Interview: ‘It seems Abbas has led Palestinians to a dead end’

Interview by Muslim Press on 3/7/2017

Muslim Press has conducted an interview with British Palestinian academic and writer on Middle East Affairs Kamel Hawwash about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is playing in this regard.

“It seems Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. Gaza is still under siege ten years on, the settlements continue to grow in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over 6,000 prisoners still languish in Israeli jails, reconciliation with Hamas has failed and the refugees have not been able to return to their homes in historic Palestine,” Prof. Hawwash said.

Here’s the full transcript of the interview:

Muslim Press: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has recently met with US President Donald Trump. What’s your take on this meeting? Does Abbas speak for all Palestinians? 

Kamel Hawwash: Abbas’ first meeting with the American President in Washington seemed to have gone well. Donald Trump even tweeted that he was ‘honoured’ to meet the Palestinian President but he then deleted the tweet. He continued to repeat his belief that bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the ‘ultimate deal’. The second meeting was less positive. Reports suggested that Trump focused on what Israel calls Palestinian incitement, which had been fed to trump during his meeting with Netanyahu, hours earlier. Trump is said to have accused Abbas of lying to him about his actions to end incitement. It also emerged that Trump had raised the issue of the PA’s monthly payments to families of Palestinian prisoners and martyrs (those killed while allegedly attacking Israelis, including occupation forces). As to the peace process then little emerged from the meetings to give the Palestinians hope. However, Abbas was still committed to negotiations, brokered by the Americans.

MP: Has Israel been pressuring the PA since Trump was elected? 

Kamel Hawwash: Israel has been moving the goal posts again. It is now raising the issue of ending Palestinian ‘incitement’ as a major issue in advance of any negotiations and is requiring that the PA ends payments to families of prisoners and those the Palestinians see as martyrs. It has further been attempting to relegate the importance of reaching a deal with the Palestinians to a secondary issue that is part of a regional deal rather than important in its own right. This has to be set against the context of what Israel claims to be thawing relations with some of the Gulf States and the talk of partial normalisation between Israel and key players in the region including Saudi Arabia.

MP: What are the results of Abbas’s policies toward Israel for Palestinians?

Kamel Hawwash: It seems Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. Gaza is still under siege ten years on, the settlements continue to grow in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over 6,000 prisoners still languish in Israeli jails, reconciliation with Hamas has failed and the refugees have not been able to return to their homes in historic Palestine. In addition, the PA’s security coordination with Israel is seen as ‘sacred’ by Abbas which the Palestinians find difficult to understand when Israel continues to flout all agreements signed with the PA. The lack of hope is the most dangerous outcome from his policies, despite a small number of achievements, including the upgrade in Palestine’s status to a UN non-member observer state in 2012.

MP: Trump has said he will find peace between the Palestinian people and Israel. How would that be possible while Israel is still expanding illegal settlements?

Kamel Hawwash: It is difficult to see how Trump can bring peace between the two sides considering how biased his team of negotiators is and his in favour of Israel and his choice of US Ambassador. The three key players, his son-in-Law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman, could easily be on the Israeli side as they support much of Israel’s policies, especially the settlement enterprise. Trump has not appointed a single adviser who could be seen as pro-Palestinian or indeed an American of Palestinian heritage. He has abandoned long standing US policy regarding the illegitimacy of the settlements and does not mind if the parties want a 2-state or one-state solution. His vision is rather confused.

MP: What’s the significance of Jared Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas?

Kamel Hawwash: This may have finally exposed the bias of the American team towards Israel. Reports indicate Kushner had left his meeting with Netanyahu for Ramallah effectively to pass on Israeli demands to the PA rather than offer some balance or provide an indication of his ideas for relaunching the peace process.

Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the 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 http://www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash.

Mahmoud Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. He must go 

First published by the Middle East Eye on 29/6/2017

The president has hit a new low, cutting the salaries and electricity of Palestinians in Gaza. The next intifada will be against the Palestinian National Authority and this should worry Israel and Abbas


Photo: A photo of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from 2016 (AFP)

The embattled 81-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been in power since 2005. His reign has not brought the Palestinian people any closer to freedom and independence, but where is he leading them to now?

Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in January 2005 following Yasser Arafat’s death under suspicious circumstances in November 2004. He is president of the state of Palestine, leader of Fatah and chairman of the PLO. He is committed to negotiations with Israel based on a two-state solution, and has been since he signed the 1993 Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn to great cheers. 

In short, he has played a hugely significant role in leading the Palestinians as a negotiator, a prime minster and a president and, while the blame for his administration’s failure can be shared among a number of key personnel, he set the overall direction of travel and must therefore carry the can for its disastrous consequences.

