First published by TRT World on 28/9/2018
First published by TRT World on 5/9/2018
As America makes one concession after another to Israel, is it any wonder Israel doesn’t seek peace with the Palestinians?
On a recent visit to Lithuania, the birthplace of his grandmother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that that he sees ‘no urgency’ in advancing US President Donald Trump’s peace plan or what is commonly referred to as the ‘ultimate deal’ or ‘deal of the century’. “It is his business if he wants to promote it,” he added.
Netanyahu’s comments came soon after Trump suggested Israel will “pay a higher price” in the negotiations because of the embassy move and that it was “the Palestinians’ turn next”, adding that the Palestinians will get “something very good” in peace negotiations following his decision to relocate the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump made the comments at the end of one of his rallies in West Virginia. He did not indicate what this might be.
Contact between the Palestians and the US have been frozen on the orders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, following the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the subsequent move of the Embassy from Tel Aviv.
The next announcement from his administration was hardly a confidence-building measure or an incentive for the Palestinians to restart talks with the Americans.
In what the Palestinians saw as “the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool”, the Trump Administration recently decided to cut more than $200 million in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza, according to US officials.
Commenting further on the matter, PLO Executive Committee member Hana Ashrawi stated that “the Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.”
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to the US, said in a statement that the Trump administration “is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine.” Zomlot saw the recent move as “another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda.”
Zomlot was also referring to Trump’s decision to defund UNRWA, the United Nations Agency which delivers services to the Palestinian refugees and his attempts to find ways to remove the refugee status of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians still living in exile since 1948 claiming the status should not be inherited.
Aid cuts to the Palestinians continued as the Trump administration announced it was ending its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), having withheld $45 million back in January. This leaves the Agency with a $417 million deficit, which if not cleared would mean school closures for 500,000 children in its five areas of operation at the end of September.
The collapse of UNRWA would be disastrous for Palestinians but will be welcomed by Netanyahu who has argued that it ‘perpetuates’ the issue of the refugees.
Recently leaked emails confirmed Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has tried to convince King Abdullah of Jordan to end the refugee status of 2 million Palestinian residents living in Jordan as the US attempts to significantly reduce the number recognised from the current 5 million to a much smaller number.
In fact, with seemingly unlimited support from Trump and his pro-Israel ‘negotiating team’, Netanyahu is working to gain as many more wins as possible in what he sees as uniquely favourable times.
Netanyahu has already contributed significantly to convincing the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of severe sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and is demanding Iran pulls all its troops out of Syria. While he has not as yet succeeded in this, he will keep plugging away and may yet pull this off.
Next on the Israeli prime minister’s agenda is the status of the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and effectively annexed in 1981. His Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz describes endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old hold on the Golan as the proposal now ‘topping the agenda’ in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.
In a recent visit to Israel, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton dampened Israeli hopes of imminent recognition claiming “I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government.”
However, Netanyahu will surely continue to pursue it. With such wins in record time and at zero cost, it is perhaps not surprising that Netanyahu is “in no hurry for peace”.
What about the Palestinians?
The Palestinians are facing the most challenging period in their history since the Nakba. The division between Hamas and Fatah, the 11-year long siege on Gaza, US blind support for Israel and the changing geopolitics in the Middle East puts them in an extremely weak bargaining position.
However, should they see any hope in Trump’s comments in West Virginia that he really has “something very good” to offer them, what could that be?
Interestingly, there have been no leaks about what this may mean for the Palestinians, unlike leaks that preceded announcements of pro-Israel measures such as the embassy move or the attack on UNRWA.
Trump is unlikely to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, include a two-state solution in his plan, pressure Israel to accept any Palestinian refugees, pressure Israel to end settlement construction or to bring an end to the 11-year old siege on Gaza. Netanyahu would not agree to any of these but more importantly, it is difficult to expect Trump’s pro-Israel team to even suggest any of these.
Speculation on this has to be based on how any initiative would address the core issues to be resolved in the conflict. They have generally been acknowledged to be borders, Jerusalem, settlements and the refugees. If Trump believes he has taken Jerusalem off the table, is minimising the issue of the refugees, making no noises about increased settlements construction and not even mentioning a two-state solution, then it is highly unlikely that he can offer the Palestinians anything that they could accept.
The American president, a businessman, is likely to see “something very good” simply in terms of an improved economy or ‘money’, while taking into account ‘facts on the ground’ as Israel presents them to him and its unending security needs.
This could come in the form of economic development in Gaza or the northern Sinai, as leaks indicating Egypt may be called upon to cede some 700 km of the Sinai for an expanded Gaza, where an airport, seaport and possibly an electrical power plant could be based. There is talk about a railway line that links the Gulf States and Jordan with the Mediterranean through Israel and the OPTs, which could have stations in Palestinian territories.
With a weak and divided Palestinian leadership, an American administration which is completely on Israel’s side, Netanyahu is working overtime to secure further gains while Trump is in power and before he is impeached, since almost not a week goes by without some speculation that it might happen.
