Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

Anti-semitism is Cover for a Much Deeper Divide in Britain’s Labour Party

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.

On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow.

With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit.

The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, however, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.

Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.

She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger has suffered online abuse and death threats from rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the former Labour MP said the Independent Group would provide the Jewish community with a “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.

In a plea to keep the party together, deputy leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he criticised his own party for being too slow to tackle anti-semitism. He added: “Time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences, to keep others from leaving”.

Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet join a later wave of departures, was reported to have broken down in tears at a parliamentary party meeting following the split, as she called for tougher action on anti-semitism.

Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.

And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all.

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

Those figures, it should be remembered, have almost certainly been inflated by the efforts of Corbyn’s opponents to trawl through Labour members’ social media accounts in search of comments, some of them predating Corbyn’s leadership, that could be portrayed as anti-semitic.

Intemperate language flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became leader – when Israel launched a military operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children

Certainly, it is unclear how many of those reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken criticism of the state of Israel, which was redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by Labour concern Israel. That includes describing Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.

Illustrating the problem Labour has created for itself as a result, some of the most high-profile suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted Jewish members of the party who identify as anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a professor emeritus at the University of London, had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting statistical research on anti-semitism for a pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social and political context this week

He quoted the findings of a large survey of anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 30 percent of respondents from various walks of society agreed with one or more of eight anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.

However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky concluded that in most cases this was evidence of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people.

This appears to be the main problem among the tiny number of Labour Party members identified in complaints, and is reflected in the predominance of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who argue that the Labour leader has imported anti-semitism into the party by attracting the “hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.

Even if it were true that Corbyn and his supporters are on the far-left – a highly questionable assumption, made superficially plausible only because Labour moved to the centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.

It discovered that across the political spectrum, conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only exception, as one might expect, was on the “very right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.

That finding was confirmed last week by surveys that showed a significant rise in violent, anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right parties make inroads in many member states. A Guardian report noted that the “figures show an overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the Labour Party being mired in supposed “institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?

A clue may be found in the wider political worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.

All but two are listed as supporters of the parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) faction. Further, Berger is a former director of that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan is its current chair, a position the group says she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.

So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a single day. Faced with a social media backlash, it quietly took down the posts.

The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them holding consistently hawkish foreign policy positions that are deeply antithetical to Corbyn’s approach to international relations.

They either “almost always” or “generally” backed “combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, and indicates why Corbyn is facing such widespread trouble from within his own party. Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.

Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is also a former public affairs director of BICOM, another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.

None of these MPs were concerned enough with the LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

Nor was their committed support for Labour Friends of Israel shaken by a 2017 undercover Al-Jazeera documentary investigating the Israel lobby’s tactics in the UK. It revealed that the LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement were both covertly working closely with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn.

In fact, the secret filming recorded Ryan inventing a false claim of anti-semitism against a Labour party member.

She also admitted on camera that she was in almost daily contact with Masot, and was filmed speaking to Masot about £1 million he had secured on the LFI’s behalf to fly Labour MPs on junkets to Israel as part of recruiting them to the Israeli cause.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.

The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.

Notably, none expressed concern at the media mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, leading Labour figures, including the Jewish Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.

And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the “right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.

A troubling illustration was provided on the TV show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom Bower was invited on to discuss his new unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a “self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 2016 leadership challenge against him, and those who are now rumoured to be considering joining the breakaway faction – are heavily represented on the list of MPs supporting LFI?

For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a marker of their political priorities and worldview – one that starkly clashes with the views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.

Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.

Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the party is still primarily loyal to a notion that Britain should at all costs maintain its transatlantic alliance with the United States in foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that state as a projection of Western power into the oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.

Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a useful stand-in for the deep differences in a domestic political culture between the Blairites, on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.

A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing MPs having to admit much wider grievances with Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.

As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity policies, and are reticent at returning key utilities to public ownership. All of this can be neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.

But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however unfairly – runs deeper still.

The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish racism as a trump card. Calling someone an anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and rational thought. It isolates, then tars and feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have been so maliciously effective against anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, even recognition that Jews are being suspended and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.

This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” trope that Israel and its defenders concocted decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.

The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling Conservative Party, the mainstream media and pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.

But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.

Their decision will also spur moves to begin deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.

That may finally lead to a clearing out of the parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself as a party ready to deal with the political, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow

The Russian-sponsored Palestinian unity talks in Moscow on February 11 were neither a success nor failure. Uniting Palestinian factions was not the main objective of the Moscow conference in the first place.

Instead, the nature of the event, the host country and the clear messages sent to Washington and Tel Aviv were all meant to communicate something else entirely. And they did.

The head of the Fatah delegation to the conference, Azzam al-Ahmed, apologized to his hosts on behalf of Palestinians for failing to achieve political reconciliation.

But that apology could have been prepared in advance. It would not have been rational to expect that a conference organized in such haste, with few preliminary meetings or intense prior consultations, could have achieved the coveted unity.

