Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

The UN “Sheriff”: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has made her post a “more glamorous” position than her predecessors – as President Donald Trump described Haley’s 2-year term at the UN, following her resignation announcement.

We may never know the nature of Haley’s purported ‘glamour’ at the UN, but we certainly know that, during her relatively brief stint, Haley has further diminished her country’s struggling reputation, entrenching US isolation in the world’s most vital international political body.

In her own words, Haley concluded that her mission at the UN was accomplished, commending herself on three achievements: the US has become more respected; it saved a lot of money and strongly defended Israel against UN ‘bias.’

“All of those things have made a huge difference in the US standing,” she said. “The US is strong again. And the US is strong in a way that should make all Americans very proud.”

Nothing could be further from the truth and Haley, who is suspected of engineering a run for the White House in the future, has no evidence to back up her claim of new-found ‘strength’ and ‘respect’.

During his speech before the General Assembly on September 25, Trump’s preposterous claims were not met with thundering applause but humiliating laughter. So much for respect.

However, there is no question that Haley was a good fit to be Trump’s representative to the international community. Her aggressive and self-aggrandizing language tallies with the political discourse emanating from the White House.

That aside, considering the violations of human rights committed by Israel during Haley’s time at the UN, her relentless defense of Israel is no laughing matter.

Haley’s supposed ‘achievements’ of saving money and supporting Israel are intrinsically linked. Indeed, the US saved $1.3 billion dollars – by cutting off funds to organizations that were critical of Israel or supportive of the Palestinian people.

Haley’s political outlook is not influenced by true conviction.  In his bestselling book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff describes Haley as an “opportunist” who is as “ambitious as Lucifer.”

In fact, there can be no rational explanation for Haley’s palpable hatred of Palestinians and Arab and love of Israel, other than sheer opportunism.

The US-Israel pact at the UN is as old as Israel itself, but the last two decades have taken this relationship to new heights. The already slanted US position on Israel’s Occupation of Palestine, and its brazen use of the ‘veto’ power to shield Israel from international criticism, reached its zenith during the term of George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte (2001-04).

The ‘Negroponte doctrine’ – the instant rejection and, if necessary, vetoing of any UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel – remained a staple in US foreign policy until today, with the notable exception of Resolution 2334.

On December 23, 2016, the Obama Administration abstained from voting on a resolution that condemned Israel’s construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Obama’s final act violated the main tenet of US diplomacy at the UN.

Soon after, Haley arrived in New York with a clear and urgent mandate: to do everything in her power to recover the traditional US position in support of Israel.

Eager to reassure Israel that it has not been abandoned, Haley launched her pro-Israel campaign at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March 2017, using bizarre, tactless language.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” she announced before nearly 18,000 conference attendees, intoxicated with excitement. “I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she declared. “It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time.”

Haley was true to her words. The ‘Haley doctrine’ went even further than Negroponte’s, as the latter was largely confined to blocking resolutions critical of Israel. Haley, on the other hand, supported Israel at every possible opportunity, and, along with Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, she conspired to punish countries and UN agencies, such as UNESCO, UNRWA and others for recognizing Palestinian rights or providing aid to Palestinian refugees.

Haley, therefore, tried to manage the UN from within – rewarding and punishing as she saw fit – to end what she wrongly perceived the organization’s systematic targeting of Israel.

On a visit to Israel in June 2017, she accused the UN in a press conference held jointly with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of ‘bullying’ Israel. “If there’s anything I have no patience for, its bullies – and the UN was being such a bully to Israel because they could,” she said.

The notion, that of the UN’s supposed unfairness to Israel, was at the heart of Haley skewed discourse.

In December 2017, the self-proclaimed anti-bullying diplomat, threatened those who voted in favor of an Egypt-sponsored draft resolution that expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.” She vetoed the draft, which was supported by all other members of the Security Council, calling the vote an ‘insult’ that would not be forgotten.

On May 14, Israeli snipers opened fire at unarmed protesters at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, killing more than 60 and injuring thousands. Haley was the only member of the Security Council who could not comprehend the international outrage over one of the worst Israeli massacres in years.

“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” she lectured the other ambassadors.

While Haley was duly criticized by Palestinians for impeding international law, she was enthusiastically celebrated by Israel and its friends in Washington for being a ‘true friend of Israel.’

Soon after her resignation was announced, Danon spoke fondly of Haley for challenging ‘anti-Israel bias’ in the UN.

For Palestinians, however, Haley was a stumbling block in their efforts to finally achieve the justice and rights they need and deserve.

The US-Israeli love affair at the UN, and their ongoing war on Palestinian rights, are likely to remain unchanged, long after Haley’s departure.

Bearing in mind the irreparable damage created by the “new sheriff in town”, Haley certainly will not be missed in Palestine.

Trump’s Alliance with Body-Choppers, Death Squads and Child Killers

In recent weeks the White House has embraced the contemporary version of the world’s most murderous regimes. President Trump has embraced the Saudi Arabian “Prince of Death” Mohammad bin Salman who has graduated from chopping hands and heads in public plazas to dismembering bodies in overseas consulates – the case of Jamal Khashoggi.

The White House warmly greeted the electoral success of Brazilian Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, ardent champion of torturers, military dictators, death squads and free marketers.

President Trump grovels, grunts and glories before Israel, as his spiritual guide Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates the Sabbath with the weekly murders and maiming of hundreds of unarmed Palestinians, especially youngsters.

These are President Trump’s ‘natural allies’. They share his values and interests while each retains their particular method of disposing of the cadavers of adversaries and dissenters.

We will proceed to discuss the larger political-economic context in which the trio of monsters operate. We will analyze the benefits and advantages which lead President Trump to ignore and even praise, actions which violate America’s democratic values and sensibilities.

In conclusion, we will examine the consequences and risks which result from Trump’s embrace of the trio.

The Context for Trump’s Triple Alliance

President Trump’s intimate ties with the world’s most unsavory regimes flows from several strategic interests. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it includes military bases; the financing of international mercenaries and terrorists; multi-billion-dollar arms sales; oil profits; and covert alliances with Israel against Iran, Syria and Yemen.

In order to secure these Saudi assets, the White House is more than willing to assume certain socio-political costs.

The US eagerly sells weapons and provides advisers to Saudi’s genocidal invasion, murder and starvation of millions of Yeminis. The White House alliance against Yemen has few monetary rewards or political advantages as well as negative propaganda value.

However, with few other client states in the region, Washington makes do with Prince Salman ‘the salami slicer’.

The US ignores Saudi financing of Islamic terrorists against US allies in Asia (the Philippines) and Afghanistan as well as rival thugs in Syria and Libya.

Alas when a pro-US collaborator like Washington Post journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated, President Trump was forced to adopt the pretense of an investigation in order to distance from the Riyadh mafia.He subsequently exonerated butcher boy bin Salman: he invented a flagrant lie-blaming ‘rogue elements’ in charge of the interrogation,– read torture.

President Trump celebrated the electoral victory of Brazilian neo-liberal fascist Jair Bolsonaro because he checks all the right boxes: he promises to slash economic regulations and corporate taxes for multi-national corporations. He is an ardent ally of Washington’s economic war against Venezuela and Cuba. He promises to arm right-wing death squads and militarize the police. He pledges to be a loyal follower of US war policies abroad.

However, Bolsonaro cannot support Trump’s trade war especially against China which is the market for almost forty percent of Brazil’s agro-exports. This is especially the case since agro-business bosses are Bolsonaro’s principal economic and congressional supporters.

Given Washington’s limited influence in the rest of Latin America, Brazil’s neo-liberal fascist regime acts as Trump’s principal ally.

Israel is the White House’s mentor and chief of operations in the Middle East, as well as a strategic military ally.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has seized and colonized most of the West Bank and militarily occupied the rest of Palestine; jailed and tortured tens of thousands of political dissidents; surrounded and starved over a million Gaza residents; imposed ethno-religious conditions for citizenship in Israel, denying basic rights for over 20% of the Arab residents of the self-styled ‘Jewish state’.

