President Mahmoud Abbas seems to be on his way out as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Who will take his place? 

Palestinian politics today is undergoing a change as President Mahmoud Abbas’ health condition deteriorates. With no clear heir to ensure a landslide victory, the question over who will replace Abbas remains unanswered. The possible successors are a source of argument among the Palestinians and the international community. Currently, speculation centers around four names.

Among them is Mahmoud al-Aloul, the first vice president of Fatah. Abbas himself supports Aloul to be his successor to lead the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, Aloul is not a welcome choice for some Arab countries because he is hawkish and opposes the two-state solution. Sources have stated that Fatah’s General Councildecided in March to change the party’s internal constitution in order to appoint Aloul as the acting leader for three months if Abbas’ health affects his ability to rule. Israel is also concerned about the succession, as a PA power vacuum could lead to further violence.

The second candidate in the race is Jibril Rajoub, a former West Bank security chief and a senior Fatah figure. He served as head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank until 2002, after which then-PA President Yasser Arafat appointed Rajoub as his national security adviser in 2003. Rajoub believes he is the most suitable candidate to lead the PA after Abbas.

The third candidate is Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security mastermind who was forced to flee Ramallah in 2011 following allegations of corruption and an attempted coup against Abbas. It is said that Elliot Abrams, a National Security Council adviser during the George W. Bush administration, nominated Dahlan to lead the PA mission against Hamas in Gaza in 2007, which earned him the warlord moniker. While in exile in the United Arab Emirates, Dahlan was accused of sending money to some Fatah members in Gaza to undermine Abbas’ authority in Ramallah, the headquarters of the PA. Dahlan had always opposed Islamist movements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, and is waiting for the right moment to return to the West Bank as president.

The fourth candidate is Nasser al-Kidwa, the nephew of Yasser Arafat and senior Fatah official. Kidwa has served as the Palestinian foreign minister and envoy to the United Nations. He is the most likely candidate to win the presidential race as he is supported by the Arab Quartet that includes Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Possible Scenarios

There are three possible scenarios in the coming months to replace the aging Abbas, as per NPR. The first option, if Abbas is no longer able to uphold his office, is that the speaker of the Palestinian National Council, Aziz Dweik (who is a member of Hamas but is based in the West Bank) would replace Abbas for 60 days until elections are held. The second is for Abbas himself to select a temporary replacement until the elections. The third is to set a date for elections where the four candidates would nominate themselves, unless a tectonic change takes place at the very last moment, such as a new intifada in Gaza and the West Bank.

The first option is unlikely to happen because Dweik is a member of Hamas. Abbas will not cede power to a rival organization due to internal and regional complications and ramifications. Thus, Dweik could not take over the Palestinian leadership unless the US, Israel and other regional powers suddenly back Hamas, which Washington, Tel Aviv and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.

As for the second alternative, Abbas would select a person close to the PA leadership to rule for a transition period before the election date is set. The selected leader will also have a chance to nominate himself as leader of the PA in the presidential elections. This would be Arafat’s nephew, as he was backed by regional and international powers, including the US and Israel, when he served as foreign minister. This can lead to the third scenario in which the temporary president of the PA could become a candidate and winner in the presidential elections.

Since 2016, Arab leaders have looked for an alternative to Abbas. That same year, they spoke to Abbas personally on his 81st birthday when they congratulated him and wished him good health. At the time, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi were in charge of an Arab initiative to seek out a successor. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, had sent their representatives to Ramallah to discuss the issue directly with Abbas, as the leaders of both nations did not want to see a power vacuum in the political arena of the PA.

Critical Time

In December 2017, after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Kidwa said that any protests by Palestinians should be conducted “in a peaceful and an unarmed, sustainable way, so that would lead to serving the Palestinian national cause in this regard.” His moderate stance toward the American decision is one reason why he is favored by many countries, unlike his rivals who call for escalation.

The move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 is deemed critical to the coming Palestinian leadership, whoever the candidate will be. However, the tough rivalry among the candidates, mainly between Rajoub and Dahlan, will only increase in the coming months, preventing both from heading the PA.

With the start of Ramadan, it is expected that Palestinians will try to raise the question of Jerusalem as a core issue not only for them, but for Muslims and Christians as well. Thus, we might witness a kick-off of a new uprising in Gaza and the West Bank, of which the violence against Palestinian protesters on the border with Gaza on May 14 could become a tragic preview. This could lead to either Aloul or Kidwa winning the race for the PA presidency based on their wide national support.

The PA presidential race is critical. The next president will be accountable for establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, while ensuring its peoples’ right to self-determination. The president will be working with Arab and Muslim leaders to secure the status of the holy shrines in East Jerusalem as part of the capital of an independent Palestinian state, without offending Jewish holy sites in the city. That is why the best solution for the issue of Jerusalem is to divide it into West and East capitals, for Israel and Palestine respectively, to avoid any future regional war.

Article published in Fair Observer: https://www.fairobserver.com/politics/palestinian-authority-succession-fatah-mahmoud-abbas-gaza-west-bank-middle-east-news-76251/

Published in Tribune
Monday, 21 May 2018 02:14

Good bye “conflict resolution”

Forty five years passed since the 1973 first Geneva Conference for Peace between the Arab Countries and Israel. A lot of talks took place by then to find a way for the inclusion of the PLO in that Conference directly or indirectly. The Palestinian National Council of 1973, and 1974 eleventh and twelfth sessions were both  an attempt in that direction when they decided to create a “ Palestinian National Authority in any part of Palestine to be liberated”. This program signaled the PLO move from the Liberation of all Palestine strategy, to another one that speaks about liberation in stages, opening the way to the recognition of Israel in the 1988 PNC conference. The 1973-1974 change gave PLO the Arab recognition as the sole representative of the Palestinian people which took place in the Arab Summit held in Rabat in 1974, and it also opened the UN doors to Yasser Arafat to give his famous speech” I came to you with an olive branch in one hand, and a gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand”, and he repeated the last sentence. Besides that the PLO started engaging with some European countries like France.