If one is to also consider the various unity agreements, signed between Fatah and Hamas in the past – but never honored – and bearing in mind the additional punitive measures slapped by the Palestinian Authority against Gaza recently, a unity deal in Russia would be nothing less than a miracle.

So why did the Russians hold the conference in the first place and why did the Palestinians agree to attend, if its failure was a foretold conclusion?

The answer lies elsewhere, specifically in Warsaw, Poland.

Around the same time that Palestinians met in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, the US was holding its own conference in Warsaw, Poland.

The Warsaw meet was the US’ attempt at drawing a new political paradigm to replace the defunct ‘peace process’, which, itself, was an American political invention.

While the ‘peace process’, thanks to US blind support of Israel, has failed terribly, Warsaw, too, is unlikely to deliver any meaningful or long-term political vision in the Middle East. The conference was the equivalent of a public American declaration that only Israel matters and that Washington’s commitment to Tel Aviv is paramount to all else.

Even the Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, known for its political subservience to Washington, was repulsed by the US’ new, brazen political approach. Time and again, the Donald Trump Administration has made it clear to its former Palestinian ally that Palestinian political aspirations are no longer a subject worthy of even mere consideration by the US. The relocating of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Washington in May last year was one of many such signs.

Abbas, who is now increasing pressure on his Hamas rivals in Gaza, and is plotting against his own Fatah rivals in the West Bank, agreed to allow Fatah participation in the Moscow conference because he, too, has a message for the US, the gist of which is “we too have a new strategy and political alternatives.’

Knowing in advance that Trump’s so-called “deal of the century’ is likely to be consistent with the new, more aggressive US foreign policy approach to the Middle East, Fatah is keen to preclude the announcement of the ‘deal’ by seeking different routes that do not  necessarily go through Washington.

For Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions, freeing Fatah from Washington’s grip is something they can also all agree on.

A Hamas official, Hussam Badran, was very clear regarding the consensus of all Palestinian participants in denouncing the “deal of the century (and) all conspiracies to eliminate the Palestinian cause.”

Musa Abu Marzouk, who led the Hamas delegation, declared from Moscow that all Palestinians factions will work together to “confront the deal of the century.”

Fatah’s position was of one and the same.

For Russia, a unified Palestinian call to defeat the latest US political stratagem in the region is consistent with Moscow’s ongoing efforts to undermine Washington’s once uncontested role in the Middle East.

True, the Palestinian factions failed to agree on a final statement written on behalf of all parties, but the disagreements were of little relevance to their political outlook concerned with Washington’s political ploys. The Islamic Jihad refuses to consider a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and, along with Hamas, does not see the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the one and only representative of all Palestinians, as the draft of the final statement proposed.

These positions are hardly new, especially since Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are not yet part of the PLO. Palestinian factions would need more than a two-day conference in Moscow to iron out the numerous details of such complex issues.

Russia, too, had its own messages to send. Aside from a message to the US-led Warsaw conference that Russia is ready to fill the gap left open by the US departure from the ‘peace process’, another Russian-hosted political summit in Sochi carried layers of direct and subtle meanings.

The tripartite Sochi summit brought Russia, Turkey and Iran together to discuss the future of Syria following the US withdrawal.

For Russia to be heavily involved in two major political processes and conflicts concerning the Middle East at the same time is unprecedented since the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Russian-Soviet led socialist bloc.

Those in Washington who see Moscow as an adversary must have been particularly unpleased by the new developments. The US-Russian rivalry is definitely at its highest point in many years.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions, save Fatah, would have welcomed Russia’s re-engagement, regardless of any specific political contexts. Hamas has been under massive pressure and near-complete isolation in Gaza for many years, and a political outlet of this nature is, for the Movement, a welcome development.

Hamas is now ready to upgrade its ties with Russia, especially after the Movement’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, received an official invitation to include Russia on his next trip outside of besieged Gaza.

The major change in the political equation, however, is that Fatah has been recently dropped from the US political sponsorship list, and is desperately seeking new political and financial patrons.

Mahmoud Abbas is likely to wait for further indications of the changing American position before completely abandoning his quest of an American sponsored ‘peace’ with Israel.

All three conferences – Warsaw, Moscow and Sochi – should be enough of an indication that the new political paradigm, which has been in the making for years, is unlikely to be reversed, at least, not any time soon.

In Hebron, Israel removes the Last Restraint on its Settlers’ Reign of Terror

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

While Oslo put the PA formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But to the settlers’ disgruntlement, Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbours.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life”, Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the US to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Mr Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organisations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year US President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organisations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list.

• A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

As Abbas Ages, Fatah Moves to Consolidate Power

Five years after spearheading what is inaptly referred to as a ‘government of national reconciliation’, Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, has finally resigned.

“We put our government at the disposal of President Mahmoud Abbas and we welcome the recommendations of the Fatah Central Committee to form a new government,” Hamdallah tweeted, shortly after Abbas had ordered him to dismantle the government.

Since the Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994, 17 governments have been formed, and every single one of them was dominated by the Fatah party, the largest faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Fatah’s monopoly over Palestinian politics has wrought disasters. Neither did the PA deliver the coveted Palestinian state, nor did Fatah use its influence to bring Palestinian factions together. In fact, the opposite is true.