Netanyahu has bombed hundreds of Syrian cities, towns, airports and bases in support of ISIS terrorists and Western mercenaries. Israel intervenes in US elections, buys Congressional votes and secures White House recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

Zionists in North America and Great Britain act as a ‘fifth column’ securing unanimous favorable mass media coverage of its apartheid policies.

Prime Minister Netanyahu secures unconditional US financial and political support and the most advanced weaponry.

In exchange Washington considers itself privileged to serve as foot solders for Israeli targeted wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia … Israel collaborates with the US in defending Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. Netanyahu and his Zionist allies in the White House succeeded in reversing the nuclear agreement with Iran and imposing new and harsher economic sanctions.

Israel has its own agenda: it defies President Trump’s sanctions policies against Russia and its trade war with China.

Israel eagerly engages in the sales of arms and high-tech innovations to Beijing.

Beyond the Criminal Trio

The Trump regime’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Brazil is not despite but because of their criminal behavior. The three states have a demonstrated record of full compliance and active engagement in every ongoing US war.

Bolsonaro, Netanyahu, and bin Salman serve as role models for other national leaders allied with Washington’s quest for world domination.

The problem is that the trio is insufficient in bolstering Washington’s drive to “Make the Empire Strong”. As pointed earlier, the trio are not completely in compliance with Trump’s trade wars; Saudi works with Russia in fixing oil prices. Israel and Brazil cuts deals with Beijing.

Clearly Washington pursues other allies and clients.

In Asia, the White House targets China by promoting ethnic separatism. It encourages Uighurs to split from China by encouraging Islamic terrorism and linguistic propaganda. President Trump backs Taiwan via military sales and diplomatic agreements. Washington intervenes in Hong Kong by promoting pro-separatist politicians and media propaganda backing ‘independence’.

Washington has launched a strategy of military encirclement and a trade war against China .The White House rounded-up Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea to provide military bases which target China. Nevertheless, up to the present the US has no allies in its trade war. All of Trump’s so-called Asian ‘allies’ defy his economic sanctions policies.

The countries depend on and pursue trade with and investments from China. While all pay diplomatic lip service and provide military bases, all defer on the crucial issues of joining US military exercises off China’s coast and boycotting Beijing.

US efforts to sanction Russia into submission is offset by ongoing oil and gas agreements between Russia , Germany and other EU countries. US traditional bootlickers like Britain and Poland carry little political weight.

More important US sanctions policy has led to a long-term, large-scale strategic economic and military alliance between Moscow and Beijing.

Moreover Trump’s alliance with the ‘torture trio’ has provoked domestic divisions. Saudi Arabia’s murder of a US resident-journalist has provoked business boycotts and Congressional calls for reprisal. Brazil’s fascism has evoked liberal criticism of Trump’s eulogy of Brazilia’s death squad democracy.

President Trump’s domestic electoral opposition has successfully mobilized the mass media, which could facilitate a congressional majority and an effective mass opposition to his Pluto-populist (populist in rhetoric, plutocrat in practice) version of empire building.

Conclusion

The US empire building project is built on bluster, bombs and trade wars. Moreover, its closest and most criminal allies and clients cannot always be relied upon. Even the stock market fiesta is coming to a close. Moreover, the time of successful sanctions is passing. The wild-eyed UN rants are evoking laughter and embarrassment.

The economy is heading into crises and not only became of rising interest rates. Tax cuts are one shot deals – profits are taken and pocketed.

President Trump in retreat will discover that there are no permanent allies only permanent interests.

Today the White House stands alone without allies who will share and defend his unipolar empire. The mass of humanity requires a break with the policies of wars and sanctions. To rebuild America will require the construction, from the ground-up, of a powerful popular movement not beholden to Wall Street or war industries. A first step is to break with both parties at home and the triple alliance abroad.

That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah

As the frail body of 12-year-old Nassir Al-Mosabeh fell to the ground on Friday, September 28, history was repeating itself in a most tragic way.

Little Nassir was not just another number, a ‘martyr’ to be exalted by equally poor refugees in Gaza, or vilified by Israel and its tireless hasbara machine. He was much more than that.

The stream of blood that poured out from his head wound on that terrible afternoon drew a line in time that travelled back 18 years.

Almost 18-years to the day separates Nassir’s recent murder and the Israeli army killing of Mohammed Al-Durrah, also 12, on September 30, 2000. Between these dates, hundreds of Palestinian children have perished in similar ways.

Reports by the rights’ group, B’tselem, are rife with statistics: 954 Palestinian children were killed between the Second Intifada in 2000 and Israel’s war on Gaza, the so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In the latter war alone, 345 child were reportedly killed, in addition to another 367 child fatalities reported in Israel’s latest war, ‘Protective Edge’ of 2014.

But Mohammed and Nassir – and thousands like them – are not mere numbers; they have more in common than simply being the ill-fated victims of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers.

In that single line of blood that links Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah, there is a narrative so compelling, yet often neglected. The two 12-year-old boys looked so much alike – small, handsome, dark skinned refugees, whose families were driven from villages that were destroyed in 1948 to make room for today’s Israel.

Young as they were, both were victims of that reality. Mohammed, died while crouching by the side of his father, Jamal, as he beseeched the Israelis to stop shooting. 18 years later, Nassir walked with thousands of his peers to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, stared at the face of the snipers and chanted for a free Palestine.

Between the two boys, the entire history of Palestine can be written, not only that of victimization and violence, but also of steadfastness and honor, passed from one generation to the next.

“Who will carry on with the dream,” were the words Nassir’s mother repeated, as she held a photograph of her son and wept. In the photo, Nassir is seen carrying his school bag, and a small bottle of rubbing alcohol near the fence separating Gaza and Israel.

“The dream” is a reference to the fact that Nassir wanted to be a doctor, thus his enthusiasm to help his two sisters, Dua’a and Islam, two medical volunteers at the fence.

His job was to carry the alcohol bottle and, sometimes, oxygen masks, as his sisters would rush to help the wounded, many of them Nassir’s age or even younger.

In a recent video message, the young boy – who had just celebrated the achievement of memorizing the entire Holy Quran – demonstrated in impeccable classical Arabic why a smile can be considered an act of charity.

Protesting the Israeli siege and the injustice of life in Gaza was a family affair, and Nassir played his role. His innovation of taping raw onions to his own face to counter the tears induced by the Israeli army tear gas garnered him much recognition among the protesters, who have been rallying against the siege since March 30.

So far, nearly 200 unarmed protesters have been killed while demanding an end to the 11-year long blockade and also to call for the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees.

Nassir was the 34th child to be killed in cold-blood since the protests commenced, and will unlikely be the last to die.

When Mohammed al-Durrah was killed 18 years ago, the images of his father trying to shield his son’s body from Israeli bullets with his bare hands, left millions around the world speechless. The video, which was aired by France 2, left many with a sense of helplessness but, perhaps, the hope that the publicity that Mohammed’s televised murder had received could possibly shame Israel into ending its policy of targeting children.

Alas, that was never the case. After initially taking responsibility for killing Mohammed, a bogus Israeli army investigation concluded that the killing of Mohammed was a hoax, that Palestinians were to blame, that the France 2 journalist who shot the video was part of a conspiracy to ‘delegitimize Israel’.

Many were shocked by the degree of Israeli hubris, and the brazenness of their mouth-pieces around the western world who repeated such falsehood without any regard for morality or, even common sense. But the Israeli discourse itself has been part of an ongoing war on Palestinian children.

Israeli and Zionist propagandists have long claimed that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews.

The likes of Elliott Abrahms raged against Palestinian textbooks for “teaching children to value terrorism”. “That is not the way to prepare children for peace”, he wrote last year.

In July the Israeli army claimed that Palestinian children deliberately “lure IDF troops”, by staging fake riots, thus forcing them into violent confrontations.

The US-Israeli propaganda has not just targeted Palestinian fighters or factions, but has done its utmost to dehumanize, thus justify, the murder of Palestinian children as well.

