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?


Les dirigeants palestiniens devraient se retirer poliment ou être renvoyés par le peuple

Translated from English

Published on the Middle East Eye édition française on 22/1/2018

Mahmoud Abbas va demander à l’Union européenne de reconnaître l’État de Palestine. Mais la cause et les sacrifices consentis par des millions de Palestiniens méritent beaucoup plus que ce que les dirigeants actuels ont accompli ou ne pourront jamais offrir

Lors de la dernière réunion du Conseil national palestinien à Ramallah, le président Mahmoud Abbas, en évoquant certaines des réussites palestiniennes des ces dernières années, a filé la métaphore du football.

Il a rappelé qu’en 1934, l’équipe palestinienne – battue un but à zéro – avait été privée par l’Égypte d’une place en Coupe du monde de football. Il leur a rappelé avec fierté qu’en 2009 la Palestine s’était classée 179e au classement mondial de la FIFA.

Elle est toutefois passée à la 80e place du classement récemment publié, alors qu’Israël se trouvait en 98e position, « malgré tous les efforts qu’ils ont déployés », a-t-il souligné.

Abbas attribue cette réussite aux efforts considérables de la Fédération palestinienne de football, mais ajoute toutefois qu’elle est aussi due au fait que le sport n’est pas politisé – et que quiconque voulant y participer peut le faire indépendamment de la faction politique à laquelle il appartient. Il a prédit en plaisantant qu’« un jour, nous pourrions même nous placer avant l’Amérique ».

Sa métaphore du football était intéressante, mais dans un sens différent.

La métaphore

Les dirigeants palestiniens pourraient-ils tirer des leçons de ce beau sport ? Si la Palestine était une équipe appartenant à l’une des leagues anglaises, comment son leadership gagnerait-il régulièrement, grimperait-il dans chaque ligue, serait-il promu et gagnerait-il ensuite le prix ultime du championnat voire (pour compléter la métaphore) sa liberté et son indépendance ?

En football, comme en politique, il faut créer des équipes gagnantes – sur le terrain comme en dehors des stades. Les clubs de football sont sur le marché pour détecter les talents, acheter les meilleurs joueurs du moment, mais aussi pour faire progresser ceux qu’ils ont déjà. Les pressions du jeu moderne sont telles qu’on ne peut se permettre de rester les bras croisés, d’autant plus quand on voit les équipes voisines renforcer leurs positions.

Si nous prenons la période des 23 ans écoulés depuis les accords d’Oslo, nous constatons que les Palestiniens s’éloignent de plus en plus de leur objectif mais, à la différence d’une équipe anglaise de football – qui ne cesse d’élaborer des stratégies, d’acheter et de vendre des joueurs et de changer d’entraîneurs –, l’équipe palestinienne a si peu été renouvelée.

Il est temps que les Palestiniens disent haut et fort que le leadership actuel fait partie du problème

Abbas et ses collègues les plus anciens ont entre 75 et 88 ans – quand on regarde des photos de la conférence du Conseil central palestinien (CCP), on peine à voir un jeune à la table d’honneur ou au premier rang.

Au cours d’un match, un entraîneur de football commencera par une formation donnée – censée être sa meilleure équipe – mais il la changera si les choses ne se passent pas comme prévu. Il misera parfois sur une formation défensive et parfois sur une formation offensive.

Il mettra certains joueurs au repos et placera sur le terrain des jeunes joueurs, pour qu’ils « se fassent les dents », contribuant ainsi à assurer fraîcheur et continuité. L’équipe palestinienne, elle, stagne depuis des décennies.

Le président palestinien Mahmoud Abbas, lors d’une réunion du comité exécutif de l’OLP, en avril 2015 à Ramallah, en Cisjordanie (AFP)

Alex Ferguson a connu 27 ans de succès à Manchester United. Il a construit une base – d’abord une équipe victorieuse – mais ses treize trophées de Premier League anglaise n’ont pas été remportés par la même équipe, mais par trois ou quatre.

Un grand nombre des principaux joueurs de l’équipe palestinienne sont toujours là, 24 ans après Oslo.