Yet, these changes of the 1973-1974 were not enough for United States and Israel to accept the inclusion of the PLO in the so called” Peace Process”. This inclusion had to wait for the Americans till 1988 when PLO recognized the UN Security Council Resolution 242 during the  PNC 16th conference held in Algeria by then. After that conference an American dialogue with the PLO started, and the American Ambassador to Tunisia Robert Pelleatru was appointed to conduct it. Without delving in too much details, the rest of the story is known starting from Madrid Conference of 1991 when PLO participated as part of a joint Jordanian- Palestinian delegation, followed by eight sessions of “ corridor meetings” aiming to agree on the agenda before interning the negotiations room. These sessions were held in Washington between the Palestinian delegation that was led by the late Haidar Abdel Shafi the well known Palestinian National Personality from Gaza,  and the Israeli one led by Lawyer Elyakim  Rubenstein. The sessions were stopped without entering the negotiations room. This stoppage took place after Oslo Declaration of Principles was released as a result of secret direct talks that took place between Israel and the PLO. Since Madrid conference of 1991, 27 years already passed, and 25 are almost passed since Oslo. Palestinian wise the harvest was bitter.

The colonial settlements grow bigger more than six times, during the “ peace process”. Jerusalem got fully separated from the other parts of the Palestinian 1967 territories, and almost Judaised except the Old City and some other few communities. The Refugees issue is taken in practical terms out of the table by Israel and the United States. Last but not least Area C became De facto annexed to Israel if not De Jure yet, and Jerusalem annexed territory to Israel is still growing by grabbing parts of West Bank, and adding them to Jerusalem. The outcome of all of this is a creeping annexation as it was first called by Moshe Dayan in the end of 1960’s, and the creation of one bigger Israel that have no place for the Palestinians. What will be the next step towards those ignored Palestinians?. Some in Israel are raising their voices calling for their transfer, in other hand the official Israeli Policy is keeping silent about their fate, but at the same time supporting those who call for the transfer of the Palestinians by taking no single step against their statements and actions. 

This is a summary of the bitter harvest so far, which is also an indication that the worse is still to come. Why is that?

The main reason is the formula that was used for peacemaking and conflict resolution  between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I published a long research paper about this formula in the “ International Negotiation Journal” last January 2018, titled “Beyond Exacerbating Asymmetry, and Sustainig Occupation”. Here is a brief summary of the findings about the conflict resolution formula that was adopted by the United States and Israel towards our case: 

First: Despite the grief asymmetry between the two sides( The occupier and the occupied). They were considered to be symmetrical. “ You will get if you give”.  ( Netanyahu).

Second: The process dealt with West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as the subjects of bargaining and division between the two sides. This approach led to the marginalization of the Palestinian refugees issue, and other issues like the Palestinian rights in West Jerusalem.

Third: The Process was gradual, and incremental, so the discussed details will open the way to other endless kind of details leading as such to the failure of all the negotiations rounds.

Fourth: Instead of agreeing in advance about the end game( The goal of the Negotiations), the final status was kept as an “ open ended”, and the core issues including of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and borders were left to the permanent status negotiations that its rounds failed one after the other, while settlments were growing in the ground.

Fifth: The mediator was biased to the strong side all the way ahead. In the times of President Donald Trump the mediator moved to a worse position of becoming a partner to Israel in settlement expansion, and in Judaizing Jerusalem.

Sixth: The formula for the negotiations was based on “ Ignoring the past, and looking together for the future”. That was adopted instead of reconciling and solving the atrocities of that past.

Seventh: The formula included a People to people approach which ended up becoming the hub for “ technical” and “ business like” projects with a lot of bearucracy in reporting and the quality of reporting included from the donors side. This was accompanied by an assumption by the donors that the two sides moved to a stable “post- Conflict period” of partnering in making solutions, therefore institutional building became the fashion instead of the continuation of the support for the Palestinian non- violent struggle for self determination and independent statehood. Neo- Colonial tools of control was included as research explicated.

In brief, a commercial  formula of compromise prevailed either by looking politically for the division of the 1967 occupied territories between the two sides, or by doing business together through the so called” people to people projects”. 

The bitter harvest of this formula is ahead of our eyes. Accordingly it should be said clearly: Goodbye to conflict resolution with all its shortfalls, and look instead for reconciliation. The conditions of the latter do not exist in the ground today, but an international formula of non violent struggle for the emancipation of the Palestinian people can create the conditions for it instead of focusing solely on diplomacy. 

Article published in Akhbar el Balad: http://akhbarelbalad.net/ar/1/6/3944/

Photo credit: AP

Published in Tribune

In response to the savage massacre committed by the Israeli Army against the “ Marches of Return and Seige Lifting” of yesterday in Gaza, the White House in Washington DC released a statement blaming Hamas for using violence, and supporting the “ right of Israel to defend itself”. Also Mr Jason Greenblat the American Envoy to the Middle East “ Peace process” wrote an article in the Israeli newspaper “ Yisrael Hayoum” accusing Hamas of returning Gaza back to the “ Iron Age”

Till Nine PM yesterday evening, the death toll among Gaza Palestinians participating in the Marches reached the number of 55 (increased to 58 by 1:26 am this morning), in addition to 2410 injured. According to the Ministry of health in Gaza, there are 203 children and 78 women among the injured. 40 of these were in a critical conditions and 76 seriously injured. 1204 got injured by live bullet, and 130 by rubber covered metal bullets. Further than that the Ministry of health report includes calculations about the parts of the bodies that were injured, for instance 79 injured in the neck and the head, 76 in thier chests and stomaches, 164 in different places of their bodies, and 1055 in the lower parts of their bodies. As such many of the injured will be left with permanent disabilities life long.

How comes that these killings and injuries just in one day are merely practiced in the framework of “ Israel right to defend itself”?. How comes that later in the day the USA prevented a UN Security Council Statement approved by the other 14 members of the Council condemning the massacre and calling for the formation of an international committee of investigation about them?.

