Interview: Palestinians in Europe hold annual conference

I took part in the Sun will Rise programme for Press Tv which was broadcast on 4/5/2018

The Great March of Return: An opportunity for Palestinians to return to Najd or is it Sedrot?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 30/3/2018

There is nothing like a trip to Beirut and a visit to Palestinian refugee camps to remind visitors of the nub of the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba which refugees continue to endure to this day. They were thrown out of their homeland simply because another people wanted to make it their own and were prepared to use all means possible to have it, regardless of the catastrophic impact this would have on fellow human beings. The Palestinians did not ask to be occupied by the British or the Zionists and did not offer their land for another people, who would?

The 750,000 expelled in 1948 have now grown to nearly six million, most of whom are refugees living in camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The others are not formally refugees but like their fellow Palestinians – who are formally refugees according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – have an unshakeable connection to historic Palestine and wish to realise their right to return peacefully to their towns and villages in historic Palestine.

In 1948, 100,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon. According to UNRWA their numbers grew to an estimated 452,000 by 2015, living in 12 refugee camps. However, a consensus carried out by Lebanon in 2017 reported a much lower figure of 174,000. Asked to explain the difference the Agency’s spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP: “UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon”.  In addition to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, the consensus found that 17,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria had also moved into refugee camps in Lebanon as a result of the security situation there.

I am currently in Lebanon and ahead of Land Day, which is marked today, I took the opportunity to visit Sabra and the Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. The names are infamous for a massacre that was carried out by Lebanese militia under the watch of the Israeli army during their devastating invasion of Lebanon between 16 and 19 September 1982. Estimates of how many were massacred vary between 800 and 3,500 mostly Palestinian civilians but also some Shias. The man in control of the area was none other than Ariel Sharon who went on to become Israeli prime minister.

I visited the Bourj Al-Barajneh camp last year and was therefore better prepared for what I was about to see than I was last year. To reach the Shatila camp from Sabra, you walk through a busy market which winds its way to the entrance where you are met with Palestinian flags and those of some of the factions. Images of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, abound, though there are far more of the man Palestinians lovingly call Abu Ammar than there are of Abu Mazen.

If you have just come from some of the affluent neighbourhoods in Beirut, entering the camp is like a time warp into a different era. No smart blocks, no wide roads or shops selling designer clothes and certainly no Porsches or Jaguars. Mopeds are the most common means of transport and even they have to occasionally slow down to pass one coming in the other direction. You encounter row upon row of winding alleys hardly large enough for two people to pass at the same time. But it is the electricity cables that hang overhead that characterise the camps. I had hear about them but seeing them is a different thing.

Israel and its supporters would want you to blame Lebanon for the conditions in the camps, which the government acknowledges are desperate. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a “duty” towards Palestinians and acknowledged, “Over the past decades, the social and humanitarian problems faced by Palestinian refugees have accumulated, and the reality in the camps has become tragic on all levels,” However, he insisted Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalisation. Hariri knows, neither do they.

They want to return to Palestine and they have a right to return according to UN Resolution 194, which resolved on 11 December 1948 that “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.”

However, Israel has always refused to implement it – as it has countless other UN resolutions – claiming it would spell the end of the state. The international community is also complicit in the plight of the refugees for it has not acted in 70 years to pressure Israel to allow them to return. The Arab countries have also been found wanting. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative –which the Palestinian Authority accepts – lowered the ceiling from the right of all refugees to return to finding a “just solution”. What could be more just than their unconditional return?

The refugees have therefore been left with no alternative but to take matters into their hands. This started in 2011 when, on 15 May, refugees made their way to the border with Israel in a number of bordering countries. In Lebanon, their protests were met with live fire from Israeli border soldiers which resulted in the death of 11 civilians and injuries to 100. Israel’s claimed Lebanese forces shot them.

Frustrated by the lack of progress to deliver their rights, Palestinians are once again on the move to remind the world of this unfinished business, their return. This time they have chosen Land Day and the besieged Gaza Strip to be the theatre for this latest episode in their quest to return, the “Great March of Return”. Figures show that 80 per cent of the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. They include those refugees from Najd, a Palestinian village bordering Gaza that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 and on whose land an Israeli settlement was created. It is called Sderot a city that is home to 24,000 Israelis and lies less than a mile from the border. Readers will recognise it as a colony that has received many rockets fired from Gaza and has become part of itinerary of visitors to Israel who stand and sympathise with the residents without giving a second’s though to the Palestinians just across the border on whose land it now exists.