Under his watch, the Palestinians scored a small number of successes, including an upgrade of Palestine’s membership of the United Nations to a non-member observer state in 2012 allowing it to join several international organisations including UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. This was part of a strategy to internationalise the conflict.

Abbas may well argue that another of his successes has been the security coordination with Israel instigated under Oslo. It is one of the strongest cards Palestinians have to threaten Israel. Abbas has, however, called it “sacred”, arguing, “If we give up security coordination, there will be chaos here. There will be rifles and explosions and armed militants everywhere,”

Beyond this list, it is difficult to point to any other significant successes. On the contrary, Abbas’ setbacks and failures have put the Palestinian cause in the worst position it has been since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Peace process 

The Oslo Accords were meant to deliver a Palestinian state within five years. Twenty-four years and countless negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian side, mostly led for the Palestinians by Saeb Erekat, later, and there is no Palestinian state

And while 136 member states of the UN recognise Palestine, of the so-called international community, only Sweden has afforded this recognition to the Palestinians. Significantly, neither Israel, nor the US recognise Palestine as a state, arguing recognition should only come at the negotiation table.

The last significant attempt at peace talks, led by US secretary of state John Kerry, ended in complete failure in 2014 and was followed by Israel’s third war on Gaza in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. As he was leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for failure of the talks at Israel’s door, singling out its settlement policy led by the “most right-wing” government in its history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Israeli electorate that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch in 2015. A significant number of his cabinet colleagues are against a state ever materialising and believe in the annexation of significant chunks of the West Bank to Israel.

Abbas remains committed to restarting negotiations with Israel and is now banking on the Trump administration to launch another initiative.

Settlements

In 1993, the number of settlers in the West Bank including East Jerusalem stood at 148,000. By the time Abbas had taken over as president, they had reached 440,000. Under his presidency, the number has risen to almost 600,000.

They live in 127 illegal settlements “recognised” by the interior ministry as “communities” and about 100 illegal “outposts”. In 2005, Israel vacated 16 settlements in Gaza under Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” plan.

The ever rising number of settlers and settlements has for many analysts already ended the prospect of a viable Palestinian state emerging.

Relationship between PNA and Hamas

Ever since its creation in 1987 shortly after the start of the first intifada, Hamas has pursued a significantly different approach to the conflict than Abbas’s Fatah party based on the liberation of historic Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic state in the area.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again

In 2006, it decided to combine its military strategy with participation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections which it won handsomely. Abbas accepted the results and asked Ismael Haniyeh to form a government, which was then boycotted by the international community.

Following a bloody confrontation between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza in 2006, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza which continues to this day. The Egyptian border crossing at Rafah has effectively been closed since January 2015.

Despite many attempts at reconciliation between the two factions, the division between Hamas and Fatah remains deep. Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah rules the West Bank. The two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have paid a heavy price for this division.

Price paid by Palestinians in Gaza increases – again

Frustrated by a lack of progress in ending the division, but perhaps playing to the Israeli and American gallery under US President Trump, Abbas has recently undertaken several steps to pressure Hamas which may result in the formal separation of Gaza from the West Bank.

In recent weeks, he slashed the salaries paid to 60,000 civil servants in Gaza and informed Israel that the PNA would no longer pay for the electricity it supplies to Gaza which has reduced the supply to the strip to a couple of hours a day.

This hits not only ordinary Palestinians hard, it also hurts vital services such as hospitals and sewage treatment works. The PNA has also reportedly cut its funding to the medical sector depriving it of badly needed equipment and medicines.


Young Palestinians in Rafah burn Abbas’ portrait during a protest against the Israeli blockade of of Gaza in April 2017 (AFP)

However, reports that the PNA has been blocking the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza outside the strip have truly angered Palestinians everywhere.

Many that I have spoken to both inside Palestine and in the diaspora described this as “shameful”. “How can Abbas impose collective punishment on his own people while maintaining security cooperation with Israel?” one asked.

If Mahmoud Abbas thought his actions would hurt Hamas and bring it to heal, then he has once again miscalculated badly. Reports have emerged of talks between Hamas and Abbas’s arch-rival Mohammed Dahlan which could see the latter return as leader in Gaza.

And if Abbas thought his hard-line approach against Hamas would endear him to Trump and his senior advisers then his recent, frosty meeting with Jared Kushner surely confirms the opposite. The more he gives, the more Israel and its American backers led by a fanatically pro-Israel team will want.

This time his actions against Hamas may give the Americans something Israeli leaders crave: a final separation between Gaza and the West Bank. This would certainly fulfil Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet’s vision of a Palestinian state “only in Gaza” and the annexation of the West Bank, giving the Palestinians limited autonomy there.

