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.

How the US is sidelining Palestinian refugees

First published by the Middle East Eye on 18/8/2018

Dual approach involves starving UNRWA of funding and trying to strip Palestinians of their refugee status

There are indications that a truce between Hamas and Israel is close to being concluded, bypassing the Palestinian Authority.

The main commercial access point to Gaza, Kerem Shalom crossing, has been reopened after a period of closure amid recent heightened tensions. But whatever short-term relief this provides for Palestinians in Gaza will not address Palestinians’ long-term demands.

The US continues to work on a “peace plan” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without the input of Palestinians. Elements have already been implemented, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the defunding of services for Palestinian refugees via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Concealing the occupation

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has also been arguing that there is no illegal occupation. He wrote to the State Department last December, asking it to drop the terms “occupation” and “Israeli-occupied territories”.

He suggested using the term “West Bank,” which he described as “more neutral”. Friedman is a major donor to the the illegal settlement of Beit El and serves as president of the American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva, the US fundraising arm of a number of institutions in the illegal settlement. He is also known to be against the two-state solution.

It was noticeable that the State Department’s 2017 human rights report replaced references to the “occupied territories” with “Israel,” “Golan Heights,” “West Bank” or “Gaza”.

Friedman does not recognise Palestinian refugees’ right of return, enshrined in  UN Resolution 194. His personal view is that “the goal ought to be to enable them to acclimate and to enter society in wherever they landed”.

Friedman prefers the UNHCR definition, which does not refer to the descendants of refugees, to the UNRWA definition, which states that “the descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration”.

UNRWA began operations in 1950 in response to the needs of about 750,000 Palestinian refugees; today, more than five million are eligible for its services.

‘Existential crisis’

The US appears to have turned its focus to “disappearing” Palestinian refugees from the issues to be resolved. But how can the Americans do this, while still appearing to offer a “deal of the century”?

What is emerging is a dual approach, which involves both starving UNRWA of needed funds and removing the issue of refugees altogether. Both are demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has argued that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee issue.

The US has gone along with this by slashing $300m in funding to the agency. In a radio interview last month, spokesperson Sami Mushasha said UNRWA was facing an “existential crisis“. An effort to raise additional funds, including conferences in Rome and New York, has still left the agency with a deficit of more than $200m, although concerns that Palestinian schools would not open in September have been allayed.

Palestinian refugees and Bedouins receive medical checkups and aid from UNRWA in the occupied West Bank on 9 August 2018 (AFP)

According to Mushasha, the emergency budget for Gaza and the West Bank had almost “disappeared overnight” because of the US cuts. Only life-saving food provisions to Palestinian refugees in Gaza would be funded. UNRWA, which employs 13,000 staff in the occupied Palestinian territories, has cut 113 positions in Gaza and 154 in the West Bank. In the ensuing protests, one Gaza man tried to set himself on fire.

But UNRWA has survived, which could be why the US special envoy for the Middle East, Jared Kushner, has been looking for ways to strip refugees of their status. In internal emails to senior US administration officials, Kushner said: “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA. This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

Right of return

According to an article in Foreign Policy, Palestinian officials revealed that Kushner pressed Jordan in June “to strip its more than two million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there”.

Ali Huweidi, the general manager of a Lebanon-based refugee rights organisation, told MEE that Jordan’s Palestinian refugees make up more than 40 percent of the refugees in UNRWA’s five areas of operation. If the agency were to cease providing these services, he said, Palestinian refugees would be transferred to UNHCR, which “would then seek to resettle Palestinian refugees in third countries. Once they are granted citizenship, their status as refugees falls.”

Both Jordan and Lebanon have rejected moves to transfer the provision of services for Palestinian refugees from UNRWA to host governments. Huweidi noted that Jordan views the agency as “an important strategic partner”. Lebanese officials have also indicated that the state could not take on UNRWA’s role, particularly in the areas of education and health.

The Palestinian refugees I met on a recent trip to Lebanon all told me that they would not accept anything short of a return to their homes, a sentiment echoed by those participating in Gaza’s Great March of Return. Only then will peace come to the holy land.

