كل الأبعاد: حول مستقبل القضية الفلسطينية في ظل اقتراب صفقة القرن

لقائي مع الأستاذ شريف منصور الذي تحدثنا به عن القضية الفلسطينية في ظل صفقة القرن والتغيرات الإقليمية بتاريخ ٢٧/٦/٢٠١٨

Is Mahmoud Abbas’ peace plan achievable?

First published by TRT World on 5/6/2018

The US has effectively removed any facade of its status as ‘mediator’ between Palestinians and Israelis. Will it be possible for any peace process to move forward in the face of US and Israeli belligerence?

The Palestinians are at a crossroad, as they commemorate the 51 anniversary of the Naksa (day of the setback) when Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai desert – prospects for a peace treaty with Israel that would bring any form of justice appear further today than ever.

The intransigence of an extremist settler-led Israeli government has been strengthened by a US Administration that not only has Israel’s back, but is prepared to be isolated at the United Nations if it means protecting its ally.

If confirmation of this was needed, then the recent theatre at the UN Security Council should be sufficient.

The US vetoed a resolution that sought to bring protection for the Palestinian people from Israeli violence—in which at least 118 have been killed since March—mostly at the hands of Israeli snipers positioned high above the fence between Gaza and Israel, using lethal explosive bullets. If the bullets did not kill, the injuries they caused were devastating, resulting in many amputations.

Yes, the Security Council, which is mandated to ensure security, let the Palestinian people down at the behest of US UN envoy Nikki Haley’s raised hand. America’s isolation was compounded when Haley failed to secure a single vote for her resolution condemning Hamas for a volley of 70 rockets, which left the Gaza strip a few days earlier in response to Israel’s killings and frequent air raids on Gaza.

The US secured exactly one vote: that of the US itself.

The US had been isolated earlier in 2018 after US President Donald Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and in record time moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, absent of any peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Nikki Haley again had to raise her hand to veto a resolution rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, the US lost heavily when the same text was put to the UN General Assembly, where it has no veto. Haley resorted to threats to those that “disrespected” the US and indicated there would be consequences for doing so.

The Palestinian response to the US Embassy move, its subsequent defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and threats to close the Palestinian mission in Washington DC was to suspend all contact with the US administration.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has since refused to meet any American officials, specifically Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador David Friedman. He even recently shunned a delegation of Democrats on a visit to the region.

The Americans claim to be close to releasing “the ultimate peace deal”, which will apparently be presented for implementation after the holy month of Ramadan. With Trump declaring he has taken Jerusalem “off the table”; no prospects for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes; no plans to dismantle or evacuate any of the illegal settlements in East Jerusalem or the West Bank; it is likely to be a very thin document, which no Palestinian leader could sell to his people, whose sacrifices before and since Israel’s creation have been immeasurable.

There have also been major geopolitical changes in the region that weaken the Palestinian position. The threat of Iran has sent a number of Gulf States to seek US protection, which in turn has been used as leverage to cajole them into developing clandestine relationships with Israel and in some cases those relationships are out in the open. They even responded to Trump’s call to control the anger that his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital ignited, leaving Haley purring that the sky did not fall in after the announcement.

In the face of such monumental challenges, Abbas has developed his own peace plan, which he put to the UN Security Council and more recently to the Palestinian National Council. It is based on a “multilateral international mechanism”.

The plan would be based on the two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. In addition, it includes 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.

In essence, this plan is dead in the water unless the US approves it because it would have to eventually be put to a vote in the UN Security Council. It’s a safe bet to assume the Haley hand would be raised to veto.

In any case, there is no evidence that either the EU, Russia or China are willing or capable of holding a peace conference in mid 2018 as Abbas asks. We are already there and there is not a whisper of a possibility of this taking place.

It is therefore likely that the situation will revert to the status quo—which Israel can live with—but which the Palestinians have been unable to change.

Two options the Palestinians can pursue to raise the cost of the occupation to Israel are to continue to pursue criminal charges against Israelis in the International Criminal Court, and to escalate the popular non-violent resistance, which caught Israel off-guard and struggled to deal with except through violence. The third strand is to adopt and escalate the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as the Palestine National Council agreed at its recent meeting in Ramallah.

These are actions Palestinians can take themselves and with the help of supporters around the world, rather than relying on Arab or western governments to support them.

It is only once the cost of the occupation has risen to a level which troubles Israel that it will negotiate seriously for a just peace.

In his current mindset Abbas is unlikely to effectively develop an alternative strategy, along these lines. However, the 84 year old has health issues and may abruptly exit the political scene. That might just  open the way for a new approach that delivers freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.

The PNC meeting was ‘much ado about nothing’

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/5/2018

 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd L) makes a speech during the 23rd session of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah, West Bank on 30 April 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
After a 22-year lull, the highest Palestinian legislative authority of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Palestinian National Council (PNC), finally met in Ramallah for its 23rd session. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced severe criticism for holding the meeting in Ramallah, which remains under occupation, thus excluding many members and figures who would not be allowed into the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) by Israel, or who faced arrest and even assassination if they attempted to enter.
The PNC consists of 765 members, including 198 independents, 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), 49 representing Fatah, 98 representing other factions and a whole multitude of members representing different Palestinian organisations.

 

The meeting was held in the smart Ahmad Shukeiri Hall in Ramallah, named after the first chairman of the PLO; it was filled to the rafters when Abbas was in attendance over four long days. The front row, reserved for the leadership, looked as familiar as ever; it lacked any significant representation of women, non-Fatah faction representatives or young blood. The 23rd session of the PNC was named the “Jerusalem and protecting legitimacy round” in reference to the dangers Jerusalem faces and the need to renew the legitimacy of a number of the PLO institutions.

