Category Archives: Palestinian Authority

Thomas Friedman’s last gasp

Thomas Friedman’s recent column in the New York Times reflecting on Israel’s 11-day destruction of Gaza is a showcase for the delusions of liberal Zionism: a constellation of thought that has never looked so threadbare. It seems that every liberal newspaper needs a Thomas Friedman – the UK’s Guardian has Jonathan Freedland – whose role is to keep readers from considering realistic strategies for Israel-Palestine, however often and catastrophically the established ones have failed. In this case, Friedman’s plea for Joe Biden to preserve the ‘potential of a two-state solution’ barely conceals his real goal: resuscitating the discourse of an illusory ‘peace process’ from which everyone except liberal Zionists has moved on. His fear is that the debate is quietly shifting outside this framework – towards the recognition that Israel is a belligerent apartheid regime, and the conclusion that one democratic state for Palestinians and Jews is now the only viable solution.

For more than five decades, the two-state solution – of a large, ultra-militarized state for Israel, and a much smaller, demilitarized one for Palestinians – has been the sole paradigm of the Western political and media class. During these years, a Palestinian state failed to materialize despite (or more likely because of) various US-backed ‘peace processes’. While Americans and Europeans have consoled themselves with such fantasies, Israel has only paid them lip-service, enforcing a de facto one-state solution premised on Jewish supremacy over Palestinians, and consolidating its control over the entire territory.

But in recent years, Israel’s naked settler-colonial actions have imperiled that Western paradigm. It has become increasingly evident that Israel is incapable of making peace with the Palestinians because its state ideology – Zionism – is based on their removal or eradication. What history has taught us is that the only just and lasting way to end a ‘conflict’ between a native population and a settler-colonial movement is decolonization, plus the establishment of a single, shared, democratic state. Otherwise, the settlers continue to pursue their replacement strategies – which invariably include ethnic cleansing, communal segregation and genocide. These were precisely the tactics adopted by European colonists in the Americas, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Friedman’s function in the Western media – conscious or not – is to obfuscate these historical lessons, tapping into a long legacy of unthinking colonial racism.

One of the central pillars of that legacy is an abiding fear of the native and his supposedly natural savagery. This has always been the unspoken assumption behind the interminable two-state ‘peace process’. A civilized and civilizing West tries to broker a ‘peace deal’ to protect Israel from the Palestinian hordes next door. But the Palestinians continuously ‘reject’ these peace overtures because of their savage nature – which is in turn presented as the reason why Israel must ethnically cleanse them and herd them into reservations, or Bantustans, away from Jewish settlers. Occasionally, Israel is forced to ‘retaliate’ – or defend itself from this savagery – in what becomes an endless ‘cycle of violence’. The West supports Israel with military aid and preferential trade, while watching with exasperation as the Palestinian leadership fails to discipline its people.

Friedman is an expert at exploiting this colonial mentality. He often avoids taking direct responsibility for his racist assumptions, attributing them to ‘centrist Democrats’ or other right-minded observers. Coded language is his stock in trade, serving to heighten the unease felt by western audiences as the natives try to regain a measure of control over their future. In some cases the prejudicial framing is overt, as with his concern about the threat of an ascendant Hamas to women’s and LGBTQ rights, couched in an identity politics he knows will resonate with NYT readers. But more often his framing is insidious, with terms like ‘decimate’ and ‘blow up’ deployed to cast Palestinians’ desire for self-determination as violent and menacing.

Friedman’s promotion of the two-state model offers a three-layered deception. First, he writes that the two-state solution would bring ‘peace’, without acknowledging that the condition for that peace is the Palestinians’ permanent ghettoization and subjugation. Second, he blames the Palestinians for rejecting just such ‘peace plans’, even though they have never been seriously offered by Israel. And finally, he has the chutzpah to imply that it was the Palestinians’ failure to negotiate a two-state solution that ‘decimated’ the Israeli ‘peace camp’.

Such arguments are not only based on Friedman’s dehumanizing view of Arabs. They are also tied to his domestic political concerns. He fears that if Joe Biden were to acknowledge the reality that Israel has sabotaged the two-state solution, then the President might disengage once and for all from the ‘peace process’. Of course, most Palestinians would welcome such an end to US interference: the billions of dollars funnelled annually to the Israeli military, the US diplomatic cover for Israel, and the arm-twisting of other states to silently accept its atrocities. But, Friedman argues, this withdrawal would carry a heavy price at home, setting off a civil war within Biden’s own party and within Jewish organizations across the US. God forbid, it might ‘even lead to bans on arms sales’ to Israel.

Friedman reminds us of Israeli businessman Gidi Grinstein’s warning that in the absence of a ‘potential’ two-state solution, US support for Israel could morph ‘from a bipartisan issue to a wedge issue’. The columnist writes that preserving the two-state ‘peace process’, however endless and hopeless, is ‘about our national security interests in the Middle East’. How does Friedman define these interests? They are reducible, he says, to ‘the political future of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party.’ A ‘peace process’ once designed to salve the consciences of Americans while enabling the dispossession of Palestinians has now been redefined as a vital US national security issue – because, for Friedman, its survival is necessary to preserve the dominance of foreign policy hawks in the Democratic machine. The argument echoes Biden’s extraordinarily frank admission made back in 1986 that ‘were there not an Israel the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region’.

Friedman then concludes his article with a set of proposals that unwittingly expose the true consequences of a two-state settlement. He insists that Biden build on his predecessor’s much ridiculed ‘peace plan’, which gave US blessing to Israel’s illegal settlements on vast swaths of the occupied West Bank, penning Palestinians into their Bantustans indefinitely. Trump’s plan also sought to entrench Israel’s control over occupied East Jerusalem, remake Gaza as a permanent battlefield on which rivalries between Fatah and Hamas would intensify, and turn the wealth of the theocratic Gulf states into a weapon, fully integrating Israel into the region’s economy while making the Palestinians even more dependent on foreign aid. Polite NYT opinionators now want Biden to sell these measures as a re-engagement with the ‘peace process’.

The US, writes Friedman, should follow Trump in stripping the Palestinians of a capital in East Jerusalem – the economic, religious and historic heart of Palestine. Arab states should reinforce this dispossession by moving their embassies from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem. Neighbouring countries are encouraged to pressure the Palestinian Authority, via aid payments, to accede even more cravenly to Israel’s demands. (Of course, Friedman does not think it worth mentioning that Palestine is aid-dependent because Israel has either stolen or seized control of all its major resources.)

Once this subordinate position is guaranteed, divisions within the Palestinian national movement can be inflamed by making Hamas – plus the two million Palestinians in Gaza – dependent on the PA’s patronage. Friedman wants the Fatah-led PA to decide whether to send aid to the Gaza Strip or join Israel in besieging the enclave to weaken Hamas. For good measure, he also urges the Gulf states to cut off support to the United Nations aid agencies, like UNRWA, which have kept millions of Palestinian refugees fed and cared for since 1948. The international community’s already feeble commitment to the rights of Palestinian refugees will thus be broken, and the diaspora will be forcibly absorbed into their host countries.

Such proposals are the last gasp of a discredited liberal Zionism. Friedman visibly flounders as he tries to put the emperor’s clothes back on a two-state solution which stands before us in all its ugliness. The Western model of ‘peace-making’ was always about preserving Jewish supremacy. Now, at least, the illusions are gone.

• First published in New Left Review

The post Thomas Friedman’s last gasp first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel

How did Benjamin Netanyahu manage to serve as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister? With a total of 15 years in office, Netanyahu surpassed the 12-year mandate of Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The answer to this question will become particularly critical for future Israeli leaders who hope to emulate Netanyahu’s legacy, now that his historic leadership is likely to end.