Israel’s royal reward for discriminating against Palestinians

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 25/6/2018

Prince-Williams-arrives-at-Jordan20180624_2_31108726_35032294

UK Prince Williams arrives at the Marka International Airport to hold official visits in Amman, Jordan on 24 June 2018 [Shadi Nsoor/Anadolu Agency]

As Britain’s Prince William arrives in Israel for a royal visit that will also see him visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories, does he really understand the country upon which he is bestowing an air of normality? The same question would apply to any world leader or dignitaries making a similar trip to the state of Israel as it is currently constituted.

Members of the British royal family have, of course, made visits to other states with highly questionable values and human rights records. However, in the current climate, the Foreign Office rightly shies away from organising such a trip to, for example, Myanmar because of its appalling treatment and displacement of the Rohingya Muslims, which has created a major refugee problem.

Similar consideration should have been given before pushing the second in line to the throne to undertake a trip to Israel, which was founded in 1948 on the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians to make way for Jewish immigrants; it has rightly been called “ethnic cleansing” and is an ongoing process. Palestinians continue to live in exile in refugee camps to this day, including those in Jordan, where William spent the first evening of the visit watching a recording of the England vs Panama football match with the Jordanian Crown Prince. Will he be briefed about the obstacles that Israel places in the way of Palestinians trying to play the beautiful game, and the sometimes targeted shooting of them in the legs?

The prince could have visited Al-Baqa’a refugee camp, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited a couple of days ago, highlighting the continuing Palestinian refugee problem that the world has failed to resolve. It is one of 10 camps registered with UNRWA, which altogether accommodate around one-fifth of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in the Hashemite Kingdom.

In a carefully choreographed visit to Israel and Palestine, the prince will meet the leadership of a people still under occupation, the Palestinians, as well as the people who have been occupying and colonising their land for 51 years (70 if you count the original Nakba), the Israelis. He will meet carefully chosen Palestinians who will not remind him of Britain’s role in their predicament or ask why Britain continues to sell weapons to Israel and why it failed to condemn Israel’s massacres of Palestinians under siege in Gaza.

They will not talk about the Balfour Declaration or the British occupation under the League of Nations Mandate, or ask him why he has made the trip now, which his family had refrained from doing since Israel’s establishment. Nor will they ask him why Britain is rewarding Israel with his visit, when the situation on the ground is worse now than ever before for the indigenous Palestinians whose only crime was to live on the land that Zionists wanted as a homeland for people who did not come from there. They will not ask him the fundamental question of why he is visiting an Apartheid state that dominates and discriminates against even its own Palestinian citizens who make up one-fifth of the population.

2018_5-15-Pro-Palestine-demonstration-in-London20180515_2_30391105_33774815

The FCO will have emphasised to the Prince that Israel is not only an ally but also a democracy and that it shares western values to which Britain subscribes. However, it is unlikely that he would have been briefed in detail about the kind of democracy that Israel actually practices. It claims to be a Jewish and democratic state, but inherent in this is that its Jewish character always trumps democracy.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, recently stopped a bill from being discussed that would have given equal rights to all citizens. A bill calling for Israel “to be defined as a state of all its citizens” was disqualified from being placed on the Knesset’s agenda. Palestinian Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi, who the Prince is unlikely to meet, reaffirmed recently that, “A democracy does not exist without equality among its citizens.” Such equality is missing from Israeli-style democracy.

We can assume that this naked discrimination between citizens of the same country would not be something that Prince William would subscribe to, but his visit to Israel gives it the green light to continue.

The “Nation State Bill” passed its first reading earlier this year, and will define Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people”. The discriminatory implications of the Bill passing in its original format worry those who fight for equality between human beings, particularly citizens of the same state.

We can also safely assume that Britain would not establish as a matter of policy communities that are exclusively for people of one colour, creed or religion, but the illegal settlement enterprise enforced by Israel on occupied Palestinian land does exactly that. It builds homes, roads and other infrastructure for the exclusive use of its Jewish citizens. Even within Israel’s undeclared but internationally recognised borders, Jews live largely segregated lives from non-Jewish citizens.

