UN General Assembly brings no respite for Palestinians

First published by TRT World on 28/9/2018

Between Donald Trump touting a two-state solution and Benjamin Netanyahu preoccupied with Israel – the plight of the Palestinians was once again largely ignored at the UN.

All eyes were on US President Trump during the UN General Assembly this year as he made his second address to the world body.

His speech will be remembered for the outburst of laughter when he tried to laud his administration’s achievements which he claimed “accomplished more than almost any…in the history of our country”.

Trump went on to claim that world leaders were laughing with him and not at him,” which simply is not supported by images from the whole, the whole world saw.

In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was again on-form recounting his achievements in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He affirmed his belief that he “had taken Jerusalem off the table,” defunded the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, closed the PLO Mission in Washington DC and ceased all funding to the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had broken off all contact with the US Administration following its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and the US Embassy move.

Sitting next to Trump, Netanyahu seemed pleased.

But he certainly wasn’t expecting what came next and perhaps even Trump’s advisors didn’t either, judging by some of the images of his son-in-law and Special Advisor, Jared Kushner.

Trump suddenly announced “I like the two-state solution”, a position he had not taken when the two leaders first met in 2017 and indeed one that Netanyahu has major problems with as he does not believe in a two-state solution.

“That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling,” he continued.

Looking at the Israeli PM, Trump acknowledged Netanyahu’s rejection saying “You may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but that’s mine.”

Netanyahu did not respond.

While reporters were picking their jaws off the floor at the remarks, Trump then qualified his remarks saying “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he concluded, “I can live with either one.”

The Trump Administration had given Netanyahu so much that he must have felt that the issue of a Palestinian state was also off the table as far as Trump was concerned.

However, the US president continues to remind the world that he is a property tycoon who sees everything as a business deal wher historic Palestine is a piece of real estate to be negotiated, detached from history and rights.

Both Palestinians and Israelis sit atop sixty years of conflict which amply shows that this is much more than just a piece of real estate – and Trump has so far failed to convince either side to see it his way: if you don’t get the contract, you simply move onto the next potential deal.

For both sides, history shows that it is a matter of survival, of life and death.

Netanyahu, props, and little substance

With both Netanyahu and Abbas yet to speak to the UN General Assembly, analysts and commentators were wondering how the respective speeches would be rewritten following Trump’s comments.

Netanyahu did not wait and told reporters that “everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.”

He had in the past questioned what sovereignty means and talked of a Palestinian state ‘minus’. He defined this by saying “I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us”.

Netanyahu expects Trump to accept the Israeli approach where any possible peace scenario would leave security control of territories west of Jordan, in Israel’s hands. He also added that he assumed any American plan would reflect this principle.

When it came, Netanyahu’s speech made little reference to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He restricted his comments to the demonisation of the Palestinians and accused the Palestinian Authority of paying families of Palestinian prisoners and ‘terrorists’ as he called them.

Netanyahu hoped “the day will soon arrive when Israel will be able to expand peace, a formal peace, beyond Egypt and Jordan to other Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu defended the Israeli Knesset’s passing of the Nation State Bill—which many commentators claim cements Israel’s status as an Apartheid state—that gives only Jewish people in Israel the right to self-determination.

He claimed that condemnation of Israel for racism is “the same old antisemitism with a brand new face.”

The main focus of Netanyahu’s speech, as it frequently is, was Iran. He had his usual prop, maps and images of what he claimed was the location and entrance to an Iranian nuclear site.

A weak representative

Abbas spoke before Netanyahu, and it was billed to be historic, but it failed to live up to its billing and it was noticeable that the hall was not as full as it normally is.

Certainly not as full as when Abbas applied, and was granted, an upgrade to Palestine’s status to a non-member state in 2012.

Abbas told the GA that there would be no peace without “an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital” and stressed the capital would be East Jerusalem, not in East Jerusalem, countering leaks from the ‘deal of the century’ suggesting Abu Dis as the future capital. He opened his speech with “Jerusalem is not for sale, and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining”.

Abbas referred to the Palestine National Council, which instructed him “to suspend the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel until Israel recognises in its turn the State of Palestine on the fourth of June, 1967 borders.”

Parliament had also instructed him “to approach international courts, including the International Criminal Court (the ICC) to investigate Israel’s breaches of treaties and the aggressions by the Israeli occupying forces and settlers against our people, on our land and our holy sites.”

Abbas referred to Israel’s Nation State Law, explaining that “this law will inevitably lead to the creation of one racist state, an apartheid state, and thus nullifies the two-state solution.”

He reminded the GA that “the United Nations had condemned the apartheid South African state in several resolutions in the past,” and then challenged anyone to define Israel’s borders.

Abbas reserved some of his strongest criticism for the American Administration which he claimed had reneged on all the commitments between the two sides.

He said, “it’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the deal of the century, but what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Only humanitarian solutions, because when they remove off the negotiation table, Jerusalem, refugees and security – what is left?”

Abbas called on countries that do not recognise Palestine to do so, especially those that support a two-state solution and recognise Israel but not Palestine.

“No. You have to recognize both states. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to remind you again that Israel has not implemented any one of the hundreds of General Assembly resolutions. There are 705 resolutions issued by the General Assembly since 1947 to date and Security Council resolutions since 1948 to date not a single resolution has been implemented by Israel.”

Abbas warned that Israeli aggression, supported by its legal system, is now threatening the status of Al Aqsa mosque claiming, “now we are told that the Israeli Supreme Court will issue a decision to divide Al-Aqsa, spatially and time-wise.”

The Palestinian president also criticised Hamas for failing to agree to the recent efforts by Egypt to secure reconciliation between Abbas’s Fatah and Hams, laying the blame at Hamas’s door.