Organisers of the Great March of Return insisted it will be a peaceful procession and that “it is a procession of human right that demands an implementation of the right of return.” according to spokesman Ahmed Abu Rteime. He insisted the Palestinians would only be armed with “the camera and the word” assuring that “there will be no burning of tyres, stone throwing or any confrontation with the Israeli occupation forces”. He said that the protestors would keep a 700 metre distance from the border.

“We are talking about a new style of peaceful resistance. Our goal is to revive our cause politically and peacefully,” said Abu Rteima.

The Israeli army’s response has been typically belligerent warning “these demonstrations might be used as a cover to damage the security infrastructure or harm the Israeli citizens or soldiers.” The Israeli army vowed that its forces would respond with a strong hand against such attempts. Israeli planes dropped leaflets and flyers in Arabic to the eastern areas of the Gaza Strip, warning residents not to approach the borders fence.

Israel, which killed disabled and wheelchair bound Ibrahim Abu Thuraya in December 2017, is certainly prepared to use live ammunition on peaceful protesters. Palestinians will bravely bring their plight to the attention of the world today but those of us looking on from the outside fear for their safety.

Instead of the Israeli army attacking the Palestinian refugees, the residents of Sedrot should be inviting those hailing from Najd to return to their hometown. That would be a much better way to mark Land Day. It would also give great hope to the refugees in Shatila camp and others.

 

Abbas’ vision for peace is dead in its tracks

First published by the Middle East Eye on 27/2/2018

The Palestinian president has called for an international conference by mid-2018 to recognise Palestine as a state, but prospects are bleak amid US bias towards Israel

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and triggered the move of the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump’s Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. “This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?” he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard “truths”. Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had “expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say”, and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem.”

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: “There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

‘Deal of the century’

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.

The call by Abbas for an international conference appears dead in its tracks when one considers the last attempt by France, a permanent member of the Security Council, to hold one in far more favourable political conditions, in the dying days of the Obama administration.

The conference was attended by some 70 countries, excluding Israel and the Palestinians, with Britain sending a low-level official instead of its foreign secretary. Even well-informed followers of the conflict would struggle to recall what the Paris conference achieved; its call for the status of Jerusalem not to be changed unilaterally was disregarded by Trump almost exactly a year later.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, awaits Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the Security Council on February 20, 2018, as US presidential adviser Jared Kushner looks on (AFP)

The US administration is continuing to develop its “deal of the century”, with Haley recently cautioning that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would “love” it. Palestinians will have to reject the deal if, as leaks have suggested, the core issues of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees are taken off the table.

Israel, meanwhile, will have a great hand in influencing the deal, but it will still claim that it falls short of meeting its security needs – but that it can work with Trump’s administration to improve it. The more they “improve” it, the less favourable it will be to Palestinians, who will be castigated for again “disrespecting” the administration.

Cards stacked against Palestinians

How could an international conference be held under this kind of near-certain outcome, and why did Abbas misguidedly specify an almost impossible date for the process, knowing the cards are stacked against him?

The only factor that could reshuffle the cards would be a change in the Israeli prime ministership. While the prospects of Benjamin Netanyahu staying in power change from day to day, his absence could change the game – but with a weak left and an emboldened Israeli right, it is unlikely that either a left-led coalition or a pragmatic, right-leaning leader would come through.

You need only list the names of the potential prime ministers to conclude that a change in leadership would merely diminish peace prospects further: Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay. None have a desire to see an end to the settlement enterprise or the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, or to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian state.

Gabbay, who leads the Labor party, opposes the removal of even the most isolated outposts, and he told a meeting of party activists that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us. They fire one missile – you fire 20. That’s all they understand in the Middle East.”

Climate of hatred

This is hardly a group of individuals that really want to see a just peace. And why would they not take advantage of a US administration that is solidly behind Israel’s expansionist goals?