Furthermore, it would be inconceivable for British communities to set up “Admissions Committees” to vet those wishing to move in. Prince William will not be told that in 2014 the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the “Admissions Committees Law” that allows Israel’s Jewish communities to exclude its Arab citizens from living in the same town, village or neighbourhood.

In March, a Jewish town in the Galilee region of northern Israel cancelled the sale of land for new homes in the community after it “became clear that more than 50 per cent of those purchasing the plots were Arab citizens”. Hundreds of Jewish Israelis demonstrated recently in Afula against the sale of a home to an Arab family.

The prince will not be told about Israel’s discrimination against the Bedouin Community in the Negev Desert. Since its creation on Palestinian land in 1948, it has not recognised 35 villages, which it deprives of services, simply because they are populated by Bedouin. He will not be told that the Bedouin village of Um Al-Hiran will be demolished to make way the Jew-only settlement of Hiran.

William will not be told of more than 65 laws on the statute book that discriminate against non-Jews in the state, including the law of return and marriage between Israeli citizens and Palestinian citizens from the occupied territories. Nor will he visit Hebron to see modern day Apartheid in action, with an illegal occupation to boot. He will not visit Gaza to see the impact of the 11-year long siege, so he will not visit the home of Razan Al-Najjar, the 21- year old medic who was gunned down and killed by an Israel soldier while helping the injured.

razan-al-najjar

The prince will not be told that Jewish and Arab women are segregated in hospital maternity wards or that Bedouins are not allowed into a swimming pool because locals threatened to “boycott the pool if Bedouin were allowed in.”

Even as a military man himself, Prince William will not visit a military court to see Palestinian children shackled and abused while they await conviction as almost all charges against them are upheld by the courts whose jurisdiction does not apply to Israeli Jews.

The above is but a taste of the discriminatory state that Prince William is honouring with his visit. Does such an openly racist state deserve this honour? What will it take for the so-called international community and civilised western states to see Israel for what it has become and move from protecting it from accountability for its crimes to sanctioning it for its continued breaches of international laws and conventions?

The timing of the visit is very much linked to Britain’s exit from the European Union and its desperation to sign trade deals post-BREXIT. Prince William is being used by the government to extract such a deal with a rogue, Apartheid state that will take anything on offer and continue to discriminate against Palestinians with impunity, emboldened by this royal visit.

First came America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and now we have a visit by a senior member of the British royal family, despite Israel’s appalling human rights record What incentive does it have to stop abusing Palestinians and their legitimate rights and aspirations?

UNRWA, the US Embassy move and the Israeli occupation

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 24/4/2018

Gazan's gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA's funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

Gazan’s gather outside the UN offices in Gaza to protest US cuts to UNRWA’s funding, on January 28, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

This will be remembered as the year when the United States of America broke with the international consensus by moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognising the Holy City as the capital of Israel. The deliberate timing of the move to coincide with next month’s 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation in historic Palestine —the Nakba (Catastrophe) — has angered Palestinians whose faith in the US as an honest broker in the peace process has always been low but is now non-existent.

Palestinian anger has been fuelled further by the Trump administration’s removal of references to Palestinian land captured by Israel in 1967 as “occupied” from its latest annual human rights report. “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017” broke with previous policy by changing the section on the human rights situation in Israel and Palestine from “Israel and the Occupied Territories” to “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza”. At a stroke, the US State Department has removed reference to the occupation of any land taken by force by Israel in 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights.

US threats of aid cuts - Cartoon [Arabi21News]

It is rather ironic that the report still claims: “Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Such a change runs counter to international law. Washington’s alleged commitment “to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty” can certainly not be seen as applying to the Palestinian people.

