The Middle East Quartet still includes the US, so can it still play a role in the peace process?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 9/2/2018

President Donald Trump address to Congress in Washington, US on 30 January 2018 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]

 

Since US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent decision to cut American funding to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has announced formally and repeatedly that Washington cannot continue in its traditional role as the sole sponsor of the peace process. Speaking shortly after Trump’s announcement in December, Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians have been engaged with the President’s advisors to achieve the “deal of the century” but “instead we got the slap of our times”. He concluded that, “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator… We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process.”

At that point, the PA President suggested that the UN should take over as mediator. However, since then, the PA has been searching for an alternative to the US sponsorship which has been based on bringing together a wider group of influential countries to oversee negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Israel has been silent on the matter, enjoying the complete US bias in its favour, whether from Trump’s advisors Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman or the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley.

During his recent visit to Israel, US Vice President Mike Pence received a hero’s welcome as he committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. The Palestinians refused to meet him. Trump saw this as an act of disrespect to Pence and the US, and threatened the PA with further cuts in American aid unless they returned to the negotiating table.

The next port of call for the Palestinians for a sponsor of the peace talks was the European Union. Abbas visited the EU headquarters in Brussels recently an

Palestinian men carry food aid given by UNRWA in Gaza City, Gaza on 15 January 2018 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

d held talks with Federica Mogherini, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. If Abbas thought that the EU was ready to take a sole or significant role in the peace process, he was disappointed. Mogherini reiterated longstanding EU positions: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states… based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law.” She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “Including to UNRWA.” She did not respond to Abbas’s call for the EU as a bloc to recognise the State of Palestine.

In a press conference a few days later, before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters, Mogherini told reporters that any framework for negotiations must involve “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”

This must have come as a blow to the Palestinian leadership, which had hoped that the Americans could be sidelined from the peace process.

There are few alternatives for the Palestinians to pursue. France’s attempts to secure a greater role in the peace process resulted in the Paris Conference which took place in much more favourable conditions at the end of the Obama Administration, but it tuned into a damp squib. The conference went ahead but little came out of it, and it has had no follow-up to speak of.

The Chinese, put forward their 4-point peace proposal last August:

  • Advancing the two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state.
  • Upholding “the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” immediately ending Israeli settlement building, taking immediate measures to prevent violence against civilians, and calling for an early resumption of peace talks.
  • Coordinating international efforts to put forward “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date.”
  • Promoting peace through development and cooperation between the Palestinians and Israel.

While little has been heard of the proposal’s potential since last year, the Chinese stepped up their efforts to play a greater role in the peace process following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. However, responding to a question about China’s possible future role at a regular press briefing on 21 December, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “China’s position on the Palestine issue is consistent. We support and actively promote the Middle East peace process. We support the just cause of the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate national rights… We are willing to continue offering constructive assistance to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

The Chinese hosted a symposium last December bringing together Palestinians and Israelis in a bid to break the impasse. The session culminated with the production of a non-binding position paper known as the “Beijing Initiative”, which Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Zionist Union MK Hilk Bar said in a closing statement was intended to prove that “it is possible and necessary to break the political deadlock and encourage the two leaderships to return to the negotiating table.” A leading member of the Palestinian delegation added: “We have to search for another approach to the peace process… It must include the superpowers and China, maybe one of these parties who can play a major role.”

Attempts by Russia, another UN Security Council member to take a leading role in the peace process, go back many years but have not succeeded.

Palestinians have recently favoured an arrangement that mirrors the P5+1 which developed the Iran Nuclear Deal Agreement, which was concluded in 2015. The P5+1 refers to the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A similar arrangement could still see the US involved but not monopolising the framework for negotiations.

A possible starting point here could be the Quartet, known formally as the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. It describes its mandate as “to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”

On the face of it, the Quartet, with an upgrade of its senior team, could be the readymade answer to the Palestinian demand for a downgrading of the US role rather than Washington being excluded altogether. That may go some way towards meeting Israel’s insistence that the US has to be an important player in any future set of negotiations.

The Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at Brookings evaluated the Quartet’s performance in 2012 in its paper “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem“. It concluded that, but for some early successes up to 2003, the Quartet has not provided any tangible benefits, except “ensuring American engagement in the peace process.”

The Palestinians could request that certain countries are added to the group to provide their role with some prominence. These could include Japan, Egypt and China, and perhaps Britain as it leaves the EU. In other words a Q4+ format could be developed, possibly under UN leadership.