Netanyahu’s ‘achievements’ for Israel cannot be judged according to the same criteria as that of Ben Gurion. Both were staunch Zionist ideologues and savvy politicians. Unlike Ben Gurion, though, Netanyahu did not lead a so-called ‘war of independence’, merging militias into an army and carefully constructing a ‘national narrative’ that helped Israel justify its numerous crimes against the indigenous Palestinians, at least in the eyes of Israel and its supporters.

The cliched explanation of Netanyahu’s success in politics is that he is a ‘survivor’, a hustler, a fox or, at best, a political genius. However, there is more to Netanyahu than mere soundbites. Unlike other right-wing politicians around the world, Netanyahu did not simply exploit or ride the wave of an existing populist movement. Instead, he was the main architect of the current version of Israel’s right-wing politics. If Ben Gurion was the founding father of Israel in 1948, Netanyahu is the founding father of the new Israel in 1996. While Ben Gurion and his disciples used ethnic cleansing, colonization and illegal settlement construction for strategic and military reasons, Netanyahu, while carrying on with the same practices, changed the narrative altogether.

For Netanyahu, the biblical version of Israel was far more convincing than secular Zionist ideology of yesteryears. By changing the narrative, Netanyahu managed to redefine the support for Israel around the world, bringing together right-wing religious zealots, chauvinistic, Islamophobic, far-right and ultra-nationalist parties in the US and elsewhere.

Netanyahu’s success in rebranding the centrality of the idea of Israel in the minds of its traditional supporters was not a mere political strategy. He also shifted the balance of power in Israel by making Jewish extremists and illegal settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories his core constituency. Subsequently, he reinvented Israeli conservative politics altogether.

He also trained an entire generation of Israeli right-wing, far-right and ultra-nationalist politicians, giving rise to such unruly characters such as former Defense Minister and the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, and former Defense Minister, and Netanyahu’s likely replacement, Naftali Bennett.

Indeed, a whole new generation of Israelis grew up watching Netanyahu take the right-wing camp from one success to another. For them, he is the savior. His hate-filled rallies and anti-peace rhetoric in the mid-1990s galvanized Jewish extremists, one of whom killed Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s former Prime Minister who engaged the Palestinian leadership through the ‘peace process’ and, ultimately, signed the Oslo Accords.

On Rabin’s death in November 1995, Israel’s political ‘left’ was devastated by right-wing populism championed by its new charismatic leader, Netanyahu, who, merely a few months later, became Israel’s youngest Prime Minister.

Despite the fact that, historically, Israeli politics is defined by its ever-changing dynamics, Netanyahu has helped the right prolong its dominance, completely eclipsing the once-hegemonic Labor Party. This is why the right loves Netanyahu. Under his reign, illegal Jewish colonies expanded unprecedentedly, and any possibility, however meager, of a two-state solution has been forever buried.

Additionally, Netanyahu changed the relationship between the US and Israel, where the latter was no longer a ‘client regime’ – not that it ever was in the strict definition of the term – but one that holds much sway over the US Congress and the White House.

Every attempt by Israel’s political elites to dislodge Netanyahu from power has failed. No coalition was powerful enough; no election outcome was decisive enough and no one was successful enough in convincing Israeli society that he could do more for them than Netanyahu has. Even when Gideon Sa’ar from Netanyahu’s own Likud party tried to stage his own coup against Netanyahu, he lost the vote and the support of the Likudists, later to be ostracized altogether.

Sa’ar later founded his own party, New Hope, continuing with the desperate attempt to oust the seemingly unconquerable Netanyahu. Four general elections within only two years still failed to push Netanyahu out. Every possible mathematical equation to unify various coalitions, all united by the single aim of defeating Netanyahu, has also failed. Each time, Netanyahu came back, with greater resolve to hang on to his seat, challenging contenders within his own party as well as his enemies from without. Even Israel’s court system, which is currently trying Netanyahu for corruption, was not powerful enough to compel disgraced Netanyahu to resign.

Until May of this year, Palestinians seemed to be marginal, if at all relevant to this conversation. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation looked as if they were mollified, thanks to Israeli violence and Palestinian Authority acquiescence. Palestinians in Gaza, despite occasional displays of defiance, were battling a 15-year-long Israeli siege. Palestinian communities inside Israel seemed alien to any political conversation pertaining to the struggle and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

All of these illusions were dispelled when Gaza rose in solidarity with a small Palestinian community in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Their resistance ignited a torrent of events that, within days, unified all Palestinians, everywhere. Consequently, the popular Palestinian revolt has shifted the discourse in favor of Palestinians and against the Israeli occupation.

Perfectly depicting the significance of that moment, the Financial Times newspaper wrote, “The ferocity of the Palestinian anger caught Israel by surprise.” Netanyahu, whose extremist goons were unleashed against Palestinians everywhere, similar to his army being unleashed against besieged Gaza, found himself at an unprecedented disadvantage. It took only 11 days of war to shatter Israel’s sense of ‘security’, expose its sham democracy and spoil its image around the world.

The once untouchable Netanyahu became the mockery of Israeli politics. His conduct in Gaza was described by leading Israeli politicians as “embarrassing”, a defeat and a “surrender”.

Netanyahu struggled to redeem his image. It was too late. As strange as this may sound, it was not Bennett or Lieberman who finally dethroned the “King of Israel’, but the Palestinians themselves.

The post On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Media Hides Canadian Support for Israeli Apartheid

The dominant media permit only a narrow spectrum of opinion regarding Canadian foreign policy. Their refusal to report critical information about this country’s foreign policy can be startling. Even journalists who uncover illuminating internal government files put the information down the memory hole.

Recently Canadian Press journalist Lee Berthiaume reported on Canada’s military mission in the occupied West Bank in “Canadian troops, Mounties get front row seats to Israeli-Palestinian clashes”. The story reports that there are 23 Canadian troops and 3 RCMP members currently part of Operation Proteus, which trains Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces as part of a mission led by the Office of the United States Security Coordinator.

Strangely, the puff piece ignored how Canadian military trainers and aid have supported the creation of a Palestinian security force explicitly to enforce Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, a fact that Berthiaume previously reported.

In a 2013 story Berthiaume quoted an internal 2012 note signed by then Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs that read:  “There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform.” He further quotes Biggs stating, “the Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” The heavily censored note suggests the goal of Canadian “aid” was to protect a corrupt Mahmoud Abbas led PA, whose electoral mandate expired in 2009, from popular backlash. Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Surely this is important background information for a story about the recent work of Canadian troops and police in the West Bank.

In my 2016 book A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and exploitation I cite Berthiaume’s 2013 revelation as an example of how critical information is reported on and then ignored. “Even when dissidents’ claims are proven by leading reporters through access to information requests,” I wrote, “the result is often sent down the memory hole. Internal government documents unearthed by foreign policy journalist Lee Berthiaume about Canada’s $300 million, five-year aid program to the Palestinians is a prime example…. Berthiaume effectively confirmed that Canadian aid money was used to train a Palestinian security force to serve as an arm of Israel’s occupation. While Berthiaume’s article was reported in a number of Postmedia papers, there was no commentary in a major paper or follow-up stories about Biggs’ internal note or Operation Proteus, Canada’s effort to build a Palestinian security force under the US military’s direction (with the exception of stories in small town papers covering individual police or soldiers leaving for the mission).”

At the time of writing this I was unaware of the depth of the suppression. Apparently, the information was so efficiently sent down the memory hole that the journalist who uncovered the internal documents won’t even mention it when reporting on the subject!

And this is not simply a matter of historical interest. Canada continues to plow significant resources into PA security forces. In 2019-20 the military allocated $5 million to Operation Proteus and millions of dollars more in Canadian “aid” supports Palestinian security forces. In 2018 the Trudeau government initiated the $1.25 million “Empowering the Palestinian Security Sector” and the $1.365 million “Security Sector Capacity Building in the West Bank” projects. According to Global Affairs’ description of the latter initiative, “these activities complement the ongoing institutional capacity-building efforts by Operation PROTEUS, Canada’s contribution to the United States Security Coordinator.”