This US administration is chipping away shamelessly at the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which they have demanded for 70 years. Trump claims to have taken Jerusalem off the table, that there is no occupation and that the settlements are no longer referred to as “illegal”. This leaves just one more issue to take off the table, the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 194 in which it resolved that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

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

There are now 5.5 million Palestinian refugees clinging to this right; the Great March of Return has seen tens of thousands of them marching peacefully to the border area in Gaza to reaffirm it. While they wait for that right to be implemented, they continue to be supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency was established in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for “Palestine refugees in the Near East”. UNRWA began its operations on 1 May 1950 and its services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict. They are delivered in the main countries where the Palestinian refugees continue to live: the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Gaza, UNRWA provides services to refugees who make up 80 per cent of the population.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN Member States. It also receives some core funding from the regular budget of the United Nations, which is used mostly for international staffing costs.

READ: UNRWA gets cash injection after US cuts

The agency is facing a funding crisis, exacerbated by the US decision to cut its contribution. In January, the State Department announced that it was withholding $65m out of its $125m interim aid package earmarked for UNRWA stating that “additional US donations would be contingent on major changes” by the agency.

When asked what major changes the US Administration asked of UNRWA to continue its funding, the official spokesman was unable to point to specific requirements. Speaking at a meeting in the British parliament organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, Chris Gunness expressed the agency’s surprise at the defunding given that last November US officials had praised UNRWA’s high impact, accountability and flexibility.

The PRC meeting looked at Britain’s relationship with UNRWA. Gunness praised the government’s ongoing financial support but then set out the problems that the agency is facing, which he described as an “unprecedented financial and existential crisis.” He told the meeting that the Trump administration is actually “defunding UNRWA to the tune of $305 million” having only paid $60m in January when $360m was expected. Despite having already started to procure food and non-food items in the expectation of receiving the full amount from the US, UNRWA was told by the State Department that no more would be forthcoming.

US embassy might be moved to Jerusalem – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Gunness described the scale of UNRWA’s work in numbers: it educates 525,000 children, for example, 270,000 of whom are in Gaza. Its health projects offer 9 million patient consultations a year. It employs 33,000 people, including 22,000 teachers and education staff, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees themselves; this gives a huge boost to the economy in Palestinian refugee camps. It also supports small-scale projects through micro finance. “UNRWA is not a light bulb you can turn on or off,” insisted Gunness. “You cannot just offer a third of an education to half a million children.”

UNRWA’s resources have been stretched by the crisis in Syria, the spokesman pointed out. Additional needs have been generated by the 150,000 Palestinian refugees who were among more than half a million living in Syria to flee to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.

Gunness warned that even after the recent Rome conference which sought to raise $466 million for UNRWA, only $110m was raised, including $50m from Qatar alone. Although Saudi Arabia subsequently pledged another $50 million, the agency only has sufficient funds to see it through to July of this year.

The real problem, he said, is the lack of a political solution; this is a conversation that the donor community “is not prepared to have. They seem to believe dialogue about reform somehow replaces it, but it does not. Their focus continues to be on how efficient UNRWA is in delivering its services and the rising costs.” The costs are rising, he added, because there has been 70 years of unaddressed dispossession and 50 years of occupation. “That is what drives the bill up. There are more and more refugees because there is an unresolved political plight and the children of refugees have become refugees.” This “protracted refugee situation” also applies to UNHCR.

When asked what would happen to the refugees if UNRWA collapsed, Gunness said, “Palestinian refugees are human beings with rights.” Those rights do not disappear if UNRWA is not around. “Their options will remain as integration wherever they are, third country repatriation or repatriation, which means going home.” He confirmed that the preferred remedy for dealing with refugees by UNHCR is the right of return in that it produces the most stable outcome.

READ: 100 days since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, the facts

Speaking at the same meeting, Oxford-based Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi warned that the US defunding of UNRWA is designed to “dismantle it”. Professor Nabulsi argued that UNRWA was created by the UN following the “dismantlement of our country and destruction of our society” under its watch. “It was,” she reminded the audience, “initially meant to exist for 6 months to a year but with the passing of time, it had become ‘stabilised’.”

The current crisis, she insisted, is more extreme than those previously, “because it goes at the heart of who we are as a people and that we are a people.” UNRWA, she said, “is the only institution that recognises our inalienable rights and our status as refugees and the obligation of the UN to uphold those and protect us. Its demise would be like you have wiped us off the face of the earth.”

