Category Archives: West Bank

Hamas and Fatah: Why the Two Groups are Failing

The Palestinian national movement, which has led the decades-long struggle against Israel’s takeover of the Palestinians’ homeland, has reached the lowest ebb in its history, according to analysts.

But as Palestinians mark this week the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “Catastrophe” that followed the dispossession of their homeland and the creation of Israel in its place, there are signs of possible change.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Palestinian movement has been split into two increasingly irreconcilable ideological factions, Fatah and Hamas – now reflected in a profound geographical division between their respective strongholds of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Both camps have not only failed to bring about any significant achievements, say analysts, but illegal Jewish settlements have steadily entrenched across the West Bank and a 12-year blockade, bolstered by Israeli military attacks, has choked Gaza into a humanitarian disaster.

There is no tangible regional or international support for the Palestinian cause, and the Trump administration barely bothers to conceal its role now as cheerleader for Israel.

That includes a decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem this week, effectively recognising Israel’s claim on a city Palestinians regard as their future capital.

Ideological ‘bankruptcy’

“The Palestinian national movement has moved beyond crisis to the point of bankruptcy,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA), and now a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah.

“Neither the armed resistance of Hamas nor the diplomacy of Fatah has made any gains,” he told Al Jazeera. “They are failed governments, and the public is deeply dissatisfied.”

The dire situation has left observers wondering whether the Palestinian national movement can reinvent itself and find more successful strategies over the coming years and decades.

Both Fatah and Hamas are preparing for major demonstrations, hoping to bring attention to decades of oppressive Israeli rule.

But the events are also likely to underscore how much ground they have lost to Israel – and how the pressure for new thinking is coming from the ground up, not from the leadership.

‘No need for fear’

Recent weeks have seen regular protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence attracting tens of thousands of Palestinians, and dominated by young people. The emphasis has been on direct, non-violent mass action, spurning the high-level diplomacy of Fatah and Hamas’ traditional commitment to armed resistance.

Although the Gaza protests – under the banner of the Great March of Return – were not initiated by Hamas, it had shown a willingness to support them, noted Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

“Hamas has recognised the utility of the marches,” she told Al Jazeera. “It adopted them rather than crushed them. The hope must be that Fatah will soon realise this too – that they understand there is utility to people resisting.”

Ahmed Al-Naouq, a youth activist in Gaza, pointed out that the focus of the protests was the demand that the refugees – a large majority of Gaza’s population – be allowed to return to the lands, now in Israel, they were expelled from in 1948.

“In Gaza we are more creative and flexible in our thinking because we have no other choice. We want to break out of this prison,” he told Al Jazeera.

“My father worked for many years inside Israel. We are ready to live alongside Israeli Jews in peace – they need to set aside their fears.”

Return to conflict’s roots

Nathan Thrall, a local analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organisation based in Washington and Brussels, pointed out that the Gaza protests were returning the Palestinian struggle to its historic roots.

“Even before the founding of the PLO, the central issue in Palestinian nationalism was the refugees – more so than the 1967 issue [of the occupation],” he told Al Jazeera.

The right of the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the 1948 war and their descendants to return to their ancestral lands originally lay at the heart of the platforms of all the political parties, he said.

“The national movement slowly compromised on that.”

Under the Oslo process launched in 1993, it was widely assumed that the refugees, if they returned at all, would move to a separate and minimal Palestinian state rather than their former towns and villages.

“There was an intentional ambiguity: the leadership talked about the right of return at the same time as it promoted the two-state solution, even though the two principles appear contradictory,” said Thrall.

Support for one state

But the Palestinians’ historic compromise had turned into a dead-end.

“The two-state idea was never seen as ideal. No one marches for it or is prepared to sacrifice their life for it,” he said. “But that pragmatism has yielded no results, and has led to great popular disenchantment. Now ordinary people are going back to the roots of the Palestinian issue.”

That appears to return Palestinian nationalism to its original vision of a single state, as long propounded by the PLO under its leader Yasser Arafat. He only accepted partition of historic Palestine in the late 1980s, faced with overwhelming western pressure.

“It is significant that there has been a steady increase in support for one state among the Palestinian public, now at around 30 per cent,” Buttu said.