Un futur leadership

Si l’argument en faveur du maintien de la « vieille garde » palestinienne repose sur ses connaissances et son expérience, alors un examen attentif du côté opposé, Israël, balaie cet argument. En Israël, la « vieille garde » a largement disparu, laissant place à de « nouveaux talents », des Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely, ou encore Danon.

Il se trouve que ce sont des extrémistes et, sur la durée, leur leadership pourrait conduire Israël à l’isolement et au désastre (mais ce n’est pas le sujet). Ils ont eu l’occasion de développer leurs compétences politiques au plus haut niveau.

D’où viendra la prochaine génération de dirigeants palestiniens ? Peut-on en nommer cinq qui gagnent en notoriété ? Il est indubitable qu’un peuple qui compte près de quatorze millions d’habitants en Palestine historique, dans les camps de réfugiés, sans oublier ceux de la diaspora, et qui est très instruit, ne peut qu’avoir engendré un leadership dans l’attente d’émerger.

À 62 ans, Saeb Erekat est l’un des plus jeunes membres de la « vieille garde » palestinienne. Depuis la conférence de Madrid, il participe aux négociations – et, depuis 1995, en qualité de négociateur en chef palestinien. Il a démissionné à plusieurs reprises, mais sa démission n’a jamais été acceptée par le président Abbas.

Le leadership palestinien doit s’imposer des changements radicaux s’il espère se montrer à la hauteur des difficultés à venir. La cause, et les sacrifices consentis en son nom par des millions de Palestiniens, méritent beaucoup plus que ce que les dirigeants actuels ont accompli ou ne pourront jamais offrir.

Malgré la tradition du Moyen-Orient, de respecter les anciens et tenir en haute estime ceux qui, dans le passé, ont fait pour la cause d’énormes sacrifices, il arrive un moment où ils doivent prendre leur retraite avec grâce ou être renvoyés par le peuple palestinien.

Joueuses palestiniennes lors d’un match de qualification contre la Thaïlande, pendant la Coupe d’Asie de football féminin, à Al-Ram, en Cisjordanie, en avril 2017 (AFP)

Il est vrai que la tâche à laquelle sont confrontés les dirigeants palestiniens, jeunes ou vieux, expérimentés ou non, est énorme. Ils sont confrontés à un ennemi très organisé et stratège, qui en plus d’un siècle leur a volé leur patrie, tout fait pour la garder et, à terme, a la ferme intention de tous les en expulser. Qu’on ne se méprenne pas sur l’objectif ultime d’Israël.

Il est temps que les Palestiniens disent haut et fort que le leadership actuel fait partie du problème. Ils agissent en grande partie comme si la Palestine avait été libérée, comme un État en bonne et due forme, avec ses ministres, ses ministères et ses pièges du pouvoir. Or, en réalité, même Abbas a besoin d’une autorisation d’Israël pour se déplacer d’une ville à l’autre et le Premier ministre palestinien risque toujours d’être arrêté par l’armée israélienne en Cisjordanie pour un excès de vitesse.

Jeu à deux mi-temps

Mais les dirigeants palestiniens ont fait leurs plus grandes erreurs de jugement lors des négociations avec Israël, sous la direction d’Erekat – dont les concessions trop généreuses ont été dénoncées par Al Jazeera dans les journaux palestiniens –, notamment lorsqu’a été offert à Israël, sur un plateau, le « plus grand Jérusalem de l’histoire ».

Si Abbas a choisi de négocier avec Israël, c’est uniquement comme moyen de parvenir à la paix. Mais il a sous-estimé le parti pris de l’Amérique en faveur d’Israël, quelles que soient les administrations successives. Abbas avait-il vraiment besoin que Trump vende la mèche pour qu’Abbas comprenne que l’impartialité des États-Unis n’est qu’un simulacre ?

Même lorsqu’il a eu l’occasion de faire réellement pression sur Israël – comme avec l’arrêt de la Cour internationale de justice sur le mur de séparation et le rapport Goldstone –, Abbas et son équipe, n’en ont pas profité. Aucune de ces deux opportunités n’a été utilisée à bon escient.

Les dirigeants sont responsables de la décision de ne pas avoir tiré le meilleur parti du rapport et de la pensée dominante selon laquelle Israël serait d’une certaine manière, obligée de faire des concessions. Ils se sont lourdement trompés.

