Mahmoud Abbas has led the Palestinians to a dead end. He must go 

First published by the Middle East Eye on 29/6/2017

The president has hit a new low, cutting the salaries and electricity of Palestinians in Gaza. The next intifada will be against the Palestinian National Authority and this should worry Israel and Abbas


Photo: A photo of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from 2016 (AFP)

The embattled 81-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been in power since 2005. His reign has not brought the Palestinian people any closer to freedom and independence, but where is he leading them to now?

Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in January 2005 following Yasser Arafat’s death under suspicious circumstances in November 2004. He is president of the state of Palestine, leader of Fatah and chairman of the PLO. He is committed to negotiations with Israel based on a two-state solution, and has been since he signed the 1993 Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn to great cheers. 

In short, he has played a hugely significant role in leading the Palestinians as a negotiator, a prime minster and a president and, while the blame for his administration’s failure can be shared among a number of key personnel, he set the overall direction of travel and must therefore carry the can for its disastrous consequences.

Under his watch, the Palestinians scored a small number of successes, including an upgrade of Palestine’s membership of the United Nations to a non-member observer state in 2012 allowing it to join several international organisations including UNESCO and the International Criminal Court. This was part of a strategy to internationalise the conflict.

Abbas may well argue that another of his successes has been the security coordination with Israel instigated under Oslo. It is one of the strongest cards Palestinians have to threaten Israel. Abbas has, however, called it “sacred”, arguing, “If we give up security coordination, there will be chaos here. There will be rifles and explosions and armed militants everywhere,”

Beyond this list, it is difficult to point to any other significant successes. On the contrary, Abbas’ setbacks and failures have put the Palestinian cause in the worst position it has been since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Peace process 

The Oslo Accords were meant to deliver a Palestinian state within five years. Twenty-four years and countless negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian side, mostly led for the Palestinians by Saeb Erekat, later, and there is no Palestinian state

And while 136 member states of the UN recognise Palestine, of the so-called international community, only Sweden has afforded this recognition to the Palestinians. Significantly, neither Israel, nor the US recognise Palestine as a state, arguing recognition should only come at the negotiation table.

The last significant attempt at peace talks, led by US secretary of state John Kerry, ended in complete failure in 2014 and was followed by Israel’s third war on Gaza in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. As he was leaving office, Kerry laid much of the blame for failure of the talks at Israel’s door, singling out its settlement policy led by the “most right-wing” government in its history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Israeli electorate that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch in 2015. A significant number of his cabinet colleagues are against a state ever materialising and believe in the annexation of significant chunks of the West Bank to Israel.

Abbas remains committed to restarting negotiations with Israel and is now banking on the Trump administration to launch another initiative.

Settlements

In 1993, the number of settlers in the West Bank including East Jerusalem stood at 148,000. By the time Abbas had taken over as president, they had reached 440,000. Under his presidency, the number has risen to almost 600,000.

They live in 127 illegal settlements “recognised” by the interior ministry as “communities” and about 100 illegal “outposts”. In 2005, Israel vacated 16 settlements in Gaza under Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “disengagement” plan.

The ever rising number of settlers and settlements has for many analysts already ended the prospect of a viable Palestinian state emerging.

Relationship between PNA and Hamas

Ever since its creation in 1987 shortly after the start of the first intifada, Hamas has pursued a significantly different approach to the conflict than Abbas’s Fatah party based on the liberation of historic Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic state in the area.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again

In 2006, it decided to combine its military strategy with participation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections which it won handsomely. Abbas accepted the results and asked Ismael Haniyeh to form a government, which was then boycotted by the international community.

Following a bloody confrontation between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza in 2006, Israel imposed a siege on Gaza which continues to this day. The Egyptian border crossing at Rafah has effectively been closed since January 2015.

Despite many attempts at reconciliation between the two factions, the division between Hamas and Fatah remains deep. Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah rules the West Bank. The two million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have paid a heavy price for this division.

Price paid by Palestinians in Gaza increases – again

Frustrated by a lack of progress in ending the division, but perhaps playing to the Israeli and American gallery under US President Trump, Abbas has recently undertaken several steps to pressure Hamas which may result in the formal separation of Gaza from the West Bank.

In recent weeks, he slashed the salaries paid to 60,000 civil servants in Gaza and informed Israel that the PNA would no longer pay for the electricity it supplies to Gaza which has reduced the supply to the strip to a couple of hours a day.

