Category Archives: Hamas

Palestinians Hunker Down for Ramadan, Facing a Virus that doesn’t Discriminate but an Occupier that does

As the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, the coronavirus outbreak in Israel and the Palestinian territories is proving how inevitably intertwined the two populations’ lives are, while also underlining the extreme differentials of power between them.

While 15,000 Israelis have tested positive for Covid-19 so far, the numbers infected in the occupied territories are still measured in the hundreds – though that, in part, reflects the difficulties for Palestinians of getting tested. The Palestinian Authority is desperately short of equipment, including testing kits, to deal with the virus.

Research suggests that most infections of Palestinians have originated in contacts with Israelis. Israel is much further advanced along the contagion curve because of its population’s access to international travel, the country’s greater exposure to tourism and its integration into the global economy.

Israel’s tight restrictions over Palestinians’ freedom of movement – from the complete blockade on Gaza to the walling-in of the West Bank – as well as its colonial-style control of the Palestinian economy have ensured the late arrival of Covid-19 to the occupied territories.

But it has also guaranteed that the Palestinian leaderships – both Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – will be weakly positioned to cope when contagion kicks in more forcefully.

And just such a major outbreak is all but inevitable in the West Bank. Ramadan may well provide the trigger.

In recent years about 80,000 Palestinians – from a West Bank population of nearly 3 million – have received permits to work either in Israel or in Israeli settlements, with a few tens of thousands more entering “illegally” through missing sections of the wall. For most families, such work is the only hope they have of earning a living.

The Palestinian economy is entirely dependent on Israel. Palestinians cannot leave the West Bank without permission from Israel, which is often hard to get.

Israel imposes costly and lengthy bureaucratic controls on Palestinian exports, making it nigh-impossible for Palestinian firms to compete in the global market-place.

And World Bank studies show that Israel has plundered most of the West Bank’s key resources, making it impossible for Palestinians themselves to exploit those resources. Israel even controls the flow of tourists into Palestinian areas.

But Palestinian workers’ dependence on Israel is now placing them in harm’s way. Although many are likely to catch the virus in Israel while working, Israel is refusing to take responsibility for their welfare.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is able to do little itself because many of the workers are from Area C, the two-thirds of the West Bank that Israel fully controls under the long-expired Oslo Accords. The PA has no access to these areas.

Difficult choice

The Ramadan holiday is likely to severely exacerbate the problem of the virus spreading in the occupied territories.

Last month, as Israel intensified its lockdown to prevent contagion in the run-up to its week-long Passover holiday in the second week of April, Palestinian workers were given a choice. Either they committed to continue working in Israel for several more weeks, often in jobs defined as “essential”, such as food production, or they had to stop work and return to the West Bank until the lockdown ended.

Many chose to keep working and stayed in Israel, while many more worked off-radar, without permits, by sneaking in and out through one of the many gaps in the wall.

This latter group, among the poorest members of Palestinian society, is posing a particular problem for West Bank officials. These workers are at high risk of catching the virus, and can spread it without the PA knowing.

For this reason, groups of Palestinians are reported to be patrolling the missing sections of wall to stop such workers entering Israel. Paradoxically, there are even cases of them trying to patch up breaks in the wall on Israel’s behalf.

The Israeli government has supposedly put in place regulations to keep the Palestinian workers safe: firms must take their temperatures daily, ensure social distancing is maintained on production sites, properly house workers and make sure no more than four sleep to a room.

But the government is leaving it to the firms to comply. There are no inspectors. Media investigations show that the rules are being widely flouted, leading to the rapid spread of the virus among Palestinian workers.

Any who try to leave Israel to avoid catching Covid-19 are being threatened by their employers that their work permits will be revoked, leaving them without work long term.

And now many are heading home to the West Bank to spend Ramadan with their families. Israel has refused to conduct any testing, so a proportion will be bringing – unknown to them – the virus home.

But these workers and their families are not just facing an imminent health crisis that Palestinian medical services are in no shape to withstand. They are also being hit harshly in the pocket by Israel’s lockdown policies.

Palestinians who work in Israel are often the only breadwinner, providing for an extended family that lives close to the poverty line. For the forseable future there will be no income for the tens of thousands of workers who joined the lockdown in the West Bank before Passover, for those who caught the virus in Israel and were forced home, and for those returning for Ramadan.

Israel is also taking no responsibility for their welfare, even though many have worked for years in Israel and have had to pay a substantial proportion of their wages each month into a sick fund run by the Israeli government.

The fund amounts to more than $140 million, and has grown so large because Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to make a claim.

Israeli human rights groups have pressed Israel to release the funds to Palestinians who are not able to work to help them through this health and economic emergency. So far the Israeli government has done nothing.

Trying to fill the void

The Palestinians under Israeli rule in occupied East Jerusalem face their own set of problems.

Despite claiming that all of Jerusalem – including the Palestinian parts of the city – are Israel’s “united capital”, Israeli officials have continued an apartheid-like approach in the city that treats Palestinians, who are classified by Israel simply as “residents”, very differently from Jews, who are Israeli “citizens”.

The numbers of Palestinians who have officially tested positive so far in Jerusalem is still low, at several dozen, but that probably reflects the fact that until recently there were almost no clinics carrying out testing in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Many Palestinian areas have not been sanitised by cleaning crews, as Jewish areas have been, nor has there been significant enforcement by Israeli police of lockdown measures or mask-wearing regulations – a surprise given that Israeli police are usually very diligent in patrolling Palestinian areas and making arrests.

Israeli authorities have also been slow to put out information in Arabic about the virus and on safety measures – either for 330,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem or for the 1.8 million Palestinians who live inside Israel and have a very degraded form of Israeli citizenship.

Experts say the lack of an awareness-raising campaign in Palestinian areas will likely lead to a rapid rise in cases over Ramadan, if extended families follow traditional practice and spend more time together.

Palestinian officials in Jerusalem have tried to fill the void by disseminating information, organising sanitisation operations and helping to set up a testing clinic. Israel has cracked down on any such activities, including by violently arresting the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem and the PA’s Jerusalem affairs minister.

Instead Palestinian charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have formed into a “Jerusalem Alliance” to try to pick up the slack left by Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are likely to be especially vulnerable to disease. Three-quarters live below the poverty line, and less than half are formally connected to the water network. Planning restrictions mean there is widespread overcrowding.

East Jerusalem’s three Palestinian hospitals are also in poor shape, bedevilled by large debts courtesy of Donald Trump, who cut $25 million in financial aid in 2018.

The Israeli health ministry has also failed to provide protective equipment and funds to these hospitals to deal with the coronavirus crisis. They have found an unusual ally in Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Leon. He has berated the Israeli government, apparently fearful that West Jerusalem hospitals will be overwhelmed if Palestinians cannot get help from their own hospitals.

More precarious still is the situation of Palestinian neighbourhoods, like Kfar Aqab, that were effectively split off from East Jerusalem after Israel built a wall putting them on the West Bank side. That has made city services difficult to access for some 100,000 Jerusalem residents.

Israel has been progressively abandoning responsibility for these areas – in an effort to raise the Jewish majority in the rest of Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, it has been reluctant to allow the PA to fill the void. The Covid-19 crisis is gradually revealing Israel’s intention towards these “outside” neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. On Thursday, Israel sent in the army to pull down coronavirus information notices that had been put up by the PA.

