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

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

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

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

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

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

Fustigé par les ambassadeurs

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

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

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

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

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

« L’accord du siècle »

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les jeux sont faits d’avance contre les Palestiniens

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

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

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

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

Un climat de haine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Kamel Hawwash est un professeur britannico-palestinien d’ingénierie à l’Université de Birmingham et un militant de longue date pour la justice, en particulier pour le peuple palestinien. Il est vice-président du British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) et membre du Comité exécutif de la Campagne de solidarité avec la Palestine (PSC). Hawwash apparaît régulièrement dans les médias comme commentateur sur les questions du Moyen-Orient. Il dirige le blog www.kamelhawwash.com. Vous pouvez le suivre sur Twitter : @kamelhawwash. Il a rédigé cet article à titre personnel.

Les opinions exprimées dans cet article n’engagent que leur auteur et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la politique éditoriale de Middle East Eye.

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

Traduit de l’anglais (original) par VECTranslation.

Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

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

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

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

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

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

Criticism from ambassadors

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

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

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

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

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

‘Deal of the century’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cards stacked against Palestinians

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

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

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

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

Climate of hatred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: America’s Controversial Israel Embassy Move

I was interviewed by Press Tv’s On The News Line which was transmitted on 26/2/2018

In a move that appears to have been meant to add more fuel to fire, the United States has pushed forward a controversial move to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem al-Quds. The transfer that US President Donald Trump had previously announced would take place in 2019

The Middle East Quartet still includes the US, so can it still play a role in the peace process?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/2/2018

President Donald Trump address to Congress in Washington, US on 30 January 2018 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]

 

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

Palestinian men carry food aid given by UNRWA in Gaza City, Gaza on 15 January 2018 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

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.

Interview: Is the US using aid to UNRWA as a method to extort and blackmail?

I appeared on Press TV’s the sun will rise with Dr Ghada Karmi. This was broadcast on 2/2/2018

EU is all talk and no action on Israel-Palestine conflict

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.

Activists unveil a giant Palestine flag in support of a Palestinian statehood outside the European Union Council in Brussels November 19, 2012 (REUTERS)

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?

 

UNRWA’s mandate ends only after return of Palestinian refugees

First published by the Arab Weekly on 28/1/2018

UNRWA’s highly recognisable logo, at least to Palestinians, adorns schools, hospitals and offices run by the organisation wherever the refugees live.
Heavy blow. Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a UN food distribution centre in Rafah, on January 21.(AFP)
Heavy blow. Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a UN food distribution centre in Rafah, on January 21.(AFP)

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established in 1949. It supports more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war as well as those who suffered a similar plight during and following the 1967 Six Day War and their descendants.

A Palestinian refugee is defined as any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period June 1, 1946, to May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict” and descendants of fathers fulfilling this definition.

In 1951 UNRWA’s list of refugees totalled 860,000 names.

UNRWA’s highly recognisable logo — at least to Palestinians — adorns schools, hospitals and offices run by the organisation wherever the refugees live. This is mainly in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN members.

The agency has faced a shortfall in its funding for many years. In 2014 its expenditure was $675 million but its cash deficit stood at $65 million. Funding is generally not keeping pace with increased refugee needs and uptake of services.

UNRWA has operated largely outside politics, focusing on providing services to those Palestinians who are the weakest and neediest of the almost 13 million Palestinians. Its services in the besieged Gaza Strip and the refugee camps in Lebanon, which have absorbed many Palestinians who fled the fighting in Syria, are particularly critical.

Israel has argued for decades that UNRWA’s mandate should only have extended to those Palestinians alive since their expulsion in 1948 and not to their descendants. This view has not been shared by the rest of the world as the United Nations and donors have continued to fund it while a solution is sought to the Palestine question.

This was until the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hayley announced that American funding for UNRWA would be curtailed until the Palestinians “returned to the negotiating table with Israel.” The Trump administration said it would cut $65 million from its contribution to UNRWA. The agency reported it received more than $350 million from the United States in 2017.

This decision came hot on the heels of US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It clearly emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said: “I fully agree with President [Donald] Trump’s strong criticism of UNRWA.”

Netanyahu claimed, “UNRWA is an organisation that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees.”

“It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ with the aim of eliminating the state of Israel and therefore UNRWA must disappear,” Netanyahu said.

In other words, Netanyahu wants to take the issue of the refugees off the table.

Reaction to the US cut in UNRWA’s funding from other stakeholders in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was swift. Belgium and the Netherlands promised to make up much of the deficit with $23.3 million and $15 million, respectively.

UNRWA regularly makes appeals for funding.

Its most recent statement said: “Dramatic reduction of US funding will have the huge impact on the daily lives of millions of vulnerable Palestine refugees: Today more than ever before, Palestine refugees need you to stand with them and show solidarity.”

It went on to say: “Together, we must keep schools open for half a million children, provide food and cash assistance to 1.7 million impoverished refugees and life-saving medical care to millions more.”

Palestinian refugees rely heavily on the services of the UNRWA, particularly in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege for almost 11 years. A reduction in the level of services would have severe consequences for the refugees. Closure of UNRWA would be disastrous both in terms of the immediate effects on Palestinians and the future of the refugees.

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was very clear about what should happen to them when it stated “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.”

If Israel and the United States want to end the mandate of the UNRWA, then Resolution 194 must be implemented in full. Until then and while they remain so, refugees are entitled to having the protection and support the agency provides and for which the world has and must continue to pay.

If Israel and the United States want to end the mandate of the UNRWA, then Resolution 194 must be implemented in full.