This hits not only ordinary Palestinians hard, it also hurts vital services such as hospitals and sewage treatment works. The PNA has also reportedly cut its funding to the medical sector depriving it of badly needed equipment and medicines.


Young Palestinians in Rafah burn Abbas’ portrait during a protest against the Israeli blockade of of Gaza in April 2017 (AFP)

However, reports that the PNA has been blocking the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza outside the strip have truly angered Palestinians everywhere.

Many that I have spoken to both inside Palestine and in the diaspora described this as “shameful”. “How can Abbas impose collective punishment on his own people while maintaining security cooperation with Israel?” one asked.

If Mahmoud Abbas thought his actions would hurt Hamas and bring it to heal, then he has once again miscalculated badly. Reports have emerged of talks between Hamas and Abbas’s arch-rival Mohammed Dahlan which could see the latter return as leader in Gaza.

And if Abbas thought his hard-line approach against Hamas would endear him to Trump and his senior advisers then his recent, frosty meeting with Jared Kushner surely confirms the opposite. The more he gives, the more Israel and its American backers led by a fanatically pro-Israel team will want.

This time his actions against Hamas may give the Americans something Israeli leaders crave: a final separation between Gaza and the West Bank. This would certainly fulfil Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet’s vision of a Palestinian state “only in Gaza” and the annexation of the West Bank, giving the Palestinians limited autonomy there.

Whatever strategy Abbas has followed is unravelling. He is leading the Palestinians to further fragmentation and separation.

It is time he admitted this and stood down. If not, then his own miscalculations could hasten the end of his rule. Even those around him that have benefited handsomely from his rule must now realise the game is up.

Left with no hope of a just solution that brings them freedom, the Palestinian people will rise again. This time it will be against their own expired leadership which has now denied babies and cancer sufferers in Gaza medical treatment for political purposes. The next intifada will be against the Muqata’a. This should worry Israel as much as Abbas.

The Palestinians too should take back control of their destiny

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 12/12/2016

Israeli soldiers in riot gear in East Jerusalem [file photo]

From the Middle East Monitor

2016 will be remembered for a new phrase that came to characterise popular uprisings against “the establishment” in the West. From the UK to the USA, “taking back control” struck a chord with the voters when it was adopted by Donald Trump in America and the leaders of BREXIT in the UK. The now infamous image in the golden lift at Trump Tower of President-elect Trump and UKIP’s Nigel Farage was made possible because voters wanted to take back control and thought they would secure it.

The Palestinians too want to take back control of their destiny but how can they achieve this?

In a year which saw their dreams of liberation, freedom and independence dashed once again, they feel their reliance on others to deliver these aims has simply failed. In reality though, it is their leadership which has failed because it has chosen to rely on others to deliver Palestinian rights, but also because it relies on others to ensure its very existence through funding. The Palestinian Authority has also suffocated attempts by the people to rise up against the occupation either collectively or through individual endeavours. As President Abbas has declared repeatedly, the “security cooperation” with Israel is “sacred”, though he does not admit that it only works one way, protecting Israel and never the Palestinians.

Fatah’s seventh congress

Fatah, the ruling party recently held its congress in Ramallah, the seventh since its establishment in 1959. It included a marathon three-hour speech by its past, present and future (elected by acclimation) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in which he reiterated his strategy for delivering Palestinian rights. In summary its internal strategy included reconciliation with Hamas, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, holding the Palestinian National Council. Its external strategy included continued negotiations with Israel, a “smart intifada”, pursuit of Israel through the ICC and continued “internationalisation” of the conflict through membership of organisations.

Internal matters

The reconciliation with Hamas is essential as a united Palestinian people and leadership can put to bed Israel’s claim that there is no Palestinian partner to negotiate with or that the “moderate” Abbas cannot deliver on any agreements because Hamas runs Gaza. Reconciliation would also allow the Palestinian elections, long overdue, to finally take place. Abbas was firm in his insistence that “there can be no Palestinian state without the Gaza Strip.”

Abbas was not very forthcoming on what he meant by the “smart intifada” or “intifada of brains” though he did ask “the leadership” to be out there resisting peacefully with the people.

External matters

Peace talks have been dormant even since US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative failed back in 2014 and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. Attempts at bringing the two sides together have failed to this day and despite Abbas’ brief meeting with Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral, the two men have not met. It has not been for lack of trying. Abbas confirmed that although he had accepted an invitation from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the latter declined the same invitation.