The pro-Israel lobby in the US worked for decades to see an American administration that would not only acquiesce to Israeli demands, whatever they happen to be, but even use talking points produced by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry to make the case.

Among others, these talking points include comments about how “the settlements are not an obstacle to peace”, references to “realities on the ground” and “Israel’s security needs”, and remarks about how Israel is “unfairly treated” and picked on disproportionately considering everything else that is happening in the Middle East.

Trump’s disruption through his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have produced a climate much more favourable to peace – that is, if he had recognised West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and conditioned the building of two embassies on the conclusion of peace talks based on international law, within, say, two years.

Instead, Trump clearly staked out his side, fuelling a climate of hatred and fear. Hope in the Holy Land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely.

Unless he finds the courage and wisdom to retract his decision, the hope tap will remain off, and no amount of pleading by Abbas or a change in Israel’s leadership will be able to force it back on. This is bad for both Israelis and Palestinians.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations Security Council on February 20, 2018 (AFP)

El Cuarteto de Oriente Medio aún incluye a Estados Unidos, por lo que puede seguir formando parte del proceso de paz

Publicado por primera vez por el monitor de Oriente el 13/2/2018

Debido a la decisión del presidente estadounidense, Donald Trump, de reconocer a Jerusalén como la capital de Israel y su decisión subsecuente de cortar la financiación americana al UNRWA y a la Autoridad Palestina, el gobierno palestino en Ramala ha anunciado formalmente que Washington no puede seguir actuando como parte del proceso de paz. Mahmoud Abbas se pronunció poco después del anuncio de Trump en diciembre, declarando que los palestinos se habían comprometido con los asesores del presidente para llegar al “acuerdo del siglo”, pero, en su lugar, “recibimos un tremendo golpe.” Concluyó que “Estados Unidos ha elegido perder su papel como mediador… Ya no aceptaremos que forme parte del proceso de paz.”

Llegado a ese punto, el presidente de la Autoridad Palestina (AP) sugirió que la ONU debería asumir el papel de mediador. Sin embargo, la AP lleva buscando desde entonces una alternativa a EE.UU., cuya función se base en reunir a un grupo mayor de países influyentes para supervisar las negociaciones entre palestinos e israelíes.

Israel no se ha pronunciado al respecto, disfrutando de la completa imparcialidad estadounidense a su favor, ya sea por parte de los asesores de Trump, Jason Greenblatt y Jared Kushner, el embajador de EE.UU. a Israel, David Friedman, o la embajadora de EE.UU. en la ONU, Nikki Haley.

Durante su última visita a Israel, el vicepresidente estadounidense, Mike Pence, fue recibido como un héroe cuando se comprometió a desplazar la embajada de EE.UU. de Tel Aviv a Jerusalén antes del fin de 2019. Los palestinos se negaron a recibirle. Trump lo consideró una falta de respeto hacia Pence y hacia los Estados Unidos, y amenazó a la AP con más recortes en la ayuda americana a menos que volvieran a la mesa de negociaciones.

El siguiente recurso del pueblo palestino para buscar un mediador de las conversaciones de paz era la Unión Europea. Abbas visitó hace poco las instalaciones de la Unión Europea (EU) en Bruselas y habló con Federica Mogherini, alta representante de asuntos exteriores y política de seguridad. Si es que Abbas pensaba que la UE estaba dispuesta a asumir un papel significativo en el proceso de paz, acabó decepcionado. Mogherini reiteró las eternas posturas de la UE: “Primero de todo, quiero asegurar al presidente Abbas y a su delegación que la Unión Europea está firmemente comprometida con la solución de dos Estados, con Jerusalén como la capital compartida de ambos… basándose en los Acuerdos de Oslo y en el consenso internacional incorporado en las resoluciones relevantes del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU.”

Mogherini también reafirmó la oposición de la UE respecto a la “actividad de asentamientos, que consideramos ilegal bajo el derecho internacional.” Le recordó a Abbas que la UE “ya ha invertido bastante en el proyecto de construcción del Estado palestino”, y prometió que el apoyo financiero de la UE continuará, “también para la UNRWA.” No respondió a la petición de Abbas de que la UE reconozca en bloque al Estado de Palestina.