Whatever strategy Abbas has followed is unravelling. He is leading the Palestinians to further fragmentation and separation.

It is time he admitted this and stood down. If not, then his own miscalculations could hasten the end of his rule. Even those around him that have benefited handsomely from his rule must now realise the game is up.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again. This time it will be against their own expired leadership which has now denied babies and cancer sufferers in Gaza medical treatment for political purposes. The next intifada will be against the Muqata’a. This should worry Israel as much as Abbas.

Every picture tells a story; can the Palestinians expect any justice from this bunch?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/6/2017


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (3rd L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

Throughout his first trip abroad as US president, during which he visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Donald Trump expressed his desire to bring peace to the region. It would be, he said, the “ultimate deal.”

He promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done.”

In order to put the “ultimate deal” together, it is reasonable to expect that a team with knowledge of both sides of the conflict would be gathered together to determine the facts and the rhetoric before a truly honest broker could succeed in the task. No such attempt at balance was made during Trump’s election campaign; his Middle East adviser then was Walid Phares, who is of Lebanese Christian Maronite heritage and well-known for his pro-Israel position. Trump had no adviser on his team who could provide a pro-Palestinian perspective.

As president, we now see that the team that Trump has put together to launch another attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians not only lacks any balance whatsoever, but is also tilted entirely in Israel’s favour.

Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, recently returned to the US after a 15-hour trip to the Holy Land during which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the PA’s Abbas. The photograph circulated of his meeting with Netanyahu is a revealing snapshot of the team planning to launch Trump’s new peace initiative; every picture tells a story, and this one is no different.

Kushner himself is an orthodox Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors. The real estate developer’s family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the illegal West Bank settlement of Bet El. He started his visit in his new role as Trump’s “senior adviser” by offering condolences to the family of Israeli police officer Hadas Malka who died during an attack by Palestinians recently. Although he would have a much longer list to choose from, he did not seek out the family of any Palestinian killed by Israel to show that he understood the suffering on both sides.

In the picture too is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt. Trump’s company lawyer from New York is also an orthodox Jew. He does not see Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace and does not think that the United States or any other party should try to impose an agreement on Israel. In a recent visit to the Zionist state, Greenblatt met with leaders of the settlement movement, including the Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Jared Kushner (L) in Jerusalem on 21 June 2017 [Handout / Amos Ben Gershom / GPO]

The final member of the US trio in the official photograph is David Friedman, Trump’s pick as ambassador to Israel; an orthodox Jew and bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is also committed to the settlement enterprise and advocates moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Like Kushner, he has close ties with the illegal West Bank settlement of Beit El. Indeed, Friedman heads Friends of Beit El Institutions, an organisation which recently funded a five-story block in the Israeli colony built on occupied Palestinian territory. Friedman does not believe that the colony-settlements are an impediment to peace or that annexing the West Bank would compromise Israel’s Jewish or democratic character.

Representing Israel in the picture is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who has led the far-right Israeli government for a total of 13 years, alongside Israel’s US-born ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who has been in post for the past 4 years. During the 2015 Israeli election campaign Netanyahu promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he now insists that Israel must keep security control “west of the River Jordan” in any peace deal. He was prime minister during the 2014 Israeli military offensive against Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinian civilians, including more than 350 children, were killed.

Everyone in the picture of Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu is a Zionist Jew; not a single American of Palestinian origin or US advisor with even slightly less partisan views, never mind pro-Palestinian. Of course, I do not wish to imply that Jews cannot help deliver a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis — there are many who are active in the peace movement — but it is difficult to see how Zionist Americans, whether Jewish or not, can be even-handed in their endeavours to get the “ultimate deal”.

Anyone looking among Trump’s team for some counterbalance to the pro-Israel views championed by Kushner, Greenblatt or Friedman will be sorely disappointed. Another of the president’s senior appointments is US ambassador to the UN Nikki Hayley; it is hardly surprising that she is a staunch supporter of Israel who has criticised the international body for being “biased” in its criticism of Israel’s illegal activities. She recently promised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington — that “the days of Israel bashing [at the UN] are over.”

Hayley went to Israel in between the Trump and Kushner visits, providing Netanyahu with an opportunity to heap praise upon her and her boss. “President Trump and you, I think, have changed the discourse, have drawn new standards, and everybody’s taking up, and that’s great,” Netanyahu gushed. “Again, I felt that the UN would collapse, you know, that whole scaffolding of lies would just collapse. I think you’ve put in that simple word, truth.”

The “truth” is that with a blatantly pro-Israel team in place who believe in Israeli settlements but are not committed even to the concept of two states, the Palestinians cannot rely on the US to act as an honest broker and deliver peace.

