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.

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

The Middle East Monitor publiched my article on 15/1/2016

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

  
Image from the Middle East Monitor
In his first speech of 2016, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reviewed the situation facing the Palestinians and set out his approach for the forthcoming year. He started with the major achievement of 2015, the formal recognition of Palestine by the Vatican. He noted that the Pope had surprised the PA delegation by ordering the raising of the Palestinian flag during his last trip to Rome. He looked forward to further recognitions in the near future.

He did not refer to any other major achievements in 2015. However despite characterising the PA in the past as an “Authority without authority”, due to Israeli actions, this time he referred to its shear existence as a “major achievement for the Palestinian people”. He committed to not allowing it to collapse. He also committed to ending the “leaking” of Palestinian land to anyone else. He was referring to the ongoing campaign by Zionist individuals and organisations to purchase land from Palestinians through shady deals with owners. He was also possibly referring to the Greek Orthodox Church which had sold land to Israel.

As to the current situation, Abbas claimed that all Palestinian protests are peaceful but are met with brutal force. He elaborated that “a stone thrower is shot from a distance of 100 metres even if the stone only travels 10 metres, therefore not reaching the occupation’s soldiers”. This has resulted in the number of prisoners reaching 7,000, including many children some as young as ten. He warned: “It is dangerous for the young people to feel that the only option open to him is violence.”

Abbas claimed that he “will not allow the status quo to continue”. He wanted a halt to the “cancerous settlements” and reaffirmed that all settlements are illegal, including the so called large settlement blocks. He said “the settlers must leave as they did from Gaza”. He argued that that the Israelis continue to suffocate the Palestinians. “Leave us alone”, he said in desperation. His message to the Israelis was: “We are here and will not leave. We will not allow an Apartheid state. We want a fully sovereign Palestinian state.”

The PA President expressed his view that solving the conflict would end extremism and terror in the region, though he was not forthcoming with how he would change the status quo. “The Palestinians fulfil their obligations while the Israelis don’t,” he argued.

Despite all this, Abbas extended the hand of peace to the Israelis and committed the Palestinians to achieving this through “peaceful negotiations”. It is worth pausing for a moment to absorb this new term. Have the negotiations with Israel that have lasted over twenty years been anything but peaceful? Were the Israelis dragged to the negotiating table under threat of, or exercise of violence? Clearly this has not been the case; otherwise far fewer violations of international law would have been committed by Israel, including the growth of the “cancerous settlements”.

Negotiations with Israel over the past twenty two years have not only failed, they have been catastrophic. They have allowed Israel to expand settlements and to increase the number of settlers to over 600,000 in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. PLO Executive Secretary and the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat admitted this in interview withAljazeera in October 2015. He confirmed that he had given up on negotiations with Netanyahu, calling them “a waste of time”. He predicted that a decision about disbanding the PA would be made by the end of 2015. This contrasts Abbas’ promise in his recent speech not to allow the PA to collapse.

An attempt by Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to restart talks was flatly rejected by his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, following meetings in Amman and Cairo in July and August last year. Erekat told an IPSI dialogue audience that he warned Shalom that there would be a “sea of blood” if the current impasse continued but his warning fell on deaf ears. In November 2015, US President Barack Obama concluded: “Right now, barring a major shift, the parties are not going to be in the position to negotiate a final status agreement.” With the US effectively declaring an end to its engagement, at least until the end of Obama’s reign and with most US Presidential candidates declaring that they side with Israel, the status quo, which everyone claims to be unsustainable, is set to continue for years.

In his recent speech, Abbas reminded the audience that the Arab Initiative was still on the table. That once Israel ended its occupation of Arab land and the two-state solution was implemented, 57 Arab and Muslim states would normalise relations with Israel but that “Israel refuses to consider it seriously, therefore, what do they want”?

He called for an international conference that widens the group involved in seeking a solution, particularly since the Middle East Quartet had failed. He suggested that this conference should then set up a committee to find a solution, similar to that which oversaw the Iran deal.

However, with the world’s attention currently consumed by the threat of Daesh and how it can be defeated, and President Obama seeing his second term out, prospects for an international conference are negligible. No one, apart from Abbas, talks about it.

Meanwhile, the current escalation of violence continues. The PA is helpless to stop it. It has also failed or chosen not to nurture the escalations in-order for them to become a strong, peaceful intifada that is costly to the occupier. The PA’s repeated threats to re-evaluate its relationships with Israel, including the Oslo Accords and in particular the infamous security cooperation have to this date remained threats, further eroding the credibility of the PA with the Palestinian people. The PA supports a boycott of settlement goods. However, it does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This should be revisited as it is another peaceful and effective way of exerting pressure on Israel.