Beyond the shock from these positions, three issues should be emphasized (among others that there are no enough space for all to be discussed in a short column like this one):

The first among these is that United States is not any more just a supporter to Israel politically and militarily, but moreover United States is a partner in the Israeli ongoing settler colonial project in the ground. A latest research had shown that 15 percent of colonial settlers in West Bank (without East Jerusalem) today are Americans. Sara Yael Hirschhorn from Oxford University presented these results showing that there are sixty thousand settlers in West Bank only ( without the inclusion of East Jerusalem), who are originally Americans. Therfore President Abbas was fully right to describe the move of the American Embassy yesterday to Jerusalem as “ an establishment of an American Settler outpost in Palestine”. This is one.

Secondly, the significant point regarding the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem yesterday, is that it is about dictation of the final status results  in the ground in contradiction with Oslo Agreement article five text which stated that Jerusalem as a whole ( East and West) is subject to the final status negotiations. In other words Oslo Agreement included what the late Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini was saying all the time till he passed away in 2001, that the Palestinians property rights in West Jerusalem should be negotiated and agreed upon before any political agreement about the city and on how to share two capitals for two states in it. The Americans violated this article and adopted the Israeli position which again makes the American Embassy in Jerusalem of a colonial type as mentioned above. 

Thirdly: The American Administration becoming a partner of the Israeli settler colonial project, will share as well the Israeli position of finding no place to the Palestinians within this project. Accordingly the Palestinians should hide and show no presence, expressed by keeping fully silent towards what is imposed and dicatated, or they will pay the price by getting to be” removed” forcefully when they oppose. In this sense all kind of Palestinian struggle armed and non- armed become illegal according to this perspective because they make the Palestinian visible while he / she is supposed to be invisible. Adi Ophir wrote once and again that the Palestinian is punished not because he made something wrong, but he/she is punished becsuse he/ She is found in a place where the settler colonial project expect him/ her not to be existing in. Gaza wise this means that the Gazan Palestinians should continued acting in impotent way despite the move of the Embassy, and despite the anniversary of 70 years of the Nakba given also that 66 percent of Gaza residents are refugees according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics new report released yesterday.

It was James Zughby who wrote yesterday that the the Americans consider the Palestinians as” invisible victims” that do not count anything by themselves, but they merely represent a “ problem to Israel” that the latter has to deal with and solve. Accordingly no attention will be made to the plight of the Palestinians since 1948.

Article published in Akhbar el Balad: http://www.akhbarelbalad.net/ar/1/6/3933/

Photo credit: AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed

Published in Tribune

This year witnesses the seventieth anniversary of 1948 Nakba. In the 1980’s the Israeli New Historians found out what Walid Al Khalidi and others discovered since 1960’s that the Palestinians did not leave due to calls from the Arab Radios calling them to leave their country. In the opposite they found that the majority of Palestinians who left were obliged to do so due to Zionist attacks. First Benny Morris showed through checking Israeli Archives that 282 villages were evacuated due to Zionist groups attacks. Nur Masalha further found that 292 locations were evacuated due to these attacks, other 87 were evacuated due to fear from Jewish attacks or as a result of the evacuation of neighboring villages, and finally 12 locations were evacuated because of terrifying rumours. Later Ilan Pappe wrote an outstanding book about ethnic cleansing recording and analyzing all its process based also on informations that he got through his access to to the Zionist Archives.

However, the  majority of people in Israel still think that what happened in 1948 is legitimate. They deny the fact that other people were evacuated by force from their country. This denial did not led only to the continuation of the plight of the Palestinian refugees till today, but it was also used as a coverage for the repetition of what happened in 1948 once again in 1967 and after. By checking the official Israeli Archives Nur Masalha found out that in addition to those who left during the 1967 war, other 200 thousand were forcefully evacuated after the war, this include most of the residents of the Morrocan Quarter and Al Sharaf neighborhood  in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the former villages of Yalo, Emwas and Beit Nuba in the Latrun area that were destroyed after the war( Canada Park today). After that war also 850 to 2000 houses were destroyed by Dynamite in Qalqilia city according to different estimations, the same goes for destroying the villages of Beit Awwa and Beit Mirsem close to Hebron, and the village of Jiftlik in the Jordan valley and others. Besides that the Refugee camps of Ein Al Sultan, Nweimeh, and Aqbat Jaber were evacuated.

The period from 1948 to 1967 witnessed also several campaigns of evacuating the Bedouins of the Negev to Egypt and Jordan. These campaigns continued till 1959. Also when Gaza was occupied in 1956 for few months several plans for the evacuation of its population mainly the refugees were prepared, also several massacres were conducted leading to the killing of more than 2000 Gazans as Isam Sakhnini wrote. Till 1948 and as the Israeli historian Aryeh Yitzhaki showed 10 big massacres were conducted by the Zionist groups each of more than fifty people killed, and other smaller 100 massacres were also committed.

This brief review showed that the settler colonial project that has no place to the other continued  also after 1967. Some call what is going in the post 1967 territories as a colonial case of occupation. But this description is misleading. What we have here is a settler colonial project that is stretching itself in the ground using the same methods that were used in the pre 1948 period. It is then a matter of time only when the moment of full confrontation between this project and the indegenious population will come if the expansion of this project will continue with the American support, and the European inability to confront it, and the Arab and the Palestinian divisions and internal fights. 

Today we have around 650 thousand colonial settlers in West Bank and East Jerusalem according to the minimal estimations, also the refugees are still in there place, and new numbers of refugees keep emerging, either in the shape of internal displacement (what is going on with the Bedouins in Area C for instance), or by external ones.