The advantage of the above arrangement, which will be challenging to bring together, is that the basic structure already exists. It is likely that the Palestinians would agree to such a grouping, leaving the US and Israel almost certainly rejecting it. However, this would show Palestinian flexibility and confirm US and Israel rejectionism.

There is a need for an alternative framework for negotiations to resolve the conflict other than the 25 years of futile talks led by the Americans whose bias towards Israel is guaranteed and blatant. The longer the void left by the Palestinian rejection of a role for the US exists, the longer that the status quo will continue, allowing Israel to march ahead with its colonial project. A revamped Quartet plus-plus is well worth serious consideration.

EU is all talk and no action on Israel-Palestine conflict

First published by the Middle East Eye on 6/2/2018

If it is to be taken seriously as a broker for peace, the EU must make disruptive decisions to pressure Israel, just as the US has been doing against Palestinians

The past few weeks have been transformational for the prospects, or rather lack thereof, for peace between Israel and Palestine.

US Vice President Mike Pence gleefully confirmed in a speech to the Israeli Knesset that his country’s embassy would move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, as the US administration announced it would withhold $65m for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides services for Palestinian refugees.

This, coupled with US President Donald Trump’s insinuation that millions of dollars in US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) should be cut after their “disrespectful” snub of Pence, has confirmed the current administration’s bias towards Israel, underscoring the PA’s conclusion that the Americans cannot play a role in any future peace process.

Bullying and blackmail of Palestinians

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the US, said in a speech to the Middle East Institute that Trump had backstabbed Palestinians, not only taking Jerusalem off the peace table, but also taking “the table altogether”.

The Americans continue to claim they are developing the “deal of the century” while using a combination of bullying and blackmail to attempt to force Palestinians back to the negotiating table, from which they believe they have removed both Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return.

In his highly analysed speech to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Central Council, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recommitted to negotiations and peaceful popular resistance as the two strategic pillars to reclaim Palestinian rights.

However, the PA has shown little leadership in developing a national strategy for popular resistance, and is continuing security cooperation with Israel – which Abbas has called “sacred”.

The central council recommended the suspension of this security cooperation and, for the first time, urged the PLO’s executive committee to adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a means of pressuring Israel. It also recommended suspension of the PLO’s recognition of Israel and announced the expiration of the Oslo Accords.

The PLO’s Executive Committee recently met in Ramallah to discuss the Central Council’s recommendations. It agreed to set up a higher level committee to study the recommendation to suspend recognition of Israel. No date was set for it to report on this important decision.

Activists unveil a giant Palestine flag in support of a Palestinian statehood outside the European Union Council in Brussels November 19, 2012 (REUTERS)

There was no mention of the recommendation -made for the second time- to suspend security cooperation with Israel. In terms of a change in the PA’s strategy for achieving Palestinian rights, there was little emerging from the meetings of the Central Council or Executive Committee.

Reiteration of longtime position

The key change the PA might be pursuing is a search for an alternative to the US as a sponsor for future peace talks. The PA initially saw the EU as the prime body to replace the US; shortly after his speech in Ramallah, Abbas flew to Brussels to meet Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy.

What he heard was a reiteration of the EU’s longstanding position. Mogherini said: “I want to, first of all, reassure President Abbas and his delegation of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as shared capital of the two states … based on the Oslo Accords and the international consensus embodied in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Mogherini also reaffirmed the EU’s opposition to the “settlement activity that we consider illegal under international law”. She reminded Abbas that the EU has “already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project” and vowed that EU financial support would continue, “including to UNRWA”.

For his part, Abbas thanked the EU for its financial support and asked that it continue to play a political role in the Middle East peace process. He reiterated the Palestinian commitment to fighting “terrorism, violence and extremism“.

In a direct snub to the PLO Central Council, Abbas affirmed his commitment to previously signed agreements- meaning Oslo Accords – to which he said Palestinians had adhered, and urged Israel to implement its responsibilities under the deals. He also called on EU member states to recognise the state of Palestine.

In a subsequent announcement, Mogherini pledged the EU would contribute an additional €42.5 ($53m) to Palestinians after Trump’s decision to cut support, including €14.9m to “preserve the Palestinian character of East Jerusalem”.

On the political front, Mogherini told reporters in Brussels that any framework for negotiations must involved “all partners”, sending a strong message that the US could not be excluded: “Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone.”