Le célèbre dirigeant de Liverpool, Bill Shankly, a déclaré : « Certains pensent que le football est une question de vie ou de mort. Je suis très déçu de cette attitude. Je peux vous assurer que l’enjeu est bien plus important que ça ».

Pour le peuple palestinien, la Palestine est bien plus qu’une question de vie et de mort et il veut voir ses dirigeants mettre la barre très haut. Ils pourraient prendre exemple sur un autre célèbre entraîneur de football anglais, Bill Nicholson, un ancien dirigeant de Tottenham, qui a déclaré : « Il est préférable d’échouer en ayant visé haut que de réussir en ayant visé bas. Et nous, les Spurs, avons placé la barre très haut, si haut en fait que même l’échec aura pour nous saveur de gloire ».

La lutte palestinienne contre le sionisme dure depuis longtemps. Selon une expression très répandue dans le football, il s’agit d’un « jeu à deux mi-temps ».

Si les Palestiniens considèrent les 70 dernières années comme la première mi-temps de la rencontre, c’est Israël qui a marqué le plus grand nombre de buts. Et s’ils veulent avoir une chance de retourner la situation dans les 70 prochaines années, en marquant le but de la victoire en fin de match, ils ont besoin d’une nouvelle équipe, une dream team dynamique, réactive, fertile en idées neuves et qui œuvre à développer une nouvelle stratégie de libération, comme jamais les dirigeants actuels n’en ont élaborée.

Il faut parfois être cruel pour faire du bien. Obtenir la libération exige d’urgence de souffler le coup de sifflet final et de se préparer à une fameuse contre-attaque.


– 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 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 président Abbas préside une réunion du Comité exécutif de l’OLP au siège de l’Autorité palestinienne à Ramallah, en septembre 2017 (AFP).

Traduit de l’anglais (original) par Dominique Macabies.

Israeli sovereignty doesn’t extend to Palestinian territories

First published by the Arab Weekly on 21/1/2018

Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations.

Fifty years after Israel took control of all of historic Palestine in the Six-Day War, it is taking a number of approaches to the sta­tus and laws that operate in what the rest of the world consid­ers illegally occupied Palestinian territory. Israel regards the area as “disputed” territory that it might consider returning — or more likely return part of — to secure peace with its neighbours.

In reality, Israel behaves as if it is sovereign over the whole of historic Palestine. It is important to note that UN Security Council Resolu­tion 2334 distinguished between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, thus rejecting Israeli sovereignty over them.

International law does not consider Israel as sovereign over the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, which the Israelis in 1967 annexed in the Six-Day War. In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump referred to Israel as a “sovereign nation” that can “determine its own capital.” He is wrongly recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the whole city.

There is no way to access the ille­gally occupied Syrian Golan Heights except through Israel. That border has been effectively shut since the 1967 war, with the exception of some movement facilitated by the UN peacekeeping force for humani­tarian reasons. Even this move­ment came to a halt after violence erupted in Syria.

The Gaza Strip is accessed through the Beit Hanoun crossing, which Israel controls, or the Rafah crossing, which Egypt controls.

Entry to the West Bank and East Jerusalem is under Israel’s control, too. Palestinians with a Palestinian Authority (PA) passport enter and exit only via King Hussein Bridge, while Jordanian passport holders issued with Israeli visas by Israel’s Embassy in Amman can enter via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge further north.

Those carrying foreign passports, including European and US citizens wishing to visit either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories, can enter through one of the bridges or through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

The situation for human rights activists who wish to visit the oc­cupied territories has changed con­siderably over the past few years. While some have been subjected to questioning about the purpose of their visit and who they were plan­ning to meet, most were allowed to enter, especially those who man­aged to convince Israeli authorities they were tourists visiting holy sites.

Faced with increased scrutiny of its policies and an escalating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, however, Israel is using its control of entry points to the occupied Palestinian territories to punish human rights activists and organisations. It does this in addi­tion to pushing allies to implement anti-BDS laws, particularly in the United States, where some 20 states have such laws.