“That is surprising, given that today not one Palestinian party, in the West Bank and Gaza or the 48 areas [of Israel], publicly supports it.”

Even Hamas, she said, had effectively followed Fatah. It had abandoned its traditional goal of Palestinian-Islamic rule over all of historic Palestine.

“Gradually Hamas has adopted the two-state formula, plus, in its case, a long-term truce with Israel,” Buttu said.

‘Critical gap’

In an indication of Hamas’ growing desire to compromise, the Israeli media reported this month that “unprecedented strategic distress” had led the movement to offer Israel a truce in return for easing the blockade and allowing it to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure.

What was evident, said Khatib, was a “critical gap” between the national leaderships and Palestinian public opinion, especially among the youth.

The latter was increasingly interested in popular, non-violent struggle as a way to break out of the Palestinians’ isolation.

“But there are strong vested interests that will try to maintain the current situation,” he said, pointing to the Palestinians’ dependence on foreign donors, Israel’s control over the transfer of income to the PA, and in turn the vast number of families relying on PA salaries.

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas are in a position to advance popular struggle. They are bureaucratic governments, with structures, leaders and ideologies that militate against non-violence as a tactic.”

Waiting for Abbas to leave

But Khatib and others admit that change is likely to happen – some think rapidly – once 82-year-old Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas departs the scene.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, said ending the factionalism, between Fatah and Hamas, was a precondition for turning the different parties into an effective vehicle of national struggle.

“There must be a unified national movement,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has to stop being the security contractor for Israel. Then we can solve the real problems. We must demand an elected and unified leadership with a single platform.”

The biggest problem currently facing the Palestinian national movement, said Buttu, was that, despite its various institutions, it was dominated by one person in the figure of Abbas.

“Abbas has made all these institutions irrelevant, and they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,” she said. “That has entirely marginalised other approaches, like boycotts and the one-state solution. It has ensured the alternatives can’t be effective.”

Hunger strike ignored

She noted that Abbas had all but ignored imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike last summer.

Barghouti is widely reported to be a student of non-violent strategies of resistance like those of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is said to have found support among the jailed leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Look at the difference between the way the ANC [in South Africa] kept attention on Nelson Mandela while he was in jail,” said Buttu.

“They made sure people knew who he was. But Abbas has done his best to extinguish Barghouti, so young people barely know who he is after so many years behind bars.

“The prisoners are a hugely powerful and symbolic issue for Palestinians, and yet Abbas has preferred not to capitalise on it.”

More Ahed Tamimis

With Abbas gone, Thrall thinks Fatah and Hamas may be capable of adapting to new thinking. “But they will do so only if there is a groundswell of popular sentiment that forces them to,” he said.

He pointed to the decisions in January of the PLO’s Central Council to demand the ending of security cooperation with Israel, which Abbas has previously termed “sacred”, and to adopt the anti-apartheid-like struggle of the boycott (BDS) movement, even though it conflicts with Abbas’s strategy.

Thrall said the moves reflected pressure, in the case of security cooperation, from the Palestinian public and, in the case of BDS, from civil society organisations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Buttu noted that Palestinians were still conducting popular forms of struggle, despite the lack of institutional support.

“Look to the Ahed Tamimis,” she said, referring to the 17-year-old girl arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who invaded her home.

“She isn’t choosing to be a teenager like her peers around the world. She chooses to resist, she is defiant like the rest of her village of Nabi Saleh. The same is true of those marching in Gaza.

“At the moment they have to operate as one-offs, because of the failure of the bigger political structures.”

Change could be rapid

Thrall observed that what happens in occupied East Jerusalem could prove decisive. Israel, he noted, was extremely concerned about large numbers of Palestinians there seeking Israeli citizenship and voting in city elections.

“If a majority starts applying for citizenship that could prove to be a deadly blow to a two-state solution, and it could happen very rapidly,” he said.

“Then the PA would no longer speak on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the future Palestinian capital.”

That might be the point at which other Palestinians were driven into mass protests for equal rights in a single state, along the lines of a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle.

Buttu agreed that Israel could be gravely mistaken in thinking it has crushed Palestinian nationalism.

