Palestinians should put more focus on their case internationally

First published by the Arab Weekly in 12/11/2017

The PLO should join more international bodies and conventions and use these to pressure Israel back to the negotiating table.

If it is to make progress to­wards realising its people’s legitimate right to self-deter­mination in their homeland, the Palestinian leadership needs to take stock and weigh its options.

The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the so-called deal of the century US President Donald Trump’s advisers are work­ing on will be made in Tel Aviv, not Washington or Ramallah. It will be a deal of the century designed to strengthen Israel’s hold on the land from the river to the sea. It will not be based on respect or adherence to international law and will not deliver an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, the minimum the Palestin­ians would accept as a resolution to the conflict.

It will certainly not include a return of Palestinian refugees to their homes. This will make a deal impossible to accept. The reper­cussions would be disastrous for the Palestinians as they will once again be blamed for the failure.

It would be disastrous for the Palestinian leadership to wait for the above scenario to materialise. It must set its own agenda and make rapid progress on it.

The Palestinians have no option but to escalate their efforts to inter­nationalise their case and to pursue measures that would bring some form of accountability on Israel through peaceful means. This they can do with a more united leader­ship as the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas evolves. Yes, the road ahead is rocky but promising.

The United States has effectively closed the door on accountability through the UN Security Council, where, if needed, it will always wield the veto. In the UN General Assembly, where the United States does not enjoy the right to veto resolutions, the Palestinians can initiate them and win but they will remain unenforceable. The Palestinians are enjoying greater success in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where the United States does not hold a veto. Significantly, the council is about to publish a database containing the names of companies complicit in Israel’s occupation. This has raised strong condemnation from both Israel and the United States.

The United States may decide to leave the UNHRC as an expression of anger at what it sees as obses­sive criticism of Israel as it has done with UNESCO. This may dis­suade other international bodies and conventions from accepting the state of Palestine as a mem­ber, knowing that it will use this primarily to bring accountability on Israel for violations that come under the scope of the organisa­tion in question. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s response should be to join more internation­al bodies and conventions and use these to pressure Israel back to the negotiating table or face greater accountability.

For example, it should work for Israel’s suspension from football’s world governing body, FIFA, for operating football teams in the illegal settlements.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation should vigorously pursue Israel through the Interna­tional Criminal Court (ICC), which it joined in 2014. A focus on the illegal settlements is the clear­est case to bring. Other countries regard the settlements as illegal as does international law. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Net­anyahu recently promised never to dismantle a settlement and to expand the illegal enterprise.

While the Palestinians and the ICC would come under enormous pressure not to act, surely it is an action the Palestinians must pur­sue with vigour.

The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the conse­quences of escalating this battle would be costly for them. They will need strong support from Arab allies who should insist on Israel agreeing fully to the 2002 Arab peace initiative as a start. The ini­tiative spells out clearly what Israel needs to do for it to reap the huge benefits normalisation of relations with the Arab and Muslim world would bring.

The Palestinians should insist that a return to talks should be based on international law and well-known UN resolutions on the conflict. The Palestinians have op­tions. More of the same is not one of them.

Hey Israel, give Palestinians a sporting chance

First published by the Middle East Eye on 11/8/2016

rio-2016

The troubles of the Middle East have followed the Olympic flame to Rio de Janeiro for the Brazilian games.

An early controversy erupted even before the teams reached the Maracana Stadium.

The Lebanese and Israeli delegations clashed when the organisers planned for the two teams to travel together to the opening ceremony, presumably assuming sport would override politics and that, given the chance to mingle, citizens of the two countries would welcome the opportunity.

The now well-documented incident showed that only a naive organiser would have failed to assume this would be a non-starter.

The Lebanese delegation head refused to let the Israeli team board the coach and the teams travelled separately. It was ironic that the Israeli sailing team coach complained about this act of discrimination when he must know of the discrimination that Israel practices against Palestinians with the building of roads and towns designed and constructed for Jews only.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also impacted the start of the games: the six members of the Palestinian team – including 55-year-old dressage rider and German businessman Christian Zimmerman – travelled to the games without their official uniforms and equipment, impounded by Israeli customs.

Before the games began, as Munther Masalmeh, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Olympic Committee told the media, the team’s gear had not cleared customs yet.

“We got one shipment several months ago and we have not been able to bring it in,” he said. “We were forced to travel without our equipment and to buy them instead in Brazil.”

In a further act of interference in the Palestinian Olympic delegation, Israel banned Issam Qishta, the head of the Palestinian delegation, from leaving the Gaza Strip to join the Rio-bound team.

“We do our best to let him leave as soon as possible,” Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said.

Playing politics

Israeli interference in Palestinian sporting affairs is nothing new. Recently, Israel banneds everal players from Gaza’s Ittihad Al-Shejaiya football team from crossing into the West Bank through the Eriz border to play the final match of the Palestine football cup against Ahli Al-Khalil from Hebron in the West Bank.