Most of these 17 governments were short-lived, except that of Hamdallah, which has governed for five years, despite the fact that it failed in its primary mission: healing the terrible rift between Fatah in the Israeli Occupied West Bank, and Hamas in Israel-besieged Gaza.

Moreover, it also fell short of bringing PLO factions closer together. Thus far, the second largest PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) refuses to participate in a future government that will also be dominated by Fatah.

Palestinian divisions have never been as pronounced as they are today. While all Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad included, bear part of the blame for failing to unify their ranks and form a single national strategy to combat Israeli colonialism and occupation, Abbas bears the largest share.

Even before becoming a president of the PA in January 2005, Abbas has always been a divisive political figure. When he was the PA’s Prime Minister, between March and September 2003 under the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Abbas clashed with anyone who would challenge his often self-serving political agenda, including Arafat himself. His constant clashing with Arafat at the time made him favorite in Washington.

Abbas was elected on a weak popular mandate, as Hamas and others boycotted the presidential elections. His first, and only term in office expired in 2009. For a whole decade, neither Abbas nor any government of his have operated with the minimum requirement of democracy. Indeed, for many years the will of the Palestinian people has been hijacked by wealthy men, fighting to preserve their own interests while undeservingly claiming the role of leadership.

The 2006 Hamas victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections was a reminder to Abbas (but also to Israel and the United States) of how dangerous free elections can be. Since then, there has been much talk about the need for new elections, but no sincere efforts have been made to facilitate such a task. Logistical difficulties notwithstanding (for Palestine is, after all an occupied country), neither party wants to take the risk of letting the people have the last word.

Palestine and her people are not only trapped by Israeli walls, fences and armed soldiers, but by their inept leadership as well.

The 2007 Fatah-Hamas clashes which led to the current extreme polarization have split Palestinians politically, between the West Bank, under Abbas’ authoritative control, and Hamas, in besieged and struggling Gaza. While Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, often complains of the lack of a ‘Palestinian partner’, his government, with the aid of Washington, has done its utmost to ensure Palestinian division.

Several agreements between Fatah and Hamas have been signed, the latest, which appeared most promising, was achieved in October 2017. Palestinians were cautious, then, but also hopeful as several practical steps were taken this time to transfer legal responsibilities from Hamas to the Hamdallah government, whether in the various Gaza ministries, or at the Rafah-Egypt border.

Then, just when the wheels began turning, raising hopes among ordinary Palestinians that this time things were truly changing, Rami Hamdallah’s convoy was attacked as it crossed the main entrance to Gaza, via Israel.

Some sinister force clearly wanted Hamdallah dead, or, at least, it wanted to send a violent message providing the political fodder to those who wanted to stall the political progress between the two main Palestinian parties. Hamas quickly claimed to have apprehended the culprits, while Fatah, without much investigation, declared that Hamas was responsible for the bomb, thus stalling and, eventually, severing all reconciliation talks.

This was followed by clearly orchestrated steps to punish Gaza and push the people in the besieged and war-devastated Strip to the point of complete despair. First, Abbas refused to pay money to the Israeli company that provides some of Gaza’s electricity needs – thus leaving Gaza in the dark; then he significantly slashed salaries to Gaza workers, among other measures.

In response, tens of thousands of Gazans went to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel protesting the Israeli siege, which, with Abbas’ latest collective punishment, has become beyond unbearable.

Indeed, Gaza’s ongoing ‘Great March of Return’, which began on March 30, 2018, was a popular response to a people fed up with war, siege, international neglect, but also horrific political tribalism. Since the march began, over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands maimed and wounded.

Abbas is now 83-years old with increasingly debilitating health. His supporters within Fatah want to ensure a political transition that guarantees their dominance because political monopoly offers many perks: wealth, privilege, power and prestige. For Fatah, Hamdallah and his ‘reconciliation’ government have ceased to serve any purpose. Additionally, a unity government with other Palestinian groups at this crucial, transitional period seems too risky a gamble for those who want to ensure future dominance.

The tragic truth is that all such politicking is happening within the confines of Israeli military Occupation, and that Israeli fences, walls, trenches, illegal Jewish settlements and Jewish-only bypass roads encircle all Palestinians, from Gaza to Jericho, and from Jerusalem to Rafah; that no Palestinian, Abbas included, is truly free, and that all political titles hold no weight before the power of a single Israeli sniper firing at Palestinian children at the Gaza fence.

Palestinians do need their unity and urgently so, not expressed in mere political compromises between factions, but the unity of a people facing the same brutal and oppressive enemy.

Gaza Rallies for Caracas: On the West’s Dangerous Game in Venezuela

Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of besieged Gaza to show their support of the democratically-elected government of Venezuela and its legitimate leader, President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela is struggling to defeat a coup attempt that is supported by the United States, Israel and many Western governments.