However, Netanyahu should rest easy in the knowledge that if Trump is impeached, he has in Vice President Pence a more committed and stable ally and supporter of Israeli policies. He will be in no greater hurry to deliver a ‘just peace’ than Trump or Netanyahu. The Palestinians will continue to suffer.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
I was interviewed by Press TV on 9/7/2018
لقائي مع الأستاذ شريف منصور الذي تحدثنا به عن القضية الفلسطينية في ظل صفقة القرن والتغيرات الإقليمية بتاريخ ٢٧/٦/٢٠١٨
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/2/2018
Since US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent decision to cut American funding to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has announced formally and repeatedly that Washington cannot continue in its traditional role as the sole sponsor of the peace process. Speaking shortly after Trump’s announcement in December, Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians have been engaged with the President’s advisors to achieve the “deal of the century” but “instead we got the slap of our times”. He concluded that, “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator… We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.”
At that point, the PA President suggested that the UN should take over as mediator. However, since then, the PA has been searching for an alternative to the US sponsorship which has been based on bringing together a wider group of influential countries to oversee negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Israel has been silent on the matter, enjoying the complete US bias in its favour, whether from Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman or the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley.
During his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Mike Pence received a hero’s welcome as he committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The Palestinians refused to meet him. Trump saw this as an act of disrespect to Pence and the US, and threatened the PA with further cuts in American aid unless they returned to the negotiating table.
The next port of call for the Palestinians for a sponsor of the peace talks was the European Union. Abbas visited the EU headquarters in Brussels recently an
d held talks with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. If Abbas thought that the EU was ready to take a sole or significant role in the peace process, he was disappointed. Mogherini reiterated longstanding EU positions: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states… based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law.” She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “Including to UNRWA.” She did not respond to Abbas’s call for the EU as a bloc to recognise the State of Palestine.
In a press conference a few days later, before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters, Mogherini told reporters that any framework for negotiations must involve “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”
This must have come as a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which had hoped that the Americans could be sidelined from the peace process.
There are few alternatives for the Palestinians to pursue. France’s attempts to secure a greater role in the peace process resulted in the Paris Conference which took place in much more favourable conditions at the end of the Obama Administration, but it tuned into a damp squib. The conference went ahead but little came out of it, and it has had no follow-up to speak of.
The Chinese, put forward their 4-point peace proposal last August:
- 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.”
- Promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel.
While little has been heard of the proposal’s potential since last year, the Chinese stepped up their efforts to play a greater role in the peace process following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. However, responding to a question about China’s possible future role at a regular press briefing on 21 December, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “China’s position on the Palestine issue is consistent. We support and actively promote the Middle East peace process. We support the just cause of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights… We are willing to continue offering constructive assistance to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
The Chinese hosted a symposium last December bringing together Palestinians and Israelis in a bid to break the impasse. The session culminated with the production of a non-binding position paper known as the “Beijing Initiative”, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Zionist Union MK Hilk Bar said in a closing statement was intended to prove that “it is possible and necessary to break the political deadlock and encourage the two leaderships to return to the negotiating table.” A leading member of the Palestinian delegation added: “We have to search for another approach to the peace process… It must include the superpowers and China, maybe one of these parties who can play a major role.”
Attempts by Russia, another UN Security Council member to take a leading role in the peace process, go back many years but have not succeeded.
Palestinians have recently favoured an arrangement that mirrors the P5+1 which developed the Iran Nuclear Deal Agreement, which was concluded in 2015. The P5+1 refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A similar arrangement could still see the US involved but not monopolising the framework for negotiations.
A possible starting point here could be the Quartet, known formally as the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”
On the face of it, the Quartet, with an upgrade of its senior team, could be the readymade answer to the Palestinian demand for a downgrading of the US role rather than Washington being excluded altogether. That may go some way towards meeting Israel’s insistence that the US has to be an important player in any future set of negotiations.
The Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at Brookings evaluated the Quartet’s performance in 2012 in its paper “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem“. It concluded that, but for some early successes up to 2003, the Quartet has not provided any tangible benefits, except “ensuring American engagement in the peace process.”
The Palestinians could request that certain countries are added to the group to provide their role with some prominence. These could include Japan, Egypt and China, and perhaps Britain as it leaves the EU. In other words a Q4+ format could be developed, possibly under UN leadership.
The advantage of the above arrangement, which will be challenging to bring together, is that the basic structure already exists. It is likely that the Palestinians would agree to such a grouping, leaving the US and Israel almost certainly rejecting it. However, this would show Palestinian flexibility and confirm US and Israel rejectionism.
There is a need for an alternative framework for negotiations to resolve the conflict other than the 25 years of futile talks led by the Americans whose bias towards Israel is guaranteed and blatant. The longer the void left by the Palestinian rejection of a role for the US exists, the longer that the status quo will continue, allowing Israel to march ahead with its colonial project. A revamped Quartet plus-plus is well worth serious consideration.