She contrasted the reaction to Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem with the UNRWA funding cut. There was pushback by the international community, including the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, against the embassy move. “The attack on UNRWA, however, has happened very quietly. Not many people understand it or see how important it is.”

Nabulsi reminded the audience that the US Embassy move, the siege on Gaza and other Israeli policies are classic settler-colonialism, which the Palestinians have experienced for a century. “Colonialism displaces the people and sets up a new country instead. It is a process not an event.”

Nevertheless, Professor Nabulsi finished by sharing a reason for optimism. “Because it is an ongoing event, we have a chance to stop it,” she pointed out. “It is not over.”

Netanyahu is redefining ethnic cleansing not pursuing genuine peace

First published on the Middle East Monitor on 10/11/2017

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Benjamin Netanyahu/Facebook]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not known for missing an opportunity to push peace further into the distant future. The dust had not even settled on the Balfour Centenary, which the Palestinians marked with anger and Israel and its supporters celebrated, before Netanyahu took to the air to absolve Israel of any fault for the lack of progress towards peace. Israel is in a difficult neighbourhood and therefore its security needs are such that meeting these is almost incompatible with a Palestinian state.

In an interview with the well-known BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr, he trotted out the usual talking points. Israel, he said, “stands out as a beacon of democracy, a beacon of self-restraint in a sea of trouble”. As for the Israeli army, “there is no more moral army in the world,” he said. The settlements “are an issue but I don’t think they are the issue”. Instead he believes the issue “is the 100-year-old refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary”.  Netanyahu took issue with Marr regarding the settlements, saying “the idea that Jews cannot live in Judea [the West Bank] is crazy”. When challenged that it is Palestinian territory, which the UN says is a flagrant violation of international law, he said that it is “disputed territory”. He even claimed that the settlements are “a side issue for Palestinians too,” arguing that he is continuing to work for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine.

On the prospects for a Palestinian state he said that the Palestinians “should have all the powers to govern themselves and none of the powers to threaten us”. Marr pushed him on whether this means the end of the two-state solution and the move to a different solution – one state. “No,” he replied, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I’ll be clear about that”. He argued that it was about the kind of state that emerges. To him it would have to be demilitarised and recognise the state of Israel. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has already met both these conditions. In signing the Oslo Accords, the PLO recognised the state of Israel while Israel did not recognise a Palestinian state, but rather the PLO as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people”.

In the wider context, the real threat to Israel is the Iranian threat. In a Chatham House interviewearlier in the same week, Netanyahu argued that Iran was a “cause”; an expansionist country that wanted to gobble up small and medium-sized states as it moved towards the “larger states”. To him, Israel shares this fear with Sunni-majority countries. He presented Israel as the only example in the Middle East of what he called “modernity” vs. the “Medievalists,” which were both Shia and Sunni Islamists.

Netanyahu again reiterated his belief that the conflict would be finished if the Palestinians recognised a Jewish state. When challenged that in fact the Palestinians will not get a state but an “entity,” Netanyahu came clean. He argued that it was time to “to reassess whether the model we have of sovereignty and unfettered sovereignty is applicable everywhere on the earth”. He pointed to the British not wanting “outside control” on their economy, hence Brexit, and pointed to the lack of “economic sovereignty” that Greece has, referring to his “friend” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He argued that in the complex world we live in, there are constraints on what are considered sovereign powers.

His argument was that in the case of historic Palestine, the land was too small to divide. He said that he had presented to US President Donald Trump a map which showed the distance from the West Bank to the Mediterranean as 50 kilometres which he said was the same distance form “Trump Tower to the George Washington Bridge”. If Israel leaves the West Bank, then “militant Islam” would move in as happened in Gaza and Lebanon. It is either a “green flag” or a “black flag’. While not wanting to “govern the Arabs,” he wants overall security from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean: “For us the critical thing is to have the overriding security responsibility.” The demilitarisation of the West Bank would be done by Israel.