The relationship between Venezuela and Palestine has been particularly strong under the presidencies of late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez and current president Maduro. Neither leader has missed an opportunity to show their solidarity towards the Palestinian people, a fact that has always irked Tel Aviv and its western benefactors.

The Gaza rallies, however, were more than a display of gratitude towards a country that had enough courage to break off ties with Israel following the latter’s 2008-9 war on Gaza – a bloody campaign known as “Operation Cast Lead”. Thousands of Palestinians were killed in that one-sided war. No Arab government that has diplomatic ties with Israel severed its relations with Tel Aviv. While Caracas – over 10 thousand kilometers away – did. Then, former President Chavez, accused Israel of “state terrorism”.

But there is more to Palestinian solidarity with Venezuela than this recent history. Palestinians have experienced decades-long collective trauma from US-funded Israeli colonialism and military occupation. The US has imposed itself as an ‘honest peace broker’ as a way to mask its political interference and meddling in the Middle East, while fully and blindly supporting Israeli aggressions.

While the Venezuelan people have every right to protest their government, demanding greater accountability and economic solutions to the crushing poverty facing the country, no one has the right to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela or any other sovereign country anywhere.

We must remember that the US government has hardly ever been a source of stability in South America, certainly not since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Since then, the US has done more than mere meddling, but outright political and military interventions, supporting various coups that toppled or attempted to overthrow democratically-elected governments.

What is underway in Caracas is a repeat of that sad and tragic history.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors took an even darker turn when, in 1904, then US President Theodore Roosevelt declared the “right” of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

Always looking for opportunities to exploit, Washington now sees a chance to undermine Venezuela and its elected government.

The Venezuelan people are dealing with overwhelming poverty and a very unstable social situation. Hyperinflation and the crumbling of the country’s oil industries led to a dramatic economic downturn, with about 10% of the population fleeing the country. Poor policy choices led to an escalation of the already endemic corruption, to a significant weakening of local production and increasing devaluation of the country’s currency.

However, consensus around president Maduro’s socialist government is still broad, as witnessed by their victory in the 2018 presidential election.

Despite the presence of about 150 international observers from 30 countries and international organizations, which declared that the last Venezuelan election was transparent, domestic opponents, supported by the US and its western and regional allies denounced it as “fraud foretold”, even before Maduro delivered his victory speech.

The US and its Western allies are frustrated by the fact that despite its economic problems, most Venezuelans remained united around Chavez, and now Maduro, who are perceived, especially by the poorer classes, as independent national leaders fighting against constant US destabilization and neocolonialism.

The world order is vastly changing, but US ruling elites refuse to change. While speaking about Washington’s need to “protect democracy” in Venezuela, US National Security Advisor, the infamous Israel supporter, John Bolton admitted that the coup in Venezuela is an opportunity to exploit the country’s oil and natural resources.

“It will make a big difference to the United States economically”, Bolton told Fox News in an interview this week, “if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Tragically, the US boycott against Venezuela forced the country to sell its gold in return for valuable currency, as well as consumer goods, food and medicinal products. The coup is meant to completely push Caracas to its knees.

Western predators are all moving in, each party playing the role entrusted of them, as if history is repeating itself. Bank of England (BoE) has blocked Maduro’s officials from withdrawing $1.2 billion worth of Venezuela’s gold. Worse, brazen interference from foreign countries is becoming so pronounced that UK foreign office minister, Sir Alan Duncan has suggested that the BoE grant access to the gold reserves to the self-proclaimed opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Germany, and France and Spain gave Venezuela’s Maduro an ultimatum: the President has eight days to call elections, otherwise they’ll recognize Guaido as president. On January 31, the European Parliament recognized Guaido as a de facto leader of Venezuela in complete disregard of the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people.

Yet, as odd as this may seem to some, Maduro still enjoys greater legitimacy in his country than Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron do in the US and France respectively. Yet, no entity is threatening to intervene in France, for example, on behalf of the ‘Yellow Vests’, who have protested in their hundreds of thousands for weeks, demanding an end to Macon’s rule.

It is doubly important that Venezuela doesn’t collapse before this US-led sinister campaign because of the rising far-right powers in South and Latin America, namely the upsurge of reactionary forces in Brazil.

If Venezuela’s political order disintegrates, others, too will become target: Bolivia, Cuba, and even Mexico.

Since the US partial withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and the Obama Administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’, to challenge the inevitable dominance of China, US policy makers have been keen on staging a comeback in South America as well. More recently, the just-departed US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley was instrumental in shaping the aggressive US policy towards Venezuela.

Now that the country is struggling with extreme poverty – itself resulting from the manipulation of oil prices – the US sees an opportunity to make its move, and reclaim its destructive, domineering role in that part of the world. The election in Brazil of far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to “make Brazil great again’ is tipping the balance in favor of reactionary forces in the whole region.

But the plot against Venezuela is also an opportunity for those who want to challenge the old order, to tell the US government ‘enough is enough’; that the age of coups and blood-soaked interventions should be behind us, and that South America must not be subjugated again.