“Children as young as 8 turned into bombers, shooters, stabbers,” reported one Adam Kredo in the Washington Free Beacon, citing a “new report on child terrorists and their enablers.”

This is not simply bad journalism, but part of a calculated Israeli campaign aimed at preemptively justifying the killing of children such as Nassir and Mohammed, and thousands like them.

It is that same ominous discourse that resulted in the call for genocide made by none other than Israel’s Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, where she also called on the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”

The killing of Nassir and Mohammed should not then be viewed in the context of military operations gone awry, but in the inhuman official and media discourses that do not differentiate between a resistance fighter carrying a gun or a child carrying an onion and an oxygen mask.

Nor should we forget that Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah are chapters in the same book, with an overlapping narrative that makes their story, although 18 years apart, one and the same.

After 70 Years of Abuse, a Definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism

What is the matter with the Palestine solidarity movement? Since 1948 (and before that, even) the Palestinians have been viciously abused and dispossessed while the perpetrators and their supporters have continually played the anti-Semitism card.

Bemused spectators have been bored witless by the long and ludicrous propaganda campaign to vilify Jeremy Corbyn, bully the Labour Party into accepting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as a cornerstone in their code of conduct and stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against  the Palestinian people. The expected riposte never came.

Anti-Palestinian Racism

Now Jewish Voice For Labour, of all people, have struck back with a useful looking definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism which they decribe as “hatred towards or prejudice against Palestinians as Palestinians”. In a document faintly mocking the pronouncements on anti-Semitism they suggest that manifestations of anti-Palestinian racism might include the denial of Palestinian rights to a state of Palestine as recognised by over 130 member countries of the United Nations and blaming Palestinians for their own plight under brutal military occupation and lock-down. Here’s how they put it:

Contemporary examples of anti-Palestinian racism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  1. Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and nationhood, or actively conspiring to prevent the exercise of this right.
  2. Denial that Israel is in breach of international law in its continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  3. Denial that Israel is an apartheid state according to the definition of the International Convention on Apartheid.
  4. Denial of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and of their right, and the right of their descendants, to return to their homeland.
  5. Denial that Palestinians have lived in what is now the land of Israel for hundreds of years and have their own distinctive national identity and culture.
  6. Denial that the laws and policies which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel (such as the recently passed Nation State Law) are inherently racist.
  7. Denial that there is widespread discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories in matters of employment, housing, justice, education, water supply, etc, etc.
  8. Tolerating the killing or harming of Palestinians by violent settlers in the name of an extremist view of religion.
  9. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Palestinians such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth of a Palestinian conspiracy to wipe Israel off the map.
  10. Justifying the collective punishment of Palestinians (prohibited under the Geneva Convention) in response to the acts of individuals or groups.
  11. Accusing the Palestinians as a people, of encouraging the Holocaust.

I am not sure how Palestinians, as genuine Semites living there for thousands of years, will react to No.5 which claims their homeland is “now the land of Israel”. Despite being illegally occupied by an apartheid entity most of whose members have no ancestral links to the ancient “land of Israel” it is still Palestine.

For decades activists have been telling the Israel lobby to look in the mirror and address their own racial hatred towards the Palestinians. You must truly hate people to deny them their freedom and even their right to return to their homes and livelihoods. Why has it taken so long for such a simple and obvious weapon to be produced? Doesn’t it make you wonder about the true agenda of those in charge of Palestine solidarity? And why has it taken a group of Jews (bless ’em) to do it?

The question now is how best to deliver this somewhat delayed riposte. It might have been best delivered while the iron was hot, at the height of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt and media onslaught. Many activists wanted Corbyn to turn on his tormentors and tell them to mend their own vile attitude towards Palestinian Arabs before daring to smear others with accusations of  anti-Semitism.

On the other hand it will benefit from careful honing, cool planning and the massing of pro-Palestinian support to make the hit really count.

For reasons we know only too well our politicians won’t adopt it as eagerly as they embraced the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. But it is at least a starting point in the fight-back especially if deployed by a coalition of genuine pro-Palestine groups and the BDS movement as the centrepiece of their new, combined campaign strategy.

Lies, damned lies….

Meanwhile I hope all those who allowed themselves to be suckered by the Israel lobby will hang their heads in shame when they read this report by the Media Reform Coalition: Labour, Antisemitism and the News – A disinformation paradigm.

The Executive summary says that an analysis of over 250 articles and news segments from the largest UK news providers (online and television) showed:

  • 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by anchors or correspondents themselves, six of them surfacing on BBC television news programmes, and eight on TheGuardian.com
  • A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.
  • Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labours code of conduct were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1.

In all, there were 95 clear-cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. On TV two thirds of the news segments contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion.

The report points to “a persistent subversion of conventional news values”. Furthermore, coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018 often omitted critical discussion of the ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism promoted by the IHRA and wrongly described it as universally adopted. “We established through background case research that although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six  of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves.

  • In spite of a call for local authorities to adopt the definition by the UKs central government in early 2017, less than a third of councils have responded and several of those have chosen not to include any of the controversial examples contained within the working definition.
  • Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EUs Fundamental Rights Agency (a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based) and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Mainstream academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by three senior UK barristers and one former appeals court judge. Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.

Which all goes to show that Britain’s mainstream media has a hill to climb to get back its self-respect.

End of Hegemony: UN Must Reflect Changing World Order

There is a rational explanation of why India and Brazil, two countries with vast populations and large and growing economies, are not permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The Council – made up of 5 permanent and ten rotating members – was designed to reflect a world order that was birthed from the horrific violence of World War II. It was as simple as this: Those who emerged on the side of the victors were granted permanent membership and a ‘veto’ power that would allow a single country to defy the will of the entire international community.

This unfair system, which has perpetually weakened the moral foundation of the UN, remains in effect to this day.

The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly just held in New York reflected both the impotence of the UN’s ability as a global platform to address pressing problems, and also the chaotic political scene resulting from the organization’s lack of unity.

The misuse of the veto, the lack of accountability and the unfair representation at the UNSC – for example, not a single African or Latin American country is a permanent member – have all emasculated an organization that is meant, at least on paper, to uphold international law and achieve peace and global security.

While Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur, advocates the “need for a stronger UN,” he argues that “from the perspective of current geopolitical trends (the UN) seems to have declined almost to the vanishing point with respect to overarching challenges that states acting on their own cannot hope to overcome.”

Some of these problems are interconnected and cannot be redeemed through short-term or provisional solutions. For instance, climate change often leads to food shortages and hunger, which, in turn, contribute to the rising levels of migration and, consequently, to racism and violence.

Late last year, the UN’s World Food Program reported that global hunger is, in fact, increasing, despite all attempts to curb it and to, ultimately, achieve the declared goal of ‘zero hunger.’ According to the WFP, 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016, an increase of nearly 40 million from the previous year. The UN body called the latest figure an ‘indictment to humanity.’

The failing fight against climate change is another ‘indictment to humanity’. The UN-sponsored Paris Agreement of 2016 was a rare shining moment for the UN, as leaders from 195 countries consented to reduce their carbon dioxide emission through the lowering of their reliance on fossil fuel. The excitement, however, soon died out. In June 2017, the United States government pulled out of the global accord, putting the world, once more, in peril of global warming with its devastating impact on humanity.

This decision by the US Donald Trump Administration exemplifies the foundational problem within the UN – where one country can dominate or derail the whole international agenda, rendering the UN practically irrelevant.

Interestingly, the UN was established in 1945 to replace a body that, too, was rendered irrelevant and ineffective: The League of Nations.

But if the League of Nations lost its credibility because of its inability to prevent war, why has the UN survived all these years?

Perhaps, then, the UN was never established to tackle the problems of war or global security in the first place, but rather to reflect the new power paradigm that caters to those most invested in the existence of the UN in its current form.

As soon as the UN was established, the US and its allies rose to dominate the global agenda.