“I often wonder what it looked like in Algeria in the 1930s or 40s, or in South Africa in the early 1980s,” she said.

“The French in Algeria and apartheid’s leaders in South Africa thought they had the situation wrapped up, with a pretty ribbon on the package. They did not realise that in a few years everything would utterly change.”

• First published in Al-Jazeera

High Alert For Palestinian Slaughter and Conflict With Iran

Above: Protest against US war in the Middle East in Los Angeles from DreamsTime.com.

There will be a confluence of trigger events this week that could lead to an escalation of conflict. At the same time that the US has reneged on the nuclear agreement and Israeli missiles are attacking Iranians in Syria, the US embassy will be moved to Jerusalem and Palestinians will protest the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, capping six weeks of actions.

Palestinians protest move of US Embassy by burning U.S. and Israeli flags in Gaza City. Mahmud Hams for AFP and Getty Images.

United States moves embassy to controversial site

On Monday, May 14, the United States will move its embassy to Jerusalem, even though the new US embassy is not yet built. Jerusalem is considered by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. This action is part of a 100-year history of Zionist colonization of Jerusalem.

When the announcement of the move was made, there was widespread anger. In Gaza, protesters took to the streets bearing Palestinian flags and denouncing the decision. Students held demonstrations in the West Bank. Bernard Smith of Al-Jazeera reported from Gaza, “People here compared the protests to a small ball of fire that would roll and turn into a much larger ball later on.” The decision unified Palestinians, putting aside their divisions to focus on Trump and Israel.

Arab governments issued statements of condemnation and emergency meetings of both the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation were held while the UN voted 128-9 to reject the Trump administration’s decision and approve a resolution urging countries to not move their embassies to Jerusalem. Reuters reported that Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque, one of Islam’s most important institutions, said the decision incites “anger among all Muslims and threatens world peace.” Sheikh added, “The gates of hell will be opened in the West before the East.” Hamas leader Ismail Haniya described it as a “flagrant aggression…that will know no limit to the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim reaction.”

Thousands of people rallied in Turkey and Jordan on Friday to protest against the decision to move the US embassy. Tens of thousands of Muslims  gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia on Friday to protest the United States. Israelis in Jerusalem are also protesting the move.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Palestinians have called for a day of rage and that mass protests are being mobilized for the opening of the US embassy. Choosing to move on the day before the Nakba is a provocation by Israel and the United States.

Israeli Soldiers shoot tear gas at Palestinians in Gaza participating in the “March of Return” (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Israel is illegitimate

The Great March of Return held its seventh Friday of protests last week. At least 49 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli snipers since the protest began on March 30, and 8,500 have been wounded (see e.g. 9 killed 780 wounded and violence continues 16 killed 1,500 wounded). The protests will culminate May 15 on the Nakba, or Catastrophe when Palestinians memorialize being forced from their homes, their villages being destroyed, hundreds of thousands becoming refugees and scores being killed during the founding of Israel 70 years ago. Land theft and ethnic cleansing have continued, often legalized by property law. Palestinian protesters are demanding the right to return to their homes and marching after decades of Israeli violence and injustice. They proclaim they will not wait another 70 years.

The reality is clear, as Miko Peled, whose grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence of Israel 70 years ago and whose father was an Israeli general, says — that Israel has no legitimacy. Peled emphasizes that people in the US have a responsibility to take action to end the occupation of Palestine and outlines ways to do so, including an aggressive BDS campaign. Peled says “Israel” is an illegitimate state and “the area should be called Palestine.”

Peled is correct to focus on the responsibility of the people of the United States. No other country has been more supportive of Israel. The US gave “more than 250 billion dollars in direct government aid to Israel, [and] the USA has used its veto more than 70 times in the Security Council to prevent passage of resolutions condemning Israeli policies.” Alexander Haig, the former Secretary of State who served as chief of staff to Presidents Nixon and Ford and was a four-star general who served as the supreme commander of NATO, told the truth, saying, “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”

Protests against Israel and AIPAC, the DC-based Israeli lobby, consistently occur in the US, even though the media hides the truth about the Israeli lobby. Even YouTube censors information about Israel but people still see the reality of Israeli violence. Israel works to inject pro-Israel propaganda in the media while US universities censor speech about Palestinian justice. The massacre of nonviolent Palestinians is leading to calls for an arms embargo against Israel, a BDS that includes a military embargo.