Attempts by France to bring the two men together and to hold a peace conference have also met with Palestinian acceptance and Israeli rejection. Israel’s spin on the reason for the rejection is that the meeting would follow a French-led peace conference, which it considers an effort to impose a settlement on it. Netanyahu spoke to Hollande and said that “if there is no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will come to meet Abu Mazen [Abbas] for direct talks without preconditions.” Israel further claimed that it will “not take part in an international conference that will not contribute to achieving peace”.

In reality, Israel is watching with satisfaction the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration in the US and expecting to be shielded further from any attempts to make a Palestinian state a reality. Why then should it engage wit Putin, Hollande or any other “broker” when Trump will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his team do not see the two-state solution as explicitly part of his administration’s strategy?

Options for the Palestinians

The Palestinian leadership has largely relied on unwavering support for the Palestinian cause from the Arab and Muslim world. It regularly consults both about steps it plans to take to ensure they are on board. They in turn have been steadfast in their support for the Palestinians and condemnation of Israel, particularly in international bodies. The Arab League also adopted the Arab Peace Initiative back in 2002, offering Israel normalisation of relations in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land. US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed the Arab states further to including “land swaps” in the initiative back in 2013. Israel has still not accepted the initiative to this day.

Arab states have also worked closely with the Palestinians in the United Nations, putting down resolutions both to the General Assembly and the Security Council. Their efforts in the Security Council have been scuppered by the US veto or US pressure on members that haVE led to potential resolutions falling by default. This included a resolution for the admission of Palestine as a full member. This pushed the Palestinians to the General Assembly to secure an upgrade in Palestine’s status to “Non-Member Observer state” in 2012, perhaps their most notable success in recent years. This was not only because it again demonstrated the overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, but because it allowed Palestine to join a multitude of international organisations and accords. This included the International Criminal Court (ICC) and UNESCO.

The ICC is still considering whether it can bring cases against Israelis involved in the 2014 war on Gaza and illegal settlements. The wheels of justice move slowly and to date the ICC has not declared whether and when it will bring cases against suspected Israeli war criminals. However, in a recent report, the court significantly confirmed that Israel was still in occupation of Gaza and that Jerusalem was illegally annexed. Israel suspects this indicates a leaning by the ICC towards the Palestinian view.

The ICC is one plank of the Palestinian “internationalisation of the conflict” strategy. Another important body is the UN Human Rights Council, which – due to a lack of US veto – often calls out Israeli actions in contravention of international law. The UNHRC produced an important report on the 2014 Gaza war which accused both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes.

A further significant plank of internationalisation is seeking protection for Palestinian cultural and religious sites through UNESCO’s membership. This again showed some success when UNESCO adopted a motion condemning Israel’s activities around Muslim sits in Jerusalem and while this eventually watered down under pressure from Israel’s supporting states; it still showed what the Palestinians can achieve through careful diplomacy and through their own efforts.

On the ground a recent refusal by PA security forces to allow Israeli army vehicles to enter Jenin is very much in line with the Oslo accords which included Jenin in “Area A” which handed security in the city to the PA. Again, an example of how Palestinians can take matters into their own hands using existing accords and international law.

As President Trump moves closer to the White House and having declared his support for Israel including a commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the PA is still banking on a last minute move by the Obama administration. It is sending a delegation to Washington to seek support for or at least an abstention, for a possible UNSC resolution condemning settlements. Despite suspicions that in its last few days the Obama administration may support such a move, I am not hopeful.

This should signal to the Palestinian leadership that relying on the US or other countries that support Israel when it really matters is unlikely to yield results.  They must continue to explore and pursue avenues over which they can exercise some control. It seems that pursuing Israeli violations through international bodies is a sound strategy and the more avenues it can pursue for this the better. Internationalising the conflict is part of the Palestinians “taking back control” of their destiny.

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

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

Abbas commits to more negotiations while violence escalates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the UN Security Council move by the PA

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The end of 2014 saw an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to secure a United Nations Security Council Resolution setting a date both for the end of negotiations and an end of occupation fail to secure the necessary number of votes. In fact the PA knew that even if the nine votes in favour had been secured, the U.S. would have wielded its notoriously Israel-supporting Veto.

Much has been written since the vote on 30 December. Most of the commentary has questioned both the content of the resolution and the timing. Why and why now? The ‘why now’ question is particularly pertinent bearing in mind the forthcoming Israeli elections in March and the rotation of members of the Security Council. The argument is that some non-supportive members were due to be replaced by more supportive members that may have delivered the necessary nine positive votes. In fact Jordan, via its representative expressed surprise at Palestine’s haste in tabling the resolution before the end of 2014.