As Palestinians have fought Israeli tyranny for years, Venezuelans will continue to fight foreign tyranny and unlawful political and military interventions as well. And with true and tangible global solidarity, both nations will prevail – sooner or later.

Now Chad, then Mali: Why African Countries Are Normalizing with Israel

Forget the hype. Israel’s ‘security technology’ has nothing to do with why some African countries are eager to normalize relations with Israel.

What is it that Israel is able to offer in the technology sector to Chad, Mali and others that the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and others cannot?

The answer is ‘nil’, and the moment we accept such a truth is the moment we start to truly understand why Chad, a Muslim-majority country, has just renewed its diplomatic ties with Israel. And, by extension, the same logic applies to Mali, another Muslim-majority country that is ready to normalize with Israel.

Chadian President, Idriss Deby, was in Israel last November, a trip that was touted as another Benjamin Netanyahu-engineered breakthrough by the Israeli government and its allied media.

In return, Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, paid Deby a visit to N’djamena where they agreed to resume diplomatic ties. In their joint press conference, Deby spoke of ‘deals’ signed between Chad and Israel, but failed to provide more details.

Israel may try to present itself as the savior of Africa, but no matter how comparatively strong the Israeli economy is, Tel Aviv will hardly have the keys to solving the woes of Chad, Mali or any other country on the African continent.

Israeli media is actively contributing to the fanfare that has accompanied Netanyahu’s ‘scramble for Africa’, and is now turning its focus to preparations under way for another ‘historic visit”, that of Malian President, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, to Israel in the “coming weeks”.

Netanyahu is keen to schedule Maiga’s trip just before the April 9 date, when Israelis go to the polls to vote in the country’s early general elections.

Israel’s motives to normalize with Africa are inspired by the same reasoning behind Netanyahu’s international outreach to South America and other regions in the global South.

Despite the Trump-Netanyahu love affair at the moment, Israel has no faith in the future of the US in the Middle East region. The current Donald Trump administration, as the previous Barack Obama administration, has made clear and calculated moves to slowly deploy out of the region and ‘pivot’ elsewhere.

This has alerted Netanyahu to the fact that Israel would have to diversify its alliances as an American veto at the United Nations Security Council is no longer a guarantor to Israel’s regional dominance.

For years, Netanyahu has pursued an alternative course, which has become the only path for Israel to escape its international isolation. Unfortunately for Palestinians, Israel’s new strategy, of seeking separate alliances with UN General Assembly members seems to be paying dividends. Israel now hopes that other countries that have historically stood on the side of Palestinians – voting for Palestinian rights as a bloc at the UN – will follow the Chad and Mali examples.

The struggle between Israel and Arab countries in Africa, according to Dan Avni – a top Israeli Foreign Ministry official during the 1950s and ‘60s – is “a fight of life and death for us.” That statement was made during a time that the US had not fully and ardently committed to the Israeli colonial project, and Israel was in a desperate need to break away from its isolation.

Following the expansion of the Israeli colonial project in Palestine and other Arab countries after the 1967 war, the US unconditional political, economic and military support for Israel has addressed many of Israel’s perceived vulnerabilities, empowering it to become the uncontested bully of the whole region. At the time, neither Africa mattered, nor did the rest of the international community.

But now, a new Great Game is changing the rules once more. Not only is the US losing its grip in the Middle East and Africa – thanks to the rise of Russian and Chinese influences, respectively – Washington is also busy elsewhere, desperate to sustain its dwindling global hegemony for a bit longer.

Although ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are still strong, Israeli leaders are aware of a vastly changing political landscape. According to Israeli calculation, the ‘fight of life and death’ is drawing near, once again.

The answer? Enticing poor countries, in Africa and elsewhere, with political support and economic promises so that they would deny Palestinians a vote at the UN.

It is no surprise that the governments of Chad and Mali are struggling, not only economically, but also in terms of political legitimacy as well. Torn in the global struggle for dominance between the US and China, they feel pressed to make significant choices that could make the difference between their survival or demise in future upheavals.

For these countries, an alliance with Israel is a sure ticket to the Washington political club. Such membership could prove significant in terms of economic aid, political validation and, more importantly, an immunity against pesky military coups.

Considering this, those who are stuck discussing the Israeli ‘charm offensive’ in Africa based on the claim of Israel’s technological advancement and hyped water technology are missing the forest for the trees.

It is important to note that it is not the road to Tel Aviv that N’Djamena and Bamako are seeking, but rather the road to Washington itself. In Africa, as in other parts of the global South, it is often the US, not the UN that bestows and denies political legitimacy. For African leaders who enjoy no democratic credence, a handshake with Netanyahu could be equivalent to a political life insurance.

So, for now, Israel will continue to walk this fine line, usurping American resources and political support as always, while learning how to walk on its own, by developing a foreign policy that it hopes will spare it further isolation in the future.

It is yet to dawn on Israeli leaders that, perhaps, a shortcut to breaking its isolation can be achieved through respecting international law, the rights of the Palestinian people and the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors.