It was, therefore, bewildering — though not, perhaps, surprising — to hear one of Mahmoud Abbas’s top advisers express the PA’s anger at a new illegal settlement being built. “[This is] a serious escalation, an attempt to thwart the efforts of the US administration and to frustrate the efforts of US President Donald Trump,” claimed Nabil Abu Rudeineh, as if this would generate some reaction from Washington. It has not and will not. With Kushner et al calling the shots, how could it?

The Palestinian leadership is in a real bind, mostly of its own making. This goes back several years, particularly since Abbas took over and pinned his colours solely to the mast of the “peace process” with Israel bereft of any reference to international law and under US patronage. It is blindingly obvious that America will always side with Israel and if pressure is ever exerted on anyone, it will be on the Palestinians to make yet more concessions.

To add to Palestinian woes, Trump has further succeeded in driving a real wedge between those Arab states that remain intact and the Palestinian cause. At the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Abbas looked isolated and had to work hard simply to ensure that the Arab peace plan was not watered down further to offer Israel more incentive to take it seriously. He then learnt that some Gulf States are considering partial normalisation with Israel in advance of a peace deal, which runs contrary to the Arab initiative.

The Palestinians need to accept that the strategy adopted by the PA has failed to deliver peace or even get the siege of Gaza lifted to alleviate the daily suffering of two million people. If any progress is to be made, the PLO and its institutions must be rebuilt and the Palestinians within and beyond historic Palestine have to be reconnected, working together for the same objective of achieving justice, freedom and equality. The Palestinians must rely on themselves for a change; relying on Trump’s team to deliver justice or anything but capitulation is preposterous.

Expecting more of the same for Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/12/2016

London – Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are looking back with deep concern at a year in which they saw their struggle for freedom and independence bat­tered.

The Palestinians end the year with no sign of reconciliation be­tween the main political factions Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Gaza’s siege continues unabated, Jewish settlements are expanding and Israeli settler in­cursions into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque grow in number and fre­quency.

Fatah’s seventh congress includ­ed a marathon 3-hour speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that simply confirmed com­mitment to the established direc­tion of travel. Abbas was re-elected party chairman and he, in turn, re­affirmed his commitment to nego­tiations with Israel for the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with minor land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution of the refugee problem.

The Palestinians find their cause, which once took centre stage, com­peting with Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen for international attention. Israel has benefited from the di­version of attention away from its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and its daily oppressive practices.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly reminds his allies that Israel faces major threats in a tough neighbourhood. He claims that this is the wrong time for Israel to concede territory to the Palestinians, which may al­low either Hamas or the Islamic State (ISIS) to establish a foothold in the West Bank, threatening Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport.

The status quo is that Israel effec­tively controls the whole of historic Palestine, further colonises Pales­tinian land, judaises Jerusalem and blockades Gaza. The Palestinian Authority provides it with security cooperation that Abbas considers sacred. Israel is therefore comfort­able, despite occasional uprisings.

Add to that a deal with the out­going US administration to deliver $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years and a promise to protect it from any criticism or im­position of a peace deal at the UN Security Council and 2016 can be considered to have been an excel­lent year for the 68-year old state.

However, that is not the end of the good news for Israel. The 2016 Republican Party platform for the first time rejected the description of Israel as “an occupier”, omitted any mention of a two-state solu­tion and conflated settlements with Israel itself.

During the campaign, US Presi­dent-elect Donald Trump first de­clared his intention to be “neutral” on the Palestinians and Israel so as to broker a deal but he changed his tune when he spoke at the con­ference of the main Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He not only de­clared his unwavering support for Israel but promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusa­lem, a position his advisers reiter­ated after his election.

If implemented, this would break long-standing US policy and is guaranteed to generate unprec­edented anger among Palestinians and their supporters around the world.

US President Barack Obama has, it seems, given up on any last-minute moves to reignite the peace process or to impose some pres­sure on Israel through the Secu­rity Council. However, he remains committed to the two-state solu­tion, despite some senior Israeli of­ficials’ calls for it to be abandoned.

Speaking at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of senior Israeli and US policymakers, US Secretary of State John Kerry concluded that “more than 50% of the ministers in the current Israeli government have publicly stated they are op­posed to a Palestinian state and that there will be no Palestinian state”.

He said Israeli settlement con­struction is a deliberate obstacle to peace and warned that such expansion was undermining any hope of a two-state solution. Kerry was speaking as the Knesset was about to move forward on a bill that would legalise illegal settle­ment outposts in the West Bank, despite the world being united in considering all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem il­legal.

Efforts by France to have a peace conference before the end of the year also failed. French President François Hollande could not even convince Netanyahu to attend a pre-Christmas meeting with Abbas in Paris. Netanyahu would only ac­cept such an invitation if France gave up on its peace initiative, ren­dering the meeting useless.

