How the US and Israel are working to transform Gaza into the Palestinian state

First published by the Middle East Eye on 26/7/2018

Trump’s team is focusing on how to force the Palestinians in Gaza – and Hamas – to submit and accept their dictates or face further misery

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The heat is on – again – in Gaza, as Israel tightens its siege and continues to kill and maim at will. If the two million Palestinians in the world’s largest prison camp – Gaza – were seen as humans by the world, the 11-year-long immoral siege on the tiny slither of land would be lifted immediately.

Israel controls all access to the strip by land and sea, while Egypt joins in by regularly closing the Rafah crossing, denying the imprisoned population the right to the free movement in and out of their country that we all enjoy. There is no justification for Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing.

Vital means of life

The main commercial access from Israel, the Kerem Shalom crossing, was suddenly closed by Israel on 9 July, denying the strip of the vital means of life, including fuel, which powers the electricity generating station, reducing the supply of electricity to at most six hours a day. The distance fishermen could sail within to catch their fish was also reduced from six to three nautical miles.

Palestinians are forced to buy drinking water at six times the standard rate from private companies because, according to experts, 97 percent of the water is contaminated by sewage and/or salt.

Israel partially opened the crossing through which it “will be possible to transfer gas and fuel into the Gaza Strip, in addition to food and medicine”. However, fish swimming more than three nautical miles off the shore of Gaza remain safe.

Gaza’s residents continue to bury their dead, with over 150 now killed since the start of the peaceful Great Return March four months ago, shot or bombed by Israel at the fence that separates them from their homes, from which they were forcibly transferred in 1948.

Back in 2015, the United Nations

warned that Gaza may become uninhabitable in 2020. That is less than 18 months away but a quick search on the internet reveals no attempt to rehabilitate it or – as I wrote recently – to rescue its children.

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The suffering of Palestinians in Gaza has also been exacerbated by the continuing Palestinian division which shows no sign of ending. Recent months have even seen the Palestinian National Authority imposing sanctions on Gaza in an effort to yield concessions from Hamas.

Price of geopolitical change

The changing geopolitical situation in the Arab world is also piling pressure on the Palestinians to accept what Arab leaders know the Palestinians could not accept as a resolution to their struggle for freedom, justice and equality. A resolution that is being cooked up between Tel Aviv and Washington.

In short, Gaza seems to be under constant attack as US President Trump’s team develop the “ultimate deal” to bring peace to the holy land while laying all the blame for a lack of peace at the door of Hamas and none at Israel’s door.

Any objective assessment of causes of the current situation would conclude that it is the lack of a just resolution to the conflict rather than the actions of Hamas or any other faction that causes the instability. Israel continues to illegally occupy the West bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and people under occupation have every right to resist until this occupation ends.

Efforts to end the conflict through US-sponsored talks have thus far failed to bring the justice and security the Palestinians deserve, 71 years after Israel was created in their homeland and against their will. There are no signs that the current “dream team” put together by Trump to bring peace to historic Palestine will succeed.

They are committed Zionists and firm supporters of Israeli policies, including the settlement enterprise. Jared Kushner is an assistant and senior adviser to Trump. Jason Greenblatt is an assistant to the president and special US representative for international negotiations. David Friedman is US ambassador to Israel. Each of them qualifies for Israeli citizenship.

The Zionist trio wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post which, rather than setting out their vision for peace for the whole of historic Palestine, focused solely on Gaza and was essentially an attack on Hamas for Gaza’s ills, laying no blame at Israel’s door.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on 14 May 2018 (AFP)

In fact, it is revealing that their article made no mention of any of the ingredients which the international community has largely agreed would lead to peace, including a halt to settlement activity, a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a just resolution to the refugee issue.

The Republic of Gaza?

Clearly, the Nation State Bill, passed into law on 19 July and which claims the land of Israel as the Jewish homeland, giving any Jew from any part of the world a right to move to Israel, has helped focus the Trump team’s work on Gaza.

Working in cahoots with Israel, it seems Trump’s team is leaving issues related to the West Bank to Israel and focusing on how to transform Gaza into the Palestinian state or perhaps more clearly the Republic of Gaza.

Israeli hardliners will never accept the emergence of a state called Palestine but they could live with a label such as Gaza, perhaps expanded with land from the Sinai. While Israel would love to have the land of Gaza back as part of Israel, it would not want to have the two million Palestinians that inhabit it back with it.

The rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which Zionists call Judea and Samaria, is off the table. While Israel will continue to consider ways of emptying these areas – and indeed areas inside the Green Line – of the indigenous Palestinians, that is a longer term headache that it can work to resolve, including by transferring them to Jordan.

In simple terms, if Hamas could be removed or convinced to accept the Trump deal, economic peace would come to Gaza.