More recent research continues to demonstrate who this this “aid” is designed to help.

Drawing on previously classified materials, Carleton criminology professor Jeffrey Monaghan details Canada’s role in turning Palestinian security forces in the West Bank into an effective arm of Israel’s occupation. In Security Aid: Canada and the Development Regime of Security, Monaghan describes a $1.5 million Canadian contribution to Joint Operating Centers whose “main focus … is to integrate elements of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces into Israeli command.” He writes about Canada’s “many funding initiatives to the PCP [Palestinian Civilian Police]” which “has increasingly been tasked by the Israeli Defence Forces as a lead agency to deal with public order policing, most recently during IDF bombings in Gaza and during Arab Spring demonstrations.”

In a 2019 assessment of 80 donor reports from nine countries/institutions titled “Donor Perceptions of Palestine: Limits to Aid Effectiveness,” Jeremy Wildeman concludes that Canada, the US and International Monetary Fund employed the most anti-Palestinian language. “Canada and the US,” the academic writes, “were preoccupied with providing security for Israel from Palestinian violence, but not Palestinians from Israeli violence, effectively inverting the relationship of occupier and occupied.”

A great deal of Canada’s supposed “assistance” to the Palestinians — who have less than one-twentieth their occupier’s per capita GDP — is, in fact, explicitly designed to aid Israel. This is information Canadians need to know to judge what the government does with their taxes. But the dominant media largely ignores this and the other innumerable ways Canada supports Israeli apartheid.

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Palestine’s Moment: Despite Massive Losses, Palestinians Have Altered the Course of History

The ‘Palestinian Revolt of 2021’ will go down in history as one of the most influential events that irreversibly shaped collective thinking in and around Palestine. Only two other events can be compared with what has just transpired in Palestine: the revolt of 1936 and the First Intifada of 1987.

The general strike and rebellion of 1936-39 were momentous because they represented the first unmistakable expression of collective Palestinian political agency. Despite their isolation and humble tools of resistance, the Palestinian people rose across Palestine to challenge British and Zionist colonialism, combined.

The Intifada of 1987 was also historic. It was the unprecedented sustainable collective action that unified the occupied West Bank and Gaza after the Israeli occupation of what remained of historic Palestine in 1967. That legendary popular revolt, though costly in blood and sacrifices, allowed Palestinians to regain the political initiative and to, once more, speak as one people.

That Intifada was eventually thwarted after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. For Israel, Oslo was a gift from the Palestinian leadership that allowed it to suppress the Intifada and use the then newly invented Palestinian Authority (PA) to serve as a buffer between the Israeli military and occupied, oppressed Palestinians.

Since those years, the history of Palestine has taken on a dismal trajectory, one of disunity, factionalism, political rivalry and, for the privileged few, massive wealth. Nearly four decades have been wasted on a self-defeating political discourse centered on American-Israeli priorities, mostly concerned with ‘Israeli security’ and ‘Palestinian terrorism’.

Old but befitting terminologies such as ‘liberation’, ‘resistance’ and ‘popular struggle’, were replaced with more ‘pragmatic’ language of ‘peace process’, ‘negotiation table’ and ‘shuttle diplomacy’. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, according to this misleading discourse, was depicted as a ‘conflict’ and ‘dispute’, as if basic human rights were the subject of political interpretation.

Predictably, the already powerful Israel became more emboldened, tripling the number of its illegal colonies in the West Bank along with the population of its illegal settlers. Palestine was segmented into tiny, isolated South-African-styled Bantustans, each carrying a code – Areas, A, B, C – and the movement of Palestinians within their own homeland became conditioned on obtaining various colored permits from the Israeli military. Women giving birth at military checkpoints in the West Bank, cancer patients dying in Gaza while waiting for permission to cross to hospitals, and more, became the everyday reality of Palestine and the Palestinians.

With time, the Israeli occupation of Palestine became a marginal issue on the agenda of international diplomacy. Meanwhile, Israel cemented its relationship with numerous countries around the world, including countries in the Southern hemisphere which have historically stood beside Palestine.

Even the international solidarity movement for Palestinian rights became confused and fragmented, itself a direct expression of Palestinian confusion and fragmentation. In the absence of a unified Palestinian voice amid Palestine’s prolonged political feud, many took the liberty of lecturing Palestinians on how to resist, what ‘solutions’ to fight for and how to conduct themselves politically.

It seemed that Israel had finally gained the upper hand and, this time, for good.

Desperate to see Palestinians rise again, many called for a third Intifada. Indeed, for many years, intellectuals and political leaders called for a third Palestinian Intifada, as if the flow of history, in Palestine – or elsewhere – adheres to fixed academic notions or is compelled by the urging of some individual or organization.

The rational answer was, and remains, that only the Palestinian people will determine the nature, scope and direction of their collective action. Popular revolts are not the outcome of wishful thinking but of circumstances, the tipping point of which can only be decided by the people themselves.

May 2021 was that very tipping point. Palestinians rose in unison from Jerusalem to Gaza, to every inch of occupied Palestine, including Palestinian refugee communities throughout the Middle East and, by doing so, they also resolved an impossible political equation. The Palestinian ‘problem’ was no longer that of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem alone, but also of Israeli racism and apartheid which have targeted the Palestinian communities inside Israel. Further, it was also the crisis of leadership and the deep-seated factionalism and political corruption.

When Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decided on May 8 to unleash the hordes of police and Jewish extremists on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, who were protesting the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, he was merely attempting to score a few political points among Israel’s most chauvinist right-wing constituencies. He also wanted to remain in power or, at least, to avoid prison as a result of his corruption trial.

He did not anticipate, however, that he was unleashing one of the most historic events in Palestine, one that would ultimately resolve a seemingly impossible Palestinian quandary. True, Netanyahu’s war on Gaza killed hundreds and wounded thousands. The violence he perpetrated in the West Bank and in Arab neighborhoods in Israel killed scores. But, on May 20, it was the Palestinians who claimed victory, as hundreds of thousands of people rushed to the streets to declare their triumph as one unified, proud nation.

Winning and losing wars of national liberation cannot be measured by gruesome comparisons between the number of dead or the degree of destruction inflicted on each side. If this was the case, no colonized nation would have ever won its freedom.

Palestinians won because, once more, they emerged from the rubble of Israeli bombs as a whole, a nation so determined to win its freedom at any cost. This realization was symbolized in the many scenes of Palestinian crowds celebrating while waving the banners of all Palestinian factions, without prejudice and without exception.

Finally, it can unequivocally be asserted that the Palestinian resistance scored a major victory, arguably unprecedented in its proud history. This is the first time that Israel is forced to accept that the rules of the game have changed, likely forever. It is no longer the only party that determines political outcomes in occupied Palestine, because the Palestinian people are finally a force to be reckoned with.

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Palestine’s Moment of Reckoning: On Abbas’ Dangerous Decision to ‘Postpone’ Elections  

The decision on April 30 by Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, to ‘postpone’ Palestinian elections, which would have been the first in 15 years, will deepen Palestinian division and could, potentially, signal the collapse of the Fatah Movement, at least in its current form.

Unlike the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the big story this time was not the Fatah-Hamas rivalry. Many rounds of talks in recent months between representatives of Palestine’s two largest political parties had already sorted out much of the details regarding the now-canceled elections, which were scheduled to begin on May 22.

Both Fatah and Hamas have much to gain from the elections; the former relished the opportunity to restore its long-dissipated legitimacy as it has ruled over occupied Palestinians, through its dominance of the Palestinian Authority, with no democratic mandate whatsoever; Hamas, on the other hand, was desperate to break away from its long and painful isolation as exemplified in the Israeli siege on Gaza, which ironically resulted from its victory in the 2006 elections.