Perhaps the real reason for Netanyahu declining the French invitation is that on January 20th Trump moves into the White House. Why engage with France or anyone else when Trump and his administration are making the right noises as far as Israel is concerned?

Trump’s election has further em­boldened Israeli leaders including Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”. This conclusion by Bennett is a reflec­tion of Israeli thinking at the high­est level.

While many have been argu­ing for some time that Israel has been making a two-state solution impossible through changing the situation on the ground, it is now being declared dead by its main backer, the United States.

It is therefore likely that as the centenary of Balfour Declaration is marked in 2017, together with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli oc­cupation, we will be no nearer to a resolution to the conflict. With this the Palestinian leadership is likely to turn to international institu­tions, including the International Criminal Court, to pursue actions against Israel to at the very least remind the international commu­nity of the need to find a solution.

As for ordinary citizens around the world, it seems that support­ing the Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) is the main form of effective solidarity they can exercise to help the Palestinians reach their legitimate goals of free­dom, equality and independence.

The Palestinians too should take back control of their destiny

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/12/2016

Israeli soldiers in riot gear in East Jerusalem [file photo]

From the Middle East Monitor

2016 will be remembered for a new phrase that came to characterise popular uprisings against “the establishment” in the West. From the UK to the USA, “taking back control” struck a chord with the voters when it was adopted by Donald Trump in America and the leaders of BREXIT in the UK. The now infamous image in the golden lift at Trump Tower of President-elect Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage was made possible because voters wanted to take back control and thought they would secure it.

The Palestinians too want to take back control of their destiny but how can they achieve this?

In a year which saw their dreams of liberation, freedom and independence dashed once again, they feel their reliance on others to deliver these aims has simply failed. In reality though, it is their leadership which has failed because it has chosen to rely on others to deliver Palestinian rights, but also because it relies on others to ensure its very existence through funding. The Palestinian Authority has also suffocated attempts by the people to rise up against the occupation either collectively or through individual endeavours. As President Abbas has declared repeatedly, the “security cooperation” with Israel is “sacred”, though he does not admit that it only works one way, protecting Israel and never the Palestinians.

Fatah’s seventh congress

Fatah, the ruling party recently held its congress in Ramallah, the seventh since its establishment in 1959. It included a marathon three-hour speech by its past, present and future (elected by acclimation) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in which he reiterated his strategy for delivering Palestinian rights. In summary its internal strategy included reconciliation with Hamas, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, holding the Palestinian National Council. Its external strategy included continued negotiations with Israel, a “smart intifada”, pursuit of Israel through the ICC and continued “internationalisation” of the conflict through membership of organisations.

Internal matters

The reconciliation with Hamas is essential as a united Palestinian people and leadership can put to bed Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with or that the “moderate” Abbas cannot deliver on any agreements because Hamas runs Gaza. Reconciliation would also allow the Palestinian elections, long overdue, to finally take place. Abbas was firm in his insistence that “there can be no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas was not very forthcoming on what he meant by the “smart intifada” or “intifada of brains” though he did ask “the leadership” to be out there resisting peacefully with the people.

External matters

Peace talks have been dormant even since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative failed back in 2014 and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. Attempts at bringing the two sides together have failed to this day and despite Abbas’ brief meeting with Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral, the two men have not met. It has not been for lack of trying. Abbas confirmed that although he had accepted an invitation from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the latter declined the same invitation.

Attempts by France to bring the two men together and to hold a peace conference have also met with Palestinian acceptance and Israeli rejection. Israel’s spin on the reason for the rejection is that the meeting would follow a French-led peace conference, which it considers an effort to impose a settlement on it. Netanyahu spoke to Hollande and said that “if there is no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will come to meet Abu Mazen [Abbas] for direct talks without preconditions.” Israel further claimed that it will “not take part in an international conference that will not contribute to achieving peace”.

In reality, Israel is watching with satisfaction the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration in the US and expecting to be shielded further from any attempts to make a Palestinian state a reality. Why then should it engage wit Putin, Hollande or any other “broker” when Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his team do not see the two-state solution as explicitly part of his administration’s strategy?

Options for the Palestinians

The Palestinian leadership has largely relied on unwavering support for the Palestinian cause from the Arab and Muslim world. It regularly consults both about steps it plans to take to ensure they are on board. They in turn have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, particularly in international bodies. The Arab League also adopted the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, offering Israel normalisation of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the Arab states further to including “land swaps” in the initiative back in 2013. Israel has still not accepted the initiative to this day.