The first leg of the cup final, which took place in Gaza, marked the first visit by Ahli Alkhalil to the Strip in 15 years. However, several players on the West Bank team faced difficultiesentering Gaza. The first leg ended in a goalless draw.

Under apparent pressure from football’s world governing body FIFA, Israel eventually allowed the Gaza players to cross into the West bank for the rearranged second leg which the West Bank team won.

Over the years, FIFA has had to play a key mediation role between the Palestine Football Federation (PFA) and the Israeli Football Federation (IFA). Palestinians believe Israel deliberately hampers their efforts to develop the game, both at club and at a national team level, largely through restrictions of movement within the occupied territories.

Israel also decides which Palestinian players can leave the territories for training or tournaments abroad and which foreign-based Palestinian members of the national team can enter the occupied territories.

Additionally, Israel decides which foreign teams can enter the occupied territories for games or tournaments.

Israel has also targeted individual Palestinian footballers including Gaza-based star Mahmoud Sarsak, who was arrested at the Erez crossing en route to play in a game in the West Bank and was held without charge for three years before embarking on a hunger strike in 2012 to protest his detention. He ended his hunger strike after 90 days in exchange for early release.

Young, aspiring footballers have also been targeted by occupation forces. In January 2014, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, were shot by Israeli soldiers as they were walking home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in al-Ram in the central West Bank.

A month later, the two youngsters learnt that they could never play sport again as a result of their injuries.

Oppression on and off the field

The continued Israeli interference finally led the Palestinian Football Association to table a motion at FIFA’s fifth congress in 2015, asking for Israel’s suspension.

After much huffing and puffing, the PFA chief Jibril Rajoub dropped the motion under pressure from other delegates and with a view to setting up committees to monitor the situation.

“I am here to play football, rather than to play politics. I want to end suffering,” he said at the time.

“I decided to drop the suspension, but it does not mean that I give up the resistance. A lot of colleagues who I respect and I appreciate explained to me how it is painful for them to hear in this family about the issue of suspension.”

As the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate for Palestinian football, Israel’s meddling with the Olympic team is symptomatic of the wider oppressive policies against the Palestinian people, a case of politics impacting every aspect of Palestinian life.

What does Israel gain from upsetting young atheletes? It chooses to incite young Palestinians to hate their occupier, inciting and reminding Palestinians that they are occupied, on a daily basis, something that cannot be tolerated. The free world should heap pressure on Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a result.

Rather than upset Palestinian athletes and engender hatred, Israel can surely gain more from them focusing on training and competing at the highest possible level.

A state which is looking to coexist with the people with whom it shares a land would find no better starting place to develop this than with sports, music and culture.

– 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 Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Should Palestinian supporters book their tickets to the ICC?

  
While friends and supporters of Palestine were outside the Zurich Venue of FIFAs Congress, holding placards and Palestinian flags, the Palestine Football Association was inside working out a deal to pull the motion to ban the Israeli Football Federation (IFA).

Instead of forcing the Congress to consider the motion which sets out why the IFA should be suspended because of Israel’s breaches of  FIFAs statutes, Jibril Rajoub, Head of the PFA agreed to drop the call for expulsion in return for formation of a committee to examine the outstanding issues. Far from showing Israel the red card, the PA gave away another card it holds to bring Israel to account for nothing. 

  
Israel will be the happier of the two  sides. The Palestinian people and their supporters are again left wondering how the PA repeatedly postures and backtracks at the last minute. They are also angered by what they see as a missed opportunity to bring Israel to account.

  
I know people who travelled to Zurich to demonstrate outside the venue and who have conducted an excellent campaign to ‘show Israel the Red Card’. I feel embarrassed as a Palestinian that while our supporters show unbelievable commitment to the Palestinian people, the Palestinian leadership takes this for granted. They call on the world to show support and solidarity, get it and then pull the carpet from under them, literally as they demonstrate for Palestinian rights. How can we continue to ask them for unquestioned support if the leadership then capitulates?

The PA will claim that they came under sustained pressure to pull the motion. Israel will have worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Netanyahu threatened FIFA with ‘destruction’. But the PA knew that would happen. It was hardly a surprise.

The Palestinian people and their supporters remember the hope for Israeli accountability generated when the International Court of Justice gave its advisory about the illegality of the Separation Wall in 2004 and remember the Goldstone report on Israel’s  war in Gaza in 2009. Both were important cards the PA chose not to use at the time and continue to do so to this day.

  
Can the Palestinian people believe any more of the PAs threats (postures) in the future? Should Palestinian supporters plan their trip to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where the PA intends to go next, to show their support? Or should they save their money and use their well earned days off from work for a well deserved holiday instead?

  
The PA needs to surprise us all. It needs to go to the ICC with the cases against settlements and the 2014 war on Gaza and stick with it until Israeli war criminals are brought to justice. It has let the Palestinians down for too long and has taken the solidarity movement for granted for too long. 

I want to say to supporters of the Palestinians with confidence, book your tickets and prepare the Palestinian flags for your trip to the ICC.