The meeting was boycotted by three major Palestinian factions — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — and a number of independent figures, including well-known members like Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Abdel Bari Atwan and Dr Anis Kassem.

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor's 'Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation' conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor’s ‘Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation’ conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

The meeting kicked off on 30 April with chaotic scenes as attendance was established by every name of the hundreds of existing members being read out and recorded as present or absent; various lists of replacements were placed in front of the ageing Chairman of the PNC, Saleem Al-Zanoun, adding to the confusion. The session concluded with a proclamation that the meeting was quorate, made to rapturous applause.

What followed was another rambling speech by Abbas lasting for 1 hour 48 minutes. Listening to it, I struggled to identify anything significant to take away with me, which was astonishing given the gravity of the situation the Palestinians face. Nor was there anything to distinguish it from his last speech to another PLO institution, the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in January. While supposed to be reading his speech, Abbas went off script regularly, which is not a good idea when every word is scrutinised by friend and foe alike, especially when it comes to his attempts to present his version of history to an international audience. His explanation of the reason for the Holocaust drew almost universal condemnation, including some from the Israeli Prime Minister, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and the editorial board of the New York Times. While a more accurate translation of what he said gives context to his remarks, he should really have learnt by now that venturing into this area provides an open goal for accusations of anti-Semitism and those want to quote him out of context.

Attendees listened to speech after speech from leaders, members and guests representing various organisations and over 30 friendly states. The general message was one of support for the Palestinian cause, rejection of Trump’s US Embassy move and an emphasis on the importance of holding the PNC meeting. However, it was the many conversations, sometimes heated, taking place behind the scenes about possible names for membership of the PNC, PLO Executive Committee and the PCC that drove the real business of the meeting.

The closing session took place in the late hours of day four, concluding with a shorter speech by Abbas and the emerging decisions of the PNC. Abbas was “re-elected” by proclamation as President of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO. The PNC Chairman reminded the meeting how decisions are reached in the PNC, by standing up and applauding. There is no ballot. This drew heavy criticism from Nabil Amer, a former PLO Ambassador to Egypt, who had wanted to stand for the Executive Committee. He was initially told not to speak by Abbas but was eventually allowed to say a few words by the PNC Chairman. He simply reiterated his intention to struggle for decisions to be taken through a ballot and called on the PNC to hold Legislative Council and Presidential elections without delay.

Amer’s remarks were only heard after the PNC agreed to Abbas’s list of members of the Executive Committee, which he claimed had been agreed with “nationalistic factions”. Fifteen names were presented, including seven former members and eight new people. Those familiar to followers of Palestinian politics were Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi. Abbas explained that the Committee had kept three seats vacant to allow the PFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which boycotted the meeting, to join the PNC. In the case of Hamas, he conditioned this on the movement agreeing to abide by existing agreements. “We don’t want to see them out of our national unity and we don’t like exclusion,” he claimed.

The PNC was also asked to approve membership of the smaller PCC, which was to take on the terms of reference of the PNC due to the difficulties it faces in meeting annually, as it should. Presenting the names, the newly-installed Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad, known for his role in negotiating reconciliation with Hamas, stressed the great efforts made to ensure the widest possible geographic and factional representation on the PCC.

Earlier, 35 PNC members urged Abbas to end the sanctions he had imposed on the Gaza Strip since May 2017 to force Hamas, which has controlled the coastal enclave since 2007, to hand over power to the Palestinian Authority. Abbas skated around the subject but confirmed that the April salaries for those on the PA payroll in Gaza would be paid immediately and that the lack of payment had been due to a “technical hitch” and was not intended to punish the besieged workers.

In his closing remarks, Abbas took a swipe at those who boycotted the meeting held under occupation. “When we said [that we will] meet in this beautiful Ahmad Shukeiri Hall we are in our country, in our homeland not under the pikes of the occupier,” he insisted. “Yes, there is an occupation, but we can say what we want here. I am not prepared to go and seek a place to meet in an Arab country or any other when I can meet on my land.”

The closing statement of the 23rd PNC meeting is long but uninspiring. It reiterates the decisions of the PCC held in January, which remain un-actioned, including suspending recognition of Israel until it recognises Palestine and the end of security cooperation with the occupying power.

Much will now be written about the PNC meeting, its legitimacy, operation and decisions. Those who questioned its legitimacy will not change their stance, but what can they do to oppose them? The significant Palestinian factions which boycotted the gathering are unlikely to suddenly accept the invitation to re-join a body that they consider illegitimate. Healing the pain of the division has been taken off the table. Fatah and the small number of individuals around the Palestinian President will continue to operate without wide consultation and take crucial decisions on issues facing the Palestinian people. There is no accountability for the actions of the Palestinian leadership including, the Palestinian National Authority. Has it delivered any meaningful improvement to the lives of Palestinians or moved them closer to achieving their legitimate rights? Can refugees in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria see an end to their exile? Are the Palestinians in the diaspora represented in the PLO’s institutions in the proportion that they should be, or are they simply a number to call upon when the scale of the suffering of the Palestinians since the Nakba needs to be highlighted? Sadly, the reality is that there is no new emerging strategy to meet the aspirations of the Palestinians or to oppose the Trump juggernaut as it implements Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s diktats on “peace” through what is touted as the “deal of the century”.

The 23rd meeting of the PNC has come and gone and will in my view be remembered as one of the least significant events in Palestinian history; it was definitely “much ado about nothing”. However, Abbas pleased the meeting by announcing that Palestinian child prisoner Ahed Tamimi, convicted for slapping an Israeli soldier, will be made an honorary member of the Council. We might have to wait a little longer, but perhaps a President Ahed Tamimi or a member of her generation will one day take up the baton and lead the Palestinians to justice, freedom and equality.

 

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)

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.