The path to confront this is well known, and were written and called for once and again. It is not by waisting the precious time in the diplomacy of seeking for negotiations,  but by creating an international non violent struggle for the freedom of Palestine and the emancipation of its people. Such a struggle should take place in Europe cities, United States, and every were in the world in addition to Ramallah, Gaza, Jerusalem, and the other Palestinian cities. Such a struggle needs to use political, economic, legal, and diplomatic means, and not to be limited to the organisation of marches and demonstrations. The like-minded Israelis are invited to join, but first they need to cross the bridge from dialoguing with the Palestinians to join them in the struggle for freedom. Crossing this bridge can’t be achieved without their one by one recognition first on the individual basis of the plights of 1948 and 1967, and the Israeli responsibility of creating them. By this recognition they create an example for other Israelis to join. Can they have the courage to do so, and come to a position of truth and honesty for oneself and in their relation with the other?.

Article published in Akhbar el Balad: http://www.akhbarelbalad.net/ar/1/6/3920/

Published in Tribune
Saturday, 21 April 2018 16:19

To be a Palestinian Jerusalemite these days

The Arab Summit held in Saudi Arabia in the 15th of April, passed this year without attracting the media attention. Strong decisions about Palestine and Iran, and a deep split regarding Syria.These are in general the summit resolutions.

Jerusalem wise the summit was called by King Salman as “ AlQuds Summit”, with 150 million dollars allocated by Saudi Arabia to the Islamic Endownment in the city, and other 50 million allocated to the UNRWA. As happened with the previous summits financial support decisions, one has to wait and see if these will find their way to implementation this time. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the summit after its end, calling for a mechanism to implement the summit decisions. We will wait and see.

In Israel, there were almost no response to the Arab Summit resolutions. The Israeli plans in regard to Jerusalem continued as if nothing happened. Besides that some Israeli voices who consider them seleves as “ Peace makers”, moved from their previous patronizing position of giving “advisory opinions” to the Palestinians about alternatives to what is called as “ the failure of the Palestinian strategies for Jerusalem in the last fifty years”, to a new worse position of creating a list for joining the Israeli upcoming municipal elections of this year. This participation is taking place in the framework of the Israeli annexation to the city, and practically recognizing it, by looking for the improvement of the daily life issues of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem through this system instead of working to support the creation of Palestinian facts in the ground towards Palestinian self determination. Interesting enough this new “ project” is presented under the slogan of “ the people democratic right to vote”, as if this democratic participation cannot be achieved by bringing back the Palestinian Municipality that was dissolved illegally by Israel in 1967, and by allowing for the Palestinian munici elections in
West Bank and Gaza Strip to be inclusive to East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.

This development in the year of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, will only create within the existing asymmetry an inclusion process of the Palestinians in the Israeli system, that it besides creating fragmentation among the Palestinians instead of supporting by practical means their right to self determination and independence.

The problem to the Palestinian Jerusalemites with the Arabs are those of that they are making slogans about supporting, but practically speaking the Arab support is fragmented, compitative between different Arab Countires, and also the support that arrives is very small.

The problem of the Palestinian Jerusalemites with the State of Palestine Authorities is about the latter inability to start acting as a Palestinian State in the ground, with East Jerusalem as its capital, which will include the implementation of practical economic and community based programs in Jerusalem, and also include the creation of a long term nonviolent resistance. Now the Jerusalemites are looking to the Palestinian National Council of the 30th of April to make a crucial steps in that direction. Can it?

The big problem for the Palestinian East Jerusalemites will still to be the ISRAELI OCCUPATION, and its ongoing plans for the deepening of the Israeli settler colonial project in the city. Reading the mentioned list for municipal elections program one will find that occupation is not mentioned, and as well the right of the Palestinians to have back their dissolved 1967 Municipality is not mentioned. Moreover the list program ignores the fact that most of the decisions regarding the Israelization and the Judaization of Jerusalem are taken in the Israeli Ministerial level rather than the municipal level. Do they want to be “ witnesses” ( if they succeeded in the municipal elections) on the settlements expansion and the humiliation against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including for example the humiliation taking place in the offices of the Israeli Ministry of Interior in East Jerusalem?

Yet, this is not all the story, but there is an ethical side of it that still to be tackled: Opposite to relativism which considers every point of view as merely an “ Opinion”, and therefore considers all opinions as all legitimate and equal regardless of the divide, the Israeli so called “ Peace activists” are called to make the courageous move from this “ Neutrality”, to the position of the the ethical support of what their Palestinian partners struggle for. Without this move, talking about struggling together become impossible, and the joint ventures become like a waste of the Golden time in controversies and arguments on the expense of taking actions.

Finally, despite all these pressures and others not mentioned on the Palestinian East Jerusalemites, there are lights in the horizon, the last was the decisions of the economic conference in Istanbul last week, and others. More importantly there is the Palestinian strong sense of integrity, and the resilience and the ongoing community development in the East Jerusalem communities, which make the Palestinian East Jerusalemite steadfast, continue and prosper despite all the odds.

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Published in Tribune

As it happens every time when the Israeli municipal elections get closer, one will see voices calling the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to break their boycott to those elections. So far the Palestinian participation in those elections did not exceed one to three percent in all of its rounds. The explication of this very low turnout by claiming that the East Jerusalem Palestinians are afraid from the PLO and that the factions , is disrespectful to both the people and the factions. The people in Jerusalem are acting according to their believes rather than according to what the factions ask them to do, also the factions actions are usually not directed towards terrorizing their people. The public opinion poll that Haaretz published last month claiming that 59 percent of the East Jerusalem Palestinians are in favor of voting in those elections  looks to be representing the positions of one segment from East Jerusalem Palestinian population rather than representing all segments of this highly fragmented society due to the Israeli occupation policies since 1967.

The argument of those who call for Palestinian participation in those elections include that this participation will give the Palestinians their rights in the municipal level, might create a freeze of settlement, and also it might bring out a good response to President Trump decision about about “ Israelizing” Jerusalem as a whole( See for Instance Uri Avnery response to Abraham Burg proposal of a list to be led by Ahmad Tibi for those elections both published in Haaretz few days ago).

These claims are based on the assumption that the Palestinians might succeed in those  elections together with the Israeli colleagues in the list because of being around 40 percent of the population.