It was not Israeli and American pressure, either, that made Abbas betray the collective wishes of a whole nation. This pressure coming from Tel Aviv and Washington was real and widely reported, but must have also been expected. Moreover, Abbas could have easily circumvented them as his election decree, announced last January, was welcomed by Palestinians and praised by much of the international community.

Abbas’ unfortunate but, frankly, expected decision was justified by the 86-year-old leader as one which is compelled by Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians in Jerusalem from taking part in the elections. Abbas’ explanation, however, is a mere fig leaf aimed at masking his fear of losing power with Israel’s routine obstinacy. But since when do occupied people beg their occupiers to practice their democratic rights? Since when have Palestinians sought permission from Israel to assert any form of political sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem?

Indeed, the battle for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem takes place on a daily basis in the alleyways of the captive city. Jerusalemites are targeted in every facet of their existence, as Israeli restrictions make it nearly impossible for them to live a normal life, neither in the way they build, work, study and travel nor even marry and worship. So it would be mind-boggling if Abbas was truly sincere that he had, indeed, expected Israeli authorities to allow Palestinians in the occupied city easy access to polling stations and to exercise their political right, while those same authorities labor to erase any semblance of Palestinian political life, even mere physical presence, in Jerusalem.

The truth is Abbas canceled the elections because all credible public opinion polls showed that the May vote would have decimated the ruling clique of his Fatah party, and would have ushered in a whole new political configuration, one in which his Fatah rivals, Marwan Barghouti and Nasser al-Qudwa would have emerged as the new leaders of Fatah. If this scenario were to occur, a whole class of Palestinian millionaires who turned the Palestinian struggle into a lucrative industry, generously financed by ‘donor countries’, risk losing everything, in favor of uncharted political territories, controlled by a Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, from his Israeli prison cell.

Worse for Abbas, Barghouti could have potentially become the new Palestinian president, as he was expected to compete in the July presidential elections. Bad for Abbas, but good for Palestinians, as Barghouti’s presidency would have proven crucial for Palestinian national unity and even international solidarity. An imprisoned Palestinian president would have been a PR disaster for Israel. Equally, it would have confronted the low-profile American diplomacy under Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, with an unprecedented challenge: How could Washington continue to preach a ‘peace process’ between Israel and the Palestinians, when the latter’s president languishes in solitary confinement, as he has since 2002?

By effectively canceling the elections, Abbas, his benefactors and supporters were hoping to delay a moment of reckoning within the Fatah Movement – in fact, within the Palestinian body politic as a whole. However, the decision is likely to have far more serious repercussions on Fatah and Palestinian politics than if the elections took place. Why?

Since Abbas’ election decree earlier this year, 36 lists have registered with the Palestinian Central Elections Commission. While Islamist and socialist parties prepared to run with unified lists, Fatah disintegrated. Aside from the official Fatah list, which is close to Abbas, two other non-official lists, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Future’, planned to compete. Various polls showed that the ‘Freedom’ list, led by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al-Qudwa, and Marwan Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, headed for an election upset, and were on their way to ousting Abbas and his shrinking, though influential, circle.

Yet, none of this is likely to go away simply because Abbas reneged on his commitment to restoring a semblance of Palestinian democracy. A whole new political class in Palestine is now defining itself through its allegiances to various lists, parties and leaders. The mass of Fatah supporters that were mentally ready to break away from the dominance of Abbas will not relent easily, simply because the aging leader has changed his mind. In fact, throughout Palestine, an unparalleled discussion on democracy, representation and the need to move forward beyond Abbas and his haphazard, self-serving politics is currently taking place and is impossible to contain. For the first time in many years, the conversation is no longer confined to Hamas vs. Fatah, Ramallah vs. Gaza or any other such demoralizing classifications. This is a major step in the right direction.

There is nothing that Abbas can say or do at this point to restore the people’s confidence in his authority. Arguably, he never had their confidence in the first place. By canceling the elections, he has crossed a red line that should have never been crossed, thus placing himself and few others around him as enemies of the Palestinian people, their democratic aspirations and their hope for a better future.

The post Palestine’s Moment of Reckoning: On Abbas’ Dangerous Decision to ‘Postpone’ Elections   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

From His Solitary Confinement, Marwan Barghouti Holds the Key to Fatah’s Future  

If imprisoned Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, becomes the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the status quo will change substantially. For Israel, as well as for the current PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, such a scenario is more dangerous than another strong Hamas showing in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections.

The long-delayed elections, now scheduled for May 22 and July 31 respectively, will not only represent a watershed moment for the fractured Palestinian body politic, but also for the Fatah Movement which has dominated the PA since its inception in 1994. The once revolutionary Movement has become a shell of its former self under the leadership of Abbas, whose only claim to legitimacy was a poorly contested election in January 2005, following the death of former Fatah leader and PA President, Yasser Arafat.

Though his mandate expired in January 2009, Abbas continued to ‘lead’ Palestinians. Corruption and nepotism increased significantly during his tenure and, not only did he fail to secure an independent Palestinian State, but the Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements have deepened and grown exponentially.

Abbas’ rivals from within the Fatah Movement were sidelined, imprisoned or exiled. A far more popular Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, was silenced by Israel as he was thrown into an Israeli prison in April 2002, after a military court found him guilty of involvement in Palestinian resistance operations during the uprising of 2000. This arrangement suited Abbas, for he continued to doubly benefit: from Barghouti’s popularity, on the one hand, and his absence, on the other.

When, in January, Abbas declared that he would hold three successive rounds of elections – legislative elections on May 22, presidential elections on July 31 and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections on August 31 – he could not have anticipated that his decree, which followed intense Fatah-Hamas talks, could potentially trigger the implosion of his own party.

Fatah-Hamas rivalry has been decades’ long, but intensified in January 2006 when the latter won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories. Hamas’ victory was partly attributed to Fatah’s own corruption, but internal rivalry also splintered Fatah’s vote.

Although it was Fatah’s structural weaknesses that partly boosted Hamas’ popularity, it was, oddly, the subsequent rivalry with Hamas that kept Fatah somehow limping forward. Indeed, the anti-Hamas sentiment served as a point of unity among the various Fatah branches. With money pouring in from donor countries, Fatah used its largesse to keep dissent at minimum and, when necessary, to punish those who refused to toe the pro-Abbas line. This strategy was successfully put to the test in 2010 when Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s ‘strong man’ in Gaza prior to 2006, was dismissed from Fatah’s central committee and banished from the West Bank, as he was banished from Gaza four years earlier.

But that convenient paradigm could not be sustained. Israel is entrenching its military occupation, increasing its illegal settlement activities and is rapidly annexing Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Gaza siege, though deadly and tragic, has become routine and no longer an international priority. A new Palestinian generation in the Occupied Territories cannot relate to Abbas and his old guard, and is openly dissatisfied with the tribal, regional politics through which the PA, under Abbas, continues to govern occupied and oppressed Palestinians.

Possessing no strategies or answers, Abbas is now left with no more political lifelines and few allies.

With dwindling financial resources and faced by the inescapable fact that 85-year-old Abbas must engineer a transition within the movement to prevent its collapse in case of his death, Fatah was forced to contend with an unpleasant reality: without new elections the PA would lose the little political legitimacy with which it ruled over Palestinians.

Abbas was not worried about another setback, as that of 2006, when Hamas won majority of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)’s seats. Until recently, most opinion polls indicated that the pro-Abbas Fatah list would lead by a comfortable margin in May, and that Abbas would be re-elected President in July. With his powers intact, Abbas could then expand his legitimacy by allowing Hamas and others into the PLO’s Palestinian National Council – Palestine’s parliament in the Diaspora. Not only would Abbas renew faith in his Authority, but he could also go down in history as the man who united Palestinians.

But things didn’t go as planned and the problem, this time, did not come from Hamas, but from Fatah itself – although Abbas did anticipate internal challenges. However, the removal of Dahlan, the repeated purges of the party’s influential committees and the marginalization of any dissenting Fatah members throughout the years must have infused Abbas with confidence to advance with his plans.

