Bedouins’ endless suffering in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/2/2018

How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

Unabated onslaught. Bedouin children stand on the rubble of two classrooms destroyed by the Israeli Army in the village of Abu Nuwar in the West Bank, on February 4. (AP)

Descendants of the Bedouins who inhabited historic Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 live on either side of the Green Line that defines the internationally recognised border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Once nomads, tens of thousands of Bedouins live in villages across the desert region of southern Israel and in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have Israeli citizenship. Those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have Palestinian Authority passports.

On February 4, Israeli forces closed off an area around a school for Bedouins in the West Bank village of Abu Nuwar and demolished two EU-funded classrooms in the school. A statement from Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories said: “The building was built illegally and without the necessary permits. In addition, the enforcement was approved by the Supreme Court.” This was the fifth time the school had been demolished since 2016.

Another area where whole communities are under threat of expulsion is Khan al-Ahmar where 12 communities are at risk. The area east of Jerusalem has about 1,400 residents. The communities are scattered on either side of the Jerusalem-Jericho road and on either side of Route 437, which connects the village of Hizma with the main road.

Importantly, the area is east of the industrial zone of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, making it strategic for Israel’s expansionist policies and its plans to annex more Palestinian land.

Palestinian Bedouins have suffered severely at the hands of the occupying forces in the West Bank but the situation for Bedouins on the other side of the Green Line, where they settled in villages in the Negev, is no different. They, too, face discrimination and oppression, including property demolition, from the Israeli authorities.

Members of the Bedouin community in the Negev have been under threat of eviction from their villages for years. Their plight was sealed in 2013 when the Prawer-Begin Bill was approved by the Knesset by a 43-40 vote. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and said it would end with the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) in southern Israel.

It argued that, if fully implemented, “it will result in the destruction of 46 ‘unrecognised’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”

Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin plan was halted when one of its architects, Benny Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to stop progress on the legislation just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that, contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not have their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without its consultation.

Two villages in particular gained prominence in recent years because of Israel’s actions against them. Al-Araqib attracted attention after Israel repeatedly destroyed it. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. Last October, it was demolished for the 120th time.

The other village is Umm al-Hiran. Israel wants to expel the whole community from the village and build a settlement for Jews. At a protest against the demolitions in January 2017, Yaakub Abu al-Qian, a 50-year-old teacher, was killed by Israeli police while driving his car. Locals denied police claims that Qian had been shot after ploughing his car into police officers, saying his car accelerated only after he was shot and lost control. An Israeli police officer died in the incident.

It seems that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing its plan on a village-by-village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish-only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

Whether as the state in which they have citizenship in the Negev (85,000) or as their illegal occupier in the West Bank (50,000), Israel treats Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions about them to suit Israel’s colonialist agenda. How else does one explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish-only settlements?

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?

 

Report on seminar: UK panel on Mideast peace urges EU to take broker role

Anadolu Agency 24/1/2018

The US cannot continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace, says speaker at panel organized by EuroPal Forum

 

UK panel on Mideast peace urges EU to take broker role

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON

It is time for Europe to lead for peace in the Middle East following the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a London panel heard Tuesday.

The message was conveyed by speakers at the panel “Trump’s Jerusalem Promise: Time for Europe to Lead for Peace in the Middle East” organized by the EuroPal Forum – an independent and non-party political organization based in London working to build networks throughout Europe in support of the promotion and realization of Palestinian rights.

Speaking at the panel via a recorded video message, Julie Ward, a member of the European Parliament from the Labour Party, underlined that since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel on Dec. 6, there has been an increase in violent actions by Israel’s occupying forces against the Palestinians.

Ward said Trump’s decision is a “serious provocation for those who have been pursuing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause”. She said Trump’s decision to reverse seven decades of foreign policy has dismayed the majority of the world’s leaders, dashing the hopes of peace campaigners from both sides of the conflict.

Stressing that Trump’s decision goes against all peace efforts by all parties and encourages Israel’s continuing violation of human rights, Ward said “it is clear that the U.S. would not be a productive partner” in the peace process.