The combination of current events reveal the true costs of the creation of Israel. Israel is a fortress-like apartheid state that practices ethnic cleansing and whose government applauds snipers using Palestinians as targets. Some of its citizens watch the slaughter and cheer the death of Palestinians. Israel has created a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza with a decade-long embargo with intermittent mass destructive bombings. Even people of Jewish faith who criticize the barbarism of Israel are characterized as traitors and threatened by the government.

Press TV reports the Israeli military will be doubling the number of forces around the Gaza Strip and in occupied West Bank territories ahead of the controversial opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are expected to hold massive protests along the Gaza fence.

Widespread attacks on Palestinians are expected. In preparation for the massacre, people are urged to donate to help the wounded in Palestine.

May 9, 2018 from Syrian news agency SANA, flames rising after an attack by Israel in Syria in Kisweh, south of Damascus, Syria

Israel is provoking Iran in Syria

On May 4, military and intelligence analyst, the Saker, described how Israel was attacking Iranian bases in Syria in an attempt to get Iran to respond and pull the United States into a war with Iran.

On May 10, Voice of America reported that Israel launched an assault on more than 50 Iranian targets in Syria. Israel hit weapons depots, logistics sites and intelligence centers used by Iranian forces, many near Damascus.

In between these reports, Israel claimed that Iran fired rockets into the Golan Heights (Israeli occupied territory, part of Syria). Iran described the Israeli claims as “fabricated” and “baseless.” Holly Dagres, an Iran analyst for the Iranist questions why Iran would conduct such an attack “right after Trump’s decision and while Tehran is looking for European support to stay in the [nuclear deal]?” Other analysts also doubt the Israeli claim, and Iran says Syria fired into the Golan Heights, quoting a Syrian official. Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah describes Syria responding to multiple Israeli attacks in Syria to set new rules of engagement and plans to retake the Golan Heights from Israeli occupation.

Dr. Roham Alvandi, a professor at the London School of Economics suggests this is the United States and Israel “working hand in glove to escalate the military confrontation.” He adds, they seek to “provoke the Iranian leadership into taking action that will isolate and ultimately weaken the Islamic Republic.”

Israel is concerned about Iranian soldiers amassing in Syria close to its border. As Peled reports, the Israeli media and political leadership are banging the drums for Israel’s own war with Syria and Iran.

The Independent describes the situation as “bringing two of the region’s major powers closer to the brink of direct confrontation than ever before.” While Russia and European countries urged de-escalation, the United States repeated their refrain, “Israel’s right to act in self-defense.”

Protest in support of nuclear deal and for peace with Iran. Source CODE PINK.

US withdraws without cause from the Iran Agreement

All of this comes when Trump has decided to renege on The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement between France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, the United States and Iran. In a belligerent speech filled with lies, Trump provided no evidence that Iran had violated the agreement and leaders of France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and China tried to convince the US to live up to the agreement.

Israel urged Trump to leave the agreement, presenting an intelligence dossier that claimed Iran had violated it. However, the dossier contained information weapons inspectors had already found to be false. Netanyahu made a big public relations presentation to urge Trump to get out of the agreement. Telesur summarizes the reaction, writing, “After Netanyahu’s speech the International Atomic Energy Agency said it has ‘no credible’ evidence Iran was developing nuclear arms since 2009.”

US activists published an open letter apologizing to Iran. The letter described Trump’s decision as “reckless, baseless, and dangerous” and expressed that we are “ashamed that our government has broken a deal that was working.” The signers promised, “We will do everything in our power to stop Donald Trump from strangling your economy and taking us to war with you.” People in Iran took to the streets to protest the US’ decision.