The Israeli army has no role in Jerusalem, but does operate in the West Bank. The new action suggests Israel is preparing to formally reclassify areas like Kfar Aqab as no longer part of Jerusalem.

Apartheid wins out

Things are only slightly better for the fifth of Israel’s population who belong to its Palestinian minority. These 1.8 million second-class citizens are descended from Palestinians who managed to avoid Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations in 1948, when Israel was established on the Palestinians’ homeland.

Israel has created a strange hybrid apartheid system, in which Jewish citizens live almost entirely separate from Palestinian citizens. The two populations are educated separately, and many areas of the economy are segregated too.

But one area where Palestinian and Jewish citizens are highly integrated – coming into regular contact – is in the health sector.

In fact, Palestinian citizens are over-represented in the medical professions, in large part because it is one of the few significant areas of the economy that is not defined in security terms and is therefore relatively open to the Palestinian minority.

One in five doctors in Israel is a Palestinian citizen, a quarter of nurses are, and a half of all pharmacists.

But despite the strong showing of Palestinian citizens in health services, the Israeli government’s apartheid instincts have won out.

In February Israel established an emergency team to handle the pandemic. It devised a national strategy for testing, quarantines, hospitalisations, awareness-raising and the lockdown policy.

However, not one expert from the Palestinian minority – or from the occupied territories – was included on the committee, leaving it entirely ignorant of the special conditions relevant to Palestinian society, in either Israel or the occupied territories.

The Israeli health ministry also refused to meet with the minority’s own national health committee, established by Palestinian doctors and researchers in Israel to help tackle the virus in the Palestinian community.

These failures explain the long delay in Israel producing any information on the virus in Arabic, and the similar delay in setting up testing stations in Palestinian communities. Limited action came only after concerted protests from Palestinian legislators in the parliament.

After a very low initial rate of infection, Palestinian citizens are now the fastest growing group in Israel testing positive for the virus – and that despite continuing low levels of testing.

Ramadan is expected to exacerbate that upward trend dramatically as families shop for food and eat meals with extended families. Mosques are already closed, and Muslim leaders have told worshippers to pray at home. In a last-minute effort to avert a new epidemic, the Israeli government has banned shops and businesses opening during the hours of darkness, as would normally occur during Ramadan.

As in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Palestinians in Israel are vulnerable. Two-thirds of families live below the poverty line – more than three times the rate of Jewish families. There is massive overcrowding in Palestinian communities, after decades in which Israel has refused new building permits for Palestinians.

And health services are poor or non-existent in many Palestinian communities, especially in dozens of Bedouin villages Israel has refused to recognise. In these communities, Bedouin are also denied water and electricity.

Further, Israel’s main ambulance service, Magen David Adom, rarely operates in Palestinian communities, though its staff alone have training to deal with coronavirus. It is unclear how the private companies serving Palestinian communities will cope if there is a major outbreak.

And as is the case in other Palestinian communities, Palestinian families in Israel are also particularly exposed to the economic consequences of lockdown. Many work as casual labourers, and have lost their work during the past weeks.

The coronavirus outbreak was a test of Israel’s ability to put aside its security and demographic obsessions and deal with the Palestinians not just as fellow human beings but also as allies in a struggle for the health of both peoples. In that test, Israel has failed dismally.

The Trump Plan is Just a Cover for Israel’s Final Land Grab

The Trump “Vision for Peace” will never be implemented – and not because the Palestinians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s enthusiastic public embrace of the plan belies the fact that the Israeli right detest it too.

The headlines are that, with US blessing, Israel’s dream is about to be realised: it will be able to annex its dozens of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. In return, the Palestinians can have a state on 15 per cent of their homeland.

But that is not the real aim of this obviously one-sided “peace” plan. Rather, it is intended as the prelude to something far worse for the Palestinians: the final eradication of the last traces of their political project for national liberation.

US President Donald Trump’s plan is neither a blueprint for peace nor a decree from the heart of the US empire. Rather it is a decoy, an enormous red herring created in Tel Aviv and then marketed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump may think his vision could lead to a “realistic” two-state solution. Even many critics assume it envisions the establishment of a highly circumscribed, enfeebled Palestinian state. But for Israeli leaders it serves another purpose entirely: it provides diplomatic cover while they put the finishing touches to their version of a one-state solution inside Greater Israel.

Netanyhau has crafted a “deal of the century” designed to fail from the outset – and managed it through deeply partisan White House intermediaries like David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, and Kushner. For all of them, its purpose is to provide a fresh alibi for Israel and Washington to continue disappearing the Palestinians more than two decades after the illusions of the earlier Oslo Accords “peace” process can no longer be sustained.

Israeli bad faith

That this is intended as a grand deception should not surprise us. The current plan follows a tried and tested tradition of US-dominated “peacemaking” that has utterly failed to bring peace but has succeeded triumphantly in smothering and erasing historic Palestine, gradually transforming it into Greater Israel.

Trump’s deal is, in fact, the third major framework – after the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and the Oslo accords initiated in 1993 – supposedly offering territorial partition between Israelis and Palestinians. The lesson of each has been that Israel and the US have returned after each inevitable and intended failure to offer the Palestinians even less of their homeland.

On each occasion, Israel (and before its creation, the Zionist leadership) has signed up to these peacemaking initiatives in bad faith, forcing Palestinians, as the weaker party, to reject them. And each time, that rejection has been weaponised by Israel – used as a pretext to steal more territory.

This plan is no different from the others. It is simply the latest iteration of a pattern of settler-colonial expansion sponsored by Western powers. But this time, if Israel succeeds, there will be nothing left of Palestine even to pretend to negotiate over.

UN partition rejected

The idea of division first took substantive form with the United Nations Partition Plan of late 1947. It proposed creating two states: a Jewish one on 55 percent of Palestine would supposedly serve as compensation for Europe’s recent genocide; and an Arab one, on the remaining 45 percent, would be for the native Palestinian population.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, knew that the Palestinians were bound to reject a plan premised on their dispossession. That was the very reason he signed on. He hated the limitations imposed by the UN on his emerging Jewish state – he wanted all of Palestine – but was only too aware that Palestinians hated the partition proposal even more than he did. He knew his good faith would never be put to the test.

Under cover of the ensuing, year-long war, Ben-Gurion sent his troops way beyond the partition lines, seizing 78 percent of historic Palestine and transforming the area into a Jewish state. In 1967, his successors would grab the rest, as part of a surprise strike against Egypt and other Arab states. And so, the 53-year-long occupation was born.

Oslo’s separation logic

Just as now with the Trump plan, the Oslo process of the 1990s was not rooted in the idea of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state – only of pretending to offer one. In fact, statehood wasn’t mentioned in the Oslo accords, only implied by a series of intended Israeli withdrawals from the occupied territories over a five-year period that Israel reneged on.

Instead, Oslo was seen by the Israeli side, led then by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, chiefly in terms of an “economic peace”. The new rallying cry of “separation” was intended to transform fragments of the occupied territories into free-trade zones to exploit a captive Palestinian labour force, and then to normalise relations with the Arab world.

Oslo’s only meaningful legacy – the Palestinian Authority, today led by Mahmoud Abbas – still clings to its primary role: as prison guard overseeing Palestinians’ confinement in ever-shrinking fragments of the occupied territories.

The Trump plan recognises that Oslo is now more an obstacle than a vehicle for further Palestinian dispossession. Israel has absolute control of East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state. The army and settlers have cemented Israeli rule over 62 percent of the West Bank – territory Oslo declared as Area C – that includes its best agricultural land, water sources and mineral wealth. Gaza, isolated from the rest of the occupied territories, is besieged.