Unos días después, en una conferencia de prensa previa a una reunión extraordinaria del Grupo Internacional de Donantes para Palestina en la sede de la UE, Mogherini declaró ante los periodistas que cualquier marco de negociación debía involucrar a “todas las partes”, enviando un mensaje firme de que Estados Unidos no puede quedar excluido: “Nada sin Estados Unidos, y nada sólo con los Estados Unidos.”

Esto ha supuesto un golpe contra el gobierno palestino, que tenía la esperanza de que los estadounidenses se quedaran a un lado del proceso de paz.

A los palestinos les quedan pocas alternativas. Los intentos de Francia de conseguir un papel más importante en el proceso de paz resultaron en la Conferencia de París, que se celebró bajo unas condiciones mucho más favorables a finales del gobierno de Obama, pero se convirtió en un desastre. La conferencia salió adelante, pero no consiguió mucho.

China  presentó su propuesta de paz con 4 puntos el pasado agosto:

  • Seguir adelante con la solución de dos Estados, basada en las fronteras de 1967, con Jerusalén este como a capital del nuevo Estado palestino.
  • Defender “el concepto de seguridad común, integral, cooperativa y sostenible”, acabando de inmediato con la construcción de asentamientos israelíes, tomando medidas para evitar la violencia contra civiles y pidiendo una reanudación temprana de las conversaciones de paz.
  • Coordinar los esfuerzos internacionales para crear “medidas promotoras de la paz que impliquen una participación conjunta.”
  • Promover la paz mediante el desarrollo y la cooperación entre Palestina e Israel.

Aunque no se ha hablado mucho sobre el potencial de la propuesta desde el año pasado, China intensificó sus esfuerzos por jugar un papel importante en el proceso de paz tras la decisión de Trump sobre Jerusalén. Sin embargo, en respuesta a una pregunta sobre el posible futuro rol de China en una conferencia de prensa el 21 de diciembre, la portavoz del ministerio de Exteriores, Hua Chunying, declaró: “La postura de China respecto al problema palestino es consistente. Respaldamos y promovemos activamente el proceso de paz en Oriente Medio. Apoyamos la causa justa del pueblo palestino para recuperar sus derechos nacionales legítimos… Estamos dispuestos a seguir ofreciendo ayuda constructiva para promover el proceso de paz israelí-palestino.”

China organizó un simposio el pasado diciembre en el que reunieron a representantes del pueblo palestino y el Estado israelí en un intento por resolver el estancamiento. La sesión culminó con la creación de un documento de posición no vinculante conocido como la “Iniciativa de Pekín”, sobre la que Hilk Bar, vicepresidente de la Kneset y de la Unión Sionista, dijo en una declaración conclusiva que pretendía demostrar que “es posible y necesario salir del punto muerto político y animar a los dos gobiernos a volver a la mesa de negociaciones.” Un alto cargo de la delegación palestina añadió: “Tenemos que buscar otro enfoque para el proceso de paz… Debe incluir a las superpotencias y a China; quizá uno de estos países podría jugar un papel importante.”

Los intentos de Rusia, otro miembro del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, de asumir un papel líder en el proceso de paz se remontan a muchos años atrás, pero no han tenido éxito.

Hace poco, los palestinos han favorecido un acuerdo que recuerda al P5+1 que desarrolló el Acuerdo Nuclear de Irán, que se concluyó en 2015. El P5+1 se refiere a los 5 miembros permanente del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU junto a Alemania. Un acuerdo similar podría seguir involucrando a los Estados Unidos, pero sin que monopolicen el marco de las negociaciones.

Un posible punto de partida podría ser el Cuarteto, conocido formalmente como el Cuarteto de Oriente Medio, formado por EE.UU., Rusia, la UE y la ONU. Describe su mandato como “de ayuda para las negociaciones de paz en Oriente Medio y apoyo al desarrollo económico y la construcción de instituciones en Palestina, preparando el eventual Estado.”

A primera vista, el Cuarteto, con una mejora de su equipo, podría ser la respuesta a la demanda palestina de disminuir el papel de Estados Unidos, en lugar de excluir por completo a Washington. Eso podría ayudar a cumplir con la insistencia de Israel de que EE.UU. ha de ser una parte importante de cualquier negociación futura.