While Israel has long denied entry at will to activists and EU and US citizens of Palestinian heritage, it is now routinely denying entry to those working in organisations sup­porting BDS or individuals who are vocal in criticising it and supporting BDS. Israel has passed legislation amending its law of entry to specifi­cally deny access to such individu­als. This included Hugh Lanning, chairman of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign and myself. Shortly after this, it denied entry to Anwar Makhlouf, the head of the Palestinian community in Chile and three Swedish citizens, members of the World Council of Churches, over alleged BDS affiliations.

Israel went further in implement­ing its ban in July, ordering Lufthan­sa airline to deny boarding to five members of an interfaith delegation at Washington Dulles International Airport, including Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise. Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist organisation opposed to the occupation, said this was the first time Israel had barred Jews, including a rabbi, entry to Israel be­cause of political positions. Israel’s law of return stipulates that all Jews have the right to move to Israel and become a citizen. The airline claimed: “We don’t know who these people are. We have no information as to why the Israeli government does not want them to enter. We simply have to abide by the rules and regulations of every country in which we operate.”

Israel has gone even further, using intelligence about those planning to travel to one of its entry points to ban them before attempting to board flights. On November 13, it announced it was barring seven EU officials from travelling with a 20-member delegation of European Parliament members, national lawmakers and mayors over “sup­port for Israel boycott” and for their aim to raise awareness on the plight of Palestinian prisoners, including political figure Marwan Barghouti. Israel’s Interior Ministry said the delegation had planned to visit Barghouti in Hadarim prison. It an­nounced its decision a week before the delegation was to visit.

The European Union — France in particular — might have been expected to stand up for its citizens but instead used the sovereignty issue as a reason not to challenge Israel’s decisions. A French Foreign Office minister said: “One can regret this Israeli decision but it remains nonetheless sovereign.”

This is rather bizarre as the European Union does not recog­nise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories. It was left to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to challenge the decision. The group’s executive director, Sharon Abraham-Weiss, said: “The interior minister is not authorised to serve as a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the country’s citizens and for the residents of the occupied territories, who are dependent on Israeli border crossings, which positions are ap­propriate to be heard. Freedom of expression is not just the right to express oneself but also the right to be exposed to opinions, even opinions that outrage and infuriate the majority in Israel.”

The European Union must take a stand on the issue of sovereignty, especially as it relates to the oc­cupied Palestinian territories, to ensure non-Israelis can access them or consider taking their own measures, including denying entry to illegal Israeli settlers wishing to visit. Otherwise, the message to Israel is “Carry on; there are no red lines to cross.”

Palestinian leadership should retire gracefully or be removed by the people

First published by the Middle East Eye on 19/1/2018

The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve

During the last Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas made reference to football when describing some of the Palestinian achievements in recent years.

He reminded the audience that in 1934 Egypt denied the Palestinian team a place in the football World Cup after beating them by one goal to nil. He further proudly reminded them that in 2009 Palestine was ranked 179th in FIFA’s world ranking.

It, however, jumped to 80th place in the recently released ranking while Israel was in 98th”despite all the efforts they have made”, he said.

While Abbas attributed this achievement to the great efforts of the Palestinian Football Association he, nonetheless, added that it was because sport is not politicised and that anyone who wants to participate can do so regardless of which political faction – if any – he/she belonged to. He quipped that “one day we might even rank higher than America”.

His reference to football was interesting but in a different sense.

The analogy

Could the Palestinian leadership learn any lessons from the beautiful game? If Palestine was a team in one of the English leagues, how would its leadership win regularly, move up each league, be promoted and then win the ultimate prize of the championship or, to complete the analogy, its freedom and independence?

In football, as in politics, one needs to create winning teams, both on and off the pitch. Football clubs are in the market for talent, buying the best players around but also growing their own. The pressures of the modern game are such that they cannot afford to stand still, particularly as they see teams around them strengthen their positions.

If we take the 23-year period since the Oslo Accords, we find the Palestinians moving further and further away from their goal, but unlike an English football team which would be constantly strategising, buying and selling players and changing their coaching team, the Palestinian team has been a permanent fixture.

It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem

Abbas, and his most senior colleagues, are in their late seventies or eighties – just look at the images from the PCC conference and you will struggle to see a young person either at the top table or in the front row.