Arab states have also worked closely with the Palestinians in the United Nations, putting down resolutions both to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Their efforts in the Security Council have been scuppered by the US veto or US pressure on members that haVE led to potential resolutions falling by default. This included a resolution for the admission of Palestine as a full member. This pushed the Palestinians to the General Assembly to secure an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “Non-Member Observer state” in 2012, perhaps their most notable success in recent years. This was not only because it again demonstrated the overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, but because it allowed Palestine to join a multitude of international organisations and accords. This included the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UNESCO.

The ICC is still considering whether it can bring cases against Israelis involved in the 2014 war on Gaza and illegal settlements. The wheels of justice move slowly and to date the ICC has not declared whether and when it will bring cases against suspected Israeli war criminals. However, in a recent report, the court significantly confirmed that Israel was still in occupation of Gaza and that Jerusalem was illegally annexed. Israel suspects this indicates a leaning by the ICC towards the Palestinian view.

The ICC is one plank of the Palestinian “internationalisation of the conflict” strategy. Another important body is the UN Human Rights Council, which – due to a lack of US veto – often calls out Israeli actions in contravention of international law. The UNHRC produced an important report on the 2014 Gaza war which accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes.

A further significant plank of internationalisation is seeking protection for Palestinian cultural and religious sites through UNESCO’s membership. This again showed some success when UNESCO adopted a motion condemning Israel’s activities around Muslim sits in Jerusalem and while this eventually watered down under pressure from Israel’s supporting states; it still showed what the Palestinians can achieve through careful diplomacy and through their own efforts.

On the ground a recent refusal by PA security forces to allow Israeli army vehicles to enter Jenin is very much in line with the Oslo accords which included Jenin in “Area A” which handed security in the city to the PA. Again, an example of how Palestinians can take matters into their own hands using existing accords and international law.

As President Trump moves closer to the White House and having declared his support for Israel including a commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the PA is still banking on a last minute move by the Obama administration. It is sending a delegation to Washington to seek support for or at least an abstention, for a possible UNSC resolution condemning settlements. Despite suspicions that in its last few days the Obama administration may support such a move, I am not hopeful.

This should signal to the Palestinian leadership that relying on the US or other countries that support Israel when it really matters is unlikely to yield results.  They must continue to explore and pursue avenues over which they can exercise some control. It seems that pursuing Israeli violations through international bodies is a sound strategy and the more avenues it can pursue for this the better. Internationalising the conflict is part of the Palestinians “taking back control” of their destiny.

Netanyahu turns to ‘ethnic cleansing’ and sophistry to justify Israel’s criminal acts

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 23/9/2016

Having failed to convince most of the world to accept its colonisation of Palestine, Israel has been busy redefining the long standing meaning of words and phrases in the hope that their new definition becomes the accepted norm. Words and phrases such as terror, anti-Semitism, security, existential threat and, most recently, ethnic cleansing have been through the Israeli mill and there seems to be no end in sight of this desecration of the English language. Thankfully, the Israeli tactic is transparent and reasonable people can see through it clearly.

Terror

As far as the term “terror” is concerned, it is reported that the Oxford Dictionary first defined it as “government by intimidation”. Established definitions of this include, “extreme fear”, “the use of extreme fear to intimidate people” and “a person or thing that causes extreme fear”. A more explicit definition related to the reporting of violent incidents in recent years is “the unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

Israel regularly uses this to define attacks by Palestinians not only on Israeli civilians but on Israeli soldiers or security personnel in the occupied territories. However, security personnel are armed instruments of the Israeli state, operating on the land of another people, be it in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza or the Golan Heights. They are enforcing an illegal occupation and, in the process, are oppressing, abducting and killing both adults and children. As such, Israel has been redefining the term “terror” to incite world opinion against Palestinians and to justify its harsh treatment of them, including extrajudicial killing. It uses “terror” conveniently to justify its illegal acts, as a part of the so-called “global war on terror”.

Israel has also been stretching the meaning of the term. Current Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman labelled attempts by the Palestinian leadership to get upgraded membership of the United Nations as “political terror”. Then Deputy Foreign Minister Dani Danon dubbed the same peaceful moves as “diplomatic terror”. In both cases they equated entirely peaceful and legitimate political steps with physical harm to individuals through violence.

More recently, Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked labelled another peaceful initiative, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “the new face of terrorism” at a Jewish National Fund (JNF) conference in New York. This is both outrageous and bizarre when you consider that BDS does not call for any violent act to be carried out against anyone. Shaked’s colleague, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, called moves by the EU to boycott organisations and companies located in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories as “economic terror”. Again, it was an attempt to equate non-violent political activism with violence.