The only thing left for Israel to do now is formalise that control and ensure it is irreversible. That requires making permanent the current apartheid system in the West Bank, which enforces one set of laws for Jewish settlers and another for Palestinians.

Palestinian obligations

Trump’s “Vision for Peace” is needed only because Oslo has outlived its usefulness. The Trump plan radically overhauls the Oslo process formula: instead of a supposed sharing of obligations – “land in return for peace” – those obligations are now imposed exclusively on the Palestinian side.

Under Oslo, Israel was supposed to withdraw from the occupied territories as a precondition for achieving Palestinian statehood and an end to hostilities. In reality, Israel did the exact opposite.

Under the Trump plan, Israel gets the land it wants immediately – by annexing its illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley – and it gets more land later, unless Palestinians agree to a long list of impossible preconditions.

Even then, Palestinians would only be entitled to a demilitarised, non-sovereign state on less than 15 percent of historic Palestine, amounting to a patchwork of enclaves connected by a warren of tunnels and bridges, surrounded by armed, fortress-like Israeli communities.

But even this vision of pseudo-Palestinian statehood will never come to fruition – something Netanyahu has made sure of. The Trump plan is a catalogue of the most unacceptable, humiliating concessions that could ever be demanded of the Palestinian people.

Impossible preconditions

It offers them a state that would be unlike any state ever envisaged. Not only would it have no army, but it would have to permanently accommodate a foreign army, the Israeli one. Palestine would have no control over its borders, and therefore its foreign relations and trade. It would be deprived of key resources, such as its offshore waters, which include large deposits of natural gas; its airspace; and its electromagnetic spectrum.

It would be deprived of its most fertile land, its quarries, its water sources, and access to the Dead Sea and its related mineral and cosmetics industries. As a result, the Palestinian economy would continue to be entirely aid dependent. Proposed industrial zones in the Negev, accessible only through Israeli territory, could be closed off by Israel at a whim.

East Jerusalem, including its holy sites and tourism industry, would be sealed off from the Palestinian state, which would have its capital instead outside the city, in Abu Dis. That village would be renamed Al-Quds, the Holy, although the deception would satisfy outsiders only, not Palestinians.

Intentionally lacking specifics for the time being, the Trump vision suggests Israel and Jordan would eventually share sovereignty over Jerusalem’s most important holy site, Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The US appears ready to let Israel forcibly divide the site so that Jewish extremists, who want to blow up the mosque and replace it with a temple, can pray there – in a repetition of what happened earlier to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

No legal redress

There would be no Palestinian right of return. Abbas would need to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, retrospectively sanctioning Palestinians’ dispossession and colonisation.

The Trump plan demands that the PA strip the families of political prisoners and martyrs killed by the Israeli army – the Palestinian equivalents of Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko – of their welfare payments.

In an interview with CNN this week, Kushner made clear quite how intentionally contradictory his demands of Palestinians are. Before it can be recognised as a state, the Palestinian Authority is expected to enforce the disarmament of the Palestinian factions, including its militant rival Hamas.

But it will have to do so while behaving like some kind of idealised Switzerland, according to Kushner, who insists that it uphold the most stringent democratic standards and absolute respect for human rights.

He indicated that the PA would fail such tests. It was, he said, a “police state” and “not exactly a thriving democracy”.

The Trump plan’s proposed democratic Palestine, it should be noted, would not be eligible to partake of international justice. Should Israel commit atrocities against Palestinians, the PA would have to forgo any appeals to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which adjudicates on war crimes.

And in a final proof of its determination to ensure Palestinians reject the deal, the Trump administration has dusted off a forcible transfer plan long promoted by the former far-right defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Israel could then redraw the borders to strip potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Israel of their citizenship. Such a move would constitute a war crime.

Nightmare scenario

The Trump plan’s secret weapon is hidden in the “four-year clause”, as Kushner’s CNN interview makes explicit. He said: “If they [the PA] don’t think that they can uphold these standards, then I don’t think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognise them as a state, to allow them to take control of themselves, because the only thing more dangerous than what we have now is a failed state.”

Israel and the US know that not only will Abbas or his successor never consent to the White House’s nightmare scenario, but that they could never meet these preconditions even if they wished to. But if the Palestinians don’t concede everything demanded of them within four years, Israel will be free to start grabbing and annexing yet more Palestinian land.

And worse still, Israel, the US and Europe will seek to blame Palestinians for choosing apartheid over statehood. Apologists will say once again that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

In other words, if Palestinians refuse to disappear themselves in line with the Trump vision, it will be assumed that they consent to Israel’s permanent apartheid rule. Palestinians will have forfeited their right to any kind of state on their historic homeland, ever.

That is the real Trump vision, designed in Israel and soon to be rolled out in Palestine.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Last Lifeline: The Real Reason Behind Abbas’ Call for Elections

The call by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for elections in the Occupied Territories is a political ploy. There will be no true, democratic elections under Abbas’ leadership. The real question is: why did he make the call in the first place?

On September 26, Abbas took on the world’s most important political platform, the United Nations General Assembly, to call for “general elections in Palestine – in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”.

The Palestinian leader prefaced his announcement with a lofty emphasis on the centrality of democracy in his thinking. “From the outset, we have believed in democracy as a foundation for the building of our State and society,” he said with unmistakable self-assurance. But, as it turned out, it was only Hamas – not Israel, and certainly not the PA’s own undemocratic, transparent and corrupt legacy – that made Abbas’ democratic mission impossible.

Upon his return from New York, Abbas formed a committee, whose mission, according to official Palestinian media, is to consult with various Palestinian factions regarding the promised elections.

Hamas immediately accepted the call for elections, though it asked for further clarifications. The core demand for the Islamic group, which controls the besieged Gaza Strip, is a simultaneous election that includes the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the PA presidency and, most importantly, the Palestine National Council (PNC) – the legislative component of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

While the PLO has fallen under the tight grip of Abbas and a clique within his own Fatah party, the remaining institutions have operated without any democratic, popular mandates for nearly 13 years. The last PLC elections were held in 2006, followed by a Hamas-Fatah clash that resulted in the current political rift between the two parties. As for Abbas’ own mandate, that, too, expired sometime in 2009. It means that Abbas, who supposedly believes “in democracy as the foundation for the building of our State” is an undemocratically reigning president without any real mandate to rule over Palestinians.

Not that Palestinians are shying away from making their feelings clear. Time after time, they have asked Abbas to leave. But the 83-year-old is bent on remaining in power – however one defines “power” under the yoke of Israeli military occupation.

The prevalent analysis following Abbas’ call for elections is that such an undertaking is simply impossible, considering the circumstances. To begin with, after winning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israel is unlikely to allow the Palestinians to include occupied East Jerusalem in any future vote.

Hamas, on the other hand, is likely to reject the inclusion of Gaza if the elections are limited to the PLC, and exclude Abbas’ own position and the PNC. Without a PNC vote, the reordering and resurrection of the PLO would remain elusive, a belief that is shared by other Palestinian factions.

Being aware of these obstacles, Abbas must already know that the chances of real, fair, free and truly inclusive elections are negligible. But his call is the last, desperate move to quell growing resentment among Palestinians, at his decades-long failure to utilize the so-called peace process to achieve his people’s long-denied rights.

There are three, main reasons compelling Abbas to make this move at this, specific time.