The assumption is awkward because the ability of such a list to win the elections by exploiting  the rift between the secular and the religious communities among the Jews, which was possible in the past is not any more possible after the right wing religious and secular segments became able to unite their forces both in the Israeli government and in the municipal levels as well in the last few years. Therefore the failure of the list is highly likely.

Besides that if it won, will that lead for reversing or at least freezing the settler colonial expansion?. An issue that all know for being key for Zionism. 

Looking to  the experience of the Palestinians inside Israel participation in both the Knesset and the local council elections will teach us that at the end the procedures of taking over the Palestinians lands and expanding  settlements on their expense continued since 1948 despite this participation.

It is then a wishful thinking to find easy solutions to more complicated issues by suggesting that electoral ways as if they are being capable to reverse or at least stop a  settler colonial project who aims to take over more and more territory, and to replace and displace. In the contrary other means are required to “ defeat” such project, these include initiating a comprehensive non violent campaign with global participation( including the Israeli like minded participation), building Palestinian Community unity and resilience versus fragmentation, and recreating a bottom up Palestinian Municipal structure that will assist also to prepare for the Palestinian independence. Failure of the Palestinian side to launch these kind of alternatives paved the way for the growing voices calling for rotten ideas such as joining the Israeli municipal elections, as being the only salvation for the Palestinian status in the city before being lost!.

Transforming this “ doom day” claim , will require first from those who are calling for it to change direction and to join fully the Palestinian non- violent struggle, and to lend hands to assist building the resilience of the Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem according to the needs of those communities rather than according to the imagined forms of these needs by the initiators as it usually take place by different projects that are” targeting”  East Jerusalem Palestinians instead of working according to their real needs.

Besides that all who call for the Palestinian participation in the municipal elections of West Jerusalem should be able to show a respect to the Palestinian municipality of each Jerusalem that still exist since 1967, and reappointed by President Yaser Arafat in 1998, and then by President Mahmoud Abbas in 2012. Those who call for the participation in the Israeli municipal elections should be able to change direction and think instead in how to assist this Palestinian Municipality that is still symbolically exist to become factually existing through creating the connections between it and the East Jerusalem communities, and therefore create one additional step towards disengaging with occupation towards Palestinian independence. Several scenarios were developed in the last few years for how to make this link between the Palestinian municipality and the East Jerusalem communities and most of them are doable. 

Such a change of direction became also more and more required specially after the last January resolution of the PLO Central Council to “revive the Palestinian East Jerusalem Municipality in the basis of the best democractic and Representetive methods that are possible”. Is it possible to express respect of this dicision and to try to find out how to support it towards implementation?.

Besides that major discussion there is the other one of asking East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote to Meretz in order to increase its seats number in the municipality. Such a call leads to a violation to the Palestinian boycott, and it cannot be tenable.  Meretz will be required as it is mostly doing to keep supporting  the Palestinian independence in East Jerusalem and the fullfilment of the Palestinian needs in the city in the basis of its principles towards the two states solution, without waiting to get a reward for that from the victims of its country occupation. 

Finally, in Jerusalem the adminstrative and the political are strongly linked. Here both are intertwined. In Israel the decisions regarding Jerusalem are made by the Government and its ministry for Jerusalem and not from the Municipality only. In Palestine there are a ministry of Jerusalem and PLO department of Jerusalem. Claiming then that the Palestinian participation in the municipal election will not lead to political results that are against the Palestinian rights of independence and building the steps towards it, is a rotten and awkward kind of claim and it’s ramifications were explained above. Further than that Palestinians will not seek for improvement of the services to them within the framework of the” Israeli United Jerusalem” by participation in the Israeli municipal elections, especially when this participation will be also in full contradiction with their political aspirations, and with their daily life needs that they will be better to befulfilled  by sustaining the Palestinian municipality in the city opposite to its 1967 illegal dissolution by Israel.

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad: http://akhbarelbalad.net/ar/1/6/3825/

Photo credit: Getty Images

Published in Tribune

The Israeli settler colonial project started in East Jerusalem in early 1967, directly after the beginning of occupation. During the same period, the Palestinian resistance began as both an armed struggle – as in Gaza mainly from 1967 to 1972 – and a public movement of nonviolent resistance – as in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. In addition to settler colonialism, the Israeli project in East Jerusalem has included a combination of belligerent occupation and apartheid policies.

One of several early settler-colonial projects was the demolition of Al-Sharaf neighborhood inside the Old City, in order to begin the expansion of the Jewish Quarter over its ruins. At the same time, however, the Palestinian Jerusalem Municipality (Amanat al-Quds) rejected its dissolution by the Israeli occupying authorities. Sheikh Abdel Hamid Al Sa’eh, among other personalities, took the initiative to create the first National Guidance Committee, which has led the Palestinian struggle against the occupation since early 1967.*

Later on during the same year, the Israeli Occupation Authorities deported Sheikh Sa’eh to Jordan, but the resistance continued. In Jerusalem, this resistance preserved the Palestinian Islamic and Christian Waqf Institutions’ independence under the leadership of the High Islamic Commission that was established immediately after the 1967 war. The commission worked in tandem with the Christian religious representatives in order to protect the holy places and the religious courts’ independence, and to contribute to the leadership and guidance of the resistance against the occupation.

Using all kinds of creative measures, the Palestinian national institutions in East Jerusalem strove to protect themselves from being taken over by occupation. These included the chamber of commerce, the electricity company, the labor and professional trade unions, Makassed and Augusta Victoria hospitals (among others), and several charitable societies as well as the education sector. In this case the teachers undertook a long, successful strike in order to prevent the imposition of the Israeli curricula as the curricula for education in East Jerusalem schools.

These successes in the early years of occupation were sustained by others in subsequent years. In 1973 the National Front was established in Jerusalem and consisted of national and left-wing factions and parties in addition to national personalities. The National Front led the Palestinian resistance until 1976. Several demonstrations were organized during that period of time, especially by students. A national strike followed the martyrdom of Muntaha Al-Hourani, a schoolgirl from Nablus who was assassinated by Israeli Occupation Forces in 1974. The Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour drew an impressive portrait of her bleeding from the back while lying on the ground in her school uniform.