In other words, no Palestinian state will emerge but an entity which would have governing sovereignty but no security sovereignty.

At the same Chatham House event, Netanyahu described the demand for the removal of West Bank settlers as “ethnic cleansing,” comparing the settlers to Palestinian citizens of Israel. “From the Palestinian point of view, why do I have to take out Jews for peace? Do I have to take Arab citizens out of Israel for peace?” The comparison between Palestinian citizens of Israel and the illegal settlers is absurd. The Palestinians were there before Israel was created while the settlers were moved into the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights in breach of international law. Their removal would correct a wrong.

This is not the first time Netanyahu has used this analogy. In 2016 he was rebuked for using it by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Obama administration. The Obama administration described it as inappropriate: “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. Perhaps Netanyahu feels that with Donald Trump in the White House, this approach will find favour.

Another term that needs adjusting according to Israel is refugee. The claim now is that Jews that migrated to Israel from Arab countries at its inception are refugees in the same way as Palestinian refugees deliberately driven out of Palestine in 1948 are regarded as refugees, despite the fact that they are not formally recognised as refugees by the UN.

In Netanyahu’s eyes, rather than Israel work towards meeting its obligations under international law for peace, he is attempting to create confusion and change the discourse to make ending the occupation and creating a sovereign Palestinian state a threat to Israel’s very survival. The two terms he is out to remould are now sovereignty and ethnic cleansing.

I wish he was using the brain power around him to pursue genuine peace with the Palestinians instead of thinking that the status quo and redefining a couple of terms will bring Israel peace or security.

MBC TV gives Arab Kids a Voice

Recent years have seen a spate of talent shows on ArabTV, especially on the Saudi channel MBC. The shows gave effectively been franchises of well know western ones such as the Voice and …. Got talent. 

One of the most memorable moments was when Palestinian singer, Mohammed Assaf won Arab Idol in 2014. He managed to join the show by the skin of his teeth,jumping over the fence around the venue in Cairo having been delayed on his way from Gaza. He has become a star since then and most Palestinians point to his achievement as an example of what many could achieve if they were given freedom and independence.

This year I was persuaded to watch the Voice kids. The format will be familiar to readers. Three judges sit in big red chairs and if they like a voice they press a big button to turn and see the singer. If more than one does so, the singer has to choose which famous singer he or she want to join in the latter stages.

  
I was moved to write these words having been stunned watching children as young as seven perform with such panache and skill that stunned the well know judges. Children from as far west as Morocco, as Far East as Bahrain, as far north as Syria and as far south as Egypt brought the house down in 2-minute bursts. 

  
What brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion were a number that were refugees. One was a Palestinian boy from Lebanon, another an Iraqi refugee from Lebanon and a number of Syrian children.

To watch these amazing children look for the YouTube channel for MBC the Voice kids.

Our war torn Middle East has been cruel to all but particularly to the children. Some have seen loved ones die in front of their eyes, seen their families lose everything and have been without schooling for years.

Thank you MBC for giving some of these kids the chance to show their talents but also to remind the Arab world that things can be different. Given half a chance our children will excel and make great contributions to humanity. 

Jews migrating to Israel should go via Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon

Jews migrating to Israel should go via Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon

This first appeared on the Middle East Monitor on 1 February 2016

Every year, Israel announces proudly that more Jews have made “aliyah”, the Hebrew term for Jewish migration from the “Diaspora” to the “Land of Israel”. In 2014, 26,500 made the journey, a 10-year high. They do this under the Law of Return, which was introduced in 1950. It is a racist law which gives Jews with no connection to historic Palestine the “right” to move to Israel, to settle and to develop a new life. Non-Jews do not have the same right under the law; Palestinians who were driven out of their homes in 1948 and 1967 (in a process carrying on to this day) do not have the same opportunity to return, even though this is guaranteed by international law. The Palestinian right of return is enshrined in law and is the subject of the much referred to UN General Assembly resolution 194.