Democracy

Israel regularly stretches the meaning of the word democracy by claiming that it is the only democratic state in the Middle East, when its Jewish citizens enjoy a five-star democracy — even when residing in illegal settlements — while its Palestinian citizens enjoy perhaps a two-star version. Some five million Palestinians in the occupied territories enjoy no democracy at all, as “democratic” Israel controls every aspect of their lives with its military occupation.

Security

This is one of the terms that Israel stretches to mean anything it likes in order to justify its actions designed to entrench the occupation. It has convinced its main backers that far from rights driving a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel’s security that trumps Palestinian rights, including human rights. It claims that the Apartheid Wall it has been building is a security measure when in fact it is used both to protect illegal settlements and as a land grab mechanism. It confiscates Palestinian land regularly and turns it into “military zones” in the name of security, often only to turn it over to settlers to build more illegal colony-settlements. Israel cuts down olive trees in the West Bank and clears farmland in Gaza in the name of security, destroying the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians. It also couples the use of “security” with “self-defence” to justify its regular wars on Gaza, when the evidence shows that this results in what has been called a disproportionate number of Palestinian to Israeli casualties.

Anti-Semitism

The well-known pro-Israel group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines anti-Semitism as beliefs or behaviour hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says that it means “prejudice against or hatred of Jews”. However, the government of Israel and its supporters have been attempting to redefine the term to include reference to the state. Many refer to the “EUMC working definition of antisemitism”. This defunct and discredited definition, which was never adopted by the EU, states that, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” It goes on to say that “in addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

This takes what was a clear and accepted definition in a new direction for political reasons, to shield Israel from being held accountable for its illegal practices and crimes. Criticising Israel, according to such a definition, immediately brings charges of anti-Semitism rather than requiring it to adhere to accepted norms and international law.

Two-state solution

Israel and indeed its supporters claim that they want a two-state solution to the conflict when, in fact, it is a euphemism for a continuation of the occupation and a rejection of equal rights for Jews and non-Jews residing in historic Palestine. Settlements have made a two-state solution impossible to achieve and most prominent Israeli politicians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has uttered the words, suggesting that he approved, but then insisted during the 2015 election campaign that there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch. What a two-state solution really means needs to be demystified.

Ethnic cleansing

The Oxford Dictionary defines ethnic cleansing as “the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another”. Palestinians understand this term completely. The creation of Israel in 1948 led to the mass expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their historic homeland, and no other ethnic group. Netanyahu recently claimed that removing Jewish settlers from illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine amounts to “ethnic cleansing”. UN General SecretaryBan Ki-moon called his remarks “outrageous” and even the head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, thought that this was crass. “Sorry Bibi,” he told Netanyahu, “the Palestinians are not ‘ethnic cleansing’ Jewish settlers”.

Truth

Finally, the word “truth”. When the prime minister of Israel tells you that he is telling you the truth, be very cautious. Not only have Israeli politicians questioned his honesty — as Tzipi Livni did when she asked him, “When was the last time you told the truth to yourself, your ministers, the voting public?” — but even a staunch supporter of Israel and former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, told President Barack Obama that Netanyahu is a liar.

As he embarked on a trip to address the UN General Assembly in New York this week, the Israeli leader said, “I will then address the United Nations General Assembly. I will present Israel’s case, Israel’s truth, Israel’s justice and also Israel’s heroism – the heroism of our soldiers, our police officers and our citizens, who are waging an uncompromising struggle against brutal terrorism.” With his track record, particularly exaggerating, if not actually lying, about Iran’s readiness to produce a nuclear bomb, everyone should be careful about believing anything that Netanyahu says.

Whether it is terrorism, ethnic cleansing or truth, Israel has been trying to redefine terms that have stood the test of time in order to engage in malicious sophistry. We should always be very wary when Israel claims that a term means something that it has not done in the past. It could just be using it to justify its criminal acts.

What hope is there for Palestinians?

First published by the Middle East Monitor 

15/7/2016

The situation for Palestinians pursuing freedom, independence and the right of return continues to worsen. The occupation continues unabated, Jerusalem is being Judaised at an alarming rate, the siege on Gaza is as tight as ever and the refugees continue to languish in camps and those in Syria are on the move once again looking for safety and shelter. The Oslo Accords, which were designed to bring peace and independence within five years have not only failed to yield peace but have provided cover for accelerated colonisation of Palestinian lands to the extent that there are now some 650,000 settlers in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

2016 has seen particularly damaging developments.