Diplomatic ties with Chad and Mali may garner Netanyahu a few more votes next April, but they will also contribute to the Israeli illusion that it can be an international darling and an Apartheid regime, simultaneously.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Palestinians in Israel face Uncertain Political Future Amid Joint List Split

A political coalition representing Israel’s Palestinian minority – currently the third biggest faction in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset – has been plunged into crisis by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to call for a surprise general election for April.

Long-simmering ideological and personal tensions within the Joint List, comprising Israel’s four main Palestinian parties, have erupted into a split over who should dominate the faction.

Knesset member Ahmad Tibi announced this month that he would run on a separate ticket with his small Taal party, after polls showed he was more popular than the List’s current head, Ayman Odeh.

The move is yet another blow to the coalition, which has been beset by acrimony since its establishment four years ago.

The latest divisions threaten to further alienate Palestinian voters in Israel, potentially weakening their representation in the Israeli parliament and strengthening the right-wing bloc under Netanyahu.

Falling voter turnouts

The 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are the remnants of the Palestinian population that was mostly expelled from its homeland in 1948 to create the state of Israel. Today, these Palestinians make up a fifth of the population, but face systemic discrimination.

Voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel has been in steady decline for decades, reaching a low at the 2013 election, when just over half cast a ballot.

No Palestinian party has ever been invited to participate in any of the complex coalitions that are the basis of Israeli governments.

In addition, the Palestinian parties’ use of the Knesset as a platform to call for an end to the Israeli occupation and for equal rights for Palestinian citizens regularly attracts the ire of Jewish Israeli politicians.

Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan recently wrote a letter to the Knesset’s ethics committee describing Odeh, the head of the Joint List, as “a criminal and a supporter of terrorism”.

While launching his election campaign this week, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman accused the Joint List of “treason” and called it “total lunacy” to let its representatives participate in the Knesset.

Acrimony in the Joint List

The creation of the Joint List in time for the 2015 legislative elections briefly boosted turnout, as Palestinian voters in Israel hoped it would give a stronger voice to their interests on the national stage.

The List won 13 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset, but a recent poll showed that only 44 percent of Palestinian voters thought it represented their interests, with 52 percent disagreeing.

Tibi’s departure threatens to lead to further splintering of the coalition, with the southern Islamic Movement also reportedly considering breaking away or demanding leadership of the surviving List.

Relations between the two other parties – Hadash, a block of communist and socialist groups headed by Odeh, and national-democratic party Balad – are fractious, as they compete for a similar pool of secular Palestinian voters.

Call for reform

According to Tibi, the fact that his party, Taal, only holds a single seat in the Knesset is “clearly unjust”.

“The composition of the List should be decided by the people, not decreed by the parties,” he told Middle East Eye.

According to polls, a separate Tibi ticket would be likely to receive six seats, level-pegging with the remnants of the Joint List.

He said an overhaul of the List would make it more democratic and accountable, and revive flagging support from Palestinian voters in Israel.

“The competition between two big lists will actually encourage people to come out and vote,” Tibi said. “Surveys show that we can get 12 seats when we run apart, but together we will drop to 10 or 11 seats.

“The other parties don’t want change because they are afraid of the outcome.”

Tibi said he would consider returning to the List only if it introduced more democratic procedures allotting seats to the parties on the basis of their popularity – either assessed through opinion polls or primaries.

Split could backfire

On social media, Odeh harshly criticised Tibi for the breakup, accusing him of prioritising his “personal interests”.

“Netanyahu wants to see the Joint List break up more than anyone else. The extreme right wants to divide and conquer the Arabs,” he tweeted.

According to analysts, the split could indeed backfire, fuelling disenchantment.

“Surveys show that people support the idea of the Joint List but want more, not less, unity from its parties. They want it better organised and more effective,” Asad Ghanem, a political scientist at Haifa University, told MEE.

“If that trend doesn’t continue, a significant proportion are likely to stay home – or vote for Jewish parties on the basis that at least those parties have some influence within the Israeli political system.”

‘Coming out in droves’

Ghanem also noted that Tibi, a former adviser to late Palestinian national leader Yasser Arafat, had until now been a largely one-man outfit. In the past, he has always allied with another party at election time.

“On paper, Tibi enjoys a lot of support, but that ignores the difficulty he faces widening his party’s appeal,” he said. “He needs to create a convincing list of candidates and establish a party machine capable of bringing out his voters to the polls.”

A combination of low turnout and separate parties could mean one or more fail to pass an electoral threshold, dramatically reducing Palestinian representation in the Knesset.

That would likely delight the Israeli right, including Netanyahu, who raised the electoral threshold before the 2015 vote in an undisguised bid to prevent Palestinian parties from winning seats.

When the Palestinian parties responded by forming the Joint List, Netanyahu used scaremongering on polling day to rally his supporters. He warned Jewish voters that the Palestinian minority was “coming out to vote in droves”.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a legislator for the Hadash party, said those who preferred the Joint List to splinter were “gambling” that they would manage to pass the threshold. “That’s a very dangerous position to adopt,” she told MEE.