Within a match, a football coach will start with a formation – and what may be his best team – but will change it if things are not going according to plan. He will sometimes play a defensive formation and at other times an attacking formation.

He will rest players and bring young players on to “blood” them, thus helping to ensure freshness and continuity. The Palestinian team has stagnated for decades.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting of the PLO executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah in April 2015 (AFP)

Alex Ferguson had 27 highly successful years at Manchester United. He built a base – initially then a winning team – but his 13 English Premier League trophies were not won with the same team but three or four teams.

Many of the key players in the Palestinian team are still there 24 years after Oslo.

A leadership in waiting

If the argument for keeping the Palestinian “old guard” is because of their knowledge and experience then a close look at the opposite side, Israel, destroys that argument. The “old guard” in Israel have largely gone, making way for “fresh talents” such as Bennett, Shaked, Hotovely and Danon.

They happen to be extremists and it may be that in the long run their leadership leads Israel to isolation and disaster but that is a different story. They have been given a chance to develop their political skills at the highest level.

Where is the next crop of Palestinian leaders going to come from? Can anyone name five that are gaining in prominence? Surely a people that number nearly 14 million in historic Palestine, the refugee camps and the diaspora, a highly educated people, have produced a leadership in waiting.

At 62, Saeb Erekat is one of the younger members of the Palestinian “old guard”. He has been involved in negotiations since the Madrid conference and has been the Palestinian chief negotiator since 1995. He has repeatedly resigned but his resignation has never been accepted by President Abbas.

The Palestinian leadership needs drastic changes to meet the challenges ahead. The cause and the sacrifices made by millions of Palestinians deserve much more than the current leadership have or can achieve.

While it is part of Middle Eastern culture to respect elders and to hold those who made huge sacrifices in the past for the cause in high regard, the time comes when they either retire gracefully or are removed by the Palestinian people.

Palestinian female football players at a qualifying match against Thailand during the Women’s Asian Cup in the West Bank town of al-Ram in April 2017 (AFP)

It is true to say that the task facing any Palestinian leadership, young or old, experienced or not, is massive. They face a highly organised, strategising foe that has been working for over a century to take their homeland, to keep it and over time to eject them all from it. Make no mistake about Israel’s ultimate aim.

It is time the Palestinians said loudly that the current leadership has become part of the problem. They largely act as if Palestine has been liberated, a state with ministers, ministries and the trappings of power when in fact even Abbas needs permits from Israel to move from one city to another and when the Palestinian prime minister can be stopped for speeding by the Israeli army in the West Bank.

A game of two halves

But the Palestinian leadership made its greatest misjudgments during the negotiations with Israel, led by Erekat, whose overly generous concessions were exposed by Al Jazeera in Palestine papers, which included offering Israel the “biggest Yerushalayim in history”.

Abbas chose only negotiations with Israel as the way to achieve peace and somehow misunderstood America’s bias towards Israel under successive administrations. Did it really require that Trump blow the cover of the pretence of even-handedness for Abbas to see the bias?

Even when he had opportunities to really pressure Israel, such as the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the separation wall and the Goldstone Report, Abbas, and his team, let them go to waste. Neither were used to good effect.

It was the leadership’s decision not to make the best use of both the report and the ruling thinking that this would somehow force Israel to make concessions. That was poor judgment in abundance.

The famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

For the Palestinian people, Palestine is much more than life and death and they want to see a leadership that aims high. They can take a leaf from another famous English football manager. Bill Nicholson, a former manager of Tottenham, said: “It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.”

The Palestinian struggle with Zionism is a long one. A much-used phrase in football is that it is a “game of two halves”.

If the Palestinians take the last 70 years as the first half then they are many goals down to Israel and if they are to turn the match over in the next 70 years and score a late winner then they need a new team, a “dream team” that is dynamic, quick on its feet, equipped with fresh ideas and working to develop a new strategy for liberation that the current leadership has failed to deliver.

You sometimes have to be cruel to be kind. Time to blow the half-time whistle and prepare for a famous fightback that will lead to liberation.

– 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 commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at and tweets at @kamelhawwashHe 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: President Abbas heads a PLO Executive Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah, September 2017 (AFP)