First, the demise of the peace process and the two-state solution, through a succession of Israeli and American measures, has left the PA, and Abbas, in particular, isolated and short on funds. Palestinians who supported such political illusions no longer constitute the majority.

Second, the PA constitutional court resolved, last December, that the president should call for an election within the next six months, that is, by June 2019. The court, itself under Abbas’ control, aimed to provide the Palestinian leader with a legal outlet to dismiss the previously elected parliament – whose mandate expired in 2010 – and create new grounds for his political legitimacy. Still, he failed to adhere to the court’s decision.

Third, and most importantly, the Palestinian people are clearly fed up of Abbas, his authority and all the political shenanigans of the factions. In fact, 61 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza want Abbas to step down, according to a public opinion poll held by the Palestinian Center for Political and Polling Research in September.

The same poll indicates that Palestinians reject the entire political discourse which has served as the foundation for Abbas and his PA’s political strategies. Moreover, 56 percent of Palestinians oppose the two-state solution; up to 50 percent believe that the performance of the current PA government of Mohammed Shtayyeh is worse than that of his predecessor; and 40 percent want the PA to be dissolved.

Tellingly, 72 percent of Palestinians want legislative and presidential elections held throughout the occupied territories. The same percentage wants the PA to lift its share of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.

Abbas is now at his weakest political position since his advent to leadership, many years ago. With no control over political outcomes that are determined by Tel Aviv and Washington, he has resorted to making a vague call for elections that have no chance of success.

While the outcome is predictable, Abbas hopes that, for now, he would once more appear as the committed leader who is beholden to international consensus and the wishes of his own people.

It will take months of wasted energy, political wrangling and an embarrassing media circus before the election ploy falls apart, ushering in a blame game between Abbas and his rivals that could last months, if not years.

This is hardly the strategy that the Palestinian people – living under brutal occupation and a suffocating siege – need or want. The truth is that Abbas, and whatever political class he represents, have become a true obstacle in the path of a nation that is in desperate need of unity and a meaningful political strategy. What the Palestinian people urgently require is not a half-hearted call for elections, but a new leadership, a demand they have articulated repeatedly, though Abbas refuses to listen.

In Bahrain, the Horizon of Peace stretched Further Away from Palestinians

Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, offering the Palestinians economic bribes in return for political submission, is the endgame of western peace-making, the real goal of which has been failure, not success.

For decades, peace plans have made impossible demands of the Palestinians, forcing them to reject the terms on offer and thereby create a pretext for Israel to seize more of their homeland.

The more they have compromised, the further the diplomatic horizon has moved away – to the point now that the Trump administration expects them to forfeit any hope of statehood or a right to self-determination.

Even Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the peace plan, cannot really believe the Palestinians will be bought off with their share of the $50 billion inducement he hoped to raise in Bahrain last week.

That was why the Palestinian leadership stayed away.

But Israel’s image managers long ago coined a slogan to obscure a policy of incremental dispossession, masquerading as a peace process: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

It is worth examining what those landmark “missed opportunities” consisted of.

The first was the United Nations’ Partition Plan of late 1947. In Israel’s telling, it was Palestinian intransigence over dividing the land into separate Jewish and Arab states that triggered war, leading to the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of most of the Palestinians’ homeland.

But the real story is rather different.

The recently formed UN was effectively under the thumb of the imperial powers of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three wanted a Jewish state as a dependent ally in the Arab-dominated Middle East.

Fueled by the dying embers of western colonialism, the Partition Plan offered the largest slice of the Palestinian homeland to a minority population of European Jews, whose recent immigration had been effectively sponsored by the British empire.

As native peoples elsewhere were being offered independence, Palestinians were required to hand over 56 per cent of their land to these new arrivals. There was no chance such terms would be accepted.

However, as Israeli scholars have noted, the Zionist leadership had no intention of abiding by the UN plan either. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, called the Jewish state proposed by the UN “tiny”. He warned that it could never accommodate the millions of Jewish immigrants he needed to attract if his new state was not rapidly to become a second Arab state because of higher Palestinian birth rates.

Ben Gurion wanted the Palestinians to reject the plan, so that he could use war as a chance to seize 78 per cent of Palestine and drive out most of the native population.

For decades, Israel was happy to entrench and, after 1967, expand its hold on historic Palestine.

In fact, it was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who made the biggest, unreciprocated concessions to peace. In 1988, he recognised Israel and, later, in the 1993 Olso accords, he accepted the principle of partition on even more dismal terms than the UN’s – a state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

Even so, the Oslo process stood no serious chance of success after Israel refused to make promised withdrawals from the occupied territories. Finally, in 2000 President Bill Clinton called together Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to a peace summit at Camp David.

Arafat knew Israel was unwilling to make any meaningful compromises and had to be bullied and cajoled into attending. Clinton promised the Palestinian leader he would not be blamed if the talks failed.

Israel ensured they did. According to his own advisers, Barak “blew up” the negotiations, insisting that Israel hold on to occupied East Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa mosque, and large areas of the West Bank. Washington blamed Arafat anyway, and refashioned Israel’s intransigence as a “generous offer”.

A short time later, in 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Peace Initiative offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a minimal Palestinian state. Israel and western leaders hurriedly shunted it into the annals of forgotten history.

After Arafat’s death, secret talks through 2008-09 – revealed in the Palestine Papers leak – showed the Palestinians making unprecedented concessions. They included allowing Israel to annex large tracts of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ expected capital.

Negotiator Saeb Erekat was recorded saying he had agreed to “the biggest [Jerusalem] in Jewish history” as well as to only a “symbolic number of [Palestinian] refugees’ return [and a] demilitarised state … What more can I give?”

It was a good question. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s negotiator, responded, “I really appreciate it” when she saw how much the Palestinians were conceding. But still her delegation walked away.

Trump’s own doomed plan follows in the footsteps of such “peace-making”.

In a New York Times commentary last week Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, candidly encapsulated the thrust of this decades-long diplomatic approach. He called on the Palestinians to “surrender”, adding: “Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.”

The peace process was always leading to this moment. Trump has simply cut through the evasions and equivocations of the past to reveal where the West’s priorities truly lie.

It is hard to believe that Trump or Kushner ever believed the Palestinians would accept a promise of “money for quiet” in place of a state based on “land for peace”.

Once more, the West is trying to foist on the Palestinians an inequitable peace deal. The one certainty is that they will reject it – it is the only issue on which the Fatah and Hamas leaderships are united – again ensuring the Palestinians can be painted as the obstacle to progress.

The Palestinians may have refused this time to stumble into the trap, but they will find themselves the fall guys, whatever happens.

When Trump’s plan crashes, as it will, Washington will have the chance to exploit a supposed Palestinian rejection as justification for approving annexation by Israel of yet more tranches of occupied territory.

The Palestinians will be left with a shattered homeland. No self-determination, no viable state, no independent economy, just a series of aid-dependent ghettos. And decades of western diplomacy will finally have arrived at its preordained destination.

• First published in The National

Resurrecting the PLO is Palestine’s Best Response to the “Deal of the Century”

Palestinian groups, Fatah, Hamas and others should not confine themselves to simply rejecting the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. Instead, they should use their resistance to the new American-Israeli plot as an opportunity to unify their ranks.