Need for common platform

Ghanem criticised the Joint List for failing to make an impact on the most pressing socio-economic issues faced by the Palestinian minority. Half of Palestinian families in Israel live under the poverty line, nearly four times the rate among Israeli Jews.

He also accused the List of failing to effectively counter recent legislative moves by the Netanyahu government that have targeted the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority.

In 2016, the government passed an Expulsion Law empowering a three-quarters majority of the parliament to ban a legislator for holding unpopular political views. It was widely seen as a measure to silence Palestinian Knesset members.

And last summer, Israel voted through the Nation-State Basic Law, which explicitly gives the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination in Israel.

Ghanem said the Joint List’s failure to offer a clear position on the last law, or mobilise Palestinian opinion against it, was especially glaring.

“The problem is that the List has failed to develop a common political programme. It is not enough to have a Joint List, it must have a joint voice too.”

Touma-Suleiman, however, called much of the criticism of the Joint List unfair.

“The Nation State Law showed exactly what the Netanyahu government thinks of our rights. Anything we achieve is like pulling teeth from the lion’s mouth,” she said. “We are operating in a very hostile political environment.”

Crisis of legitimacy

Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens and rumoured to be a future candidate for the Hadash party, agreed with Tibi that the Joint List was suffering from a crisis of legitimacy.

“Who speaks for our community when we address the Israeli public or speak to the Palestinian Authority or attend discussions in Europe?” he told MEE. “That person needs to be able to say credibly that they represent the community.”

Farah, however, noted that the reality of Palestinians in Israel was “more complicated” than that for most other national minorities. Israeli officials have strenuously objected to any efforts by the Palestinian minority to create its own internal parliament or seek self-determination.

Nonetheless, he said, the Palestinian parties were making themselves irrelevant by focusing on a two-state solution in an era when Netanyahu and the right had imposed on the region their agenda of permanent occupation in the context of a single state.

“We can’t just accept the rules of a political game in which we operate in the margins of a Jewish democracy. It is not enough just to have a leader, we need to offer a new political vision. We have to be creative and bring a new agenda.

“The Jewish majority won’t come to our aid. We have to lead the struggle and be ready to pay the price.”

End of ideological politics

Ghanem said the Joint List’s failures, combined with the collapse of any peace-making efforts to end the occupation, had encouraged a move away from ideological politics among many Palestinian voters in Israel.

“People are instead increasingly focusing on their own personal concerns,” he said.

He pointed to recent local elections in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian-majority city in Israel, where the main political parties bowed out and left the mayoral race to two independent candidates.

The trend away from ideological politics was being reinforced, as elsewhere, by new media that offered people a wider set of perspectives.

“Generally, people feel more confused, and want clear, strong figures like a Netanyahu or a Trump,” Ghanem said. “Tibi can exploit that trend.”

Gaining more influence

Tibi said it was vital for the parties to find a way to make alliances with centre and centre-left Jewish parties in the current climate.

“It is not just about getting more Arab legislators into the Knesset,” he said. “It is about having more legislators who can have an influence, who can help shape the choice of the prime minister. That is imperative if we are going to bring down Netanyahu and the right.”

Tibi said he hoped that, by rebuilding the credibility of the Palestinian parties, they would be in a position to form a “blocking majority” in the Knesset, similar to the situation in the early 1990s.

Then, a newly elected centre-left coalition headed by Yitzhak Rabin needed the support of the Palestinian parties to push through the Oslo Accords, against fierce opposition from the right, led by Netanyahu.

Rabin did so through an arrangement with Palestinian legislators that they would back the coalition from outside the government.

“We helped Rabin achieve his goals and in return the situation of our community improved, with more rights and higher budgets,” said Tibi. “We can be in that position again but only if we can regain the confidence of our community.”

Calls for boycott

Tibi and others believe that, if the turnout among Palestinian citizens returns to the levels of the 1980s, the minority could elect several more legislators, potentially tipping the balance towards a centre-left government.

But for that to happen, the Palestinian parties will need to overturn growing apathy and frustration from their voters, warned Ghanem.

Salman Masalha, a Palestinian columnist for Haaretz newspaper, called the Palestinian members of the Knesset “a fig leaf” whose participation served only to “beautify the state to the world, making it look like a vibrant democracy”.

He argued for a boycott of the election, playing on Netanyahu’s 2015 election incitement: “Arab citizens must respond, ‘the Arabs are boycotting in droves’ the scam of Israeli democracy.”

A boycott of the national elections is the official platform of two factions: the small, staunchly secular Abnaa al-Balad (Sons of the Land) party and the popular northern wing of the Islamic Movement, under Sheikh Raed Salah, which the Netanyahu government outlawed four years ago.

Ghanem observed that Netanyahu’s fate, as he faces indictment on several corruption charges in the midst of the election campaign, could play a decisive role in the turnout of Palestinian voters.

“If Netanyahu looks vulnerable, more [Palestinian voters] will come out in the hope that their parties will be able to support the centre-left in challenging the right.

“But if he looks likely to win, as seems the case at the moment, then many will conclude that the situation is hopeless and stay home.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

False “Victories”: Is the PA Using the “State of Palestine” to Remain in Power?