The first challenge emerged on March 11, when Nasser al-Qidwa, a well-respected former diplomat and a nephew of Yasser Arafat, was expelled from the movement’s Central Committee for daring to challenge Abbas’ dominance. On March 4, Qidwa decided to lock horns with Abbas by running in the elections in a separate list.

The second and bigger surprise came on March 31, just one hour before the closing of the Central Election Commission’s registration deadline, when Qidwa’s list was expanded to include supporters of Marwan Barghouti, under the leadership of his wife, Fadwa.

Opinion polls are now suggesting that a Barghouti-Qidwa list, not only would divide the Fatah Movement but would actually win more seats, defeating both the traditional Fatah list and even Hamas. If this happens, Palestinian politics would turn on its head.

Moreover, the fact that Marwan Barghouti’s name was not on the list keeps alive the possibility that the imprisoned Fatah leader could still contest in the presidential elections in July. If that, too, transpires, Barghouti will effortlessly beat and oust Abbas.

The PA President is now in an unenviable position. Canceling the elections would lead to strife, if not violence. Moving forward means the imminent demise of Abbas and his small but powerful clique of Palestinians who benefited greatly from the cozy political arrangement they created for themselves.

As it stands, the key to the future of Fatah is now held by a Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti, who has been kept by Israel, largely in solitary confinement, since 2002.

The post From His Solitary Confinement, Marwan Barghouti Holds the Key to Fatah’s Future   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Elections under Fire: Palestine’s Impossible Democracy Dilemma  

Many Palestinian intellectuals and political analysts find themselves in the unenviable position of having to declare a stance on whether they support or reject upcoming Palestinian elections which are scheduled for May 22 and July 30. But there are no easy answers.

The long-awaited decree by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last January to hold legislative and presidential elections in the coming months was widely welcomed,  not as a triumph for democracy but as the first tangible positive outcome of dialogue between rival Palestinian factions, mainly Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas.

As far as inner Palestinian dialogue is concerned, the elections, if held unobstructed, could present a ray of hope that, finally, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories will enjoy a degree of democratic representation, a first step towards a more comprehensive representation that could include millions of Palestinians outside the Occupied Territories.

But even such humble expectations are conditioned on many “ifs”: only if Palestinian factions honor their commitments to the Istanbul Agreement of September 24; only if Israel allows Palestinians, including Jerusalemites, to vote unhindered and refrains from arresting Palestinian candidates; only if the US-led international community accepts the outcome of the democratic elections without punishing victorious parties and candidates; only if the legislative and presidential elections are followed by the more consequential and substantive elections in the Palestinian National Council (PNC) – the Palestinian Parliament in exile – and so on.

If any of these conditions is unsatisfactory, the May elections are likely to serve no practical purpose, aside from giving Abbas and his rivals the veneer of legitimacy, thus allowing them to buy yet more time and acquire yet more funds from their financial benefactors.

All of this compels us to consider the following question: is democracy possible under military occupation?

Almost immediately following the last democratic Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, the outcome of which displeased Israel, 62 Palestinian ministers and members of the new parliament were thrown into prison, with many still imprisoned.

History is repeating itself as Israel has already begun its arrest campaigns of Hamas leaders and members in the West Bank. On February 22, over 20 Palestinian activists, including Hamas officials, were detained as a clear message from the Israeli occupation to Palestinians that Israel does not recognize their dialogue, their unity agreements or their democracy.

Two days later, 67-year-old Hamas leader, Omar Barghouti, was summoned by the Israeli military intelligence in the occupied West Bank and warned against running in the upcoming May elections. “The Israeli officer warned me not to run in the upcoming elections and threatened me with imprisonment if I did,” Barghouti was quoted by Al-Monitor.

The Palestinian Basic Law allows prisoners to run for elections, whether legislative or presidential, simply because the most popular among Palestinian leaders are often behind bars. Marwan Barghouti is one.

Imprisoned since 2002, Barghouti remains Fatah’s most popular leader, though appreciated more by the movement’s young cadre, as opposed to Abbas’ old guard. The latter group has immensely benefited from the corrupt system of political patronage upon which the 85-year-old president has constructed his Authority.

To sustain this corrupt system, Abbas and his clique labored to marginalize Barghouti, leading to the suggestion that Israel’s imprisonment of Fatah’s vibrant leader serves the interests of the current Palestinian President.

This claim has much substance, not only because Abbas has done little to pressure Israel to release Barghouti but also because all credible public opinion polls suggest that Barghouti is far more popular among Fatah’s supporters – in fact all Palestinians – than Abbas.

On February 11, Abbas dispatched Hussein al-Sheikh, the Minister of Civilian Affairs and a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, to dissuade Barghouti from running in the upcoming presidential elections. An ideal scenario for the Palestinian President would be to take advantage of Barghouti’s popularity by having him lead the Fatah list in the contest for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Hence, Abbas could ensure a strong turnout by Fatah supporters, while securing the chair of presidency for himself.

Barghouti vehemently rejected Abbas’ request, thus raising an unexpected challenge to Abbas, who now risks dividing the Fatah vote, losing the PLC elections, again, to Hamas and losing the presidential elections to Barghouti.

Between the nightly raids and crackdowns by the Israeli military and the political intrigues within the divided Fatah movement, one wonders if the elections, if they take place, will finally allow Palestinians to mount a united front in the struggle against Israeli occupation and for Palestinian freedom.

Then, there is the issue of the possible position of the ‘international community’ regarding the outcome of the elections. News reports speak of efforts made by Hamas to seek guarantees from Qatar and Egypt “to ensure Israel will not pursue its representatives and candidates in the upcoming elections,” Al-Monitor also reported.

But what kind of guarantees can Arab countries obtain from Tel Aviv, and what kind of leverage can Doha and Cairo have when Israel continues to disregard the United Nations, international law, the International Criminal Court, and so on?

Nevertheless, can Palestinian democracy afford to subsist in its state of inertia? Abbas’ mandate as president expired in 2009, the PLC’s mandate expired in 2010 and, in fact, the Palestinian Authority was set up as an interim political body, whose function should have ceased in 1999. Since then, the ‘Palestinian leadership’ has not enjoyed legitimacy among Palestinians, deriving its relevance, instead, from the support of its benefactors, who are rarely interested in supporting democracy in Palestine.

The only silver lining in the story is that Fatah and Hamas have also agreed on the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is now largely monopolized by Abbas’ Fatah movement. Whether the democratic revamping of the PLO takes place or not, largely depends on the outcome of the May and July elections.

Palestine, like other Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, does have a crisis of political legitimacy. Since Palestine is an occupied land with little or no freedom, one is justified to argue that true democracy under these horrific conditions cannot possibly be achieved.

The post Elections under Fire: Palestine’s Impossible Democracy Dilemma   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Engaging the World”: The “Fascinating Story” of Hamas’s Political Evolution

On February 4, representatives from the Palestinian Movement, Hamas, visited Moscow to inform the Russian government of the latest development on the unity talks between the Islamic Movement and its Palestinian counterparts, especially Fatah.

This was not the first time that Hamas’s officials traveled to Moscow on similar missions. In fact, Moscow continues to represent an important political breathing space for Hamas, which has been isolated by Israel’s Western benefactors. Involved in this isolation are also several Arab governments which, undoubtedly, have done very little to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.

The Russia-Hamas closeness is already paying dividends. On February 17, shipments of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, have made it to Gaza via Israel, a testament to that growing rapport.

While Russia alone cannot affect a complete paradigm shift in the case of Palestine, Hamas feels that a Russian alternative to the blind and conditional American support for Israel is possible, if not urgent.

Recently, we interviewed Dr. Daud Abdullah, the author of ‘Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy’, and Mr. Na’eem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Center in Johannesburg, which published Dr. Abdullah’s book.