“We are pushing the EU to take action…in the European parliament,” she added.

Toby Cadman, a barrister and international law specialist, pointed out that the rejection of Trump’s decision by the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and by a very high number of the member countries at the General Assembly despite threats made by the U.S. administration was “significant”.

Cadman said whether Trump will implement his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem still remains to be seen, but the U.S. could not continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace when such a decision had been made.

Another speaker, Dr. Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian academic, writer and activist, argued that with the latest decision, the U.S. administration “has made very clear that Israeli and U.S. interests are identical”.

“And therefore, the gloves are off. It is very clear that the U.S. not only isn’t an honest broker, it is not an independent broker, but it is totally identified with Israel,” Karmi said.

Recalling the cuts by the U.S. administration in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Karmi said someone else should fill this gap.

“The EU becomes very important with this vacuum of international support for the Palestinians…Why the EU is now relevant is of course because it is very much involved in this business.”

Karmi said the EU has funded both Israelis and Palestinians in various fields and is therefore an ideal body to play the role.

“What is the EU’s position on Palestine and Palestinian people’s future? First, peace can be achieved by two states, by the creation of a Palestinian State and having a two-state solution. Secondly, there has been a concern by the EU from the beginning with the refugee issue.”

Karmi said the two-state solution has been the “bedrock” in EU policy toward the conflict and urged the EU to press on Israel for a possible two-state solution. She said the EU could suspend a visa waiver program in place for Israeli citizens which makes it possible for them to travel freely across Europe.

“That’s a very small action that the EU could start with,” she said.

Regarding Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, Karmi said “we must not think about the U.S. in this context. We have to free ourselves from this kind of thinking.”

Prof. Kamel Hawwash, an academic from Birmingham University and a writer, was among the speakers at the EuroPal Forum’s panel.

Recalling his recent entry rejection by Israeli officials, Hawwash argued that the EU should refuse entry for Israeli settlers.

“The last UN resolution about the settlers [from the occupied Palestinian territories] … distinguished between Israel and the occupied territories.

“The EU can actually escalate the distinction through an action to do with settlement… it must be about imposing some sort of sanction… If I am denied entry as a British citizen to Israel, why is it that Israeli settlers are allowed to come in?”

However, Hawwash also urged Palestinians to look at their own means to activate a peace process first and then start searching for support as well.

One of the organizers, Zaher Birai, told Anadolu Agency that he hoped the panel would “send a clear message that it is unacceptable… to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.

Birai said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement yesterday “was worrying” despite the previous messages of support for Palestinians from the British government.

“Clearly, with Jerusalem now having been recognized by the U.S. as the capital of Israel, one would expect some symmetrical movement in the other direction to get things moving,” Boris Johnson said during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Johnson on Tuesday was accused of putting a two-state solution at fresh risk after suggesting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is a “moment of opportunity” for peace.

Trump’s controversial decision has sparked a wave of condemnation and protests across the world.

The full 193-member UN General Assembly met for a rare emergency special session regarding the decision, and 128 members voted in favor of a resolution which affirmed that the issue of Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. Nine countries voted against and 35 others abstained in the vote held on Dec. 21 last year.

Interview: Hopes for two state solution dying

I was interviewed by Press TV for On the News Line 12/1/2018

Hopes for the so-called two state solution are gradually dying in light of support for and disfavor toward the

 

Israel’s ‘realities on the ground’ make a solution to the conflict harder to achieve

First published by the Middle East Eye on 23/12/2017

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution

On 23 December 2016, the last UN Security Council Resolution on Palestine and Israel was passed. The resolution reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlement activities stating that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

It reiterated the demand that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”.

The resolution also underlined that “it will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”. It called upon “all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

Parting shot

While resolution 2334 addressed other issues included in the Middle East Quartet report, I will focus on the issue of settlements and differentiation between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

As for the reporting mechanism, the UNSC resolution requested that the UN Secretary General was “to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution”.

The resolution was a parting shot for the Obama administration as it was preparing to hand the reigns over to Donald Trump’s administration. In an unprecedented move for the US – which traditionally vetoes resolutions criticising Israel – it abstained, while the other 14 permanent and elected members of the council voted in favour.