First published by the Middle East Eye on 6/2/2018
If it is to be taken seriously as a broker for peace, the EU must make disruptive decisions to pressure Israel, just as the US has been doing against Palestinians
The past few weeks have been transformational for the prospects, or rather lack thereof, for peace between Israel and Palestine.
US Vice President Mike Pence gleefully confirmed in a speech to the Israeli Knesset that his country’s embassy would move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, as the US administration announced it would withhold $65m for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides services for Palestinian refugees.
This, coupled with US President Donald Trump’s insinuation that millions of dollars in US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) should be cut after their “disrespectful” snub of Pence, has confirmed the current administration’s bias towards Israel, underscoring the PA’s conclusion that the Americans cannot play a role in any future peace process.
Bullying and blackmail of Palestinians
Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the US, said in a speech to the Middle East Institute that Trump had backstabbed Palestinians, not only taking Jerusalem off the peace table, but also taking “the table altogether”.
The Americans continue to claim they are developing the “deal of the century” while using a combination of bullying and blackmail to attempt to force Palestinians back to the negotiating table, from which they believe they have removed both Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return.
In his highly analysed speech to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Central Council, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recommitted to negotiations and peaceful popular resistance as the two strategic pillars to reclaim Palestinian rights.
However, the PA has shown little leadership in developing a national strategy for popular resistance, and is continuing security cooperation with Israel – which Abbas has called “sacred”.
The central council recommended the suspension of this security cooperation and, for the first time, urged the PLO’s executive committee to adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a means of pressuring Israel. It also recommended suspension of the PLO’s recognition of Israel and announced the expiration of the Oslo Accords.
The PLO’s Executive Committee recently met in Ramallah to discuss the Central Council’s recommendations. It agreed to set up a higher level committee to study the recommendation to suspend recognition of Israel. No date was set for it to report on this important decision.
There was no mention of the recommendation -made for the second time- to suspend security cooperation with Israel. In terms of a change in the PA’s strategy for achieving Palestinian rights, there was little emerging from the meetings of the Central Council or Executive Committee.
Reiteration of longtime position
The key change the PA might be pursuing is a search for an alternative to the US as a sponsor for future peace talks. The PA initially saw the EU as the prime body to replace the US; shortly after his speech in Ramallah, Abbas flew to Brussels to meet Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy.
What he heard was a reiteration of the EU’s longstanding position. Mogherini said: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as shared capital of the two states … based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law”. She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “including to UNRWA”.
For his part, Abbas thanked the EU for its financial support and asked that it continue to play a political role in the Middle East peace process. He reiterated the Palestinian commitment to fighting “terrorism, violence and extremism“.
In a direct snub to the PLO Central Council, Abbas affirmed his commitment to previously signed agreements- meaning Oslo Accords – to which he said Palestinians had adhered, and urged Israel to implement its responsibilities under the deals. He also called on EU member states to recognise the state of Palestine.
In a subsequent announcement, Mogherini pledged the EU would contribute an additional €42.5 ($53m) to Palestinians after Trump’s decision to cut support, including €14.9m to “preserve the Palestinian character of East Jerusalem”.
On the political front, Mogherini told reporters in Brussels that any framework for negotiations must involved “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”
Sustaining the status quo
Thus, far from rising to the occasion and using its historic and financial ties to Israel and Palestine to play a greater political role in formulating a way out of the current impasse, the EU will simply sustain the status quo.
Nine European states, including Sweden, already recognise Palestine as a state and it seems Slovenia may be next – yet the EU as a bloc has not given any indication that it may follow suit. The EU continues to support Israeli universities through its research programme, Horizon 2020, though it distinguishes between institutions on either side of the Green Line. Its position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law has not been matched with commensurate action.
It took the EU many years to simply take a position that goods from the illegal settlements should be labelled. To counter Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the EU could have moved to ban goods from the settlements and to compel businesses and banks to seize any activities that support their continued existence through trade. However, there are no signs it will do this.
Following the decision by Israel to deny entry to human rights activists from EU member states for their solidarity and support for BDS, including European elected officials, the EU could have moved to impose a tougher visa regime or even ban settlers from EU countries due to their violation of international law. This would include some senior Israeli politicians and members of the extremist Israeli government who are not committed to a two-state solution and have called for annexation of the West Bank.
Action-light versus action-heavy
The EU could ban the sale of arms to Israel, as these could be used to violently entrench the occupation and to attack Gaza.
The reality is that the EU has the tools to match its words with action, but it has thus far shied away from using any of them. Its policy can be seen as action-light.
In contrast, America’s support for Israel is action-heavy, politically through the use of its veto in the UN Security Council and financially through providing it with half of its annual aid budget, while threatening to reduce the pittance it gives to Palestinians to bully them into negotiations.
If the EU is to be taken seriously as a broker for peace, it must make disruptive decisions to pressure Israel – moves as significant as America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Can the EU walk the walk or will it simply continue to talk the talk?