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The Americans were pressing for a delay in tabling the resolution till after the Israeli elections.

In a surprising move, the PA not only stuck to their guns on forcing a vote as they had promised, but then took the next step they had promised of joining eighteen international conventions and bodies, including the Rome Statutes, the first step on the road to the International Criminal Court on 31 December.

It is impossible to explain the timing of the resolution, except that it is what PA President Abbas promised would happen if the nine-month US sponsored talks with Israel failed. He also promised to join more UN bodies including the ICC. He has therefore fulfilled his promise.

Both Israel and the U.S. were pre warned, but instead of moving towards peace within the negotiations, Israel attacked Gaza for fifty one days soon after their collapse. The U.S. played a watching game and supported Israel’s war on Gaza both politically and militarily through opening its weapons stock to Israel.

It is completely reasonable for the PA to have tried the Security Council path to ending a 47-year occupation and to have given three years for this to happen. It has spent the last twenty one years negotiating but the negotiations have spectacularly failed and unless there is a fundamental change to the framework they will remain futile.

It is also true that the contents of the resolution are in line with International Law and current US Policy, except for the setting of a timeline. Any project needs a timeline, otherwise it is impossible to measure progress and to introduce corrections along the way. The U.S., the birthplace of project management knows this. The lack of a timeline has been used by Israel to build settlements while the PA behaved impeccably taking almost no significant unilateral actions.

The PA first hit a brick wall with futile negotiations then a second brick wall with the Security Council, is now trying a legal path. The ICC path will not be easy but I am certain that behind closed doors a few Israeli bowels moved last night when Abbas publicly signed the application to join the ICC. Human rights organisations have been waiting for this opportunity with cases ready to be presented to the Court. It is important a number are put as soon as the PA is able to do so.

The claim by Israeli spokesmen that the PA has more to fear from the ICC than Israel will soon be tested. They have argued that one of the reasons the PA should be fearful is the Government of National unity formed ‘with Hamas’. The fact is that it was not. It is a Government of technocrats with no party affiliations.

As Abbas said before signing the applications to join UN bodies, “we tried talking, we went to the UN but neither delivered on our rights. What are we to do?”

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I do not subscribe to the view that the UNSC resolution bid was a waste of time. The move and the process had many flaws but it has been a game changer as Palestinians regained some of the initiative.

Israel felt it won a victory by scuppering the Palestinian resolution to the Security Council. I believe that had this resolution passed, there would have been a step change in the air. Israelis would have started to watch a clock tick. They would have considered their choices at the elections on the basis of a shift away from the status quo. They would have challenged potential representatives about their stand. Yes, they may have chosen more extreme options but they can now vote for the status quo. This is disastrous for them and the Palestinians.

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As the new year beds in, it will be a turbulent one in the Palestine / Israel injustice. The U.S. and Israel will move to punish the Palestinians, withholding funds and creating new facts on the ground. Israel will cross new redlines. It will build more settlements and the EU in particular, will impose sanctions ( not presented as sanctions). More state recognitions of Palestine will result in more Ambassadors being summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Palestinian unity and Gaza reconstruction will stutter along. There will be more violence on the ground and more attacks on Gaza. A more extreme settler Government will be elected in Israel led by Netanyahu.

Israel will feel more like a pariah state than it has and this may encourage more Israelis to question their future. More will leave, tired of the status quo leaving behind the more extreme settlers and settler supporters. Israelis will have given Netanyahu more time to complete their isolation.

Palestinians will face more hardship and they may rise up against the PA for failing to pay salaries. Resistance in Jerusalem will continue as Israel treats Palestinians there with more brutality.

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The main ray of hope for Palestinians will be an escalation of the BDS movement and possibly the first charges filed against Israelis at the ICC.

2014, a year of Israeli thuggery and Palestinian diplomacy

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As 2014 draws to an end, it will be remembered as the year when Palestinians regained the initiative in the Palestine / Israel injustice, through a wave of Parliamentary recognitions and a change in strategy at the UN. Israel’s year will be remembered as one in which its extremist settler Government, led by the arrogant Netanyahu committed war crimes in Gaza, lost much of its support and headed to isolation.

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The year started with Secretary Kerry’s continuing nine-month attempt to conclude a peace deal between a weak Palestinian Authority and a belligerent, extremist Israeli Government. The talks had no basis in International Law or previous agreements and were doomed to failure. Israel continued to announce the expansion of settlements in response to agreed upon Palestinian prisoner releases. It also refused to discuss the key issues, except for its security.