Abdullah’s volume on Hamas is a must-read, as it offers a unique take on Hamas, liberating the discussion on the Movement from the confines of the reductionist Western media’s perception of Hamas as terrorist – and of the counterclaims, as well. In this book, Hamas is viewed as a political actor, whose armed resistance is only a component in a complex and far-reaching strategy.

Why Russia? 

As Moscow continues to cement its presence in the region by offering itself as a political partner and, compared with the US, a more balanced mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, Hamas sees the developing Russian role as a rare opportunity to break away from the US-Israel imposed isolation.

“Russia was a member of the Quartet that was set up in 2003 but, of course, as a member of the (United Nations) Security Council, it has always had an ability to inform the discourse on Palestine,” Abdullah said, adding that in light of “the gradual demise of American influence, Russia realized that there was an emerging vacuum in the region, particularly after the (Arab) uprisings.”

“With regard to Hamas and Russia the relationship took off after the (Palestinian) elections in 2006 but it was not Hamas’s initiative, it was (Russian President Vladimir) Putin who, in a press conference in Madrid after the election, said that he would be willing to host Hamas’s leadership in Moscow. Because Russia is looking for a place in the region.”

Hamas’s willingness to engage with the Russians has more than one reason, chief among them is the fact that Moscow, unlike the US, refused to abide by Israel’s portrayal of the Movement. “The fundamental difference between Russia and America and China … is that the Russians and the Chinese do not recognize Hamas as a ‘terrorist organization’; they have never done so, unlike the Americans, and so it made it easy for them to engage openly with Hamas,” Abdullah said.

On Hamas’s ‘Strategic Balance’

In his book, Abdullah writes about the 1993 Oslo Accords, which represented a watershed moment, not only for Hamas but also for the entire Palestinian liberation struggle. The shift towards a US-led ‘peace process’ compelled Hamas to maintain a delicate balance “between strategic objectives and tactical flexibility.”

Abdullah wrote:

Hamas sees foreign relations as an integral and important part of its political ideology and liberation strategy. Soon after the Movement emerged, foreign policies were developed to help its leaders and members navigate this tension between idealism and realism. This pragmatism is evident in the fact that Hamas was able to establish relations with the regimes of Muammar Gaddhafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, both of whom were fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In our interview, Abdullah elaborated:

From the very beginning, Hamas adopted certain principles in respect to its international relations and, later on, in the formation of a foreign policy. Among these, there is a question of maintaining its independence of decision-making; non-alignment in conflicting blocks, avoidance of interference in the affairs of other states.

Mr. Jeenah, an accomplished writer himself, also spoke of the “delicate balance.”

“It is a delicate balance, and a difficult one to maintain because, at this stage, when movements are regarded and regard themselves as liberation movements, they need to have higher moral and ethical standards than, for example, governments,” Jeenah said.  “For some reason, we expect that governments have to make difficult choices but, with liberation movements, we don’t, because they are all about idealism and creating an ideal society, etc.”

Jeenah uses the South Africa anti-apartheid struggle which, in many ways, is comparable to the Palestinian quest for freedom, to illustrate his point:

When the liberation movement in South Africa was exiled, they took a similar kind of position. While some of them might have had a particular allegiance to the Soviet Union or to China, some of them also had strong operations in European countries, which they regarded as part of the bigger empire. Nevertheless, they had the freedom to operate there. Some of them operated in other African countries where there were dictatorships and they got protection from those states.

Hamas and the Question of National Unity

In his book, which promises to be an essential read on the subject, Abdullah lists six principles that guide Hamas’s political agenda. One of these guiding principles is the “search for common ground.”

In addressing the question of Palestinian factionalism, we contended that, while Fatah has failed at creating a common, nominally democratic platform for Palestinians to interact politically, Hamas cannot be entirely blameless. If that is, indeed, the case, can one then make the assertion that Hamas has succeeded in its search for the elusive common ground?

Abdullah answers:

Let me begin with what happened after the elections in 2006. Although Hamas won convincingly and they could have formed a government, they decided to opt for a government of national unity. They offered to (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas and to (his party) Fatah to come into a government of national unity. They didn’t want to govern by themselves. And that, to me, is emblematic of their vision, their commitment to national unity.

But the question of national unity, however coveted and urgently required, is not just controlled by Palestinians.

The PLO is the one that signed the Oslo Accords,” Abdullah said, “and I think this is one of Hamas’s weaknesses: as much as it wants national unity and a reform of the PLO, the fact of the matter is Israel and the West will not allow Hamas to enter into the PLO easily, because this would be the end of Oslo.

On Elections under Military Occupation

On January 15, Abbas announced an official decree to hold Palestinian elections, first presidential, then legislative, then elections within the PLO’s Palestine National Council (PNC), which has historically served as a Palestinian parliament in exile. The first phase of these elections is scheduled for May 22.

But will this solve the endemic problem of Palestinian political representation? Moreover, is this the proper historical evolution of national liberation movements – democracy under military occupation, followed by liberation, instead of the other way around?

Jeenah spoke of this dichotomy:

On the one hand, elections are an opportunity for Palestinians to express their choices. On the other hand, what is the election really? We are not talking about a democratic election for the State, but for a Bantustan authority, at greater restraints than the South African authority.

Moreover, the Israeli “occupying power will not make the mistake it did the last time. It will not allow such freedom (because of which) Hamas (had) won the elections. I don’t think Israel is going to allow it now.”

Yet there is a silver lining in this unpromising scenario. According to Jeenah, “I think the only difference this election could make is allowing some kind of reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank.”

Hamas, the ICC and War Crimes 

Then, there is the urgent question of the anticipated war crime investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet, when the ICC agreed to consider allegations of war crimes in Palestine, chances are not only alleged Israeli war criminals are expected to be investigated, but the probe could potentially consider the questioning of Palestinians, as well. Should not this concern Hamas in the least?

In the Israeli wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014, Hamas, along with other armed groups had no other option but to “defend the civilian population,” Abdullah said, pointing out that the “overriding concept” is that the Movement “believes in the principle of international law.”

If Hamas “can restore the rights of the Palestinian people through legal channels, then it will be much easier for the Movement, rather than having to opt for the armed struggle,” Abdullah asserted.

Understanding Hamas

Undoubtedly, it is crucial to understand Hamas, not only as part of the Palestine-related academic discourse, but in the everyday political discourse concerning Palestine; in fact, the entire region. Abdullah’s book is itself critical to this understanding.

Jeenah argued that Abdullah’s book is not necessarily an “introductory text to the Hamas Movement. It has a particular focus, which is the development of Hamas’s foreign policy. The importance of that, in general, is firstly that there isn’t a text that deals specifically with Hamas’s foreign policy. What this book does is present Hamas as a real political actor.”

The evolution of Hamas’s political discourse and behavior since its inception, according to Jeenah, is a “fascinating” one.

Many agree. Commenting on the book, leading Israeli historian, Professor Ilan Pappé, wrote,

This book challenges successfully the common misrepresentation of Hamas in the West. It is a must-read for anyone engaged with the Palestine issue and interested in an honest introduction to this important Palestinian Movement.

• (Dr. Daud Abdullah’s book, Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy, is available here.)

The post “Engaging the World”: The “Fascinating Story” of Hamas’s Political Evolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

2021: Palestine’s Chance of Fighting Back

2020 will go down in history as the year that terminated the American-sponsored ‘peace process’. While 2021 will not reverse the monumental change in the US attitude and objectives in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East, the new year presents Palestinians with the opportunity to think outside the American box.

The previous year began with an unmistakable American push to translate its new political discourse with decisive action. On January 28, the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ was declared as an actual political doctrine. A new political lexicon began to quickly take hold. The ‘peace process’, which has dominated the American language for several decades, seemed a distant memory. Because the Palestinian Authority has, for decades, molded its own strategy to accommodate American demands and expectations, the shift in Washington left the PA with very few options.

