Criticise Israel and you immediately trigger its army of outraged partisans

First published by the Middle East Eye on 12/12/2018

An army of social media trolls are at the ready to denounce legitimate criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise
Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

Israel was created through violence and terror, which it continues to heap on Palestinians to this day, as it works to fulfill the dream of Zionism – a Jewish state from the river to the sea. 

How, then, does it continue to portray itself as the victim, while painting the actual victims – Palestinians – as the aggressors?

It has become a tired and broken record, one that Israel and its ardent supporters play, regardless of the rationality of their arguments. Any criticism of Israel, or any peaceful act to put pressure on the state, draws the same outrage, expressed through carefully thought out, yet irrational, talking points.

Total impunity

Anyone, or any organisation, who dares to criticise the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” is accused of being motivated by anti-semitism. Any critical act or protest aimed at pressing Israel to uphold international law, no matter how peaceful, is denounced.

Israel’s treatment with kid gloves is not new; what is new, however, is its launching of the bullying trigger button within seconds of an attack.

While access to the nuclear button is normally reserved for the head of state, any pro-Israel civilian can launch the bullying trigger button, and they are encouraged to do so by Israel. An army of social media trolls linked to Israeli missions abroad have their fingers hovering over this button, ready to defend as soon as they perceive an attack. It’s a button they have pressed repeatedly in recent days.

Take the case of Airbnb. The holiday property listings company enraged the bullying army by withdrawing listingsfor properties built in illegal Israeli settlements from its website. Pro-Israel critics claimed that Airbnb was singling out Jewish Israeli properties, and therefore, this was anti-semitic.

Breaking international law

The reality is that the settlement enterprise itself is racist, because homes are only built for Jewish Israelis. Imagine the outcry if Britain built homes only for white Christians, banning other inhabitants of Britain from acquiring them. Settlements are also illegal under international law.

Airbnb said it took action because settlements were at the “core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”.

A statement from the company noted: “US law permits companies like Airbnb to engage in business in these territories. At the same time, many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.

A reasonable person would see clear logic in that stance. However, the bullying trigger button was pressed, and an illegal settler is now bringing a lawsuit against Airbnb. Consider that for a moment: an illegal settler is suing a company for a moral and legal act.

It was then the turn of British Quakers to enrage the pro-Israel lobby. Their crime? Divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation. Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said in a statement: “With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.”

More pressure needed

This time, it was the Board of Deputies of British Jews that pressed the bullying trigger button. In a statement, the board’s president, Marie van der Zyl, condemned the decision: “The appalling decision of the Friends House hierarchy to divest from just one country in the world – the only Jewish state – despite everything else going on around the globe, shows the dangers of the obsessive and tunnel-visioned approach that a narrow clique of church officials have taken in recent years.”

Any reasonable person who knows the Quakers would realise that they would have reflected seriously before making such a decision, and that it was based on their deep knowledge of the situation over decades. Divesting from companies that profit from an illegal occupation is moral and legal.

Israel does not recognise that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deemed it absurd to talk of an occupation, and the long-advertised US “deal of the century” will likely reflect this by avoiding a call to end the occupation.

This will certainly not lead to peace. What is needed is more pressure on Israel to comply with international law and to finally end the occupation of Palestinian land. Airbnb was correct to identify the settlements as a core issue, and it is time that others follow suit.

Whither free speech?

The bullying trigger button will now be pressed regularly, judging by the number of moves to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

Chile’s congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that the government “forbid the entry of products manufactured and coming from Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory”. This follows hot on the heels of Ireland’s senate passing a bill banning the import of products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The vicious attack on CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, fired for standing with Palestinians, shows that Israel is being singled out not for criticism, but rather for protection from accountability.

Free speech, it seems, is a value that most claim to uphold – except those who blindly support Israel. Speak if you want to, they say, but the price will be high. The bullying trigger button can be pressed by anyone in defence of Israeli apartheid. 

Nikki Haley’s swansong at the UN was an embarrassment

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 10/12/2018

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley [Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency]

The 6 December was the first anniversary of US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he would move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. The announcement was cheered by Israel and its supporters for whom international laws and conventions are at best meaningless and at worst an irritant. Trump suggested that this move would help bring peace to the Holy Land. How wrong he was. Anyone but a diehard Zionist would have told him that he was deluded to think this, but nobody in his administration would have done so, because those tasked with developing a peace deal fall into this category.

One of these cheerleaders for Apartheid Israel is Nimrata Randhawa, better known to the world as Nikki Haley, the US Representative to the United Nations. In the UN Security Council, she can wield the US veto to protect Israel but she is unable to do that in the General Assembly, where no state has a veto. Her swansong in the chamber was an embarrassment for her and her country.

Haley left what was her final General Assembly with her pro-Israel tail firmly between her legs. Her resolution to condemn Hamas was voted down, while a resolution reiterating the call for a comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution, which she opposed, passed overwhelmingly. It is particularly galling that Haley wanted to use the UN to condemn Palestinians while defending Israel and its breaches of hundreds of resolutions passed by the very organisation she wanted to use to sanction the people of Palestine who are in breach of none.