The decision is part of the long history of the US trying to dominate Iran going back to the 1953 coup, continuing in recent years, during which the US has spent tens of millions of dollars annually to build opposition inside Iran, and to the US’ involvement in recent protests. Activities today are consistent with a 2009 Brookings Institution report, Which Path To Persia? Options For A New American Strategy For Iran,” which put forward various paths to regime change, including Israel taking the lead and the US and Israel falsely claiming that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Richard Johnson, a top US nuclear expert, handed in his resignation after Trump’s unilateral withdrawal. And the chief inspector of the UN nuclear agency stepped down unexpectedly, a few days after the US withdrew from the nuclear agreement.

The decision may hurt the United States in many ways. The sanctions Trump will reintroduce do not just limit U.S. dealings with Iran, but will also penalize other countries, causing a riff with US allies. John Bolton threatened to enforce the sanctions against European corporations and countries, while Europe punched back supporting the Iran agreement and planning legislation to protect European companies. Iran is entering agreements with Russia and China, who are its protectors. Iran will seek to build its relationship with European and Latin American countries as well. The US may be left out, its credibility damaged. Given the failure of US military power in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, traditional allies recognize the limitations of the US as a super power.

2007 anti-war protest. Photo: Thiago Santos/cc/flickr.

There are many reasons a war with Iran would be a disaster for the US and Israel. Moon of Albama describes that the Bush administration considered it but war games ended badly for the US. This remains true. So, if the US is rational, war can be averted.

No war on Iran

While escalation makes no sense, the leaders of Israel and the US may see a political benefit.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing charges of corruption.  Prosecutors recently questioned him and his wife for five hours at the same time but at different locations, both as suspects. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, had his home and office searched and documents and tapes were seized by prosecutors. Trump’s legal team is a mess. Rudy Guiliani recently resigned from his law firm after making counterproductive comments in the media. Israeli and US leaders may seek to change the subject and play to their conservative political base; a military conflict could aid both.

The 2018 election, which currently looks like a potential Democratic sweep, is also a factor. Sheldon Adelson, a top donor to Trump and Republicans in 2016 who gave $83 million to the campaigns and $5 million to Trump’s inauguration, pushed for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, even offering to finance the move, and for quitting the Iran nuclear pact. Adelson also urges a US nuclear attack on Iran.

The day after Trump left the pact, Adelson had lunch with him in the White House. Not long after, Paul Ryan went with former senator, Norm Coleman, who chairs the Republican Jewish Committee, and others from a Republican PAC, to meet Adelson and his wife at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. They urged support for keeping Republican control of the House. Ryan left the room (since he is not legally allowed to ask for seven-figure donations) and Coleman made the ask, with the Adelsons donating $30 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, doubling their cash on hand. Adelson’s company recorded a $670 million income tax windfall from the GOP tax law in the first quarter.

The forces are aligning right now in a disastrous way. We must not allow the administration to lie us into another prolonged and costly war. We must oppose the slaughter of more Palestinians. We must be clear that we do not support war and that we do support the rights of Palestinians. Protests are being planned across the US. Join them or organize your own. And spread the truth to your neighbors and your community. You can also support the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, which has left Norway, to bring supplies to Gaza.

Western Leaders Betrayed Palestinians 70 Years Ago; there is no sign that’s about to change

On Tuesday, Palestinians will commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, their mass expulsion and dispossession 70 years ago as the new state of Israel was built on the ruins of their homeland. As a result, most Palestinians were turned into refugees, denied by Israel the right to return to their homes.

Israel is braced nervously for many tens of thousands to turn out in the occupied territories this week to protest against decades of its refusal to make amends or end its oppressive rule.

The move on Monday of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a city under belligerent occupation, has only inflamed Palestinian grievances – and a sense that the West is still conspiring in their dispossession.

The expected focus of the protests is Gaza, where unarmed Palestinians have been massing every Friday since late March at the perimeter fence that encages two million of them.

For their troubles, they have faced a hail of live ammunition, rubber bullets and clouds of tear gas. Dozens have been killed and many hundreds more maimed, including children.

But for more than a month, Israel has been working to manage western perceptions of the protests in ways designed to discredit the outpouring of anger from Palestinians. In a message all too readily accepted by some western audiences, Israel has presented the protests as a “security threat”.

Israeli officials have even argued before the country’s high court that the protesters lack any rights – that army snipers are entitled to shoot them, even if facing no danger – because Israel is supposedly in a “state of war” with Gaza, defending itself.