As experience has shown, the US is committed to the UN when the international organization serves the US agenda but is uncommitted whenever the organization fails to meet Washington’s expectations.

For example, the former US President, George W. Bush, repeatedly censured the UN for failing to support his unlawful war efforts against Iraq. In a speech before the General Assembly, in 2002, Bush asked: “Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?”

“The purpose of its founding” here, of course, refers to the US agenda that has remained a top UN priority for decades.

US ambassadors to the UN have worked ceaselessly to undermine various UN institutions that refuse to toe the American line. The current US ambassador, Nikki Haley, is far more aggressive than her predecessors, as her antagonistic language and undiplomatic tactics – especially in the context of the illegal Israeli Occupation and Apartheid in Palestine – further highlight the deteriorating relationship between Washington and the UN.

Indeed, the UN is not a monolithic institution. It is a supranational body that simply reflects the nature of global power. In post-WWII, the UN became divided around political and ideological lines resulting from the Cold War. At the end of the Cold War era, in the early 1990s, the UN became an American tool reflecting the US quest for global domination.

Starting from 2003, the UN has entered a new era in which the US is no longer the only hegemonic power; the rise of China and Russia as economic hubs and military actors, in addition to the rise of regional and economic blocs elsewhere, are causing a greater and growing challenge to the US at the UNSC and various other UN institutions.

Although the General Assembly remains largely impotent, it is still able to, occasionally, challenge the dominance of great powers through its support of other UN bodies, such as UNESCO, the International Court of Justice, the World Health Organization and so on.

The world is vastly changing, yet the UN continues its operations based on an archaic and faulty formula that crowned the winners of WWII as the world’s leaders. There can be no hope for the UN if it continues to operate on the basis of such erroneous assumptions, and it should not take another global war for the UN to be reformed to reflect this new and irreversible reality.

Palestinians Suffer as Trump Tears Up Rules-based Order

Washington’s decision to intensify swingeing aid cuts to the Palestinians – the latest targets include cancer patients and peace groups – reveals more than a simple determination to strong-arm the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table.

Under cover of a supposed peace effort, or “deal of the century”, the Trump administration hopes to solve problems closer to home. It wants finally to shake off the burden of international humanitarian law, and the potential for war crimes trials, that have overshadowed US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – and may yet prove treacherous in dealings with Iran.

The Palestinians have been thrust into the centre of this battle for good reason. They are the most troublesome legacy of a post-war, rules-based international order that the US is now committed to sweeping away. Amputate the Palestinian cause, an injustice festering for more than seven decades, and America’s hand will be freer elsewhere. Might will again be right.

An assault on the already fragile international order as it relates to the Palestinians began in earnest last month. The US stopped all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency that helps more than five million Palestinians languishing in camps across the Middle East.

The pressure sharpened last week when $25m in aid was blocked to hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide a lifeline to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, whose health services have withered under a belligerent Israeli occupation.

Then at the weekend, the US revealed it would no longer hand over $10m to peace groups fostering ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

The only significant transfer the US still makes is $60m annually to the Palestinian security services, which effectively enforce the occupation on Israel’s behalf. In short, that money benefits Israel, not the Palestinians.

At the same time, the Trump administration revoked the US visa of the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, shortly after shuttering his diplomatic mission. The Palestinians have been cast fully out into the cold.

Most observers wrongly assume that the screws are simply being tightened to force the Palestinians to engage with Mr Trump’s peace plan, even though it is nowhere in sight. Like an unwanted tin can, it has been kicked ever further down the road over the past year. A reasonable presumption is that it will never be unveiled. While the US keeps everyone distracted with empty talk, Israel gets on with its unilateral solutions.

The world is watching, nonetheless. The Palestinian community of Khan Al Ahmar, outside Jerusalem, appears to be days away from demolition. Israel intends to ethnically cleanse its inhabitants to clear the way for more illegal Jewish settlements in a key area that would eradicate any hope of a Palestinian state.

Mr Trump’s recent punitive actions are designed to choke into submission the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, just as Israel once secretly put Palestinians in Gaza on a starvation “diet” to make them more compliant. Israel’s long-standing collective punishment of Palestinians – constituting a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention – has now been supplemented by similar types of collective punishment by the US, against Palestinian refugees and cancer patients.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, admitted as much at the weekend. He told the New York Times that the cuts in aid were punishment for the Palestinian leadership “vilifying the [US] administration”.

In an apparent coded reference to international law, Mr Kushner added that it was time to change “false realities”. However feeble international institutions have proved, the Trump administration, like Israel, prefers to be without them.

In particular, both detest the potential constraints imposed by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is empowered to prosecute war crimes. Although it was established only in 2002, it draws on a body of international law and notions of human rights that date back to the immediate period after the Second World War.

The crimes committed by Zionist leaders in establishing Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland occurred in 1948, just as international law was being born. The Palestinians were among the first, and are still the most glaring, violation of that new rules-based global order.

Righting those historic wrongs is the biggest test of whether international law will ever amount to more than jailing the odd African dictator.

That the Palestinian cause continues to loom large was underscored this month by two challenges conducted in international forums.

Legislators from Israel’s large Palestinian minority have appealed to the United Nations to sanction Israel for recently passing the apartheid-like Nation-State Basic Law. It gives constitutional standing to institutionalised discrimination against the fifth of the population who are not Jewish.

And the Palestinian Authority has alerted the Hague court to the imminent destruction by Israel of Khan Al Ahmar. The ICC is already examining whether to bring a case against Israel over the settlements built on occupied land.

The US State Department has said the aid cuts and closure of the Palestinian embassy were prompted partly by “concerns” over the Hague referral. John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, meanwhile, has vowed to shield Israel from any war crimes trials.

Sitting on the fence have been the Europeans. Last week the European parliament passed a resolution warning that Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction and the “forcible transfer” of its inhabitants would be a “grave breach” of international law. In an unusual move, it also threatened to demand compensation from Israel for any damage to infrastructure in Khan Al Ahmar funded by Europe.

Europe’s leading states anxiously wish to uphold the semblance of an international order they believe has prevented their region’s descent into a Third World War. Israel and the US, on the other hand, are determined to use Palestine as the test bed for dismantling these protections.

The Israeli bulldozers sent to Khan Al Ahmar will also launch an assault on Europe and its resolve to defend international law and the Palestinians. When push comes to shove, will Europe’s nerve hold?

• First published in The National

US War Strategists: Military Defeats and Political Success

In a previous article (“US: The Century of Lost Wars“), I recorded the repeated US military defeats over the past two decades. In this discussion I will describe the role of military strategists who bear responsibility for the US defeats, but also for Israeli political successes.

The key to this apparent contradiction is to uncover how and why the destruction of Israeli adversaries prolonged costly US military invasions.

The two outcomes are inter-related. The same US military strategists whose policies lead to failed US wars in the Middle East facilitated and augmented the power of Israel.

US war strategists’ operations reflect ‘dual loyalties’. On the one-hand they receive their elite education and high positions in the US, while their political loyalties to Tel Aviv express their Israel-first strategic decisions.

Our hypothesis is that dual loyalist strategists have fabricated threats, identified adversaries and committed hundreds of thousands of US soldiers to losing wars based on calculations that effectively increase Israeli power and influence in the Middle East.

We will proceed by identifying the war strategists and their policies and conclude by proposing an alternative framework for re-thinking the relationship between dual citizens and military strategy.

The ‘Best and the Brightest’: The Blind Ally of Military Defeats

There is an apparent contradiction between the high academic achievements of elite military strategists and their abominable record in pursuing military conflicts.

Most, if not all, policy makers who led the US in prolonged wars against Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria were Israel-firsters, either Zionists or Israeli ‘fellow travelers’.

In each of these wars, the Israel-firster war strategists, (1) identified the enemy, (2) exaggerated the threat to the US, and (3) grossly inflated the military capacity of the targeted country. They started with Iraq and Afghanistan and then proceeded to the other nations, all opponents of Israel.

By ‘coincidence’ all countries supported the Palestinians’ rights of self-determination and opposed Israeli annexation and colonization of Arab lands.