The US envoy’s period in office has been characterised by her complete dismissal of Palestinian rights and unwavering support for Israel to ensure that it never faces accountability for its crimes. Her support for Israel since she took on the role has been astonishing. Early on in her appointment she made the defence of the Zionist state at the UN her primary goal, insisting that, “The days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.” She added that the passing of so-called anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council, referring to the anti-settlement resolution 2334, “would never happen again.”

Haley even blocked the appointment of former PA prime minster Salam Fayyad as UN Envoy to Libya. “For too long the UN has been unfairly biased in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” she claimed.

Following Israel’s murder of over 60 Palestinians protesting peacefully on one day at the height of the Great March of Return demonstrations in the besieged Gaza Strip, Haley blocked a call for an international investigation into Israeli tactics in dealing with the peaceful protests. Instead, she blamed Iran and terrorist proxies for causing the violence. Haley went on to praise the Israeli forces’ performance throughout the protests: “I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council, who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.” She did not refer to the right that the Palestinian refugees marching to the nominal border fence have to return to their homes inside what is now called Israel. Resolution 194 regarding the right of return is yet another of the UN resolutions which Israel has failed to implement, even though its membership of the UN itself was conditional on doing so.

Palestinians will not forget her action on the day when 21-year-old volunteer medic Razan Al-Najjar was killed by an Israeli sniper’s bullet, possibly sourced from the US. Ambassador Haley fought to scupper a resolution in the Security Council calling for protection for the Palestinians.

One of Haley’s most embarrassing moments came when she tried to defend the US President’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the embassy from Tel Aviv. A resolution calling for the withdrawal of such recognition was backed by every council member except the US, which then used its veto to block it.

The resolution demanded that all countries comply with pre-existing UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Haley denounced the resolution as “an insult” and insisted that this action would not be forgotten.

“The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” she blustered. “It’s scandalous to say we are putting back peace efforts. The fact that this veto is being done in defence of American sovereignty and in defence of America’s role in the Middle East peace process is not a source of embarrassment for us; it should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the security council.” Haley walked out of the chamber as the representative for Palestine began to speak.

A picture taken on October 18, 2018 shows the US Consulate in Jerusalem on October 2018 [THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

In October, she announced her resignation as America’s UN envoy but her defence of Israel ran through to the last minute of her period in office, which concluded with the General Assembly on 6 December.

The outcome of the vote on the two resolutions tabled at the GA last week was important to Palestinians and supporters of a just resolution to the conflict. Haley’s anti-Palestinian resolution called for condemnation of Hamas for “repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence, thereby putting civilians at risk”, and for its use of resources in Gaza to construct military infrastructure, “including tunnels to infiltrate Israel and equipment to launch rockets into civilian areas.” The US-drafted text did not make any reference to Israel’s killing of nearly 300 peaceful protesters since 30 March or the botched covert Israeli operation inside Gaza that led to the recent flare up. The result of the vote was 87 in favour, 58 against, with 32 abstentions.

While this resolution gained a simple majority, including support from EU countries, it did not pass the two-thirds majority that the GA agreed would be necessary for it to pass. While Palestinians and their supporters were relieved and pleased, a closer examination shows worrying signs of a possible shift in support for Palestinian rights, including the legitimate right to resist a 51-year long illegal occupation and a 12-year siege on Gaza.

The Palestinians, though, can take comfort from the passing of the second resolution. The General Assembly called for an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine in favour of the two-state solution. Not only did Israel vote against the Irish and Bolivian resolution as expected, but the US did as well, giving the clearest possible indication that it no longer supports a two-state solution. Australia also voted against a two-state solution, but none of the five countries opposed to the second resolution offered any alternative.

This General Assembly was likely to be Haley’s last public appearance as US Envoy. She has undoubtedly changed the role to one that takes its lead from both the US and Israeli administrations such that America’s Security Council veto is also openly Israel’s to use. This is a dangerous development, which together with the increasing support in the UN for condemnation of what Palestinians and international law regard as legitimate resistance is extremely detrimental to international law and order. The situation requires an urgent strategy to counter it.

Nikki Haley will not be missed by either Palestinians or their supporters. Good riddance, we say, to an apologist for Israel who has been the face at the UN of a completely biased, anti-Palestinian US administration. The Palestinians should be under no illusion that the next holder of the position, and those developing the “ultimate deal”, will be working to liquidate the Palestinian cause. However, those working against Palestinian rights should also know that they have picked on a people who have demonstrated over decades that they will not give up on their rights, whatever the challenges.

What’s the point of negotiating for peace when Israel gains without it?

First published by TRT World on 5/9/2018

As America makes one concession after another to Israel, is it any wonder Israel doesn’t seek peace with the Palestinians?

On a recent visit to Lithuania, the birthplace of his grandmother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that that he sees ‘no urgency’ in advancing US President Donald Trump’s peace plan or what is commonly referred to as the ‘ultimate deal’ or ‘deal of the century’. “It is his business if he wants to promote it,” he added.