Updated 31/5/2015

The President of the Palestinian Football Federation, Jibril Rajoub explained what happened at the FIFA Congress in an interview in Arabic with Slarabia Alhadarh channel. He said that the motion to suspend Israel from FIFA was not pulled, but was suspended to allow a committee to investigate the claims of hindering Palestinian football’s development and racism in Israel against Pakestjnian citizens. He said that the issue of 5 teams from the settlements playing in the Israrli league needed investigation to ascertain whether it was legal. He also said there was a threat to put a motion in front of Congress to prohibit the suspension of any member of FIFA at the request of another member before the Palestijian motion was put. Thus would gave effectively made it inadmissible. He explained that by agreeing to ‘suspend’ the suspension motion and receiving 90% support, including Europesn members, Palestine made done key wins that will help to either improve the situation or to bring back a suspension motion in future.

Rajoub also stated that he had voted for Prince Ali Bin Alhussain for the  leadership of FIFA but had not made it public initially for tactical reasons connected to the Palestinian motion. 

Rajoub had come under attack for both ‘pulling’ the Palestinian motion and his lack of public support for Prince Ali. He accused those with political agendas for pursuing these ‘false’ claims.

The problem is how the message is communicated to Palestinian supporters who are left angry at the withdrawal of the Palestinuan motion and the kerf river capitulation by the PA.

Below us s copy if the resolution passed by FIFA Congress on Friday 29/5/2015 Via @jibrilrajoub.

   
   

FIFA arrests on the eve of Congress to discuss suspension of Israeli Football Association

I am not one for conspiracy theories. Now comes the ‘but’. 

  
Can it be a complete coincidence that the arrests of seven top FIFA officials took place on the 27th of May 2015, just two days before FIFA’s Congress? Two key items were on the agenda, the election of FIFA’s next President and the discussion of a motion by the Palestinian Football Association   (PFA) to suspend the Israeli Football Association (IFA) for Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinians to play football at all levels.

  
Reports say that the allegations levelled at FIFAs officials go back for a couple of decades. This means that a shot across the bow of officials could have been fired years ago. One has to question why it has taken this long to arrest some officials when speculation that there has been corruption in FIFA go back for years.

It would appear from early reports that the allegations do not relate to the award of the World Cup finals to Russia or Qatar. One of the allegations relate to the award of the World Cup  to Siuth Africa back in 2010.

I like every football supporter and indeed non supporters would want those that broke the Law to be brought to justice. I also have to question how this extensive corruption was either tolerated or went unnoticed by the President of FIFA Seb Blatter.

  
Blatter is standing again for a fifth term. There is much opposition to this especially from the English FA. There is only one opponent, Prince Ali of Jordan. I am sure that Prince Ali would make an excellent President but all predictions indicate that Blatter was expected to win in Friday and even now is expected to win if the elections are not postponed due to the current ‘difficulties’.

But why have these arrests taken place now? I am sure the FBI would say that their investigations had reached the point when they could and that would be fair. The various suspects were in Seitzerland for the Congress and therefore the arrests themselves could be more easily coordinated could be another defence. But could the fact that the Palestinians were determined to bring the motion to suspend the IFA from FIFA have had anything to do with this whole affair?

  
The head of the Palestine Football Association General Jibril Rajoub left for Switzerland in order to attend the 65th FIFA Congress. Before departing he said “we are going to Zurich in order to protect Palestinian footballers and to fulfill our rights according to the FIFA Statutes. Nobody should be treated as an association above the law.” The full press release goes on to say “Our asks are clear, just and fair: Freedom of movement, end of racism and expulsion of all teams from illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine competing in the Israeli league.”

  
With Israel determined to continue with its interference in Palestinian football using ‘security needs’ as an excuse, the Pslestinians would have been left with no option but to seek the IFAs suspension. Sep Blatter made a last minute attempt to convince the Israelis to  respond to Palestinian grievances during his recent visit but he failed.

  
The Palestinian bid to suspend Israel needs the support of two thirds of FIFAs membership to succeed. Unlike the United Nations Security Council, no state holds a veto. There was therefore a chance that the bid could succeed. If it did, it could be a tipping point for the BDS movement and Israrl’s isolation would have increased.  

At the time of writing no decision has been made either for the elections for President or the FIFA Congress to be postponed. However, there is growing pressure for both to be postponed, including from the General Secretary of UEFA.

If Congress is postponed one can be certain that Israel will be delighted.

Updated 28/5/2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that FIFA will be ‘destroyed’ if it bans Israel. The FIFA Congress is due to discuss a Palestinian motion to suspend the Israeli Football Association on 29 May.

Updated 29/5/2015

The Palestinian Football Association dropped its bid to ban the Israeli Football Association from FIFA. Another opportunity missed to send a clear message to Israel that it must change. Israel will now go away to conduct business as usual and the Palestinians will endure the same oppression.
  

Update 30 May 2015

Former ANC leader and anti-apartheid activist Tokyo Sexwale appointed lead of committee to monitor Israeli policies towards Palestinian footballers.