Driven by their loyalty to Israel’s ‘expansionist goals’, the military strategists ignored the ‘real world’ political and economic costs to the US people and state. Professional and academic credentials, nepotism and tribal loyalties, each contributed to the Israel-firsters advance to securing strategic decision-making positions and elite advisory posts in the Pentagon, State Department, Treasury and White House.

Their policies led to an unending trillion-dollar war in Afghanistan; losing wars in Libya, Iraq and Syria; and costly economic sanctions against Iran.

The main beneficiary was Israel which confronted less political and military opposition; zero cost in lives and money; and substantial gains in territory.

Why did the Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, Johns Hopkins’ cum laude graduates repeatedly produce the worst possible military outcomes?

This was in part because the US acted as an instrument of another power (Israel). Moreover, the Israel-firsters never were obliged to reflect in self-criticism nor to admit their failures and rectify their disastrous strategies.

Their refusal to assume their responsibilities resulted from several causes. Their criteria for success were based on whether their policies advanced Israeli goals, not US interests.

Moreover, while their decisions were objectionable to US citizens, they were supported by the 52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organization, including the powerful Zionist lobby, AIPAC, which had been dictating Middle East policy to both political parties and the US Congress.

Ordinarily, military strategists, whose policies lead to repeated political disasters, are denounced, fired or even investigated for treasons. In our experience nothing of the sort happened.

The best and the brightest rotated between six-digit jobs in Washington to seven-digit positions on Wall Street, or secured positions in lucrative law firms in Washington and New York (many with offices in Israel) or were appointed to prestigious academic posts in Ivy League universities – and virtually all serve on corporate boards.

What Should be Done?

There are countervailing measures that can lessen the impact of the strategic policies of the Israel-firsters. Academic Israel-firsters should be encouraged to remain in academia where their harm would be limited to misleading their students, rather than serve Israel’s interest in the US State apparatus.

If they remain in the Ivory Tower they will inflict less destructive policies on American citizens and the state – and possibly be subjected to some form of peer review and honest debate.

Secondly, since the vast-majority of Israel-firsters are more likely to be arm chair war mongers, who have not risked their lives in any of the US wars that they promote, obligatory recruitment into combat zones might dampen their ardor for wars.

Thirdly, as matters stand, since many Israel-firsters have chosen to serve in the so-called Israeli Defense (sic) Force (IDF) they should reimburse US taxpayers for their free ride to education, health and welfare.

Fourthly, since most Israel-firsters, who volunteer to join the IDF, favor shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters, medics, journalists and kite-flying children, they should be drafted into the US Army to serve in Afghanistan and face the battle-hardened, committed Taliban fighters surrounding Kabul. This experience might knock a bit of realism in their dreams of converting the Middle East into tribal fiefdoms controlled by a ‘Greater Israel’.

Many national loyalties are forged by shared lives with families and friends of US soldiers who endure endless wars. Israel-firsters dispatched to the war front would receive existential experiences, by mingling with working class and rural American soldiers that the Harvard, Princeton and Yale military strategists who design these wars for Israel have failed to understand.

Obligatory courses on the genocide and ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Libyan people would enrich Israel-firsters understanding of the diversity of “holocausts’ in contemporary ethno-religious settings.

Face to face encounters in life threatening combat situations, where superior arms do not prevail, would deflate the hubris, arrogance and superiority complexes which fuel the tribal loyalties of Israel-firsters.

In conclusion, we offer modest suggestions for educated and cultured scientists, doctors, artists and entrepreneurs:

1. Convert your skills to training a new generation who will defend democratic values and social solidarity and eschew wars, persecution and phony calumny of anti-Semitism against critics of an ethnically exclusionary state.

2. Forsake exclusive control of the mass media which glorifies Israeli war crimes and denigrates critics as ‘anti-Semites’ for speaking truth to power.

Let’s join together to liberate America from military entanglements that privilege multi-billion-dollar giveaways to Israel while thirty million US workers lack health coverage, forty percent of upstate New York children live in poverty.

Yes, there is an honorable place for everyone who joins in solidarity with the victims of Israeli-first war strategists.

A “Gentleman’s Agreement”: How Oslo Worked Out as Planned for Israel

There will be no anniversary celebrations this week to mark the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington 25 years ago. It is a silver jubilee for which there will be no street parties, no commemorative mugs, no specially minted coins.

Palestinians have all but ignored the landmark anniversary, while Israel’s commemoration has amounted to little more than a handful of doleful articles in the Israeli press about what went wrong.

The most significant event has been a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, aired on Israeli TV and scheduled for broadcast in the US this week. It charts the events surrounding the creation of the peace accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington on 13 September 1993.

The euphoria generated by the Norwegian-initiated peace process a quarter of a century ago now seems wildly misplaced to most observers. The promised, phased withdrawals by Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories got stuck at an early stage.

And the powers of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian government-in-waiting that came out of Oslo, never rose above managing healthcare and collecting garbage in densely populated Palestinian areas, while coordinating with Israel on security matters.

All the current efforts to draw lessons from these developments have reached the same conclusion: that Oslo was a missed opportunity for peace, that the accords were never properly implemented, and that the negotiations were killed off by Palestinian and Israeli extremists.

Occupation reorganised

But analysts Middle East Eye has spoken to take a very different view.

“It is wrong to think of Oslo being derailed, or trying to identify the moment the Oslo process died,” says Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do.”

Michel Warschawski, an Israeli peace activist who developed strong ties with Palestinian leaders in the Oslo years, concurred.

“I and pretty much everyone else I knew at that time was taken in by the hype that the occupation was about to end. But in reality, Oslo was about reorganising the occupation, not ending it. It created a new division of labour.

“Rabin didn’t care much about whether the Palestinians got some indicators of sovereignty – a flag and maybe even a seat at the United Nations.

“But Israel was determined to continue controlling the borders, the Palestinians’ resources, the Palestinian economy. Oslo changed the division of labour by sub-contracting the hard part of Israel’s security to the Palestinians themselves.”

The accords were signed in the immediate aftermath of several years of a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – the First Intifada – that had proved costly to Israel, both in terms of casualties and treasure.

Under Oslo, Palestinian security forces patrolled the streets of Palestinian cities, overseen by and in close coordination with the Israeli military. The tab, meanwhile, was picked up by Europe and Washington.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper last week, Joel Singer, the Israeli government lawyer who helped to draft the accords, conceded as much. Rabin, he said, “thought it would enhance [Israeli] security to have the Palestinians as the ones fighting Hamas”.

That way, as Rabin once observed, the occupation would no longer be accountable to the “bleeding hearts” of the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s active human rights community.

Less than statehood

The widespread assumption that Oslo would lead to a Palestinian state was also mistaken, Buttu says.

She notes that nowhere in the accords was there mention of the occupation, a Palestinian state, or freedom for the Palestinians. And no action was specified against Israel’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Instead, the stated goal of the Oslo process was implementation of two outstanding United Nations resolutions – 242 and 338. The first concerned the withdrawal of the Israeli army from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war, while the second urged negotiations leading to a “just and durable peace”.

“I spoke to both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas [his successor as Palestinian president] about this,” said Buttu. “Their view was that clearer language, on Palestinian statehood and independence, would never have got past Rabin’s coalition.

“So Arafat treated resolutions 242 and 338 as code words. The Palestinian leadership referred to Oslo as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Their approach was beyond naïve; it was reckless. They behaved like amateurs.”

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University and expert on Palestinian nationalism, said the Palestinian leadership was aware from the outset that Israel was not offering real statehood.

“In his memoirs, Ahmed Qurei [one of the key architects of Oslo on the Palestinian side] admitted his shock when he started meetings with the Israeli team,” says Ghanem.

“Uri Savir [Israel’s chief negotiator] said outright that Israel did not favour a Palestinian state, and that something less was being offered. The Israelis’ attitude was ‘Take it or leave it’.”