For the Israeli Occupation Authorities, the combination of the struggle made by the Jerusalem-based National Front – in addition to the students and trade unions, cooperatives, and other organizations under the national front leadership – combined with the Arab Rabat Summit recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, meant that there was a need to make concessions. One of the major concessions was the cancellation of the 1975 plan to establish a civil administration, and the decision to allow the PLO-affiliated personalities to run for the municipal elections in 1976, which resulted in a big victory for a number of important personalities, including Karim Khalaf, Bassam al Shaka’a, and Ibrahim Al-Tawil, who became the mayors of Ramallah, Nablus, and Al Bireh, respectively.

The elected mayors played the role of political guide for the Palestinians and did not limit themselves to the provision of services. In 1978 when the Camp David agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt, the mayors gathered with other personalities and the university student councils, the trade union representatives, and others in the premises of the trade unions in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem, where they declared their rejection of the Camp David Accords and announced the establishment of the second National Guidance Committee.

In the early 1980s, the Israeli Likud-led government decided to dissolve the National Guidance Committee and initiated a war against the elected mayors. In the course of this campaign of persecution, Bassam Shaka’a’s car was bombed in June 1980, which left him in a wheelchair after he had lost parts of his legs and one hand.

At the same time, the Israeli occupation authorities created the so-called village leagues that were connected to the Likud-created Civil Administration. It was led by Hebrew University professor Menahem Milson (between November 1981 and September 1982). He ended up resigning after the utter failure of his experiment to “organize village leaders.” The whole plan failed in all its aspects: To weaken the urban-based PLO supportive leadership on one hand, and to create a leadership that was loyal to Israel on the other hand. In addition, the village leagues were boycotted, even in their own villages, which led to their full collapse a few years later.

As the Israeli government increased settlement expansion, with the number of settlers reaching 111,600 in 1993, it also hired Israeli professors such as Ezra Sadan to develop ideas for economic peace as an alternative to ending the occupation. These additional Likud policies strengthened Palestinian national aspirations and Palestinian support of the PLO, contrary to the aim of the Likud: that “the improvement of living conditions for Palestinians” as it was called then, would lead Palestinians to forget their national aspirations and the confiscation of their land.  

These developments ripened conditions for the eruption of the first Intifada that started in 1987. Jerusalem once again was the center of the Intifada leadership, continuing until the death of the leader Faisal al-Husseini in 2001, and the Israeli closure of the Orient House.

This short overview has shown the centrality of East Jerusalem not only in planning and guiding the Palestinian popular struggle against the occupation from 1967 to 1987, but also in the protection of national institutions, the rejection of any compromise in the struggle for self-determination, and the strengthening and support of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

* A chronology of the Palestinian resistance to occupation can be found in the annual volumes of the Palestinian Diaries and in the Palestinian documents (in Arabic) that were published by the PLO Research Center.

Blurb: After 1967 the Palestinians refused to surrender their national institutions to the Israeli occupiers, continuing the Palestinian struggle for freedom. East Jerusalem was central to such efforts that ended up thwarting Israeli attempts to normalize the occupation and to create an alternative to the PLO. This strengthened the PLO’s status as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.  

Walid Salem is a lecturer on democracy, human rights, and conflict resolution at Al-Quds University, and a PhD candidate in international relations at the Near East University of Northern Cyprus. He is also a member in the PLO Palestinian National Council, and the director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development in East Jerusalem.

Published in Tribune

The tune heard from the American administration and its Envoy Jason Greenblat in the last two weeks, includes two messages which are as follows: Any plan that we present will be for implementation, and not for negotiations. Also if the Palestinians want a capital in Jerusalem then they should go an build it the same as Israel built its Jerusalem.

The first message is clear: We do, and not just saying:In this regard our decision regarding Jerusalem was followed by other acts, such as cutting the support from the UNRWA, and other acts will follow.

The second message, is a call to the Palestinians to design and put in the ground their facts, not only as what Israel is doing, but also as the United States itself is doing as the first message bluntly telling.
The hurdles confronting the Palestinians to create their facts are very huge, and in regard to creating facts in the ground in Jerusalem their hands look to be completely tied. Nevertheless the PLO Central Council took decisions in its 15th of last of January meeting regarding Jerusalem, these were included in article 3:3, with five components that can be translated as follows:
“- Providing with all the requirements for steadfastness to our people in Jerusalem, and develop a comprehensive program to promote This steadfastness in all fields.
- support their struggle against the judaization of the city.
- Increase the national cohesion among the Palestinians in Jerusalem under a one united leadership.
-The creation of a United
- The formation of Amanat Al Quds ( The Palestinian Municipality of Jerusalem) according to an appropriate and nationally agreed upon democratic and representative formula.
- Calling upon the Arab and the Islamic counties to fulfill their obligations in regard to Jerusalem”.
These resolutions are self explanatory. The problem is in implementetion, and the question is if there is a political will to derail Trump decision about Jerusalem, or just it is suffice to battle against it in the international and regional arenas in addition to keep initiating days of rage to express what is called as” Shouting in the history instead of changing it”?

To derail the American decision regarding Jerusalem another way of handling matters will be needed. In this regard we have a time ceiling till the end of 2019 when the American Embassy will be fully moved to Jerusalem. This gives us around two years to work in derailing the step, and in this period a lot can be done within a systematic plan for derailing. Some of the actions that can be done include the implementation of the Palestinian Central Council resolutions regarding Jerusalem, building Palestinian facts in the ground with an international support in East Jerusalem and area C, and rebuilding Gaza in order to show that the Palestinian side is functioning and capable, boycott the Israeli products, the investemets in Israel and the work in the settlements. Conduct creative Palestinian non violent activities to sustain Palestinian villages as it is the example of Al Aqaba village close to Jenin.