Leaked details of the ‘Deal of the Century’ confirm Palestinians’ worst fears: the ‘Deal’ is but a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for over a decade.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, a demilitarized state, ‘New Palestine’ will be established on territorial fragments of the West Bank, as all illegal Jewish settlements would permanently become part of Israel. If Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s diktats, according to the report, they will be punished through financial and political isolation.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, but an egregious act of bullying. However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of ‘peace-making,’ where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Israel to account. Washington has never refrained from supporting Israeli wars against Palestinians or even conditioned its ever-generous aid packages on the dismantling of the illegal Jewish settlements.

The only difference between the US ‘peace process’ of the past and today’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is in the style and tactics as opposed to the substance and details.

Undoubtedly, the ‘Deal’, championed by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, will fail. Not only will it not deliver peace – this is not the intention – but it is most likely to be rejected by Israel. The formation of Israel’s new government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership is centered round far-right and religious parties. It is no longer politically correct in the new Israeli lexicon to even discuss the possibility of a Palestinian state, let alone agree to one.

Netanyahu, however, is likely to wait for Palestinians to reject the deal, as they certainly should. Then, with the help of pro-Israel mainstream western media, a new discourse will evolve, blaming Palestinians for missing yet another opportunity for peace, while absolving Israel from any wrongdoing. This pattern is familiar, highlighted most starkly in Bill Clinton’s Camp David II in 2000 and George W. Bush’s Road Map for Peace in 2003.

In 2000, the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, rejected then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak’s ‘generous offer’, an entirely manufactured political hoax that, to this day, defines official and academic understanding of what had transpired in the secret talks then.

All Palestinians must reject the ‘Deal of the Century’, or any deal that is born out of a political discourse which is not centered on Palestinian rights as enshrined in international law, a political frame of reference that is agreed upon by every country in the world, save the US and Israel. Decades of fraudulent American ‘peace making’ prove that Washington will never fulfil its self-designated title as an ‘honest peacemaker.’

However, rejection per se, while going back to business as usual, is inadequate. While the Palestinian people are united behind the need to resist the Israeli Occupation, challenge Israeli apartheid and employ international pressure until Israel finally relents, Palestinian factions are driven by other selfish priorities. Each faction seems to rotate within the political sphere of foreign influence, whether Arab or international.

For example, Fatah, which is credited for ‘igniting the spark of the Palestinian revolution’ in 1965, has been largely consumed with the trappings of false power while dominating the Palestinian Authority, which itself operates within the space allocated to it by the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Hamas, which began as an organic movement in Palestine, is forced to play regional politics in its desperation for any political validation in order to escape the suffocating siege of Gaza.

Whenever both parties verge on forming a united leadership in the hope of resurrecting the largely defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), their benefactors manipulate the money and politics, thus resuming disunity and discord.

The ‘Deal of the Century’, however, offers both groups an opportunity, as they are united in rejecting the deal and equally perceive any Palestinian engagement with it as an act of treason.

More importantly, the steps taken by Washington to isolate the PA through denying Palestinians urgently needed funds, revoking the PLO’s diplomatic status in Washington and shunning the PA as a political ally  provide the opportunity to open the necessary political dialogue that could finally accomplish a serious Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

Israel, too, by withholding tax money collected on behalf of the PA, has lost its last pressure card against Mahmoud Abbas and his government in Ramallah.

At this point, there is little else that the US and Israel could do to exert more pressure on the Palestinians.

But this political space available for Palestinians to create a new political reality will be brief. The moment the ‘Deal of the Century’ is discarded as another failed American scheme to force a Palestinian surrender, the political cards, regionally and internationally, will be mixed again, beyond the ability of Palestinian factions to control their outcome.

Therefore, it is critical that Palestinian groups at home and in the diaspora push for Palestinian dialogue, not simply for the sake of forming a unity government in Ramallah, but to revitalize the PLO as a truly representative and democratic body that includes all Palestinian political currents and communities.

It is only through the resurrection of the PLO that Palestinians could finally return to their original mission of devising a national liberation strategy that is not manipulated by money and not subjected to regional politicking.

If history is any indication, the ‘Deal of the Century’ is another sinister American attempt to manage the situation in Palestine in order to assert political dominance in the region. This ‘Deal’ is essential for American reputation, especially among its disgruntled regional allies who feel abandoned by the progressive American military and political retreat from the region.

This latest charade does not have to be at the expense of Palestinians, and Palestinian groups should recognize and grasp this unique opportunity. The ‘Deal of the Century’ will fail, but efforts to achieve Palestinian unity could finally succeed.

Israel’s Common Denominator: Why Israel Will Continue to Bomb Gaza

On May 4, Israel launched a series of deadly airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip, prompting a response from various resistance groups. At least 25 Palestinians were killed and nearly 200 people wounded in the Israeli attacks. Four Israelis were also killed by Palestinian rockets.

The clashes were instigated by Israel, when the Israeli military killed four Palestinians in Gaza on May 3. Two were killed while protesting along the fence separating Gaza from Israel. They were participating in the Great March of Return, a protracted Palestinian non-violent protest demanding an end to the Israeli siege. The other two were killed in an Israeli airstrike that targeted a Hamas post in the central Gaza Strip.

Why did Netanyahu choose such timing to bomb Gaza? It would have made more sense to attack Gaza in the run-up to the general elections. For months prior to the April 9 elections, Netanyahu was repeatedly accused of being soft on Hamas.

Although desperate for votes, Netanyahu refrained from a major operation against Gaza, because of the inherent risk in such attacks, as seen in the botched Israeli incursion into Khan Younis on November 11. Netanyahu could have lost a highly contested election, had he failed.

Following a victory, the soon-to-be longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister has the necessary political capital to launch wars at whim.

Israeli politics featured heavily in the latest Gaza onslaught.

Netanyahu is in the final stages of forming a new coalition, yet another government of like-minded far right, religious zealots and ultra-nationalist politicians which, he admits, is not easy.

“It’s not a simple job and there are different aspects – giving out portfolios, control over the state budget and many other challenges,” Netanyahu said at a Likud party meeting on April 30.

If Netanyahu succeeds, he will form his fifth government – four of them consecutively. However, his main challenge is to reconcile among the various potential coalition partners.

Netanyahu wishes to include six parties in his new government: his own, the Likud, with 35 seats in the Israeli Knesset (parliament); religious extremist parties: Shas (8 seats), United Torah Judaism (8), Yisrael Beiteinu of ultra-nationalist, Avigdor Lieberman (5), the newly-formed Union of Right-wing Parties (5) and the centrist Kulanu with 4 seats.

“Netanyahu is keen to include all six parties in his government to provide a semblance of stability and prevent a narrow majority that will be at the mercy of a single disgruntled party threatening to quit,” reported the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post newspaper.

But how is Netanyahu to maintain peace among vastly different allies and how is that relevant to the bombing of Gaza?

Netanyahu bombed Gaza because it is the only unifying demand among all of his allies. He needed to assure them of his commitment to keep pressure on Palestinian Resistance, of maintaining the siege on Gaza and ensuring the safety of Israel’s southern towns and settlements.

Barring that, there is little that these groups have in common. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties barely agree on some fundamental issues. For example, Lieberman has been pushing for a draft law requiring ultra-Orthodox conscription in the Israeli army, vehemently rejected by Netanyahu’s religious allies.

Although the election performance of Lieberman’s party was hardly impressive, his influence goes beyond numbers. Lieberman had resigned his post as a Defense Minister last November in protest of Netanyahu’s supposed “capitulation to terror”, but he has formed a strong alliance with Israel’s southern towns bordering the besieged Gaza Strip.