Sympathy with settlers

All the analysts agreed that a lack of good faith on Israel’s part was starkly evident from the start, especially over the issue of the settlements.

Noticeably, rather than halt or reverse the expansion of the settlements during the supposed five-year transition period, Oslo allowed the settler population to grow at a dramatically accelerated rate.

The near-doubling of settler numbers in the West Bank and Gaza to 200,000 by the late 1990s was explained by Alan Baker, a legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry after 1996 and a settler himself, in an interview in 2003.

Most of the settlements were portrayed to the Israeli public as Israeli “blocs”, outside the control of the newly created PA. With the signing of the accords, Baker said, “we are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

Recent interviews with settler leaders by the Haaretz newspaper hint too at the ideological sympathy between Rabin’s supposedly leftist government and the settler movement.

Israel Harel, who then headed the Yesha Council, the settlers’ governing body, described Rabin as “very accessible”. He pointed out that Zeev Hever, another settler leader, sat with Israeli military planners as they created an “Oslo map”, carving up the West Bank into various areas of control.

Referring to settlements that most had assumed would be dismantled under the accords, Harel noted: “When [Hever] was accused [by other settlers] of cooperating, he would say he saved us from disaster. They [the Israeli army] marked areas that could have isolated settlements and made them disappear.”

Israel’s Oslo lawyer, Joel Singer, confirmed the Israeli leadership’s reluctance to address the issue of the settlements.

“We fought with the Palestinians, on Rabin and [Shimon] Peres’ orders, against a [settlement] freeze,” he told Haaretz. “It was a serious mistake to permit the settlements to continue to race ahead.”

Rabin’s refusal to act

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel’s south, said the critical test of Rabin’s will to tackle the settlements came less than a year into the Oslo process. It was then that Baruch Goldstein, a settler, killed and wounded more than 150 Palestinians at worship in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

“That gave Rabin the chance to remove the 400 extremist settlers who were embedded in the centre of Hebron,” Gordon said. “But he didn’t act. He let them stay.”

The lack of response from Israel fuelled a campaign of Hamas “revenge” suicide bombings that in turn were used by Israel to justify a refusal to withdraw from more of the occupied territories.

Warschawski said Rabin could have dismantled the settlements if he had acted quickly. “The settlers were in disarray in the early stages of Oslo, but he didn’t move against them.”

After Rabin’s assassination in late 1995, his successor Shimon Peres, also widely identified as an architect of the Oslo process, changed tactics, according to Warschawski. “Peres preferred to emphasise internal reconciliation [between Israelis] rather than reconciliation with the Palestinians. After that, the religious narrative of the extremist settlers came to dominate.”

That would lead a few months later to the electoral triumph of the right under Benjamin Netanyahu.

Demographic differential

Although Netanyahu campaigned vociferously against the Oslo Accords, they proved perfect for his kind of rejectionist politics, said Gordon.

Under cover of vague promises about Palestinian statehood, “Israel was able to bolster the settlement project,” in Gordon’s view. “The statistics show that, when there are negotiations, the demographic growth of the settler population in the West Bank increases. The settlements get rapidly bigger. And when there is an intifada, they slow down.

“So Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project.”

It was not only that, under the pressure of Oslo, religious settlers ran to “grab the hilltops”, as a famous army general and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, put it. Gordon pointed to a strategy by the government of recruiting a new type of settler during the initial Oslo years.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharon and others had tried to locate Russian-speaking new immigrants in large settlements like Ariel, in the central West Bank. “The problem was that many of the Russians had only one child,” Gordon said.

So instead, Israel began moving the ultra-Orthodox into the occupied territories. These fundamentalist religious Jews, Israel’s poorest community, typically have seven or eight children. They were desperate for housing solutions, noted Gordon, and the government readily provided incentives to lure them into two new ultra-Orthodox settlements, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit.

“After that, Israel didn’t need to recruit lots of new settlers,” Gordon said. “It just needed to buy time with the Oslo process and the settler population would grow of its own accord.

“The ultra-Orthodox became Israel’s chief demographic weapon. In the West Bank, Jewish settlers have on average two more children than Palestinians – that demographic differential has an enormous impact over time.”

Palestinian dependency

Buttu pointed to another indicator of how Israel never intended the Oslo Accords to lead to a Palestinian state. Shortly before Oslo, from 1991 onwards, Israel introduced much more severe restrictions on movement, including an increasingly sophisticated permit system.

“Movement from Gaza to the West Bank became possible only in essential cases,” she said. “It stopped being a right.”

That process, Ghanem noted, has been entrenched over the past quarter century, and ultimately led to complete physical and ideological separation between Gaza and the West Bank, now ruled respectively by Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Gordon observed that Oslo’s economic arrangements, governed by the 1995 Paris Protocol, stripped the Palestinians of financial autonomy too.

“The Palestinians did not get their own currency, they had to use the Israeli shekel. And a customs union made the Palestinians a dependent market for Israeli goods and empowered Israel to collect import duties on behalf of the PA. Refusing to transfer that money was a stick Israel has regularly wielded against the Palestinians.”

According to the analysts, those Palestinian leaders like Arafat who were allowed by the Oslo process to return from exile in Tunisia – sometimes referred to as the “outsiders” – were completely ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Gordon, who was at that time head of Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights, recalled meeting young Palestinian-Americans and Canadians in Cairo to discuss the coming health arrangements the PA would be responsible for.

“They were bright and well-educated, but they were clueless about what was happening on the ground. They had no idea what demands to make of Israel,” he said.

“Israel, on the other hand, had experts who knew the situation intimately.”

Warschawski has similar recollections. He took a senior Palestinian recently arrived from Tunis on a tour of the settlements. The official sat in his car in stunned silence for the whole journey.

“They knew the numbers but they had no idea how deeply entrenched the settlements were, how integrated they were into Israeli society,” he said. “It was then that they started to understand the logic of the settlements for the first time, and appreciate what Israel’s real intentions were.”

Lured into a trap

Warschawski noted that the only person in his circle who rejected the hype around the Oslo Accords from the very beginning was Matti Peled, a general turned peace activist who knew Rabin well.

“When we met for discussions about the Oslo Accords, Matti laughed at us. He said there would be no Oslo, there would be no process that would lead to peace.”

Ghanem said the Palestinian leadership eventually realised that they had been lured into a trap.

“They couldn’t move forward towards statehood, because Israel blocked their way,” he said. “But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either. They didn’t dare dismantle the PA, and so Israel came to control Palestinian politics.

“If Abbas leaves, someone else will take over the PA and its role will continue.”

Why did the Palestinian leadership enter the Oslo process without taking greater precautions?

According to Buttu, Arafat had reasons to feel insecure about being outside Palestine, along with other PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia, in ways that he hoped Oslo would solve.

“He wanted a foot back in Palestine,” she said. “He felt very threatened by the ‘inside’ leadership, even though they were loyal to him. The First Intifada had shown they could lead an uprising and mobilise the people without him.

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

According to Gordon, Arafat believed he would eventually be able to win concessions from Israel.

“He viewed it as trench warfare. Once he was in historic Palestine, he would move forward trench by trench.”

Warschawski noted that Arafat and other Palestinian leaders had told him they believed they would have significant leverage over Israel.

“Their view was that Israel would end the occupation in exchange for normalisation with the Arab world. Arafat saw himself as the bridge that would provide the recognition Israel wanted. His attitude was that Rabin would have to kiss his hand in return for such an important achievement.

“He was wrong.”

Gordon pointed to the early Oslo discourse about an economic dividend, in which it was assumed that peace would open up trade for Israel with the Arab world while turning Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East.

The “peace dividend”, however, was challenged by an equally appealing “war dividend”.

“Even before 9/11, Israel’s expertise in the realms of security and technology proved profitable. Israel realised there was lots of money to be made in fighting terror.”

In fact, Israel managed to take advantage of both the peace and war dividends.

Buttu noted that more than 30 countries, including Morocco and Oman, developed diplomatic or economic relations with Israel as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Arab states relented on their boycott and anti-normalisation policies, and major foreign corporations no longer feared being penalised by the Arab world for trading with Israel.

“Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan [in 1994] could never have happened without Oslo,” she said.

“Instead of clear denunciations of the occupation, the Palestinians were saddled with the language of negotiations and compromises for peace.

“The Palestinians became a charity case, seeking handouts from the Arab world so that the PA could help with the maintenance of the occupation rather than leading the resistance.

“Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Veiled Danger of the “Dead” Oslo Accords

Yossi Beilin is back. This unrepentant Israeli ‘peacemaker’ is like the mythical phoenix, constantly resurrecting from its own ashes. In a recent article in Al-Monitor, Beilin wrote in support of the idea of a confederation between Israel and Palestine.

A confederation “could prevent the need to evacuate settlers and allow those interested to live in Palestine as Israeli citizens, just as a similar number of Palestinian citizens could live in Israel,” he wrote.

Bizarrely, Beilin is promoting a version of an idea that was promoted by Israel’s extremist Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

The difference between Beilin and Lieberman is in how we choose to perceive them: the former was the godfather of the Oslo Accords 25 years ago, a well-known political ‘dove’ and the former Chairman of the ‘left-leaning’ Meretz party. Lieberman, on the other hand, is purportedly the exact opposite.

Yet, when Lieberman suggested population transfer and territorial swaps, all hell broke loose. When Beilin did it, his efforts were perceived as an honest attempt at reviving the dormant ‘peace process.’

That is the brilliance of Beilin, his followers and the whole ‘peace process’ that culminated in the Oslo Accords and the famous White House handshake between the late PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, and the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in September 1993. They successfully branded this hideous infringement on international law as a sincere effort at achieving peace between two conflicting parties.

The Donald Trump Administration has long surpassed Oslo and its tired clichés of ‘peace process’, ‘painful compromises’ and ‘trust building’ exercises, etc., as it is promoting something else entirely, the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’.

But Oslo will not go away. It remains a problem because the intellectual foundation that led to its conception is still firmly in place – where only Israel matters and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are still inconsequential.

While Beilin is no longer an influential politician, there are many Yossi Beilins who are still lurking, playing the role of ‘peacemakers‘, meeting behind closed doors, on the sideline of conferences, offering their services as interlocutors, wheelers and dealers, and saviors.

The late Palestinian Professor, Edward Said, was not prophesying when he warned of the disastrous future consequences of Oslo as it was being signed. He was dismissed by mainstream media and pundits as radical, lumped with the other ‘enemies of peace’ on ‘both sides’. But, he, like many other Palestinians, was right.

“Labor and Likud leaders alike made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in noncontiguous, economically unviable enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories’ integrity,” he wrote in The Nation.

The colonization of Palestine, for the first time, was accelerating with the consent of the Palestinian leadership. The PLO was turned into a local body with the inception of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. The rights of millions of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora were relegated. The West Bank was divided to areas A, B and C, each governed by different rules, mostly under the control of the Israeli military.

The ‘Palestinian revolution’ turned into an agonizing process of ‘state building’, but without state or even contiguous territories. Palestinians who rejected the horrific outcomes of Oslo – protracted expansion of Jewish colonies, continued violent Occupation, normalized through ‘security coordination’ between Israel and the PA – were often abused and deemed extremists.

Meanwhile, successive US administrations continued to fund and defend Israel, unconcerned about its self-tailored job title as the ‘honest peace broker.’

The PA played along because the perks were far too lucrative to be abandoned on principle. A new class of Palestinians had risen, dependent on Oslo for its wealth and affluence.

Even when the Trump Administration cut off the Palestinian Refugees Agency, UNRWA, of all funds, and scrapped the $200 million in humanitarian aid to the PA, the US still released $61 million dollars to the PA to maintain its ‘security cooperation’ with Israel. ‘Israel’s security’ is just too sacred a bond to be broken.

This is why Oslo remains dangerous. It is not the agreement itself that matters, but the mindset behind it – the political and diplomatic discourse that is wholly manufactured to serve Israel exclusively.

In January 2017, Daniel Pipes of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum came up with what seemed like a puerile idea: a ‘way to peace’ between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the simple declaration that Israel has won.

The new strategy requires little by way of negotiations. It merely entails that Israel declares ‘victory’, which Pipes defined as “imposing one’s will on the enemy, compelling him through loss to give up his war ambitions.’

As unconscionable as Pipes’ logic was, a few months later, Congressional Republicans in the US launched the “Israel Victory Caucus.” The co-Chair of the Caucus, Rep. Bill Johnson, ‘predicted’ in April 2017 that Trump would soon be heading to Israel to announce the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Since then, the US is obviously following a blueprint of a strategy in which the US advances Israel’s ‘victory’, while imposing conditions of surrender on defeated Palestinians. Despite its more diplomatic and legal language, that was also the essence of Oslo.

Trump, to the satisfaction of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may think that he has single handedly destroyed the Oslo Accords or whatever remained of it. However, judging by his words and actions, Trump has indicated that the spirit of Oslo remains alive: the bribes, the bullying and the fighting for that coveted and final Israeli ‘victory.’

Oslo is not a specific legal document that can be implemented or rejected. It is a spectrum in which the likes of Beilin, Lieberman and Pipes have more in common than they may think, and in which the fate of the Palestinian people is left to inept leaders, incapable of thinking outside the permissible space allocated to them by the Israelis and the Americans.

Unfortunately, Abbas and his Authority are still reveling at the expense of the empty space that is Oslo, not the ‘accords’ – provisions, stipulations and heaps of paper – but the corrupt culture – money, perks and unmitigated defeat.

A New Capital? Palestinians say Abu Dis is No Substitute for East Jerusalem

From the offputting concrete edifice that confronts a visitor to Abu Dis, the significance of this West Bank town – past and present – is not immediately obvious.

The eight metre-high grey slabs of Israel’s separation wall silently attest to a divided land and a quarter-century of a failed Middle East peace process.

The entrance to Abu Dis could not be more disconcerting, given reports that Donald Trump’s administration intends it to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, in place of Jerusalem.

The wall, and the security cameras lining the top of it, are the legacy of battles for control of Jerusalem’s borders. Sections of concrete remain charred black by fires residents set years ago in the forlorn hope of weakening the structure and bringing it down.

Before the wall was erected more than a decade ago, Abu Dis had a spectacular view across the valley to Jerusalem’s Old City and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock, less than three kilometres away. It was a few minutes’ drive – or an hour’s hike – to Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed location of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Now, for many of the 13,000 inhabitants, Jerusalem might as well as be on another planet. They can no longer reach its holy places, markets, schools or hospitals.

Abu Dis, say its residents, is hemmed in on all sides – by Israel’s oppressive wall; by illegal Jewish settlements encroaching relentlessly on what is left of its lands; and by a large, Israeli-run landfill site that, according to experts, is a threat to human health.

The Palestinian authorities do not even control Abu Dis. The Israeli security cameras watch over it and armoured jeeps full of Israeli soldiers make forays at will into its crowded streets.

Perhaps fittingly, given the Palestinians’ current plight, Abu Dis feels more like it is being gradually turned into one wing of a dystopian open-air prison than a capital-in-waiting.

Abu Dis repackaged

Nonetheless, the town has been thrust into the spotlight. Rumours have intensified that US President Trump’s promised peace plan – what he terms the “deal of the century” – is nearing completion. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been drafting it for more than a year.

Back in January Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, confirmed for the first time that the White House was leaning on him to accept Abu Dis as his capital.

The issue has become highly charged for Palestinians since May, when Mr Trump overturned decades of diplomatic consensus by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That appeared to overturn a once widely shared assumption that Israel would be required to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967, and allow the Palestinians to declare it their capital.

Instead Mr Kushner and his team appear to believe they can repackage Abu Dis, just outside the city limits, as a substitute capital.

How plausible is it that the Palestinians can accept a ghettoised, anonymous community like Abu Dis for such a pivotal role in their nation-building project?