Sustaining the status quo

Thus, far from rising to the occasion and using its historic and financial ties to Israel and Palestine to play a greater political role in formulating a way out of the current impasse, the EU will simply sustain the status quo.

Nine European states, including Sweden, already recognise Palestine as a state and it seems Slovenia may be next – yet the EU as a bloc has not given any indication that it may follow suit. The EU continues to support Israeli universities through its research programme, Horizon 2020, though it distinguishes between institutions on either side of the Green Line. Its position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law has not been matched with commensurate action.

It took the EU many years to simply take a position that goods from the illegal settlements should be labelled. To counter Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the EU could have moved to ban goods from the settlements and to compel businesses and banks to seize any activities that support their continued existence through trade. However, there are no signs it will do this.

Following the decision by Israel to deny entry to human rights activists from EU member states for their solidarity and support for BDS, including European elected officials, the EU could have moved to impose a tougher visa regime or even ban settlers from EU countries due to their violation of international law. This would include some senior Israeli politicians and members of the extremist Israeli government who are not committed to a two-state solution and have called for annexation of the West Bank.

Action-light versus action-heavy

The EU could ban the sale of arms to Israel, as these could be used to violently entrench the occupation and to attack Gaza.

The reality is that the EU has the tools to match its words with action, but it has thus far shied away from using any of them. Its policy can be seen as action-light.

In contrast, America’s support for Israel is action-heavy, politically through the use of its veto in the UN Security Council and financially through providing it with half of its annual aid budget, while threatening to reduce the pittance it gives to Palestinians to bully them into negotiations.

If the EU is to be taken seriously as a broker for peace, it must make disruptive decisions to pressure Israel – moves as significant as America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Can the EU walk the walk or will it simply continue to talk the talk?

 

Pro-Israel positions likely to continue with new British landscape

First published by the Arab Weekly on 2/7/2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May

There are ques­tions with regards to what effects the snap elections have on British foreign policy towards Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, won 318 seats in parliament but that was eight seats short of the major­ity needed to allow her to form a government. She is looking for support from North Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which secured ten seats.

Although still in opposition with 262 seats, the Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, fared much better than expectations when the elections were announced in April.

An examination of the various parties’ policies on the Palestin­ian territories and Israel reveals that Labour, in its own words, is “committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution — a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.”

It advocated “both an end to the (Gaza) blockade, (Israeli) occupation and settlements and an end to (Palestinian) rocket and terror attacks.” Significantly, Labour pledged to “immediately recognise the state of Palestine” if it formed the next government.

The Liberal Democrat’s policy on the issue was similar. How­ever, it supported recognition of the independent state of Pales­tine “as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.”

The 2017 general election saw Britain’s first MP with Palestinian heritage, Layla Moran, secure a seat in parliament for the Liberal Democrats. Before the election, she spoke of how her Palestinian background made her interested in engaging in politics.

She pointed to the influence of her great-grandfather, who told her that Jerusalem was once a place “where you had Jews, Christians and Muslim communi­ties coming together, who were respectful of each other,” as quoted by the New Arab. “That’s the kind of vision I want for the world, where differences are respected and we are open and tolerant of each other’s views,” she said. “I continue to believe that a society like that is possi­ble.”

With only 12 MPs in the House of Commons, the Liberal Demo­crats will have limited influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Scottish National Party stated that it would “continue to work with international partners to progress a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East, pursuing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine” but did not commit to recognition.

The Conservative manifesto made no mention of the conflict and neither did that of the DUP.

It will be the Conservative Party, with its longstanding policy of supporting a two-state solution to the conflict and its stance that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, that will rule.

However, the Conservatives’ long-standing support for Israel will only be strengthened by the agreement with the DUP. The Northern Irish party is also a supporter of Israel.

On hearing of a possible agreement, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush said this would be “positive news” both for Britain’s Jewish community and Israel.

The DUP is staunchly pro-Israel. In the vote requesting the British government to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014, the party’s MPs opposed it.

As Britain digests the outcome of a truly extraordinary general election, one thing can be guaranteed. In the year Britain and Israel celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, despite repeated requests by the Palestinians that it should be apologising for its effects on them, Britain will continue to take pro-Israel positions.

That is, of course, unless another general election is called on account of government dysfunction and Labour wins a majority in parliament.

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.

Can the Palestinians sue Britain over Balfour?

First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/4/2017

The Balfour Declara­tion is a letter from Arthur Balfour, then the British foreign secretary, to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, dated November 2, 1917.