Explaining the US decision to abstain, the representative of the United States said it had been “a long-standing position of her country that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability”. She emphasised, however, that her vote today had not been straightforward.

The resolution was dismissed by Israel, whose representative said that those who had voted “yes” to the resolution had voted “no” to negotiations, to progress and to a “chance for better lives for both Israelis and Palestinians, and to the possibility of peace”.

He added that “the council had voted to condemn the State of Israel and the Jewish people for building homes in the land of Israel” and to deny “our eternal rights” in Jerusalem.

A timely action

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the council’s action, while long-overdue, “was timely, necessary and important”.  He dismissed claims of bias, saying “the only bias was against law, reason and the vision of two States as the most viable solution”.

He stressed the resolution required “vigilant follow-up if it was to be meaningful and salvage a two-state solution from relegation to history’s archives”.

Since the resolution was not formulated under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, it was always likely to be ignored by Israel as it has no teeth. Additionally, Israel has felt emboldened by a new US Administration, which has sided with it and claimed it is unfairly treated by the UN bodies.

US representative Nikki Hayley told the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC “the days of Israel bashing are over”. She claimed – without evidence – “when Resolution 2334 happened and the US abstained, the entire country felt a kick in the gut” adding “never did we not have the backs of our friends, and we don’t have a greater friend than Israel. To see that happen was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki , speaks on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on December 21, 2017 in New York City (AFP)

She claimed that “everyone at the United Nations is scared” to talk to her about the measure.

‘Vigilant follow-up’?

The resolution mandated the UN Secretary General to report on its implementation on a three-monthly basis. The picture that emerged is one of a flagrant violation of its call on Israel to halt settlement construction and a lack of differentiation by member states between Israel and the OPT.

In his first report in March 2017 Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, stated: “The reporting period has witnessed a notable increase in statements, announcements and decisions related to settlement construction and expansion.”

He reported that “In January, two major announcements were made for a total of 5,500 housing units in settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Within three weeks, some 3,000 housing units were advanced through the various stages of the planning process and over 240 units reached the final approval stage. Separately, tenders for some 800 housing units were issued.”

In June’s report, Mladenov informed the Council that no steps have been taken by Israel to cease settlement activity during the reporting period. “In fact – since the 24th of March – there has been substantial increase in settlement-related announcements as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued.”

UNSC 2334 has failed to bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land (AFP)

In September’s report  Mladenov reported that “Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.

“Activity during this period was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016.”

His final report for 2017 reported that “some 1,200 units in the occupied West Bank were approved for construction, approximately 460 of them in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim”.

Israel also advanced, through the various stages of the planning process, “some 1,400 housing units in Area C of the West Bank”.

Realities on the ground

His overall conclusion for the year was that “significantly more housing units were advanced and approved in 2017. In Area C, the number of units advanced and approved more than doubled from 3,000 in 2016 to nearly 7,000 in 2017. In East Jerusalem, the increase has similarly been from 1,600 in 2016 to some 3,100 in 2017.”

It is clear from the above that UNSC 2334 has failed to either bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land or for member states to act to distinguish between Israel and the OPT.

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution which is now well and truly buried, particularly if the leaks about the “deal of the century” or the “ultimate deal” being developed by trump’s pro-Israel team are to be believed.

When announcing his recognition of Jerusalem (including occupied East Jerusalem) as Israel’s capital, Trump referred to reality on the ground. He stated “today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

The message to Israel is that you create reality on the ground and the US will then recognise these new realities devoid of international law or UN Security Council resolutions.

The number of settlers residing illegally in settlements has grown without any notable interruption.

If they all remain, and indeed others are added, then there can be no two-state solution or a deal that the Palestinians can accept. Even if Trump is replaced at some point by a more responsible president, he or she will be left with realities that make a solution to the conflict ever harder to achieve.

Israel and its supporters in the US may be smiling and cheering now but they cannot expect the Palestinians to behave like a model occupied people and pick up the crumbs that remain to form their homeland.

The settlement enterprise has well and truly kicked peace into the long grass.