For years, Lieberman has expressed solidarity with them and, in return, has manipulated this whenever he wishes to pressure or challenge the Prime Minister.

Lieberman has exploited the notion among residents and settlers in southern Israel and the Occupied West Bank that they are being treated unfairly compared to their compatriots elsewhere.

Following a truce between Israel and Gaza factions last November, for example, hundreds of settlers protested their “second class status”, demanding greater government support to protect their “security” against Gaza. Interestingly, these border towns have been at the center of a significant economic and demographic growth over the last few years, which has been stimulated by the Israeli government’s investments in the area.

Seeing themselves as the heirs to the Zionist founders of Israel, residents of these towns believe that they are the defenders of the Zionist vision.

Despite their incessant complaints, southern Israeli communities have seen constant growth in economic opportunity, thus population. This fact has placed these areas at the center of Israeli politicians’ radar, all trying to win favor with their leaders and obtain the support of their vastly expanding economic sectors.

This recent electoral strength has made the demands and expectations of Israeli southern community leaders a focal point in mainstream Israeli politics.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that one of the conditions placed by Lieberman to join Netanyahu’s coalition is the intensification of the Israeli siege on Gaza and the liquidation of the Gaza resistance.

Although Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, has lost the elections, he wishes to stay relevant in mainstream politics by appeasing the Jewish settlers and residents of southern Israel. During the Israeli army’s attack on Gaza on May 4, Gantz joined the chorus calling for more Palestinian blood.

“We must strike hard, in an uncompromising manner, in any way the army will recommend, with military and intelligence considerations,” he told Israeli Channel 13. “We must restore the deterrence that has been eroded catastrophically for more than a year.”

Following the death of 4 Israelis as a result of Gaza rockets, Israeli politicians jockeyed to show support for southern residents, demanding yet more violence. The euphoria of support inspired the mayor of Sderot, Alon Davidi, to call for the invasion of Gaza.

The latest attack on Gaza was meant to serve the interests of all of Netanyahu’s possible coalition partners. Alas, although a truce has been declared, more Israeli violence should be expected once the coalition is formed because, in order for Netanyahu to keep his partners happy, he would need to persistently keep pounding Gaza.

The Two Narratives of Palestine: The People Are United, the Factions Are Not

The International Conference on Palestine held in Istanbul between April 27-29 brought together many speakers and hundreds of academics, journalists, activists and students from Turkey and all over the world.

The Conference was a rare opportunity aimed at articulating a discourse of international solidarity that is both inclusive and forward thinking.

There was near consensus that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement must be supported, that Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ must be defeated and that normalization must be shunned.

When it came to articulating the objectives of the Palestinian struggle, however, the narrative became indecisive and unclear. Although none of the speakers made a case for a two-state solution, our call for a one democratic state from Istanbul – or any other place outside Palestine – seemed partially irrelevant. For the one state solution to become the overriding objective of the pro-Palestine movement worldwide, the call has to come from a Palestinian leadership that reflects the true aspirations of the Palestinian people.

One speaker after the other called for Palestinian unity, imploring Palestinians for guidance and for articulating a national discourse. Many in the audience concurred with that assessment as well. One audience member even blurted out the cliched question: “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” Luckily, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, was himself a speaker. He answered forcefully that Mandela was only the face of the movement, which encompassed millions of ordinary men and women, whose struggles and sacrifices ultimately defeated apartheid.

Following my speech at the Conference, I met with several freed Palestinian prisoners as part of my research for my forthcoming book on the subject.

Some of the freed prisoners identified as Hamas and others as Fatah. Their narrative seemed largely free from the disgraced factional language we are bombarded with in the media, but also liberated from the dry and detached narratives of politics and academia.

“When Israel placed Gaza under siege and denied us family visitations, our Fatah brothers always came to our help,” a freed Hamas prisoner told me. “And whenever Israeli prison authorities mistreated any of our brothers from any factions, including Fatah, we all resisted together.”

A freed Fatah prisoner told me that when Hamas and Fatah fought in Gaza in the summer of 2007, the prisoners suffered most. “We suffered because we felt that the people who should be fighting for our freedom, were fighting each other. We felt betrayed by everyone.”

To effectuate disunity, Israeli authorities relocated Hamas and Fatah prisoners into separate wards and prisons. They wanted to sever any communication between the prisoners’ leadership and to block any attempts at finding common ground for national unity.

The Israeli decision was not random. A year earlier, in May 2006, the leadership of the prisoners met in a prison cell to discuss the conflict between Hamas, which had won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories, and the PA’s main party, Fatah.

These leaders included Marwan Barghouthi of Fatah, Abdel Khaleq al-Natshe from Hamas and representatives from other major Palestinian groups. The outcome was the National Conciliation Document, arguably the most important Palestinian initiative in decades.

What became known as the Prisoner’s Document was significant because it was not some self-serving political compromise achieved in a luxurious hotel in some Arab capital, but a genuine articulation of national Palestinian priorities, presented by the most respected and honored sector in Palestinian society.

Israel immediately denounced the document.

Instead of engaging all factions in a national dialogue around the document, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, gave rival factions an ultimatum to either accept or reject the document in full. The spirit of the unity in the prisoners’ initiative was betrayed by Abbas and the warring factions. Eventually, Fatah and Hamas fought their own tragic war in Gaza the following year.

On speaking to the prisoners after listening to the discourse of academics, politicians and activists, I was able to decipher a disconnection between the Palestinian narrative on the ground and our own perception of this narrative from outside.

The prisoners display unity in their narrative, a clear sense of purpose, and determination to carry on with their resistance. While it is true that they all identified as members in one political group or another, I am yet to interview a single prisoner who placed factional interests above national interest. This should not come as a surprise. Indeed, these men and women have been detained, tortured and have endured many years in prison for being Palestinian resisters, regardless of their ideological and factional leanings.

The myth of the disunited and dysfunctional Palestinian is very much an Israeli invention that precedes the inception of Hamas, and even Fatah. This Zionist notion, which has been embraced by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that ‘Israel has no peace partner‘. Despite the hemorrhaging concessions by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, this claim has remained a fixture in Israeli politics to this day.

Political unity aside, the Palestinian people perceive ‘unity’ in a whole different political context than that of Israel and, frankly, many of us outside Palestine.

‘Al-Wihda al-Wataniya’ or national unity is a generational quest around a set of principles, including resistance, as a strategy for the liberation of Palestine, Right of Return for refugees, and self-determination for the Palestinian people as the ultimate goals. It is around this idea of unity that the leadership of Palestinian prisoners drafted their document in 2006, in the hope of averting a factional clash and keeping the struggle centered on resistance against Israeli occupation.

The ongoing Great March of Return in Gaza is another daily example of the kind of unity the Palestinian people are striving for. Despite heavy losses, thousands of protesters insist on their unity while demanding their freedom, Right of Return and an end to the Israeli siege.

For us to claim that Palestinians are not united because Fatah and Hamas cannot find common ground is simply unjustified. National unity and political unity between factions are two different issues.

It is important that we do not make the mistake of confusing the Palestinian people with factions, national unity around resistance and rights with political arrangements between political groups.

As far as vision and strategy are concerned, perhaps it is time to read the prisoners’ National Conciliation Document’. It was written by the Nelson Mandelas of Palestine, thousands of whom remain in Israeli prisons to this day.