On February 1, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, declared the severing of all diplomatic ties with Israel and the US, followed by an announcement in May that the Palestinian leadership was canceling all agreements between itself and Israel, including the end of all security ties. While the Palestinian decision may have served the purpose of temporarily quelling Palestinians’ anger, it served no practical purpose, and it was short-lived, anyway.

On November 17, the PA resumed all security and civil ties with Israel, thwarting the renewed unity talks between rival groups Hamas and Fatah. The talks had begun in July and, unlike previous meetings, the two main Pa lestinian factions seemed united around a set of political ideas, lead amongst them their rejection of the US ‘Deal of the Century’ and Israel’s plans to annex large parts of the occupied territories.

In the final analysis, the PA, which hardly enjoyed much respect among Palestinians, has lost whatever trust it still commanded among its rivals. Abbas seemed to be using unity talks as a pressure tool to caution Washington and Tel Aviv that he still possessed some political cards.

However, while the Palestinian leadership has, in the past, succeeded in playing the waiting game which guaranteed the flow of money since its inception in 1994, that strategy is now coming to a halt. US priorities in the Middle East have obviously changed, and even the PA’s European allies hardly see Abbas and his Authority as a priority. A weakened European Union, due to the unceremonious departure of Britain and the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has pushed Palestine to the bottom of Western agendas.

If 2021 is to bring about any positive change in the trajectory of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, new strategies would have to replace the old ones.

Instead, thinking should shift completely into a whole new political landscape:

First, Palestinian unity must be redefined so it is not confined to a mere political arrangement between rivals Hamas and Fatah, each motivated by its own agenda and self-preservation. Unity should be expounded to include a national dialogue among all Palestinians, so that the Palestinian people, at home, or in ‘shataat’ (diaspora), should be part of forming a new Palestinian – not factional – vision.

Second, a new vision should be developed and articulated to replace useless clichés, dogmas and wishful thinking. A two-state solution is simply unattainable, not because Israel and the US have done their utmost to bury it, but because, even if implemented, it will not satisfy the minimal expectations of Palestinian rights.

In a two-state scenario, Palestinians would remain geographically and politically fragmented, and no realistic and just implementation of the right of return can possibly be carried out. A ‘One Democratic State’ in Palestine and Israel cannot possibly address all the injustices of the past, but it is the most meaningful threshold aimed at imagining a possible, and certainly better, future for all.

Third, the obsessive reliance on Washington as the only party capable of mediating between Israel and Palestine must end. Not only did the US demonstrate its untrustworthiness through its generous and relentless military and political support to Israel, it has positioned itself as a major obstacle in the path of Palestinian freedom and liberation.

It behooves the Palestinian leadership to understand that the balances of global power are fundamentally changing and that the US and Israel are no longer the only hegemons in the Middle East region. It is time for Palestinians to diversify their options, strengthen their ties with rising Asian powers and reach out to South American and African countries to reverse the total political and economic dependency on the US and its allies.

Fourth, although popular resistance in Palestine has constantly expressed itself in numerous forms, it is yet to be harnessed as a sustainable platform of resistance that can be translated into political capital.

2020 began with the suspension of Gaza’s Great March of Return, which brought tens of thousands of Palestinians together in a historic show of unity. However, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are desperately trying to navigate two overlapping matrices of control: the Israeli occupation and the PA. This has proven detrimental, as it marginalizes the Palestinian people from playing a fundamental role in shaping their own struggle. Popular resistance must serve as the backbone of any authentic Palestinian vision for liberation.

Fifth, for the new Palestinian political discourse to matter internationally, it has to be backed by a global solidarity movement that rallies behind a unified Palestinian vision, while advocating Palestinian rights at city, state and national levels. The decisive US-Israeli attack on the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is a testament to the success of this tactic in changing the narrative on Palestine and Israel.

Yet, while there is already a strong foundation of Palestinian solidarity around the world, this movement should not be focused only on academic hubs and intellectual circles, but work its way to reach ordinary people, globally.

2020 may have been a devastating year for Palestine, but a closer look would allow us to see it as an opportunity for a whole new Palestinian political discourse.

2021 is Palestine’s chance of fighting back.

The post 2021: Palestine’s Chance of Fighting Back first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Gulf States became Business Partners in Israel’s Occupation

The professed rationale for the recent Abraham Accords, so-called “peace deals” signed with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, was to stymie Israeli efforts to annex swaths of the West Bank.

The aim was supposedly to neutralise another “peace” plan – one issued early this year by US President Donald Trump’s administration – that approved Israel’s annexation of large areas of the West Bank dominated by illegal Jewish settlements.

The two Gulf states trumpeted the fact that, in signing the accords in September, they had effectively scotched that move, thereby salvaging hopes of a future Palestinian state. Few observers entirely bought the official story – not least because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that annexation had only been put on temporary hold.

The real purpose of the Abraham Accords appeared less about saving Palestinians than allowing Gulf states to go public with, and expand, their existing ties to Israel. Regional intelligence could now be shared more easily, especially on Iran, and the Gulf would gain access to Israeli hi-tech and US military technology and weapons systems.

Separately, Sudan was induced to sign the accords after promises it would be removed from Washington’s list of “terror-supporting” states, opening the door to debt relief and aid. And last week, Morocco became the fourth Arab state to initiate formal relations with Israel after the Trump administration agreed to recognise its occupation of Western Sahara.

Twisting more arms

Israel, in return, has been able to begin “normalising” with an important bloc of Arab states – all without offering any meaningful concessions on the Palestinian issue.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also reported to have been considering doing their own deals with Israel. Jared Kushner, Trump’s Middle East adviser, visited the region this month in what was widely assumed to be a bid to twist arms.

Riyadh’s hesitation, however, appears to have increased after Trump lost last month’s US presidential election to Joe Biden.

Last week, during an online conference held in Bahrain and attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, a former senior Saudi government official, Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, launched a blistering verbal attack on Israel, saying it jailed Palestinians in “concentration camps” and had built an “apartheid wall”. It was unclear whether he was speaking in more than a personal capacity.

While the covert purpose of the Abraham Accords was difficult to obscure, the stated aim – of aiding Palestinians by preventing Israel’s annexation of the West Bank – was still seen as a vital tool for the UAE and Bahrian to sell these agreements back home.

But in practice, both have quickly jettisoned any pretence that Palestinians will benefit from these deals. Not only that, but already they barely bother to conceal the fact that they are actively and tangibly colluding with Israel to harm Palestinians – by bolstering Israel’s illegal settlements and subsidising its military regime of occupation.

Trade with settlements

Bahrain demonstrated this month how indifferent it is to the negative impacts on Palestinians. On a visit to Israel, the country’s trade minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, said Bahrain was open to importing products from Israel wherever they were manufactured. “We have no issue with labelling or origin,” he said.

The comment suggested that Manama was ready to become a gateway for Israel to export settlement products to the rest of the Arab world, helping to bolster the settlements’ legitimacy and economic viability. Bahrain’s trade policy with Israel would then be even laxer than that of the European Union, Israel’s top trade partner. The EU’s feeble guidelines recommend the labelling of settlement products.

After wide reporting of Zayani’s comments, Bahrain’s state news agency issued a statement shortly afterwards saying he had been “misinterpreted”, and that there would be no import of settlement goods. But it is hard not to interpret the remarks as indicating that behind the scenes, Bahrain is only too willing to collude in Israel’s refusal to distinguish between products from Israel and those made in the settlements.

That this is the trading basis of the Abraham Accords is further highlighted by reports that the UAE is already welcoming business with Israel’s illegal settlements. An Israeli winery, using grapes grown on the Golan Heights, a large plateau of Syrian territory seized by Israel in 1967 and illegally annexed in 1981, has reportedly started exporting to the UAE, which has liberalised its alcohol laws for non-citizens.