Jerusalem wise other key initiatives can be done, starting with building on the international consensus that we have against the President Trump decision about it,and build on that support towards more acheivements to Jerusalem. To be also added parts of those points mentioned above, and others by making the world as a whole the courtyard for the struggle for Jerusalem by doing many things such as going once and again and again without getting tired to each capital in the world asking for recognition of Palestine and Jerusalem as its capital, using the good offices of our Ambassadors , and the Palestinian communities in each country to lobby for that in coopration with the civil society organizations and grassroots movements in the world countries. Besides that go to the UN again and again with new resolutions and propositions, and communicate intensively with the international diplomatic missions to Palestine to influence their countries positions, and to get their suppport to the creation of Palestinian facts in the ground in East Jerusalem, area C, and Gaza Strip.
Work with the key Arab and Islamic countries to coordinate steps in the international arena together, and to bring their support to Jerusalem.
In the United States itself: Make appeals againdt Trump decision to the American courts from Americans, American Jews, and Arabs and Muslims, and also from Americans who are originally from Jerusalem. Communicate intensively with the Republic Party members, the Congress members, and the American think tanks. Address the American people by the American media..etc.

This list above is far from being comprehensive, a lot can be added to it, and it is also can be modified. It is presented only in order to show that there are another way around if the political will to do it is present. Can we?

Article published in Akhbar Al Balad

Photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Pool via AP

Published in Tribune
Sunday, 24 December 2017 04:46

Russia ready to fill Middle East void

US President Donald Trump, who next month celebrates his first year in office, has formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has ended decades of American diplomacy by ordering the State Department to prepare for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, drawing anger and despair from people and leaders throughout the world, who now expect a possible third uprising in the Occupied Territories, the collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, the strengthening of extremists and an effect on the standing of the US in the world, mainly in the Middle East.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was one of his presidential campaign promises, but hardly anyone imagined it would be among those he kept.

Last week’s announcement turned Washington into a dishonest broker in any future talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, opening the door wide for Arabs to seek Russian, Chinese and European support.

Though Trump received many warnings from Arab and European leaders and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he insisted on his decision to move the embassy.

The Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which were signed in 1993 in the White House by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with the attendance of then-President Bill Clinton, stated that the final status of Jerusalem had to be settled by negotiations.

The dominant majority of the international community has condemned this decision and called on the White House to revise it.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterised it as “defying common sense”, while President Vladimir Putin shared his deep concerns. Putin phoned his Turkish counterpart following Trump’s announcement, calling for the Palestinians and Israelis to “hold back” and to renew talks. 

Putin had a short trip to the Middle East on Monday, paying an unexpected visit to Syria, notably the Khmeimim air base, where he met Bashar Assad and ordered Russian troops’ partial withdrawal from Syria. After that, he held talks with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. The issue of Jerusalem and the future of the peace talks were among the important topics that were discussed.

Putin’s surprise visit boosts country’s standing in the region amid fallout from US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

– Maria Dubovikova

The current situation gives great opportunities to Russia to strengthen its position in the Arab world. Russia has proved to be an honest peace broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks for years — its position is unbiased and unchangeable. The US manoeuver permits Russia to fill the void, attracting the region’s countries into its network of cooperation. 

Putin is seizing these opportunities with his brief Middle Eastern tour. Turkey, which is also gaining power in the region, is becoming a key partner for Russia. After the collapse of their bilateral relations following the downing of a Russian jet on the Syria-Turkey border two years ago, their relationship has been fully restored, and has even reached new levels. At the same time, Turkey is one of the few countries which permits itself to use tough rhetoric against the West, and it expressed in a threatening way its disagreement with the White House’s decision on Jerusalem. Russia stands by the side of President Erdogan and other leaders in the region, thus getting into an advantageous position.

The US is deeply involved in all Arab countries politically, militarily, economically and financially, but it arguably has a track record in sowing instability with notorious regime-change policies. Taking this into account, the Arabs are now grappling with the mistakes they made in previous decades.

The issue of moving the embassy dates back to 1995, when the US Congress passed a bill recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But that bill includes an item that allows US presidents to effectively postpone the transfer decision for six months to protect American national security interests. US presidents have been postponing this decision ever since.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is merely symbolic, but it is an adequate reason for possible further chaos in the Middle East.

Palestinians feel they have been negotiating for peace for more than 20 years and have ended up with zero result. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process ended irreversibly with the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — it is a bizarre decision, but how can the Arab world reverse it?

Published in Tribune
Friday, 15 December 2017 00:10

Trump's Double Toe Loop

The recent decision of President Donald Trump with regard to Jerusalem is just one more surprise in the endless series of surprises in the Middle East. Numerous analysts overlook the fact that there are actually two separate parts to the decision, which has proved fateful for the Middle East. It is a double toe loop. The first part is about recognizing the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while the second is about moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These two points are interrelated. More than this, one seems to logically stem from the other. But, as they say, opinions may differ.

 

While the situation in the White House has been evolving precisely in this direction ever since Trump's election, I must admit that, until the last moment, I did not want to believe that the president would take such a reckless step. There is no doubt that the move was made under the strong influence of a small group of incompetent people who determine Trump’s Middle Eastern Policy (leading U.S. experts specializing in the region that I have had a chance to talk with see them as incompetent). Their names are well known, as is the motivation behind their recommendations to the President of the United States, who quite enjoys surprising everybody. At least three of them are believed to be supporters of radical right-wing forces in Israel. Shibley Telhami, a Washington-based analyst at the Brookings Institution, wrote: “His advisors live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience.” At the same time, polls indicate that 81 per cent of Americans, including 71 per cent of Republicans, would prefer Trump to rely on experts in Middle Eastern diplomacy, not inexperienced members of his family and personal lawyers.

It is true that Trump is not abandoning his policy of seeking a truce between Israel and Palestine. However, if we are to believe a leaked plan allegedly devised by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and submitted by the latter to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salmad Al Saud, handing East Jerusalem over to the Palestinians as the capital of their future state (which appears to be nothing more than a handful of scattered territories). It is hard to imagine any Palestinian leader agreeing to such a plan. There are far more painless and certainly less disgraceful ways to commit suicide. On the other hand, as Steven Simon, former United States National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, states in an article for The New York Times International Edition, “For all the talk from successive administrations, a Palestinian-Israeli peace has never been a strategic imperative for Washington”.