El Centro Saban para la Política de Oriente Medio en Brookings evaluó el desempeño del Cuarteto en 2012 en su documento “The Middle East Quartet: A post-Mortem.” Concluyó que, excepto por ciertos logros iniciales hasta 2003, el Cuarteto no ha proporcionado ningún beneficio tangible, a excepción de “asegurar la involucración americana en el proceso de paz.”

Los palestinos podrían solicitar que se añadan ciertos países al grupo para que otorguen prominencia al papel que juegan. Podrían ser Japón, Egipto y China; quizá Reino Unido ahora que abandonará la UE. Dicho de otra forma, podría desarrollarse un formato Q4+, probablemente bajo un liderazgo de la ONU.

La ventaja de este acuerdo, que sería difícil organizar, es que su estructura básica ya existe. Es probable que los palestinos estuvieran de acuerdo con esta formación, pero, casi sin duda, EE.UU. e Israel la rechazarían. Sin embargo, esto demostraría la flexibilidad de Palestina y confirmaría el rechazo general de Estados Unidos e Israel.

Es necesario un marco alternativo para las negociaciones para resolver el conflicto, diferente a los 25 años de conversaciones fútiles dirigidas por los estadounidenses, cuya imparcialidad a favor de Israel está garantizada. Cuanto más tiempo exista el vacío que genera el rechazo palestino a la participación de EE.UU., más tiempo permanecerá el estatus quo, permitiendo a Israel seguir adelante con su proyecto colonial. Merece la pena considerar un Cuarteto renovado.

What options does Abbas have after that General Assembly vote?

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 27/12/2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes a speech during extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey on 13 December 2017 [Onur Çoban/Anadolu Agency]

 

As the dust settles on a significant week at the UN, in which America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was rejected roundly by the international community, the Palestinians have made a commitment not to engage with the US in any future peace talks. Where, though, can the Palestinian President turn to next? What options does Mahmoud Abbas have?

A divided, and in some cases apathetic, Arab world has been experiencing political turmoil since the confrontation emerged this year between the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one hand, and Qatar on the other. As young pretenders to their respective countries’ thrones experiment with war and politics, the US and Israel can take a back seat in the hope that Arab states will weaken each other without any interference on their part.

Palestine is no longer a priority for some Arab countries, except where they can exert pressure on the weak leadership in Ramallah to please Washington and, in turn, the Israelis. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, they believe that they will be protected from Iran if they can deliver the complete submission of the Palestinians to Israel’s wishes.

The EU, which rejected Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, saw some of its own members abstain in the vote in the UN General Assembly. The Russians and Chinese, important members of the Security Council, also have limited, if any, influence on Israel or the Palestinians when compared with the Americans. The Palestinian President’s options for an alternative “honest broker” that Israel will accept are thus non-existent.

It has taken Mahmoud Abbas over two decades to admit that the US is so biased in favour of Israel that it cannot play an even-handed role in the search for a just peace. Why it has taken him so long to realise this so obvious fact is a mystery. Successive US administrations have taken their lead from Israel on this issue. It was always the case that any “offer” to the Palestinians would be put to the Israelis first, and that only after they had applied their “security” test to it and given the green light would it be put to the Palestinians.

This formed the core of an exchange of letters between former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and George W Bush in 2004. “In light of new realities on the ground,” wrote the then US President, “including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” He added that, “The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”

While Bush referred in his letter to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as forming the basis for negotiations, the Israelis worked hard to ensure that the talks which followed were not referenced to any such international decisions.

The Palestinians fell into this trap by failing to insist on international law and Security Council Resolutions as the basis for any talks. This included the last “serious” attempt to bring peace by Barack Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, which not only failed to bring peace but was also immediately followed by the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. Kerry persuaded the Palestinians to return to talks lacking in any reference to international law.

Before leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for the failure of the talks he had initiated on the Israelis after, of course, reminding everyone of Obama’s “deep commitment to Israel and its security”. His explanation for the Obama administration’s abstention on UN Security Council Resolution 2334 concerning the illegality of Israel’s settlements — instead of the usual veto of anything critical of Israel — was that the vote was about “preserving” the two-state solution. “That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbours.”