There are also no prospects of the US or bodies such as the UN, the Arab League or the Quartet intervening with an initiative unless Israel begins to feel the cost of the occupation. The Palestinians may feel that an investigation of Israeli crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2016 and joining more international bodies could pressure Israel. However, those steps are unlikely to be sufficiently costly on their own for Israel to change its ways.

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.

   
   

On the UN Security Council move by the PA

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The end of 2014 saw an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to secure a United Nations Security Council Resolution setting a date both for the end of negotiations and an end of occupation fail to secure the necessary number of votes. In fact the PA knew that even if the nine votes in favour had been secured, the U.S. would have wielded its notoriously Israel-supporting Veto.

Much has been written since the vote on 30 December. Most of the commentary has questioned both the content of the resolution and the timing. Why and why now? The ‘why now’ question is particularly pertinent bearing in mind the forthcoming Israeli elections in March and the rotation of members of the Security Council. The argument is that some non-supportive members were due to be replaced by more supportive members that may have delivered the necessary nine positive votes. In fact Jordan, via its representative expressed surprise at Palestine’s haste in tabling the resolution before the end of 2014.

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The Americans were pressing for a delay in tabling the resolution till after the Israeli elections.

In a surprising move, the PA not only stuck to their guns on forcing a vote as they had promised, but then took the next step they had promised of joining eighteen international conventions and bodies, including the Rome Statutes, the first step on the road to the International Criminal Court on 31 December.

It is impossible to explain the timing of the resolution, except that it is what PA President Abbas promised would happen if the nine-month US sponsored talks with Israel failed. He also promised to join more UN bodies including the ICC. He has therefore fulfilled his promise.

Both Israel and the U.S. were pre warned, but instead of moving towards peace within the negotiations, Israel attacked Gaza for fifty one days soon after their collapse. The U.S. played a watching game and supported Israel’s war on Gaza both politically and militarily through opening its weapons stock to Israel.

It is completely reasonable for the PA to have tried the Security Council path to ending a 47-year occupation and to have given three years for this to happen. It has spent the last twenty one years negotiating but the negotiations have spectacularly failed and unless there is a fundamental change to the framework they will remain futile.

It is also true that the contents of the resolution are in line with International Law and current US Policy, except for the setting of a timeline. Any project needs a timeline, otherwise it is impossible to measure progress and to introduce corrections along the way. The U.S., the birthplace of project management knows this. The lack of a timeline has been used by Israel to build settlements while the PA behaved impeccably taking almost no significant unilateral actions.

The PA first hit a brick wall with futile negotiations then a second brick wall with the Security Council, is now trying a legal path. The ICC path will not be easy but I am certain that behind closed doors a few Israeli bowels moved last night when Abbas publicly signed the application to join the ICC. Human rights organisations have been waiting for this opportunity with cases ready to be presented to the Court. It is important a number are put as soon as the PA is able to do so.

The claim by Israeli spokesmen that the PA has more to fear from the ICC than Israel will soon be tested. They have argued that one of the reasons the PA should be fearful is the Government of National unity formed ‘with Hamas’. The fact is that it was not. It is a Government of technocrats with no party affiliations.

As Abbas said before signing the applications to join UN bodies, “we tried talking, we went to the UN but neither delivered on our rights. What are we to do?”

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I do not subscribe to the view that the UNSC resolution bid was a waste of time. The move and the process had many flaws but it has been a game changer as Palestinians regained some of the initiative.

Israel felt it won a victory by scuppering the Palestinian resolution to the Security Council. I believe that had this resolution passed, there would have been a step change in the air. Israelis would have started to watch a clock tick. They would have considered their choices at the elections on the basis of a shift away from the status quo. They would have challenged potential representatives about their stand. Yes, they may have chosen more extreme options but they can now vote for the status quo. This is disastrous for them and the Palestinians.

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As the new year beds in, it will be a turbulent one in the Palestine / Israel injustice. The U.S. and Israel will move to punish the Palestinians, withholding funds and creating new facts on the ground. Israel will cross new redlines. It will build more settlements and the EU in particular, will impose sanctions ( not presented as sanctions). More state recognitions of Palestine will result in more Ambassadors being summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Palestinian unity and Gaza reconstruction will stutter along. There will be more violence on the ground and more attacks on Gaza. A more extreme settler Government will be elected in Israel led by Netanyahu.

Israel will feel more like a pariah state than it has and this may encourage more Israelis to question their future. More will leave, tired of the status quo leaving behind the more extreme settlers and settler supporters. Israelis will have given Netanyahu more time to complete their isolation.

Palestinians will face more hardship and they may rise up against the PA for failing to pay salaries. Resistance in Jerusalem will continue as Israel treats Palestinians there with more brutality.

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The main ray of hope for Palestinians will be an escalation of the BDS movement and possibly the first charges filed against Israelis at the ICC.