Let us list just a few of the possible consequences of Trump’s decisions.

Trump’s decision to bury the already modest results secured by Barack Obama to improve Washington’s relations with the Islamic and Arabic worlds, shape an image of the United States that is not guided by Israel in its foreign policy and set a course that can be defined as neutral with regard to the conflict in the Middle East.

It delivers a deadly blow to the war on terror, and raises the threat of terrorist, extremist and radical religious and nationalist organizations to mobilize new supporters, with terrorists and extremists taking advantage of the desperation of the Palestinians and the fury of Muslims.

It also undermines the reputation of the United Nations, the significance of the UN Security Council’s resolutions (which were passed with the participation of the United States) and, in the broader sense, international law.

It also affects the Middle East Quartet, which was on its last legs as it was, and is now a good as dead. Any attempts to resuscitate the format would be futile. Equally irrecoverable is one of the few channels of constructive foreign political interaction between Russia and the United States. This work needs to be continued, but merely for the sake of the process. There certainly will be no results.

It also undermines the positions of the moderate Palestinian leaders, who are already having a difficult time defending their views before their more radically inclined fellow countrymen.

It also damages the reputation of the allies of the United States around the world and in the Middle East, weakening the United States’ partnership with a number of influential Islamic states – states which had until now been the country’s closest partners. We are talking primarily here about Turkey, a NATO member. The partnership will probably remain, but there will be no more trust. On December 8, Le Figaro published the following headline about Trump’s demarche: “The U.S. President isolates his country in the international arena by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” President of France Emmanuel Macron stated in no uncertain terms that Trump’s decision contravened the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, which does not seem to bother the President of the United States. On the contrary, he appears to derive some kind of pleasure from it. It will be difficult for the Gulf monarchies, which are closely linked to the United States and are now starting to court Israel. Jordan, which is living through difficult times of its own, appears to be in a particularly difficult situation.

Trump’s decision strengthens the positions of Iran, the exact opposite to what the President of the United States wants. We are reminded of 2003, when the United States’ invasion of Iraq made Iran the most influential external force in that country.

 

The decision is ruining the very concept of the Middle Eastern peace process, which contains such issues as refugees, borders and Jerusalem (the most important and difficult issue), all of which lying at the core of the talks on the so-called final status.

The wave of violence caused by Trump’s decision will be difficult to stop, as the U.S. President does not back down from his word. Anti-U.S. sentiments will continue to mount in the Islamic world, which will put the lives of American citizens at risk. The threat does not just come from the Middle East, but also from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.

Trump is doing a disservice to Israel, which needs peace with Palestine in order to secure a safe and comfortable life for its citizens.

Talking about the possible variants, some of my colleagues, the most authoritative American experts on the region, are attempting to move Trump to rectify the damage that his decision has most definitely done to the interests of the United States. In particular, Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and now a professor at Princeton University, suggested in an article for the New York Daily News that Trump did not have to repeal the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. All he had to do was announce that, in the future, when the plan to create two states in Palestine is implemented, he would also recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Trump might also announce that, following the implementation of this plan, he would open a U.S. embassy to that new state in Jerusalem. It is, however, unlikely that the overconfident President will heed the voices of those naively aiming to “correct” his policy.

Why does Trump Need This? And Why is he Doing it Now?

Some believe that Trump wants to suck up to Israel’s right wing (even though much seems have already been done in that direction), and to Netanyahu in particular, who might capitalize on this and avoid prosecution. On the other hand, Trump, as people have come to believe, is primarily guided by domestic policy considerations. Polls carried out by the University of Maryland in November 2017 indicate that 59 per cent of Americans would prefer for the president to abstain from taking sides in the Israel–Palestine conflict. In addition, 57 per cent, including a majority of Republicans, believe he is leaning towards Israel. Another survey, conducted by the Brookings Institution, indicates that 63 per cent of those polled, including 44 per cent of Republicans, are against moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even among the respondents who represent Trump’s main beacon of support in U.S. society, Evangelist Christians, only 53 per cent support the moving of the embassy, with as much as 40 per cent being against the move.

Or does he want to appease the Evangelicals? But we have already seen that not everything is clear-cut with the Evangelicals. Nevertheless, Netanyahu is targeting this segment of U.S. society. According to Steven Simon, Netanyahu believes that the next generation of Americans, or the one after that, will no longer contain liberal Jews, and that Evangelical Christians alongside Orthodox Jews will stand up to counteract America’s pressure on Israel.

 

Or is Trump’s idea to simply shock the international community once again, forcing it to live with any decision that may take his fancy, even the most extravagant ones?

If Netanyahu hopes that the common interest of Israel and Saudi Arabia to restrain Iran will force King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad to reconcile with the fact that all hopes have been lost for retaining Muslim control over at least some part of the third most significant city in the country (after Mecca and Medina), he is obviously wrong. Israel, and the United States in particular, have always underestimated the central place the Jerusalem issue takes in the eyes of Muslims. It is true that the Saudi Arabian rulers currently view Iran as a greater problem for themselves and the region than the Israel–Palestine conflict. However, the Saudi leader cannot possibly lose Jerusalem. James Dorsey, a well-known Singapore-based expert on the Middle East, believes that Mr. Trump’s recognition and any plan to grant Israel full control of Jerusalem would see the genie turning on the kingdom and its ruling family

It appears that the events in the region are giving Russia a window of opportunity just in time to revitalize the country’s weighted and respectful attitude towards all of its Middle Eastern partners and highlight its role as a unique mediator in conflicts.

They say that an experienced figure skater can do a double toe loop easily. Could the same be said of the President of the United States?

Article published in RIAC: http://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/dvoynoy-tulup-trampa/

Фото: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Published in Tribune
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