The Palestinian Authority is No Longer Crying Wolf Over its Imminent Collapse

We have been here many times before. However, on this occasion even the principal actors understand that the Palestinian Authority is not crying wolf as it warns of imminent collapse.

The crisis is entirely of Israel and Washington’s making. Keen to pander to hawkish public opinion in the run-up to last month’s election, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a severe blow against Mahmoud Abbas and his government-in-permanent-waiting.

He announced that Israel would withhold a portion of the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and which it is obligated under the Oslo accords to pass on to the PA, based in the West Bank.

The money deducted is the sum the PA transfers as stipends to the families of political prisoners and those killed and maimed by the Israeli army.

This is an incendiary issue, as Netanyahu well knows, given that Palestinians view these families as having made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle to liberate their people from brutal Israeli occupation.

Abbas cannot be seen to back down, and so has refused to accept any of the monthly tax transfers until the full sum is reinstated, amounting to nearly two-thirds of the PA’s revenues.

Given how precarious Palestinian finances are, after decades of resource theft and restrictions on development imposed by Israel, the PA is already on the brink of bankruptcy.

The problem for Netanyahu and Washington is that the PA was established – under the 25-year-old Oslo accords – to take the pressure and costs off Israel of policing the Palestinian population under occupation.

If the PA collapses, so do the Palestinian security forces that have been keeping order in the West Bank as Israel has continued to plunder Palestinian land and resources.

Late last month the United Nations warned that the standoff had left the PA facing “unprecedented financial, security and political challenges”.

Which means that, despite his recent electoral triumph, Netanyahu is in a serious bind.

He cannot be seen by his even more right-wing coalition partners to be climbing down and restoring stipends to people Israelis view simply as “terrorists”.

Equally, he dares not risk a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. That would be a real possibility if the Palestinian economy implodes and there are no Palestinian security forces to suppress the resulting wave of popular anger.

A preview of the difficulties in store was given at the weekend, when more than 600 rockets were fired out of Gaza, threatening the cancellation of the Eurovision song contest in Israel later this month.

By Sunday evening, four Israelis were reported dead, while 20 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian fatalities included two pregnant women and a toddler.

There is also the danger, from Israel’s point of view, that if Abbas’s PA collapses, the void in the West Bank will be filled by his Hamas rivals, who run Gaza. Israel has been delighted to keep the Palestinian territories divided under feuding Fatah and Hamas leaderships.

A way out – or a change of tack – is urgently required.

Israel has tried twice to quietly make partial tax transfers to the PA’s bank account, in the hope the money would be accepted. The PA returned it.

Then, the European Union stepped in. Ostensibly an “honest broker”, it appears to be occupying a role the Trump administration has formally abandoned. The EU proposed last week that the PA accept the transfers on a “provisional basis”, until the crisis can be resolved.

PA officials were dismissive. “Let the people take to the streets,” one said. “We have our backs to the wall.” The PA line is that in the current climate, if it backtracks, Israel will simply intensify unilateral measures harming the Palestinian cause.

So now, more in desperation than any realistic prospect of achieving peace, attention is turning to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century”.

After endless delays, the US administration now seems to be preparing for its release next month, soon after the holy month of Ramadan finishes.

The plan’s main architects, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, have issued a spate of statements hinting at the contents.

Greenblatt has sought to reassure neighbouring Egypt and Jordan that they will not shoulder the burden. He discounted rumours either that Gaza’s Palestinians would be encouraged to move to the Sinai, in a land swap that would allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, or that Jordan would find itself recast as an alternative Palestinian homeland.

Kushner, meanwhile, has strongly suggested that the goal of a two-state solution, implied by the Oslo process, will finally be jettisoned. “New and different ways to reach peace must be tried,” he has said.

He has also stated that the plan will stress “economic benefits” for the Palestinians and “security” for Israel.

David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel and a stalwart ally of Israel’s most extreme settlers, has recently added that Israel will maintain security control of the West Bank.

According to analysts, these statements suggest the White House is preparing the ground for an offer to the Palestinians of “limited autonomy” – an outcome Arab officials confirmed to The Washington Post.

Sensing the danger, 40 former senior European officials have signed a letter opposing any plan that creates a Palestinian “entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability”.

“Limited autonomy” would be a reformulation of Israel’s long-running ambition to thwart permanently Palestinian hopes of statehood – a policy the late Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling once termed “politicide”.

Since the late 1970s, the Israeli right has advocated hemming Palestinians into enclaves where they are denied sovereignty.

The model of disparate cantons, effectively operating as glorified municipalities and surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlers, is little different from that of “black homelands”, or Bantustans, established in apartheid-era South Africa.

Now, it seems, the Trump administration is ready to support this racist idea as a way to promote regional peace.

The Americans hope that, with a few sweeteners, the Palestinians can be made to swallow this bitter pill. It is an idea Netanyahu has advanced for some time, with his talk of “economic peace” – or what might be better termed “economic pacification”.

But the current impasse on taxes shows that buying off the Palestinians with bribes, in return for the abandonment of core national goals, may not prove so easy.

With the PA close to collapse, it is hard to see how Trump’s deal of the century can do anything other than speed up the authority’s demise.

• A version of this article was first published in The National

“The Essence of Being Palestinian”: What the Great March of Return is Really About

The aims of the Great March of Return protests, which began in Gaza on March 30, 2018 are to put an end to the suffocating Israeli siege and implementing the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes and towns in historic Palestine 70 years earlier.

But there is much more to the March of Return than a few demands, especially bearing in mind the high human cost associated with it.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, over 250 people have been killed and 6,500 wounded, including children, medics and journalists.

Aside from the disproportionately covered ‘flaming kites’ and youth symbolically cutting through the metal fences that have besieged them for many years, the March has been largely non-violent. Despite this, Israel has killed and maimed protesters with impunity.

A UN human rights commission of inquiry found last month that Israel may have committed war crimes against protesters, resulting in the killing of 189 Palestinians within the period March 30 and December 31, 2018.

The inquiry found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognizable as such,” the investigators concluded as reported by BBC online.

Many in the media, however, still do not understand what the Great March of Return really means for Palestinians.

A cynically titled report in the Washington Post attempted to offer an answer. The article, “Gazans have paid in blood for a year of protests. Now many wonder what it was for,” selectively quoted wounded Palestinians who, supposedly, feel that their sacrifices were in vain.

Aside from providing the Israeli military with a platform to blame the Hamas Movement for the year-long march, the long report ended with these two quotes:

The March of Return “achieved nothing,” according to one injured Palestinian.

“The only thing I can find is that it made people pay attention,” said another.

If the Washington Post paid attention, it would have realized that the mood among Palestinians is neither cynical nor despairing.

The Post should have wondered: if the march ‘achieved nothing’, why were Gazans still protesting, and the popular and inclusive nature of the March has not been compromised?

“The Right of Return is more than a political position,” said Sabreen al-Najjar, the mother of young Palestinian medic, Razan, who, on June 1, 2018, was fatally shot by the Israeli army while trying to help wounded Palestinian protesters. It is “more than a principle: wrapped up in it, and reflected in literature and art and music, is the essence of what it means to be Palestinian. It is in our blood.”

Indeed, what is the ‘Great March of Return’ but a people attempting to reclaim their role, and be recognized and heard in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine?

What is largely missing from the discussion on Gaza is the collective psychology behind this kind of mobilization, and why it is essential for hundreds of thousands of besieged people to rediscover their power and understand their true position, not as hapless victims, but as agents of change in their society.