The process for making aliyah is made relatively simple. A quick visit to the Jewish Agency website provides a comprehensive guide. The site provides a great deal of information and a consultant is allocated to help applicants to get a visa at their local Israeli consulate and a free one way ticket to Tel Aviv. The site advises applicants to learn Hebrew to make it easier “to make Israeli friends”. It omits to mention that 20 per cent of all Israelis are Palestinians and therefore Arabic would make it easier to make friends too.

Applicants are advised that they may be required to serve in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and that if they are migrating alone they are eligible for special assistance as a “Lone Soldier”. Information on housing, education, health and finding a job is also presented helpfully. There is a special section for 18-35 year olds called “Customised Connections”, outlining “absorption programmes”. The site also points out that upon arrival a cash payment will be made and financial assistance for six months will be deposited in a bank account once the migrant opens one.

What is missing from this guidance to Jewish migrants is any context in relation to the non-Jews who live in Israel, the Palestinians in the occupied territories or the refugees who continue to languish in refugee camps across the Arab world; or, indeed, details of the wider Palestinian Diaspora. While there is some historical information about the Arab/Israeli conflict on the aliyah site, there is no reference to it in the guidance to new immigrants. There is not even a section which describes “Israel today” which could outline the reality on the ground to help potential immigrants make up their minds objectively about the important decision to migrate. Potential immigrants to Israel could be excused for deducing that they are planning to move to a normal country which is only inhabited by Jews and that there are no problems apart from finding a home, schools and a medical centre. The reality is that immigrants will be moving to a state which was created through violence and terror and continues to exist through violence and terror. Reference to serving in the IDF should include a health warning that they are likely to enforce the occupation through oppression and on some occasions to kill members of the indigenous population whose land is being colonised and developed illegally for their benefit.

In recent years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called repeatedly on French Jews in particular to make aliyah. Apart from this being unnecessary interference in another state’s domestic affairs, French Jews who heed his call do so without understanding the background sufficiently and on the false pretence that Israel is a “safer” place for them than their home country, France.

Whether from France or other countries, those considering migration to Israel should be exposed to the impact that the creation of Israel has had on the indigenous population. They should be provided with the opportunity to look Palestinian refugees in the eye, listen to their stories and understand that the state they are moving to continues to ban Palestinians from returning home, in contravention of international law. They should hear how the refugees, their fathers and grandfathers were terrorised into leaving their homes in 1948 and witness the conditions that they live in to this day. Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon would provide a wonderful and informative excursion. Not only will potential migrants meet refugees who have lived in Lebanon since 1948 but their brothers and sisters from Yarmouk and other refugee camps in Syria. Making such a trip is possible as all those who would make it already hold passports — from their home countries — that would admit them to Lebanon.

The situation facing the refugees is described thoroughly in the Palestinian Return Centre’sreport: ‘The “Forgotten People”: Assessing Poverty Among Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. It describes an ever worsening situation which has resulted in 160,000 refugees being categorised as poor or very poor. The already desperate situation has worsened significantly as first Syrian refugees and then Palestinian refugees from Syria fled their homes in search of a safe environment. It is ironic that Lebanon’s existing refugees have become hosts to Syria’s refugees.

A few days spent at one of the twelve official UN refugee camps in Lebanon would be extremely informative to those considering aliyah. They can take their pick from Burj El-Barajneh, Ain Al-Hilweh or the infamous Sabra and Shatila, or maybe one of the growing “informal gatherings” of refugees across the country. After hearing the heart-rending stories of expulsion and dispossession, how would they then justify moving to live where the refugees and their families actually came from? If they eventually move to Israel, how will they feel as they drive through a landscape that was changed deliberately to hide the destroyed villages which were once home to the Palestinians they met in Lebanon? How will they feel about serving in an army that exists to oppress other refugees in the West Bank and to attack Gaza regularly, where the population is 80 per cent refugees, in order for Jews to be able to live in comfort in Israel?

As the search for the elusive breakthrough in the conflict continues, those selling the idea of the life-changing experience that aliyah to Israel provides for Jews should also offer them the opportunity to see for themselves the life changing reality that the creation of Israel had and continues to have on an entire people. It has been catastrophic.

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. He writes here in a personal capacity.