The talks ended when Israel reneged on the release of the final batch of prisoners and accused the PA of forming a Government with Hamas. In fact the PA had formed a government of national agreement, made up of ‘technocrats’, agreed upon with Hamas but with no political affiliation. Israel could not bear to see Palestinians united as this would annul its claim that President Abbas could not deliver on a peace agreement.

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The failure of the talks is Israel’s fault. Far from Abbas not being able to deliver on a peace deal, it was Netanyahu who would not have been able to deliver on a two-state solution, firstly because he does not want it and secondly because he would not be willing to remove one squatter from the West Bank.

Failing to advance a peace deal was expected but Israel’s thuggery and terrorism reached unprecedented heights in the summer of 2014. It started with an oppressive operation in the West Bank following the abduction of four settlers near Hebron. Thousands of troops raided and desecrated homes and arrested hundreds, including some released in the Shalit deal who had committed no crime. A number of innocent Palestinian civilians were killed and tens were injured. The homes of the suspects were demolished.

At the same time, Israel turned its attention to Gaza, claiming Hamas had ordered the Hebron abductions. It carried out a series of attacks to which Hamas and other groups responded with rocket fire. When the bodies of the three settlers were found, the attack on Gaza turned into an all out war. This was initially restricted to aerial bombardment, which Israel claimed was carefully targeted at Hamas rocket launch sites and infrastructure. But the casualties were mostly civilians and included initially tens of children which turned to hundreds. The Palestinian resistance groups launched hundreds of rockets, which although a nuisance to Israelis caused little damage and only four civilian casualties.

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The level of terror heaped on the trapped population of Gaza was quite unprecedented. I argued at the time that if Gaza had sirens, they would have sounded continuously during Israel’s attacks. Even if Gaza had sirens, where would people have gone to for safety, as nowhere was safe?

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Suddenly Israel raised the issue of the ‘terror tunnels’ that required a ground invasion to destroy them. It claimed they were to be used to attack civilians. But the fact is that they were only ever used to attack the military. Nevertheless a violent ground invasion was instigated which heaped more death and destruction on the beleaguered strip.

As the war was drawing to a close and a ceasefire was close to being agreed, Israel started targeting civilian tower blocks, maximising the number of homeless its American supplied bombs would create. UN schools were hit, including thee housing those made refugees again and children playing on the beach paid with their lives for having a bit of fun. Israel was exposed for the violent rogue state Palestinians knew it to be, but ordinary people around the world hit the streets in their millions to protest its thuggery and to show their solidarity with Palestine.

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Hundreds of thousands lobbied their parliamentary representatives to put pressure on their Governments to change policy from supporting Israel’s right to self defence to sanctioning it for its actions. While this saw limited success in the U.S. and Europe, it was a major change in public opinion in favour of the Palestinians.

Enter the Palestinian Authority with a strategy to build on its 2012 upgrade of Palestine to a non-member state and its action to join UNISCO and fourteen other conventions including the Geneva Conventions. Those were excellent steps but fell short of maximising the gains by joining every organisation and convention the new status allowed for, especially the International Criminal Court (ICC). So many crimes had been committed by Israel in Gaza which could be taken to the ICC but the PA had to sign the Rome Statutes first. To this day the PA has not done so, despite repeated promises to do so imminently. Even the recent death of Minister Abu Ein as a result of an attack by IDF thugs failed to trigger this move, but it will come.

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The other part of the PA’s strategy has been to seek recognition of Palestine as a state by all world states. It started the Autumn with134 states that had recognised Palestine but they did not include either the U.S. or major western nations such as the UK, France or Germany.

Sweden surprised everyone when a new Government announced it would recognise Palestine and did so quickly, incurring the wrath of Israel but standing firm. Britain was next, with the Mother of all parliaments recognising Palestine and asking the Government to do so. Spain, Portugal, Ireland, France and Luxembourg followed suit and th EU Parliament recently agreed to recognise Palestine ‘in principle’. More Parliaments are expected to follow suit but real pressure will be applied on Israel when Governments begin to recognise Palestine as a state under occupation.

The PA ended the year with its sensible United Nations Security Council Resolution, setting a date for the end of the occupation in 2017. After 47 years of occupation and failed talks, this was a reasonable and long overdue move. Israel has gone hysterical and its various leaders have collected many air miles in the quest to scupper this resolution before its birth. The latest reason is that it would embolden the right wing and return Netanyahu to power. This is of course nonsense. The reality is that Israeli leaders are united in wanting to keep the occupation, Jerusalem and the settlement enterprise.