The ‘State of Palestine’ has officially been handed the Chairmanship of the G-77, the United Nations’ largest block. This is particularly significant considering the relentless Israeli-American plotting to torpedo the Palestinian push for greater international recognition and legitimacy.

It is now conclusive that the main mission for former United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was an unmitigated failure.

When Haley gave her infamous speech before the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in March 2017 – declaring herself the ‘new sheriff in town’ on behalf of Israel – the US-Israeli designs were becoming clearer: never again will the US shy away from defending Israel at the UN as the previous Obama Administration had done in December 2016.

In retrospect, Haley’s tactics – the aggressive language, the constant threats and outright political bullying – amounted to nothing. Her short stint of two years at the UN has only managed to, once again, accentuate US dwindling power and influence on the international stage.

Instead of isolating Palestinians, the US ended up joining Israel in its own isolation. Unable to make any tangible ‘achievements’ in favor of Israel, a frustrated US administration carried out its threats as it quit crucial UN bodies like UNESCO, Human Rights Council, among others. In doing so, the US is now imprudently dismantling the very international order it helped create following World War II.

The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of the obvious shift in world order. Being voted to the helm of the G77 – which bonds 134 countries from the South in a massive economic order – is an extraordinary event.

But what does this mean in terms of the Palestinian quest for statehood?

The PA seems to operate within two separate – and often contradictory – political spheres.

On the one hand, it is in full cooperation with Israel in terms of ‘security coordination‘, at times serving as if Israel’s policeman in the Occupied West Bank. Its constant crackdown on Palestinian dissent and its monopolization of Palestinian decision-making have been major obstacles before the Palestinian people in their fight for rights, justice and freedom.

On the other hand, the PA has been pursuing a determined path towards international recognition, starting with its successful bid to obtain a non-member observer status for the State of Palestine in November 2012.

That momentous event, which took place despite US-Israeli strong rejection and protests, opened up the door for Palestine to join various UN organizations such as the International Criminal Court.

Palestine is yet to acquire full UN membership, a pursuit that is being renewed at the moment. However, as of August 2015, the flag of Palestine has been fluttering at the UN headquarters, along with those of 193 other nations.

So how is one to reconcile between these two realities?

It goes without saying that the international support that Palestine is receiving at the UN is an outcome of existing solidarity and sympathy with the Palestinian people and their rightful struggle for human rights and independence. It has preceded the PA by decades, and will be there for many years to come.

The PA, however, has tactfully translated this international support and validation to political assets among Palestinians at home.

Indeed, much of the support that the PA and its dominant Fatah party continue to enjoy among ordinary Palestinians is driven by the following logic: every symbolic diplomatic ‘victory’ achieved by the PA abroad is followed by massive celebrations in Ramallah, including fiery speeches of an imminent freedom and statehood.

But freedom, of course, remains elusive, partly because the PA has yet to develop a real strategy for resisting Israeli military Occupation and colonization. Its determination and vigor to acquire more international recognition is juxtaposed with utter laxity and disinterest in developing a unified national strategy in Palestine itself.

This points to an unmistakable conclusion: The PA’s strategy is merely focused on the very survival of the PA as a political apparatus, and on ‘Palestinian independence’ within an immaterial diplomatic sphere, without any tangible evidence of that ‘independence’ on the ground.

How else can one explain the fierce fight, in the name of Palestine and those suffering in Gaza, put up by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Ambassador, Riad al-Maliki at the UN, while the PA continues to withhold salaries from besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?

The sad truth is that the fight for Palestinian recognition at the UN is, at its core, a fight for Abbas and his Authority to remain relevant, and solvent, in a changing international political order.

Meanwhile, for Palestinians, Abbas’ diplomatic achievements represent the proverbial morphine shots injected in the collective vein of an occupied and suffering people, desperate for a ray of hope.

According to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, poverty in the Gaza Strip has exceeded 80 percent, coupled with a 54.9% level of unemployment. The West Bank, too, is suffering, with the Israeli army and violent illegal Jewish settlers terrorizing the Palestinian population there. Thousands of Palestinian men and women languish in Israeli jails, hundreds of them held without trial.

Not only has the PA done little to challenge – or, at least, attempt to reverse – that reality, it has, at times contributed to it. Yet, oddly, the PA’s pitiful political discourse in Palestine is contrasted with a well-defined, articulate and purportedly courageous language outside.

“We will go to the Security Council for submitting our application,” to obtain full Palestinian membership at the UN, Palestinian Ambassador, al-Maliki, told reporters on January 15. “We know that we are going to face a US veto but this won’t prevent us from presenting our application”.

In fact, this is the crux of the PA strategy at the moment. Knowing that it has little legitimacy among ordinary Palestinians, the PA is desperate to find an alternative source of legitimacy somewhere else.

While a greater support for the ‘State of Palestine’ is a positive sign indicating a changing world order, it is, sadly, used by the Palestinian leadership to sustain its own oppressive, futile and corrupt political gambit.