The critical part of this short letter said: “His Majesty’s government view[s] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use [its] best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

For Israel and many Jews around the world, the centennial anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is cause for celebra­tion. After all, the declaration paved the way for the establish­ment of a homeland for Jews in Palestine, which, 100 years on, Israel would claim has been achieved in what it calls “the Jewish state.”

Palestinians, both informally and at the official level, argued that — at the very least — Britain should use the document’s 100th anniversary to acknowledge the role it played in what the Pales­tinians describe as the nakba — “disaster.”

After all, peace has not been achieved; the Palestinians continue to exit either in exile, under occupation or as second-class citizens within Israel’s internationally recognised borders.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded an apology from Britain during his address at the UN General Assembly last September.

“We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibility for the consequences of this declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its conse­quences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine,” Abbas said. “This is the least Great Britain can do.”

In the Palestinian diaspora, several ideas were considered, including mass demonstrations on or near November 2.

The London-based Palestinian Return Centre secured a petition on the British government’s petitions site calling on London to openly apologise to the Palestinian people for issuing the Balfour Declaration.

“The colonial policy of Britain between 1917-1948 led to mass displacement of the Palestinian nation,” the petition reads, adding that London should recognise its role during the mandate and “must lead attempts to reach a solution that ensures justice for the Palestin­ian people.”

The government’s response was that the Balfour Declaration is a historic statement for which London “does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the state of Israel.”

It further stated that “estab­lishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.”

The statement recognised that the declaration “should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. However, the important thing is to look forward and establish security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians through a lasting peace.” It then reinstated Britain’s position on how peace can be achieved.

Britain plans to celebrate Balfour or “mark it with pride,” as British Prime Minister Theresa May announced. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will attend and a royal visit to Israel is planned.

In response, Palestinian envoy to Britain Manuel Hassassian said celebrating Balfour “rubs salt in the wounds of the Palestinian people.” He made no reference to the threat made at the Arab summit last July by Abbas to sue Britain in an international court for the Balfour Declaration.

The Times of Israel recently reported that the British govern­ment, which has been delaying the issue of a visa to the new Palestinian head of mission announced by Abbas, might be planning to “downgrade” the status of the diplomatic mission in London.

The prospect of the British government responding to the call from its own Parliament in 2014 to recognise the state of Palestine seems as distant as ever.

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

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

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

when will the 2-state solution window actually close?

‘The window is closing fast on the 2-state solution’. That is a statement that most western leaders regurgitate on an almost daily basis to explain the urgency of restarting the ‘peace process’.  

But when will the 2-state solution window finally close and who will make that critical announcement? Who ever makes it, the question that follows then is what would the ‘peace process’ be about the day after the closure, when it is claimed the one-state solution’ is a not only undesirable but would spell the end of Israel as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’?

Those are important questions to ask as the EU is picking up the slippery ‘peace process’ baton  from the U.S. EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was recently in the region trying to kickstart the process. She has even suggested it could start with negotiations in the borders of the (illegal) settlement blocks.

  
EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

How many settlers will it take to make their removal so problematic that no Israeli will agree to do it? There are now some 650,000 and the window is still open, so would it be a million before the window on 2-state solution it closes?

How many settlements and settlers in Jerusalem will it take for the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the Capital of a future Palestine to end?

  
Will the completion of E1 in East Jerusalem lick Jerusalem out from Palestine?

Will annexation of vast swathes of the West Bank as demanded by Israeli ministers close the window on the 2-state solution?

Will the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or its resolution close the window in the 2-state solution?

  
Will the possible extension of Israrli sovereignty over Alaqsa mosque close the window on the 2-state solution?

Just when will this declaration come and has it already happened?

I have not heard anyone who recently visited the troubled area recently come back and say, based on what s/he saw and dxoerirnced that the window us still open.

The PA and western Government continue to say the only solution is a 2-state solution and since Israel continues to work diligently to scupper it, we need an authority of dome sort to define the conditions that would have to be met in order for the 2-state window to close.

When that happens, then either the status quo continues until a third intifada erupts or a fairer one-state solution than the current unequal one-state reality needs to be developed now to be implemented once the 2-state solution has gone. 

I am personally for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes, towns and villages from which they were expelled through terror in 1948. I do not care about the number of entities they return to.  

  

It is time for all the players to get real and to be honest. The 2-state solution is dead or if it isn’t then when? When it dies, what next?