Trump is actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem”.

If the speculation translates into reality, Trump may choose to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with some caveats, while once again postponing the actual move.

He may even consider distinguishing between East and West Jerusalem as Russia’s Foreign Ministry did last April in a statement that said: “We reaffirm our commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. At the same time, we must state that in this context we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

However, Trump is consistently unpredictable and he may go the whole way and declare in around 30-words perhaps: “As US President, I am proud to announce that I have decided to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

He can argue that this is only one of many commitments made during the 2016 election campaign that he is now fulfilling.

Arab and Muslim reaction

What would be the reaction in Palestine, Israel and the rest of the world? Will it ignite the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim street? Will it bring a confrontation between Iran and Israel any closer?

Will this be the last straw for the Palestinian leadership? Will it trigger a severing of relations between the PLO and the US and even an implementation of the often raised threat of the PA dissolving itself and Mahmoud Abbas handing the keys to his Muqata’a headquarters to Benjamin Netanyahu?

Will the anger be directed at the US and its impulsive president, the occupying power Israel or the Palestinian Authority and its president? We live in such uncertain times that any of the above or a combination of them may be possible, when they would once have been discounted as impossible.

The Arab world, in a state of turmoil and with leadership in some countries moving to the next generation, has relegated the Palestinian issue behind the threat of Iran and the “fight against terror” and the ongoing chaos in a number of “Arab spring” locations.

The Palestinian Authority has already warned about the dire consequences that would result from such a move and President Abbas has been in contact with Arab and other world leaders requesting their support in dissuading Trump from this action.

He may have been reassured by the statement from Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubair, at a recent Mediterranean Dialogue event in Rome, that any change to the status of East Jerusalem would enrage the Arab world.

US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering statements in Jerusalem in May (AFP)

However, the reported close relationship between Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman seems to be focused on heaping pressure on the Palestinians to concede ground rather than on Israel. If the price for US support for Saudi Arabia against Iran is conceding Jerusalem then would the young prince be able to resist?

Abbas has found support from most recipients of his calls but whether this will translate into sufficient pressure is questionable. Those Palestinians expecting a more robust response from Iran are likely to be disappointed.

A liberation strategy

The 193 countries that recognise Palestine are almost certain to reject the move. The EU is likely to dismiss the move and maintain its position with member states keeping their embassies in Tel Aviv and perhaps refusing to conduct business in a US Jerusalem embassy

However, some states which have sided with Israel in the UN General Assembly including Australia and Canada may be tempted to follow suit. In 2014, Australia’s Attorney General told the Senate that his country will no longer recognise East Jerusalem as “occupied”, implying it is Israeli territory.

Early indications are that there will certainly be protests in Gaza and the West Bank but most Palestinians are unable to reach the US Embassy in Tel Aviv as they need permits to enter Israel which will not be forthcoming for this purpose.

Those Palestinian citizens of Israel, who constitute a fifth of Israeli population, and other Israelis who see how problematic this is for long-term peace prospects, may reach the embassy but these protests are unlikely to be sustained.

This would pose a great challenge to Jerusalemite Palestinians who rose against the closure of Al-Aqsa mosque last summer, protesting peacefully until the holy site was reopened and the security measures Israel wanted to implement were removed.

They may protest outside the US Consulate in East Jerusalem but this is not going to be effective unless an organised campaign, that includes them, demands that Trump rescind his declaration gathers momentum and succeeds quickly.

Protests are therefore more likely to be virtual with “Twitter storms” and appropriate hashtags being shared, which would initially be successful in raising the issue but will not, in the end, change the decision.

The Palestinian Authority has based its whole strategy for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as capital of a future Palestinian state effectively making East Jerusalem a redline.

If that is crossed, just what would Trump’s “ultimate deal” actually offer? Leaks have indicated that Jerusalem and the right of return of refugees will be postponed but that Israeli settlements would remain and no settlers would be required to leave.

It seems that the time has come for him to take a leaf out of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s famous Brexit policy that no deal is better than a bad deal and call it a day.

If it is to be “Black Wednesday” and Trump recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital then it would surely be time for the PA to dissolve and for the Palestinians to develop their strategy for liberation and the attainment of their rights.

That is of course unless the PA has a “cunning” plan which Abbas is holding so close to his chest that he has not discussed with anyone, otherwise it would have been leaked.

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.

Every picture tells a story; can the Palestinians expect any justice from this bunch?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/6/2017


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (3rd L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

Throughout his first trip abroad as US president, during which he visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region. 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.”

In order to put the “ultimate deal” together, it is reasonable to expect that a team with knowledge of both sides of the conflict would be gathered together to determine the facts and the rhetoric before a truly honest broker could succeed in the task. No such attempt at balance was made during Trump’s election campaign; his Middle East adviser then was Walid Phares, who is of Lebanese Christian Maronite heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel position. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian perspective.

As president, we now see that the team that Trump has put together to launch another attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians not only lacks any balance whatsoever, but is also tilted entirely in Israel’s favour.

Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently returned to the US after a 15-hour trip to the Holy Land during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the PA’s Abbas. The photograph circulated of his meeting with Netanyahu is a revealing snapshot of the team planning to launch Trump’s new peace initiative; every picture tells a story, and this one is no different.

Kushner himself is an orthodox Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors. The real estate developer’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El. He started his visit in his new role as Trump’s “senior adviser” by offering condolences to the family of Israeli police officer Hadas Malka who died during an attack by Palestinians recently. Although he would have a much longer list to choose from, he did not seek out the family of any Palestinian killed by Israel to show that he understood the suffering on both sides.

In the picture too is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Trump’s company lawyer from New York is also an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think that the United States or any other party should try to impose an agreement on Israel. In a recent visit to the Zionist state, Greenblatt met with leaders of the settlement movement, including the Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

The final member of the US trio in the official photograph is David Friedman, Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel; an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is also committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Like Kushner, he has close ties with the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El. Indeed, Friedman heads Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organisation which recently funded a five-story block in the Israeli colony built on occupied Palestinian territory. Friedman does not believe that the colony-settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.

Representing Israel in the picture is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has led the far-right Israeli government for a total of 13 years, alongside Israel’s US-born ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who has been in post for the past 4 years. During the 2015 Israeli election campaign Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he now insists that Israel must keep security control “west of the River Jordan” in any peace deal. He was prime minister during the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, including more than 350 children, were killed.

Everyone in the picture of Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu is a Zionist Jew; not a single American of Palestinian origin or US advisor with even slightly less partisan views, never mind pro-Palestinian. Of course, I do not wish to imply that Jews cannot help deliver a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis — there are many who are active in the peace movement — but it is difficult to see how Zionist Americans, whether Jewish or not, can be even-handed in their endeavours to get the “ultimate deal”.

Anyone looking among Trump’s team for some counterbalance to the pro-Israel views championed by Kushner, Greenblatt or Friedman will be sorely disappointed. Another of the president’s senior appointments is US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley; it is hardly surprising that she is a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for being “biased” in its criticism of Israel’s illegal activities. She recently promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington — that “the days of Israel bashing [at the UN] are over.”

Hayley went to Israel in between the Trump and Kushner visits, providing Netanyahu with an opportunity to heap praise upon her and her boss. “President Trump and you, I think, have changed the discourse, have drawn new standards, and everybody’s taking up, and that’s great,” Netanyahu gushed. “Again, I felt that the UN would collapse, you know, that whole scaffolding of lies would just collapse. I think you’ve put in that simple word, truth.”

The “truth” is that with a blatantly pro-Israel team in place who believe in Israeli settlements but are not committed even to the concept of two states, the Palestinians cannot rely on the US to act as an honest broker and deliver peace.

It was, therefore, bewildering — though not, perhaps, surprising — to hear one of Mahmoud Abbas’s top advisers express the PA’s anger at a new illegal settlement being built. “[This is] a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” claimed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as if this would generate some reaction from Washington. It has not and will not. With Kushner et al calling the shots, how could it?

The Palestinian leadership is in a real bind, mostly of its own making. This goes back several years, particularly since Abbas took over and pinned his colours solely to the mast of the “peace process” with Israel bereft of any reference to international law and under US patronage. It is blindingly obvious that America will always side with Israel and if pressure is ever exerted on anyone, it will be on the Palestinians to make yet more concessions.

To add to Palestinian woes, Trump has further succeeded in driving a real wedge between those Arab states that remain intact and the Palestinian cause. At the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Abbas looked isolated and had to work hard simply to ensure that the Arab peace plan was not watered down further to offer Israel more incentive to take it seriously. He then learnt that some Gulf States are considering partial normalisation with Israel in advance of a peace deal, which runs contrary to the Arab initiative.

The Palestinians need to accept that the strategy adopted by the PA has failed to deliver peace or even get the siege of Gaza lifted to alleviate the daily suffering of two million people. If any progress is to be made, the PLO and its institutions must be rebuilt and the Palestinians within and beyond historic Palestine have to be reconnected, working together for the same objective of achieving justice, freedom and equality. The Palestinians must rely on themselves for a change; relying on Trump’s team to deliver justice or anything but capitulation is preposterous.

Trump should appoint pro-Palestinian advisers

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Istanbul conference for diaspora Palestinians lead to unity of vision?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 16/2/2017

The situation continues to get worse for Palestinians as they remain under occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, and the latter has also been under siege for a decade. Those who make-up one-fifth of the Israeli population continue to suffer from official racism, with over 80 laws that discriminate between them and their fellow citizens who happen to be Jews. Palestinians driven from their homeland in 1948 and 1967 continue to eke out an existence, mostly in refugee camps under desperate conditions, with the added strain of more recent displacement from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and Syria since the start of the Arab Spring. Those not in such camps are in a growing diaspora all over the world.