He called on the Palestinians to “remain patient, steadfast and to continue to sacrifice until we achieve independence and self-determination and to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital and not in Jerusalem”.

Fend for yourselves

And so the annual UN pilgrimage ends with the Palestinians weak and divided, pleading for protection for innocent civilians losing their lives at the hands of their brutal occupiers. Their Arab and Muslim allies continue to be cajoled into believing improving relations with Israel would endear them to Trump’s America and will bring protection from the Iranian threat.

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ has turned into the ‘slap of the century’ for Palestinians left with little to negotiate for.

A strong and emboldened Israel can continue expanding and entrenching its hold on Israel-occupied territories. Abbas’s hopes for an international peace conference that broadens and better reflects the international community’s interests in resolving the conflict did not gain any traction.

It is only through their numbers—nearly 13 million strong—and their steadfastness and resistance, that Palestinians can keep their cause alive. They are in this for the long term and they will not allow Israel to complete the Zionist project.

They will outlast Trump and his administration, which while giving Israel quick wins now, will in the long term bring harm not only to Palestinians, but to peace for everyone in the region.

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

 

The two-state solution is dead; long live the two-state solution

First published by the Middle East Monitor

2/7/2016

The Middle East Quartet has released its long-awaited report and to no one’s surprise it is claiming that the two-state solution is “in danger”. It alleges that this “danger” comes from Palestinian terrorism and incitement, and Israeli settlement building and takeover of the West Bank’s area C. The report reiterates that “a negotiated two-state outcome is the only way to achieve an enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues.” It expresses particular concern about:

  • Continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians and incitement to violence which are exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution;
  • The continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution; and
  • The illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.

We are told repeatedly that the two-state solution is “the only game in town” for solving the decades-long Palestinian injustice, both by the “international community” and the Palestinian Authority. However, what such a solution means to Israel is very different to what is understood by Palestinians. For the Palestinian leadership, a two-state solution means an independent Palestinian state on the pre-Six Day War 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital and minor land swaps. Israel does not accept this definition. Even when the two-state solution term is uttered by Israeli officials they are usually referring to two states for two people with an non-militarised Palestinian state recognising Israel as the “homeland of the Jewish people”. Any solution would also have to take Israel’s ever-expanding security demands into account and Israel would keep the “settlement blocs”, the definition of which is fluid.

This demonstrates that the two-state solution is far from being a concept the details of which are agreed upon, and that there are still many i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed if it is to become a reality; that it is far from just requiring some flexibility and some concessions from each side for it to be realised.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the last general election on a platform which was clear: “There will be no Palestinian state on my watch.” While he attempted to retract this after his electoral victory, he still does not accept a Palestinian state “on the 1967 line”. More recently, as talk of the French initiative grew louder and reference to the Arab Peace Initiative was included, Netanyahu flatly rejected it, saying, “If they bring the proposal from 2002 and define it as ‘take it or leave it’ – we’ll choose to leave it.” He argued that “its negative elements include the demand that Israel retreat to the 1967 borders in the West Bank with territorial adjustments, and leave the Golan Heights, as well as the return of the Palestinian refugees.” The offer to normalise relations with all Arab and Muslim countries if Israel implements international law is unacceptable to the Israeli leader.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, remains wedded to the two-state solution. You would have thought that Chief Palestinian Negotiator and PLO General Secretary Saeb Erekat — who has been involved in talks with the Israelis for over twenty years — would do the honourable thing and tell the world that the two-state solution is dead and then pursue a different political solution. He only has to look out of his Ramallah or Jericho office windows to see the illegal Israeli settlements that tower over Palestinian towns and villages, and the settler-only roads and other security measures that make a Palestinian state a pipe-dream.

His reasoning for refusing to make such an announcement is that he believes that the Israelis will not accept a one-state solution. However, as I have outlined above, nor do they accept a two-state solution. Erekat concludes that what Israel really wants is a single state with two systems and, therefore, Apartheid by any other name. I agree with his conclusion.

The Palestinians, though, must state clearly what they want; Israel does that all the time. The Palestinians want to remain in historic Palestine and those made refugees to return to their land. They want to be able to settle anywhere in their historic homeland and not to visit Jaffa only when Israel grants them a permit to be photographed and to reminisce. They want equality and to live in dignity. I also believe that they want to have their reasons for hating their occupier to end; at heart, the Palestinians are a peaceful people.

The Quartet’s report outlines some of its reasons why the two-state solution is still the only way to resolve the conflict. It recognises that facts on the ground in the form of Israel’s settlement expansion are making it difficult to realise. However, it does not define the tipping point when a report that it produces will acknowledge that the two-state solution is dead. In so doing it allows the status quo to continue, which only suits Israel. Israeli ministers and champions of the settlement project have learnt from the impunity that their state has enjoyed that the way to conquer historic Palestine in its entirety is through more settlement building and more oppression. The former reduces the possibility of a Palestinian state emerging and the latter will drive the Palestinians out of the remaining areas in which they are corralled.

The international community must define that tipping point. I suggest that if the number of illegal Jewish-Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem reaches one million then the die will be cast and the two-state solution will be dead and buried. Once that point is established in the collective mindset, everyone involved will either work to rescue the two-state solution before it is reached or, when the million mark is passed, the only game in town will be a different political solution. If that happens then it must be one that delivers justice to the Palestinian people, especially the refugees. I fear, though, that over the next few years we will continue to be sold the mirage that the two-state solution is the only deal on the table, and Israel will be allowed to continue to work towards what it really wants, which is historic Palestine emptied of its indigenous population.