This is a fruitful turn of events for Israel’s 500,000 settlers in the occupied West Bank. They have lost no time touting for business, with the first delegation arriving in Dubai last month hoping to tap new markets in the Arab world via the UAE. Last week a settler delegation reportedly returned to Dubai to sign an agreement with a UAE company to import settlement goods, including alcohol, honey, olive oil, and sesame paste.

New low-point

This marks a new low-point in the shift by Arab states away from their original position that Israel was a colonial implant in the region, sponsored by the West, and that there could be no “normalisation” – or normal relations – with it.

In 2002, Saudi Arabia launched the Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel full diplomatic relations in return for ending the occupation. But Gulf states are now not only normalising with Israel when the occupation is actually intensifying; they are normalising with the occupation itself – as well as its bastard progeny, the settlements.

Israel has built more than 250 settlements across a vast expanse of occupied Palestinian territory – 62 percent of the West Bank, referred to as Area C under the Oslo Accords. This area was supposed to be gradually transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the government-in-waiting under Mahmoud Abbas, to become the territorial backbone of a Palestinian state.

Instead, over the past quarter of a century, Israel has used its supposedly temporary control over Area C to rapidly expand the settlements, stealing vital land and resources. These colonies have been highly integrated into Israel, with settler roads criss-crossing the occupied West Bank and tightly limiting Palestinian movement.

The peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain will help the settlements entrench further, assisting Israel’s longstanding policy of annexing the West Bank in all but name, through the creation of facts on the ground – the very outcome the Abraham Accords were ostensibly meant to prevent.

Yossi Dagan, head of the West Bank regional council that visited Dubai last month, declared that there was “no contradiction between our demand to impose sovereignty [annex large parts of the West Bank] and the strengthening of commercial and industrial ties” with the Gulf.

Al-Aqsa dividend

In other words, settlers see the Abraham Accords as a business opportunity to expand their footprint in the occupied West Bank, not an obstacle. The likely gains for the settlers will include tourism, too, as visitors from the Gulf are expected to flock to al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.

The irony is that, because of Israel’s physical seizure of areas around the Islamic holy site and its control over access, Gulf Arabs will have far greater rights at al-Aqsa than the majority of Palestinians, who cannot reach it.

Jordan, which has long been the custodian of al-Aqsa, justifiably fears that Saudi Arabia may use a future accord with Israel to muscle its way into taking charge of the Jerusalem holy site, adding it to its guardianship of Mecca and Medina.

In occupied Jerusalem, Palestinians are deprived of the chance to develop their own housing, let alone infrastructure to cope with the business opportunities provided by the arrival of wealthy Gulf Arabs. That should leave Israel and its settler population – rather than Palestinians – well-placed to reap the dividends from any new tourism ventures.

In a supreme irony, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family has bought a major stake in the Beitar Jerusalem football team, whose supporters are fiercely anti-Arab and back the takeover of East Jerusalem by settlers.

Palestinian laboratories

During his visit, Bahrain’s Zayani observed that, as his country geared up for flights to and from Israel next month: “We are fascinated by how integrated IT and the innovation sector in Israel has been embedded in every facet of life.”

But Israel’s technology sector is “embedded in every facet of life” only because Israel treats the occupied Palestinian territories as a laboratory. Tests are conducted there on how best to surveil Palestinians, physically limit their movement and freedoms, and collect their biometric data.

The hi-tech firms carrying out these experiments may be formally headquartered inside Israel, but they work and profit from their activities in the occupied territories. They are a vast complex of settlement businesses in their own right.

This is why Nabil Shaath, an aide to Abbas, observed of the Gulf’s burgeoning ties with Israel that it was “painful to witness Arab cooperation with one of the worst manifestations of aggression against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli settlements on our land”.

Settler ally

How enthusiastically the UAE and Bahrain are getting into the occupation business, and preparing to subsidise its worst features, is highlighted by the Abraham Fund, set up by the US in October. It is a vehicle for Gulf states and Israel to secure billions of dollars in private investment to underpin their new diplomatic relations.

Again, the official story has glossed over the reality. According to statements from the main parties, the fund is intended to raise at least $3billion to bolster regional economic cooperation and development initiatives.

The UAE’s minister of state, Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, has said: “The initiative can be a source of economic and technological strength for the region, while simultaneously improving the lives of those who need the most support.”

The fund is supposed to help Palestinians, as one of those groups most in need of support. But again, the main parties are not playing straight. Their deception is revealed by the Trump administration’s selection of who is to head the Abraham Fund, one of its last appointments before the handover to Biden.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the fund will be overseen by Aryeh Lightstone, a fervently right-wing rabbi and ally of Israel’s settler community. Lightstone is a senior adviser to David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel who has his own strong ties to the settlements. Friedman pushed aggressively for the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. Trump finally did so in May 2018, breaking an international consensus against locating diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

Checkpoint upgrade

The political priorities of Lightstone are evident in one of the Abraham Fund’s first declared projects: to “modernise” Israeli checkpoints across the occupied West Bank.

The checkpoint upgrade is being hailed by US officials as benefiting Palestinians. It will speed up their passage as they try to move around the occupied West Bank, and as those with permits enter Israel or the settlements to work. One senior Trump administration official promised checkpoint delays that currently keep Palestinians waiting for many hours could be dramatically cut: “If I can upgrade that, which doesn’t cost a lot of money, and have it take 30 seconds, I am blowing up [freeing up] 400,000 work hours a day.”

There are many glaring problems with this approach – not least that under international law, belligerent military occupations such as Israel’s must be temporary in nature. Israel’s occupation has endured for more than five decades already.

Efforts to make the occupation even more permanent – by improving and refining its infrastructure, such as through upgrades to create airport-style checkpoints – is in clear breach of international law. Now the Gulf will be intimately involved in subsidising these violations.

Further, the idea that the Abraham Fund’s checkpoint upgrade is assisting Palestinians – “those who most need support” – or developing their economy is patently ridiculous. The fund is exclusively helping Israel, a robust first-world economy, which is supposed to shoulder the costs of its military rule over Palestinians.

The economic costs of occupation are one of the few tangible pressures on Israel to withdraw from the territories and allow Palestinians sovereignty. If the oil-rich Gulf states help pick up the tab, they will incentivise Israel to stay put and steal yet more Palestinian land and resources.

Indeed, the hours being freed up, even assuming that is what actually happens, are unlikely to help the Palestinian economy or bring financial benefits to the Palestinian labourers Israel has made dependent on its economy through the lengthy occupation. To develop their own economy, Palestinians need their land and resources stolen by Israel restored to them.

Herding Palestinians

Seen another way, the Abraham Fund’s planned checkpoint upgrade is actually a subsidy by the Gulf to the settlements. That is because the very purpose of the checkpoints is to enforce Israeli control over where and when Palestinians can travel in their homeland.

Israel uses the checkpoints as a way to herd Palestinians into particular areas of the occupied West Bank, especially the third under nominal PA control, while blocking their entry to the rest. That includes a denial of access to the West Bank’s most fertile land and its best water sources. Those areas are exactly where Israel has been building and expanding the settlements.

Palestinians are in a zero-sum battle against the settlers for control over land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any help Israel receives in restricting their movement through checkpoints is a loss to Palestinians and a victory for the settlers. Modernised checkpoints will simply be far more efficient at herding Palestinians where Israel and the settlers want them to be.

In partnering with Israel on upgrading checkpoints, the Gulf will be aiding Israel in making its technology of confinement and control of the Palestinian population even more sophisticated, benefiting once again the settlers.

This is the real story of the Gulf’s Abraham Accords – not simply of turning a blind eye to Israel’s decades-long oppression of Palestinians, but of actively becoming partners with Israel and the settlers in carrying out that oppression.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post How Gulf States became Business Partners in Israel’s Occupation first appeared on Dissident Voice.