Their aspirations for freedom from Israeli occupation, for equal rights in Israel and for the right to return to their homeland from their decades’ old enforced exile are both legal and moral. However, Israel continues to deny them these rights and garners support for its position from the so called international community, which places Israel’s existence and security significantly above the rights for Palestinians that they all demand and provide for their own citizens.

The Palestinian leadership is split broadly between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. An honest assessment of their performance shows that both have failed to deliver either a daily dignified existence for the Palestinians they rule under occupation or an improvement in the prospects for delivering their national rights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Donald Trump this week showed that their vision of the future is all about Israel, with little mention of the 12 million Palestinians who exist both in historic Palestine, refugee camps and the diaspora. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and accept that it must control all security “West of the river Jordan”. This effectively ends any pretence that he and his fellow extremists in the Israeli government may have emitted indicating their support for a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s new language for peace is about “substance, not ‘labels’”. He said this in response to a question about the two-state solution which the “international community” has championed as the only game in town. Well, Netanyahu just blew the whistle in Washington for the end of the two-state game.

President Trump did not discount the two-state solution or even a one-state solution. At his joint press conference with Netanyahu he said: “So I’m looking at two states and one state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.”

The 15 February 2017 — When Bibi Met Donald — is thus a deep line that has been drawn in the sand of this conflict. It should be a wake-up call not only for the Palestinian leadership, but also for all other Palestinians everywhere. Their situation is set to worsen and prospects for freedom and independence appear bleak.

One of the by-products of the Oslo Accords and the formation of the Palestinian Authority, was a radical change in the role of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s role and that of the Palestine National Council. This also led to a disconnect between the Palestinian institutions and Palestinians in the diaspora, who care deeply about their identity and homeland and who have much to offer to the struggle.

While the PLO does still exist, it now appears as a line in the PA’s budget; to observers it appears to be wheeled out (at least its Executive Committee is) as required by PA President Mahmoud Abbas — who also happens to be the PLO Chairman — to rubber stamp decisions already made in Ramallah. The PNC has been largely comatose since it met in Gaza to approve a change to the PLO charter back in 1996. In fact, both the PLO and PNC are in need of reform to include factions that are currently unrepresented. Furthermore, the ailing PNC needs fresh elections.

I wrote about the need for Palestinian unity to counter both the Paris Conference and a Trump presidency at the beginning of the year. Sadly, while there has been another attempt to bring Fatah and Hamas together, this time in Moscow, there is still no tangible evidence that this is going to happen soon.

If the leaderships of the two parties cannot overcome their differences then perhaps Palestinians in the diaspora can show them the way and send a clear message that the status quo is unacceptable. Unity and an agreed strategy for taking back control of the Palestinian people’s future cannot wait any longer.

There is a ray of hope that Palestinians from the diaspora could provide the impetus to move matters on. This comes in the shape of a Conference to be held in Istanbul on 25 and 26 February, billed as “The People’s Conference for Diaspora Palestinians”.

The conference objectives are:

  • Affirming the right of the Palestinians to liberation, self-determination and the role of the diaspora Palestinians in this.
  • Affirming the right of the Palestinians to return and working towards achieving this.
  • Undertaking political work to achieve the civil and human rights of the Palestinian people.
  • Political participation for the diaspora in the Palestinian national decision-making.
  • Build and strengthen the unity of the political situation of Palestinians in the diaspora.

The organisers, who have past experience of organising conferences for Palestinians in Europe that attract thousands, have on this occasion focussed on bringing together in Istanbul leading Palestinian figures and activists from around the world with the aim of taking stock, and identifying ways of connecting with existing Palestinian institutions, such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian National Council (PNC). They have reached out to participants from across the political spectrum and seem to have had some success in attracting a number who would perhaps not normally attend the annual conferences for Palestinians from Europe.

However, as with many Palestinian initiatives, the conference has not been without its critics. The PLO’s Expatriate Affairs Department emailed its contacts in the diaspora warning against the “factional use of the national constants and tampering with representational role of the PLO.” The statement articulates the department’s concerns at the lack of engagement by the conference organisers with itself and the Refugees’ Department. It argues that the short lead up time may result in there being inadequate preparation for a substantive discussion of the issues to be tackled by the delegates. It also expresses concern about possible interference by non-Palestinian actors in the conference which may influence its direction.

It is important to note that the PLO’s Expatriate Affairs Department does not offer an alternative to this gathering that would meet the conference objectives, nor can it point to a record of seriously attempting to reconnect the PLO with the Palestinian diaspora. However, it raises legitimate concerns about the conference which the organisers need to alleviate for it to be the ray of hope it could be for reconnecting the 12 million Palestinians around the world.

The organisers carry a heavy responsibility to ensure that what happens in Istanbul is what it says on the label: enough is enough as far as division and factionalism are concerned; saving Palestine requires Palestinian unity.

Can the Istanbul conference be a turning point in the struggle that leads to an agreed vision for the future? There are 12 million reasons why it must be given every opportunity to try.