Netanyahu’s comments came soon after Trump suggested Israel will “pay a higher price” in the negotiations because of the embassy move and that it was “the Palestinians’ turn next”, adding that the Palestinians will get “something very good” in peace negotiations following his decision to relocate the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump made the comments at the end of one of his rallies in West Virginia. He did not indicate what this might be.

Contact between the Palestians and the US have been frozen on the orders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, following the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the subsequent move of the Embassy from Tel Aviv.

The next announcement from his administration was hardly a confidence-building measure or an incentive for the Palestinians to restart talks with the Americans.

In what the Palestinians saw as “the use of cheap blackmail as a political tool”, the Trump Administration recently decided to cut more than $200 million in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza, according to US officials.

Commenting further on the matter, PLO Executive Committee member Hana Ashrawi stated that “the Palestinian people and leadership will not be intimidated and will not succumb to coercion. The rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale.”

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s envoy to the US, said in a statement that the Trump administration “is dismantling decades of US vision and engagement in Palestine.” Zomlot saw the recent move as “another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda.”

Zomlot was also referring to Trump’s decision to defund UNRWA, the United Nations Agency which delivers services to the Palestinian refugees and his attempts to find ways to remove the refugee status of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians still living in exile since 1948 claiming the status should not be inherited.

Aid cuts to the Palestinians continued as the Trump administration announced it was ending its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), having withheld $45 million back in January. This leaves the Agency with a $417 million deficit, which if not cleared would mean school closures for 500,000 children in its five areas of operation at the end of September.

The collapse of UNRWA would be disastrous for Palestinians but will be welcomed by Netanyahu who has argued that it ‘perpetuates’ the issue of the refugees.

Recently leaked emails confirmed Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has tried to convince King Abdullah of Jordan to end the refugee status of 2 million Palestinian residents living in Jordan as the US attempts to significantly reduce the number recognised from the current 5 million to a much smaller number.

In fact, with seemingly unlimited support from Trump and his pro-Israel ‘negotiating team’, Netanyahu is working to gain as many more wins as possible in what he sees as uniquely favourable times.

Netanyahu has already contributed significantly to convincing the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of severe sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and is demanding Iran pulls all its troops out of Syria. While he has not as yet succeeded in this, he will keep plugging away and may yet pull this off.

Next on the Israeli prime minister’s agenda is the status of the Syrian Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and effectively annexed in 1981. His Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz describes endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old hold on the Golan as the proposal now ‘topping the agenda’ in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.

In a recent visit to Israel, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton dampened Israeli hopes of imminent recognition claiming “I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government.”

However, Netanyahu will surely continue to pursue it. With such wins in record time and at zero cost, it is perhaps not surprising that Netanyahu is “in no hurry for peace”.

What about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians are facing the most challenging period in their history since the Nakba. The division between Hamas and Fatah, the 11-year long siege on Gaza, US blind support for Israel and the changing geopolitics in the Middle East puts them in an extremely weak bargaining position.

However, should they see any hope in Trump’s comments in West Virginia that he really has “something very good” to offer them, what could that be?

Interestingly, there have been no leaks about what this may mean for the Palestinians, unlike leaks that preceded announcements of pro-Israel measures such as the embassy move or the attack on UNRWA.

Trump is unlikely to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, include a two-state solution in his plan, pressure Israel to accept any Palestinian refugees, pressure Israel to end settlement construction or to bring an end to the 11-year old siege on Gaza. Netanyahu would not agree to any of these but more importantly, it is difficult to expect Trump’s pro-Israel team to even suggest any of these.

Speculation on this has to be based on how any initiative would address the core issues to be resolved in the conflict. They have generally been acknowledged to be borders, Jerusalem, settlements and the refugees. If Trump believes he has taken Jerusalem off the table, is minimising the issue of the refugees, making no noises about increased settlements construction and not even mentioning a two-state solution, then it is highly unlikely that he can offer the Palestinians anything that they could accept.

The American president, a businessman, is likely to see “something very good” simply in terms of an improved economy or ‘money’, while taking into account ‘facts on the ground’ as Israel presents them to him and its unending security needs.

This could come in the form of economic development in Gaza or the northern Sinai, as leaks indicating Egypt may be called upon to cede some 700 km of the Sinai for an expanded Gaza, where an airport, seaport and possibly an electrical power plant could be based. There is talk about a railway line that links the Gulf States and Jordan with the Mediterranean through Israel and the OPTs, which could have stations in Palestinian territories.

With a weak and divided Palestinian leadership, an American administration which is completely on Israel’s side, Netanyahu is working overtime to secure further gains while Trump is in power and before he is impeached, since almost not a week goes by without some speculation that it might happen.

However, Netanyahu should rest easy in the knowledge that if Trump is impeached, he has in Vice President Pence a more committed and stable ally and supporter of Israeli policies. He will be in no greater hurry to deliver a ‘just peace’ than Trump or Netanyahu. The Palestinians will continue to suffer.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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.

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)

Interview: America’s Controversial Israel Embassy Move

I was interviewed by Press Tv’s On The News Line which was transmitted on 26/2/2018

In a move that appears to have been meant to add more fuel to fire, the United States has pushed forward a controversial move to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem al-Quds. The transfer that US President Donald Trump had previously announced would take place in 2019