The narrow reading, or the misrepresentation of the March of Return, speaks volumes about the overall underestimation of the role of the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and national liberation, extending for a century.

The story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of resistance, starting with the Nakba – the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948. Had Palestinians not resisted, their story would have concluded then, and they, too, would have disappeared.

Those who admonish Palestinian resistance or, like the Post, fail to understand the underlying value of popular movement and sacrifices, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance – the sense of collective empowerment and hope which spreads amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre describes resistance, as it was passionately vindicated by Fanon, as a process through which “a man is re-creating himself.”

For 70 years, Palestinians have embarked on that journey of the re-creation of the self. They have resisted, and their resistance in all of its forms has molded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divisions that were erected amongst the people.

The March of Return is the latest manifestation of the ongoing Palestinian resistance.

It is obvious that elitist interpretations of Palestine have failed – Oslo proved a worthless exercise in empty clichés, aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.

But the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 shattered the relative cohesiveness of the Palestinian discourse, thus weakening and dividing the Palestinian people.

In the Israeli Zionist narrative, Palestinians are depicted as drifting lunatics, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a description that regularly defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the colonized, resisting natives.

Within some Israeli political and academic circles, Palestinians merely ‘existed’ to be ‘cleansed’, to make room for a different, more deserving people. From the Zionist perspective, the ‘existence’ of the natives is meant to be temporary. “We must expel Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Assigning the roles of dislocated, disinherited and nomadic to the Palestinian people, without consideration for the ethical and political implications of such a perception, has erroneously presented Palestinians as a docile and submissive collective.

Hence, it is imperative that we develop a clearer understanding of the layered meanings behind the Great March of Return. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza did not risk life and limb over the last year simply because they required urgent medicine and food supplies.

Palestinians did so because they understand their centrality in their struggle. Their protests are a collective statement, a cry for justice, an ultimate reclamation of their narrative as a people – still standing, still powerful and still hopeful after 70 years of Nakba, 50 years of military occupation and 12 years of unrelenting siege.

Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh

Political commentators sympathetic to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Fatah Movement, in particular, fanned out as soon as the news was announced of Mohammad Shtayyeh’s appointment as the new Palestinian Prime Minister.

It is no surprise to witness this gush of support and enthusiasm for Shtayyeh is a Fatah man, par excellence. Gone are the days of the factional uncertainty of Rami Hamdallah, an independent Prime Minister who served from 2014 until he was brushed aside earlier this year.

Hamdallah, like his predecessor, Salam Fayyad, was meant to perform a most intricate balancing act: ‘independent’ enough to win the approval of some Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, worldly enough to appeal to western governments and their endless demands and expectations, and morally-flexible enough to co-exist with the massive corruption racket under way in Ramallah.

However, Hamdallah, in particular, represented something more. He was brought to his position to lead reconciliation efforts between Fatah in Ramallah and its Gaza rivals, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Although the latter had their own reservations, they still felt that Hamdallah was, indeed, a genuine and moderate leader capable of bridging the gap, and, perhaps delivering the coveted unity.

And Hamdallah had, indeed, gone that extra mile. He went as far as visiting Gaza in October 2017. However, some hidden entity did not want unity to actualize among Palestinians. On March 13, 2018 a massive explosion took place soon after Hamdallah’s entourage entered Gaza to finalize the unity government. The bomb disrupted the unity talks and denied Hamdallah the primary role with which he was assigned.

On January 29, Hamdallah resigned, paving the way for yet more consolidation of power within the particular branch of Fatah that is loyal to Abbas.

Fatah has consolidated its control over the PA since the latter was formed in 1994. But, even then, the PA allowed for a margin in which other smaller parties and independent politicians were permitted to participate in the political processes.

Following the deadly Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza in the summer of 2007, however, Fatah managed some areas in the West Bank, under Israeli military occupation, unhindered, while Hamas reigned supreme in Gaza.

Hamdallah was meant to change all of this, but his efforts were thwarted, partly because his power was largely curbed by those who truly managed the PA – the Fatah strongmen, an influential and corrupt clique that has learned to co-exist with and, in fact, profit from any situation, including the Israeli occupation itself.

Concerned by the old age of Abbas, now 83, and wary of the continued influence and power of the shunned Fatah leader, Mohammad Dahlan, the pro-Abbas Fatah branch in the West Bank has been eager to arrange the future of the PA to perfectly suit its interests.

Starting in 2015, Abbas has taken several steps to consolidate his power within Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), thus the PA, which derives its manpower and political validation from these two entities.

Political commentator, Hani al-Masri described the move, then, as an attempt to “recalibrate the Executive Committee (of the PLO) to Abbas’ favor.”

That ‘recalibration’ has never ceased since then. On May 4, 2018, the Fatah-dominated PLO’s National Council elected Abbas as the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee. The committee was also assigned eight new members, all loyalists to Abbas.

Abbas and his supporters had only one hurdle to overcome, Rami Hamdallah.

It is not that Hamdallah was much of a political fighter or a maverick to begin with; it is just that Abbas’ loyalists detested the idea that Hamdallah was still keen on achieving reconciliation with Hamas.

For them, Mohammad Shtayyeh’s recent appointment is the most logical answer.

Shtayyeh possesses all the features that qualify him for the new role. His ‘seven-point letter of assignment’, which he received from Abbas, calls on him to prioritize national unity. But that would make no sense since Shtayyeh, who has been close to Abbas since the early 1990s, has a poor track record on that front.

Aside from accommodating the whims of Abbas and his grouping within Fatah, Shtayyeh will try to appeal to a younger generation within Palestine that has lost faith in Abbas, his authority and all the hogwash about the two-state solution. That is, in fact, Shtayyeh’s main mission.

Shtayyeh is a two-state solution enthusiast as his legacy in the Palestine negotiations team clearly demonstrates. His article in the New York Times on October 26, 2016 was a desperate attempt to breathe life into a dead option. His language is very similar to the language used by a younger and more energetic Abbas during the heyday of the Oslo Accords.

But Shtayyeh is different from Abbas, at least in the appeal of his own persona. He hails from the First Intifada generation of 1987. He was dean of students at Birzeit University in the early 1990s. Birzeit has served as a symbol of the revolutionary class of Palestinian intellectuals in the West Bank, and even Gaza. Shtayyeh’s ability to connect with young people, as he places constant, but guarded emphasis on the resistance against Israeli Occupation, will certainly bring new blood to the aging, irrelevant PA leadership or, at least, that is what Abbas hopes.

“We do not want to preserve the same status quo,” Shtayyeh told Al Quds newspaper in a statement on August 30, 2017. “The Palestinian government … has to … turn into a resistance authority against Israeli settlements. We should be able to take measures without the permission of Israel, such as digging water wells and reforesting Area C in the West Bank,” he said.

That type of ‘resistance’, proposed by Shtayyeh hardly pushes Abbas out of his comfort zone. However, the aim of this language is barely concerned with digging a few wells, but to reintroduce ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric to the Prime Minister’s office, hoping to reinvent the PA and renew confidence in its ailing and corrupt institutions.

Shtayyeh’s mission will ultimately fail, for his actual mandate is to reunite Fatah behind Abbas, not the Palestinian people behind a truly democratic and representative leadership aimed at ridding Palestine from its Israeli occupiers.

The sad truth is that the latter goal was hardly a priority for Mahmoud Abbas or his loyalists in Ramallah in the first place.