The level of naivety demonstrated by the Trump trio should not surprise anyone, as it is a true reflection of the dearth of experience in politics or diplomacy that their CVs reveal.

Their politics come straight off Netanyahu’s desk, where – seemingly – the “ultimate deal” was drafted, just like the US policy on the Iran nuclear deal before it. Their diplomacy appears restricted to how they can convince the Gulf states to pay for the economic peace they think they can deliver.

Supremacist ideology

While the “ultimate deal” has not been released, elements of it have already been implemented: the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the death of any meaningful two-state solution, and the threat to declassify the descendants of Palestinian refugees coupled with the systematic closure of the UN refugee agency.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is under attack because the Israelis believe it “perpetuates” the conflict. In January, the State Department announced that it was withholding $65m out of its $125m interim aid package earmarked for UNRWA stating that “additional US donations would be contingent on major changes” by the agency.

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Palestinian employee of UNRWA hold a sign during a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Gaza City on Monday (Reuters)

Downsizing its operations to deal with the resulting deficit UNRWA faces was cited as the reason for the dismissal of hundreds of workers in the agency’s emergency programme. This has led to major protests by UNRWA’s workers and one worker threatening to burn himself.

Gaza’s beleaguered economy can hardly take another hit with UNRWA job losses and a reduction in its programmes, which provide vital sustenance, health and educational services.

As the Freedom Flotilla makes its way gingerly to the Gaza shores to bring basic medical supplies and solidarity with the Palestinian people, Israel and America are working to force the Palestinians and Hamas to submit and accept their dictates or face further misery.

The naive American trio will find that their immoral plans will fail as many before them have. Therefore, if they want a place in history as those who brought peace to historic Palestine, they need to come round to realising that once they see Palestinians as a whole, and those in Gaza in particular, as human beings with equal rights to Jews and others and not as a demographic threat to Zionism, peace is very possible.

For the sake of peace that we all crave, it is not Hamas or Fatah that need to go, but the supremacist ideology of Zionism.

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

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

Photo: Palestinians prepare to set fire on an Israeli flag and portraits of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest at the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza city, on 13 April, 2018 (AFP)

 

Peaceful resistance is the Palestinian answer to Trump’s ‘deal of the century’

First published by the Arab Weekly on 22/7/2018

Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force.

Demonstrators try to prevent an Isreali tractor from passing through the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, on July 4. (AFP)

Resilient despite pressures. Demonstrators try to prevent an Isreali tractor from passing through the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, on July 4. (AFP)

International law states that a people under occupation are entitled to use all means of resistance — including armed resistance — to end the occupation. In their quest for freedom, justice and equality, the Palestinian people have used a multitude of forms, including armed resistance and continue to keep their options open.

However, facing an Israeli propaganda machine, which has largely succeeded in characterising both military and non-military Palestinian resistance as “terrorism,” the Palestinians have explored other means that may bring greater support internationally and embarrass Israel when it deals violently and disproportionately with Palestinians.

The first intifada was a case in point. It started in 1987 and was peaceful. However, Israel dealt harshly with protesters, who were unarmed, at most throwing stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces operating in their illegally occupied areas. Israeli troops killed more than 1,000 Palestinians during the intifada and images of Israeli brutality were flashed on TV screens across the world.

The uprising introduced the word “intifada” into dictionaries but importantly led to the Madrid conference in 1991 and the start of the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, which led to the Oslo Accords. The peaceful nature of the uprising brought great sympathy for the Palestinian cause from across the world. Who can forget the image of Israeli troops attempting to break the bones of young Palestinian protesters with rocks?

The second intifada started in September 2000, triggered by visit to al-Aqsa Mosque by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was much more violent, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. This brought less sympathy for Palestinians and Israel used the death of civilians to demonise Palestinians as a violent people.

In a variation on peaceful resistance, Palestinian activists established villages on strategically located, privately owned Palestinian land in defiance of the escalation of illegal settlement construction. Israel demolished them and evicted the activists. This included Bab al-Shams, which was established and demolished days later in 2013.

The summer of 2017 saw Israel seal al-Aqsa Mosque following an attack on troops and the subsequent stand-off between the state and Palestinians who refused to go through electronic gates it installed to “enhance security.” The peaceful protests succeeded in the gates being removed.

The recent Great Return March and the protests to save Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village due for demolition by Israel, have shown that peaceful popular resistance can cause Israel great embarrassment and put a spanner in the works of the US plan to settle the conflict through the “deal of the century.”

Whether Khan al-Ahmar is demolished or not, the planned demolition and the popular resistance that brought Palestinians to the village to stand up to the bulldozers elevated the issue on the international agenda, bringing enough pressure on Israel to postpone the demolition.