Symbolic power

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, said Mr Trump would find no takers among the Palestinian leadership.

“A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital simply won’t work. It’s not credible,” he said. “It’s not just Jerusalem’s religious and historic significance. It also has strategic, economic and geographic importance to Palestinians.”

The people of Abu Dis appear to feel the same way, with many pointing to Jerusalem’s enormous symbolic power, as well as the potential role of international tourism in developing the Palestinian economy.

Abu Dis, however, is unlikely ever to attract visitors, even should it get a dramatic makeover.

The approach road, skirting the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, home to 40,000 Jews, is adorned with red signs warning that it is dangerous for Israelis to enter the area.

The section of wall at the entrance to Abu Dis alludes to the residents’ growing anger and frustration – not only with Israel but some of their own leaders.

Artists have spray-painted a giant image of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by Israel for the past 16 years. It shows him lifting his handcuffed hands to make a V-for-victory sign.

But noticeably, next to him is a much smaller image of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose face has been painted out. He has come under mounting domestic criticism for maintaining Palestinian “security cooperation” with Israel’s occupation forces.

Resentment at such cooperation is felt especially keenly in Abu Dis. Large iron gates in the wall give the Israeli army ready access in and out of the town.

An orphaned town

Under the Oslo accords signed in the mid-1990s, all of Abu Dis was placed temporarily under Israeli military control, and most of it under Israel’s civil control also. That temporary status appears to have become permanent, leaving residents at the whim of hostile Israeli authorities who deny building permits and readily issue demolition orders.

The restrictions mean Abu Dis lacks most of the infrastructure one would associate with a city, let alone a capital.

Abdulwahab Sabbah, a local community activist, said: “We are now a small island of territory controlled by the Israeli army.

“Not only have we lost our schools, the hospitals we once used, our holy places, the job opportunities that the city offered. Families have been split apart too, unable to visit their relatives in Jerusalem.

“We have been orphaned. We have lost Jerusalem, our mother.”

A short drive into Abu Dis and the shell of a huge building comes into view, a reminder that the idea of an Abu Dis upgrade is not the Trump administration’s alone.

In fact, noted Mr Khatib, Israel began rebranding Abu Dis as a second “Al Quds” – the Holy City, the Arabic name for Jerusalem – in the late 1990s, after the Oslo agreement allowed Palestinian leaders to return to Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership, desperate to get a foothold closer to the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, played along. They expected that Israel would eventually relinquish Abu Dis to full Palestinian control, allowing it to be annexed to East Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

View of al-Aqsa

In 1996 the Palestinians began work building a $4 million parliament on the side of Abu Dis closest to Jerusalem. The location was selected so that the office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have a view of Al Aqsa.

Reports from that time talk of Abu Dis becoming a gateway, or “safe corridor”, for West Bank Palestinians to reach the mosque. One proposal was to build a tunnel between Abu Dis and the Old City.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 2000 – a Palestinian intifada – work on the parliament came to a halt. The interior was never finished, and there is now no view of Al Aqsa. The parliament too is sealed off from Jerusalem by the wall.

Since then Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from having any role in East Jerusalem.

Khalil Erekat, a caretaker, holds the key to the unused parliament. Once visitors could inspect the building, including its glass-domed central chamber. Now, he said, only pigeons and the odd stray dog or snake ventured inside.

“No one comes any more,” he added. “The place has been forgotten.”

And that, it seems, is the way Palestinian officials would prefer it. With the Trump administration mooting the town as a substitute capital, the parliament is now an embarrassing white elephant.

Requests from The National to the Palestinian authorities to visit the building were rejected on the grounds that it was no longer structurally safe.

Eyesore ghetto

Evidence of how quickly Israel has transformed Abu Dis from a rural suburb of Jerusalem into an eyesore ghetto are evident in the homes around the parliament.

A once-palatial four-storey home next door would be more in place in war-ravaged Gaza than an impending capital. Its collapsed top floors sit precariously above the rest of the structure.

Mohammed Anati, a retired carpenter aged 64, is a tenant occupying the bottom floor with his wife and three sons.

He said the destruction was carried out by the Jerusalem municipality several years ago, apparently because the upper floors were built in violation of planning rules Israeli military authorities imposed after 1967.

Neighbours speculate that, in fact, Israel was more concerned that the top of the building provided views over the wall.

Mr Anati said that, paradoxically, the Jerusalem municipality treated this small neighbourhood next to the wall as within its jurisdiction. “We have to pay council taxes to Jerusalem even though we are cut off from the city and receive no services,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Abu Dis could be a Palestinian capital, Mr Anati scoffed. “Trump will offer us the worst deal of the century,” he said. “Jerusalem has to be the capital. There is nothing of Jerusalem here since Israel built the wall.”

Only pigeons still free

Nearby, Ghassan Abu Hillel’s two-storey home presses up against the grey slabs of concrete. He said cameras on the top of the wall monitored his and his neighbours’ activities around the clock.

His family moved to this house in 1967, when he was 14 years old, and shortly before Israel occupied Abu Dis, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Until the wall was constructed, he spent his time herding sheep and goats on the surrounding hills.

Now he has had to corral then into a corner of the wall. Their improvised pen is daubed with graffiti: “Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

His herd of what was once more than 200 sheep is down to barely a dozen. The animals can no longer graze out on the hills, and he cannot afford the cost of feeding them straw.

Unlike Mr Abu Hillel and the sheep, his pigeons still enjoy their freedom. “They can fly over the wall and reach Jerusalem whenever they want,” he said.

His family owned much of the land surrounding Abu Dis before 1967, he added, but almost all of it had been taken by Israel – originally on the pretext that it was needed for military purposes.

Since then, Israel has built a series of Jewish settlements on the surrounding land, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and Kedar.

In the early 1980s it also opened a landfill site to cope with the region’s waste. In 2009 the United Nations warned that toxic fumes from waste-burning and leakage into the groundwater posed a threat to local inhabitants’ health.

A bluff from Israel

Some residents are actively finding ways to break out of the isolation imposed on Abu Dis by Israel.

Mr Sabbah is a founder of the Friendship Association, which encourages exchange programmes with European students, teachers and youth clubs. His most successful project is the twinning of Abu Dis with the London borough of Camden.

Mr Sabbah’s prominent political activities may be one reason why his home – along with the local mayor’s – was one of 10 invaded in the middle of the night on September 4.

The operation had the hallmarks of what former Israeli soldiers from the whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence have termed “establishing presence” – military training exercises designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinian communities and spread fear.

Mr Sabbah is sceptical that the Abu Dis proposal by the Trump administration has been made in good faith.

“It’s a bluff,” he said. “Israel has shown through all its actions that it does not want any Palestinian state – and that means no capital, even in Abu Dis.

“It is being offered only because Israel knows no Palestinian leader could ever accept it as a capital. And that way Israel can again blame us for being the ones to reject their version of ‘peace’.”

An oasis of normality

Amid its confinement, however, Abu Dis does have one asset – a university – that now attracts thousands of young Palestinians, though it adds to overcrowding.

The main campus of the Palestinian-run Al Quds university has been operating in Abu Dis since the 1980s.

Sitting on the crossroads between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Nablus to the south, Jericho to the east, and Ramallah to the north, the Abu Dis campus has grown rapidly. It has profited from the fact that West Bank Palestinians cannot access another campus of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

The university is enclosed and security is tight. Inside, students enjoy spacious grounds with shaded gardens, a small oasis of normality where it is possible briefly to forget the situation outside.

Nonetheless, the university is not immune from Israeli military operations either. On September 5, soldiers shut down the campus and nearby schools, as they reportedly fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths.

Omar Mahmoud, aged 23, a medical student from Nablus, raised his eyebrows at the suggestion that Abu Dis could serve as the Palestinians’ capital.

“It’s fully under Israeli control,” he said. “One side there is the wall and on the other side there are Israeli settlements. There are no services and it just gets more crowded by the year.”

He has shared an apartment with other students in Abu Dis for five years. He said: “To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

• First published in The National