In the USA, all presidential candidates with the exception of Bernie Sanders swore allegiance to Israel and those that were still in the race made typically nauseating – and in my view irresponsible – speeches, again with the exception of Sanders. The presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump initially indicated he would be “neutral” on Israel-Palestine, but this all changed when he faced the AIPAC audience. He firmly sided with Israel. His Republican opponent Hilary Clinton, a former secretary of State and wife of former President Bill Clinton, confirmed her blind support for Israel and the demonisation of the Palestinians. More recently, the Democratic party refused to include references to the occupation of Palestinian territories in its platform. Not to be outdone, the Republicans removed references to the “occupation” and dropped references to the two-state solution as the way to settle the conflict. This drew criticism even from the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The Republican platform has effectively handed the future of the Palestinians to Israel leaving it to decide what a solution to the conflict might look like and in the process removing the two-state solution as the “only game in town”.

Internationally, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon will chair the Legal Affairs Committee of the General Assembly. A state, which is in breach of numerous United Nations resolutions chairing a committee on international law! Bouyed by this, Israel is even seeking membership of the UN Security Council whose key resolutions on the conflict it continues to defy.

In the UK, a new government has been formed with prominent pro-Israelis among its key ministers. The Prime Minister Theresa May is on record as siding with Israel. The new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose appointment has raised eyebrows, has a dubious but pro-Israel stance, exemplified by his remarks in Israel back in November 2015, which upset his Palestinian hosts so much that they gave him some BDS treatment, boycotting his visit. The Palestinians can be thankful that Michael Gove, a prominent Brexiter and former justice secretary, is not in the new government. He is a man who banned a Palestinian festival and more recently stated that “BDS is worse than Apartheid” smearing the whole campaign as anti-Semitic.

He will surely find a more prominent home in the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). CFI’s current Chair, former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is a notorious apologist for Israel. He pressured Southampton University to cancel an academic conference on Israel in 2015 and more recently requested a review of the Department for International Development’s funding of the Occupied Palestinian Territories insinuating that funds make their way to terrorists. His intervention also suggested that funding should be diverted to coexistence projects as a means of supporting the two-state solution, when in fact projects to help reduce racism and increase coexistence within Israel would potentially be more beneficial to all its citizens. The UK bent the rules to shield former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from questioning about her possible role in war crimes by the British Police on a recent private visit and tried to stop local authorities from implementing their ethical procurement policies when it came to companies that are suspected in complicity in Israel’s illegal occupation.

To cap it all, the UK plans to mark the centenary of the notorious and shameful Balfour Declaration in 2017. This has already angered Palestinians and supporters of justice who see the declaration as having been instrumental in their dispossession, the creation of a colonialist entity on their lands and the creation of the ongoing refugee problem.

The recent row about anti-Semitism in the Labour party has thankfully subsided with the publication of the Chakrabarti report, which dismissed the existence of a major problem within the party and steered clear of redefining anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel, which Israel and its supporters wish to conflate, However, this row has served to raise the pressure to silence criticism of Israel and to curtail free speech. The UK’s Chief Rabbi played his own role in this, implying that Zionism and anti-Semitism are indivisible and in the process implying that all Palestinians (as they oppose Zionism) as anti-Semites.

The exit of the UK from the EU raises uncertainty about the direction the EU will take on Palestine without the UK and indeed the UK’s own direction. This is likely to align it more with the American position, which is moving further away from the even unjust two-state solution that it once championed. There is an argument that the EU may be more robust in its approach to the conflict as the influence of the UK is eliminated. However, judging by the recent report of the Quartet, which the Palestinians found to be “disappointing”, there is no real evidence that this shift will take place. The French Initiative to hold a peace conference stutters along, directionless, having been rejected by Israel. Add to this, Israel’s rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative and hope of any move towards peace by the “international community” is fading fast.

To cap it all, Palestinians cannot rely on their Arab brothers. Israel claims its relations with key Arab states have never been better and the Egyptian foreign minister has just been to Israel on a rare and controversial visit. At a recent conference for Iranian dissidents in Paris, Prince Turkey Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia described Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Add to this Turkey’s recent normalisation agreement with Israel which dropped its long held demand for an end to the siege on Gaza and the noose around the neck of hope for Palestinians has been tightened like never before.

On the ground in occupied Palestine the situation is grim. Israel continues to control every aspect of Palestinian life. Its forces continue to kill Palestinians at the slightest hint of suspicion that they intend to carry out an attack. They then lay siege on their villages and towns, demolish their homes and round up their relatives. Hebron has recently been under such a siege following allegations of a number of such attacks. The old city of Jerusalem continues to be the target of a policy to replace its residents with Jewish settlers and Al-Aqsa mosque is under threat from takeover by Jewish extremists.

With little hope, the Palestinians can be excused for asking: What are we to do? The pursuit of their freedom and independence through resistance, through both military and peaceful means has not succeeded. They are now feeling abandoned. If the international community expects them to behave like a model occupied people and submit, then it has not learnt the lessons of history. The Algerians resisted until they were free.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC). He writes here in a personal capacity.