British Middle East Minister Alistair Burt recorded a video message from the village in which he appealed to Israel not to demolish it and that if it moved its residents elsewhere it could be considered forcible transfer and thus a possible war crime.

Strong words indeed.

The United Kingdom was not alone. All but the most ardent state supporters of Israel — such as the United States — tried to convince it that this was a step too far.

Perhaps the Great Return March and the Palestinians’ demand to return to the homes from which they were expelled, starting in 1948, played a role in delaying the release of the ultimate deal. The scenes at Khan al-Ahmar may have played a part in reminding foreign diplomats that the Palestinians are not going anywhere soon.

It is true to say that Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force and that any wins for Palestinians carry with them a heavy cost in lives and injuries. However, lacking military power to evict Israel from the occupied territories, peaceful popular resistance has its place in keeping the cause alive and visible to the international community.

The Palestinians can make this more effective. For that to happen, a national Palestinian strategy is needed, one that shows the Palestinians have learned from previous attempts and build on this.

It must be designed to raise the cost of the occupation on Israel both financially and politically.

The Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity, harness the successes and empower the people to escalate it. Let it focus on disrupting the lives of the settlers in the West Bank through protests and blockades that stop them moving around freely. Alerts about potential demolitions should bring hundreds — if not thousands — to the site to force the occupiers to stop.

While some Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as part of the problem, a unified strategy combined with supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement and ending the security cooperation with Israel could give them hope that their leadership is moving closer to supporting them in their daily peaceful struggle.

The Palestinians may well find that as the growing support for their struggle escalates, the more peaceful their resistance and the more brutal Israel’s response.

Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/2/2018

The Palestinian president has called for an international conference by mid-2018 to recognise Palestine as a state, but prospects are bleak amid US bias towards Israel

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and triggered the move of the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump’s Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. “This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?” he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard “truths”. Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had “expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say”, and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem.”

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: “There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

‘Deal of the century’

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.

The call by Abbas for an international conference appears dead in its tracks when one considers the last attempt by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, to hold one in far more favourable political conditions, in the dying days of the Obama administration.

The conference was attended by some 70 countries, excluding Israel and the Palestinians, with Britain sending a low-level official instead of its foreign secretary. Even well-informed followers of the conflict would struggle to recall what the Paris conference achieved; its call for the status of Jerusalem not to be changed unilaterally was disregarded by Trump almost exactly a year later.

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

The US administration is continuing to develop its “deal of the century”, with Haley recently cautioning that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would “love” it. Palestinians will have to reject the deal if, as leaks have suggested, the core issues of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees are taken off the table.

Israel, meanwhile, will have a great hand in influencing the deal, but it will still claim that it falls short of meeting its security needs – but that it can work with Trump’s administration to improve it. The more they “improve” it, the less favourable it will be to Palestinians, who will be castigated for again “disrespecting” the administration.

Cards stacked against Palestinians

How could an international conference be held under this kind of near-certain outcome, and why did Abbas misguidedly specify an almost impossible date for the process, knowing the cards are stacked against him?

The only factor that could reshuffle the cards would be a change in the Israeli prime ministership. While the prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu staying in power change from day to day, his absence could change the game – but with a weak left and an emboldened Israeli right, it is unlikely that either a left-led coalition or a pragmatic, right-leaning leader would come through.

You need only list the names of the potential prime ministers to conclude that a change in leadership would merely diminish peace prospects further: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. None have a desire to see an end to the settlement enterprise or the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, or to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Gabbay, who leads the Labor party, opposes the removal of even the most isolated outposts, and he told a meeting of party activists that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”

Climate of hatred

This is hardly a group of individuals that really want to see a just peace. And why would they not take advantage of a US administration that is solidly behind Israel’s expansionist goals?

The pro-Israel lobby in the US worked for decades to see an American administration that would not only acquiesce to Israeli demands, whatever they happen to be, but even use talking points produced by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to make the case.

Among others, these talking points include comments about how “the settlements are not an obstacle to peace”, references to “realities on the ground” and “Israel’s security needs”, and remarks about how Israel is “unfairly treated” and picked on disproportionately considering everything else that is happening in the Middle East.

Trump’s disruption through his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have produced a climate much more favourable to peace – that is, if he had recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and conditioned the building of two embassies on the conclusion of peace talks based on international law, within, say, two years.

Instead, Trump clearly staked out his side, fuelling a climate of hatred and fear. Hope in the Holy Land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely.

Unless he finds the courage and wisdom to retract his decision, the hope tap will remain off, and no amount of pleading by Abbas or a change in Israel’s leadership will be able to force it back on. This is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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

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

Photo: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018 (AFP)