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France has been working on an alternative resolution which would not set a date for an end to the occupation but would set a time limit for talks. We have had futile talks for 21 years and the number of settlers has reached 750,000 from a starting position of 100,000.

Whatever happens at the UN, 2014 will be remembered for Israeli terror and thuggery and for Palestinian diplomacy. While the Palestinians are in a most difficult position, their ‘diplomatic terror’ as the Moldovan bouncer and Foreign Minister of Israel Avigdor Lieberman calls it, is winning them friends as Israel loses them.

Updated: 31/12/2014

The year ended with a failed attempt by Palestine to secure a UN Security Council resolution which would set a time limit on negotiations and an end to the 47-year long occupation. Eight members voted in favour, the U.S. and Australia voted against and there were five other abstentions. The abstentions included the UK. Once again, the UK failed to support Palestine, choosing instead to allow continuation of the Israeli occupation with no time limit. It seems the ghost of Balfour continues to haunt the Brutish Foreign Office. At every opportunity to support Palestine, Britain chooses to act to support the Zionist enterprise. This wins it no friends in the Middle East and it wonders why it is that some of its citizens have a problem with its foreign policy.

The Palestinian Authority has threatened to join a number of International conventions and treaties, should the UN resolution fail. This includes joining the Rome Statutes and the International Criminal Court. It has threatened this repeatedly but Abbas’s pen hasn’t quite made contact with paper to initiate this. Will 2015 be the year of accountability? Will Israel finally grace the ICC? I certainly hope so fir the thousands of Palestinians that this violent enterprise has snuffed out. Their only crime is that Palestine was a land with a People.

The ‘Status quo is unsustainable’ so let us maintain the status quo

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President Obama addresses UN General Assembly

How often have Western leaders said this about Israel’s occupation of Palestine? President Obama said this again in his UN address on 24 September. Before him UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said it in March of this year. US Secretary of State John Kerry said it even before him, back in February.

What are they exactly referring to? The status quo is of course perceived differently by the Palestinians and Israelis and their respective supporters.

Israel and its supporters refer to the lack of two states that separate as many Jewish Israelis from as many Palestinian Muslims and Christians as possible to maintain as substantial a Jewish majority as possible in Israel. They also refer to the continuing possibility of tickets flying out of Gaza in protest at Israeli violations of the August brokered ceasefire.

Palestine and its supporters seek an end to the occupation of the territories occupied in 1967. This necessitates an end to the settlement project and the removal of the Israeli military from these areas.

You would have thought then that following the failure of the U.S. brokered talks and Israel’s recent abhorrent attack on Gaza which devastated humans and infrastructure, those that want to change the status quo would be looking for means to achieve this.

The Palestinians are trying to do this through the United Nations. Mahmoud Abbas wants a Security Council Resolution that sets a date for ending the occupation, which generously wants to give Israel three years to achieve. When you consider that Israel has had forty seven years to achieve, does not seem unreasonable. He is asking for a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps. Again, this is more than reasonable considering it would be on 22% of historic Palestine.

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President Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly

But pretty quickly the U.S., the UK and Australia expressed their support for the status quo by rejecting Abbas’s move. They will not support a Security Council resolution putting a date on the end of the occupation. Their remedy is based on a return to futile negotiations, which Israel uses to complete its ‘Greater Israel Project’. It will soon, if it hasn’t already, put an end to the two state solution, which its supporters claim is the only game in town.

This leaves the status quo in tact. A people under military occupation, Israel as an Apartheid state and peace a concept rather than an aim. Israel wants to maintain a perpetual ‘quiet occupation’.

The conclusion is that the West is simply complicit in the Greater Israel, colonial and racist project. Be honest guys, you don’t give a damn about Palestinians or justice. It takes for one colonialist to support another.

Palestinians must now take matters into their own hands and start with signing the Rome Statutes. Once an Israeli leader appears before the International Criminal Court, the game will change. More importantly, the victims of Israel’s war crimes will be on the way to receiving justice.

Updated 1/10/2014

Surprise surprise, Obama calls for change in status quo during his meeting with Netanyahu. And of course Netanyahu wants peace and a 2-state solution! We’ve been here before. In addition, the U.S. has made it clear it would veto a resolution setting a date for an end to the occupation.

The Palestinians should simply move to singing he Rome Statutes.