The incoming Trump administration disassociated itself from Resolution 2334, with the president-elect himself promising that “things will be different” when he entered the White House. He has certainly been true to his word. While asking Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements”, Trump moved away from the US position on two-states: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

Trump’s pro-Israel advisers have spent months meeting with the two sides to the conflict. While promising to put a deal on the table soon, this came to a halt when Trump announced on 7 December his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and intention to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv.

Following the US veto of a Security Council resolution rejecting its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then a large majority voting to pass the same resolution in the General Assembly, Abbas announced last week that he is severing his ties with the US when it comes to the peace process. The Palestinians, he declared, will not “accept any plan from the US” due to America’s “biased” support of Israel and its settlement policy. He also said that the US plan — Trump’s much-vaunted “deal of the century” — “is not going to be based on the two-state solution on the 1967 border, nor is it going to be based on international law or UN resolutions.”

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to state that, “Abbas declared he was abandoning the peace process and did not care which proposal the United States brings to the table.” Putting a spin on it that is incomprehensible to the rest of the world, Netanyahu told his weekly cabinet meeting, “I think that once again, something clear and simple emerges: The Palestinians are the ones who do not want to solve the conflict.” He will do or say anything to distract us from the glaringly obvious reality that it is Netanyahu’s far-right government that is fully to blame for the lack of peace.

As for Mahmoud Abbas, he has to choose between acknowledging his failure over 23 years to advance the cause of the Palestinians, or going back to the drawing board, assessing the strengths of the Palestinian people and looking for ways to raise the cost to Israel of its military occupation of Palestine. The higher the cost, the quicker that Israel will address the Palestinians’ grievances as they seek to attain their rights.

The Palestinian Authority President’s starting point should be to develop a liberation strategy that excludes reliance on non-Palestinians for its delivery, whilst making it supportable by others, both governments and citizens alike.

The elements of such a strategy should include the following:

  • The development of options for raising the cost to Israel of the occupation.
  • A declaration that the Oslo Accords are null and void. Israel has done this in all but name.
  • To demand UN Security Council protection for the Palestinian people.
  • To end the PA’s security coordination with the occupation, as it is both immoral and a free service to Israel that brings no benefits whatsoever to the Palestinian people.
  • To ask the UN to set up a coordination mechanism for necessary interaction with Israel on humanitarian matters.
  • To ask the Arab League to withdraw the Arab Peace Initiative immediately.
  • To restate that the Palestinian refugees’ legitimate right of return is non-negotiable.
  • To demand that any future negotiations with Israel are based on equal rights for all who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and acknowledge that this is the only way to achieve real peace.
  • To call on the UN Secretary-General to adopt the ESCWA report — “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” — that he has withdrawn.
  • To launch cases at the International Criminal Court against Israel and Israeli officials immediately, starting with the illegal settlement issue.
  • To offer unqualified support for the entirely peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and call for its escalation.
  • The immediate lifting of all sanctions imposed by the PA in Ramallah on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
  • The implementation of the reconciliation agreement with Hamas.
  • An escalation of the peaceful and popular resistance movement in Palestine.
  • The launch of a reformed and inclusive Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
  • A serious engagement with Palestinians in the diaspora and a move towards elections to the Palestinian National Council.

Many of the points listed above should have been guiding principles in the past, but were overlooked in the PA’s pursuit of a pointless “negotiations first and last” policy which has failed by any measure.

Such a strategy will come with a price. It will bring isolation to the Palestinians and will have an impact on them in ways that will make their lives even more difficult. However, the alternative is that they continue to be oppressed with no end in sight if the current policies remain in place. The Palestinians have shown on numerous occasions that they are prepared to pay the necessary price for liberation but they must be told how this will be achieved by a leadership that they have had the chance to elect.

Any objective assessment will conclude that the current leadership is incapable of delivering what the Palestinians deserve and to which they aspire. It must therefore stand aside and allow the younger, talented generation of Palestinians come to the fore and lead their people. The New Year cannot be allowed to bring more of the same at the hands of Abbas and his team. He has other options; he must exercise them.

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.