Many Americans and Europeans, worried about an influx of “economic migrants” flooding into their own countries, readily sympathise with Israel’s concerns – and its actions.

Until now, the vast majority of Gaza’s protesters have been peaceful and made no attempt to break through the fence.

But Israel claims that Hamas will exploit this week’s protests in Gaza to encourage Palestinians to storm the fence. The implication is that the protesters will be crossing a “border” and “entering” Israel illegally.

The truth is rather different. There is no border because there is no Palestinian state. Israel has made sure of that. Palestinians live under occupation, with Israel controlling every aspect of their lives. In Gaza, even the air and sea are Israel’s domain.

Meanwhile, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former lands – now in Israel – is recognised in international law.

Nonetheless, Israel has been crafting a dishonest counter-narrative ever since the Nakba, myths that historians scouring the archives have slowly exploded.

One claim – that Arab leaders told the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to flee in 1948 – was, in fact, invented by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. He hoped it would deflect US pressure on Israel to honour its obligations to allow the refugees back.

Even had the refugees chosen to leave during the heat of battle, rather than wait to be expelled, it would not have justified denying them a right to return when the fighting finished. It was that refusal that transformed flight into ethnic cleansing.

In another myth unsupported by the records, Ben Gurion is said to have appealed to the refugees to come back.

In truth, Israel defined Palestinians who tried to return to their lands as “infiltrators”. That entitled Israeli security officials to shoot them on sight – in what was effectively execution as a deterrence policy.

Nothing much has changed seven decades on. A majority of Gaza’s population today are descended from refugees driven into the enclave in 1948. They have been penned up like cattle ever since. That is why the Palestinians’ current protests take place under the banner of the March of Return.

For decades, Israel has not only denied Palestinians the prospect of a minimal state. It has carved Palestinian territories into a series of ghettos – and in the case of Gaza, blockaded it for 12 years, choking it into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite this, Israel wants the world to view Gaza as an embryonic Palestinian state, supposedly liberated from occupation in 2005 when it pulled out several thousand Jewish settlers.

Again, this narrative has been crafted only to deceive. Hamas has never been allowed to rule Gaza, any more than Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank.

But echoing the events of the Nakba, Israel has cast the protesters as “infiltrators”, a narrative that has left most observers strangely indifferent to the fate of Palestinian youth demonstrating for their freedom.

Once again, these executions, supposedly carried out by the Israeli army in self-defence, are intended to dissuade Palestinians from demanding their rights.

Israel is not defending its borders but the walls of cages it has built to safeguard the continuing theft of Palestinian land and preserve Jewish privilege.

In the West Bank, the prison contracts by the day as Jewish settlers and the Israeli army steal more land. In Gaza’s case, the prison cannot be shrunk any smaller.

For many years, world heads of state have castigated Palestinians for using violence and lambasted Hamas for firing rockets out of Gaza.

But now that young Palestinians prefer to take up mass civil disobedience, their plight is barely attracting attention, let alone sympathy. Instead, they are criticised for “breaching the border” and threatening Israel’s security.

The only legitimate struggle for Palestinians, it seems, is keeping quiet, allowing their lands to be plundered and their children to be starved.

Western leaders and the public betrayed the Palestinians in 1948. There is no sign, 70 years on, that the West is about to change its ways.

• First published in the National Abu Dhabi

With More Palestinians Than Jews, Israel is Waging a Numerical War of Attrition

The Israeli army’s trigger-finger against Palestinian protesters close to the fence surrounding Gaza at the weekend, killing at least 18 and injuring hundreds more, has an explanation rooted in more than normal conceptions of security.

Even before Israel’s creation, its leaders were obssessed with demography and winning a zero-sum numerical war of attrition with the Palestinians. The consequences are still playing out to this day.

Last week, ahead of the Gaza protests, the Israeli army made an unexpected admission. It told parliamentarians that for the first time Jews are outnumbered by Palestinians living under Israeli rule, both inside Israel as citizens and in the territories under occupation.

It was a moment whose significance was not lost on Israeli legislators. Many were appalled, refusing to accept the army’s assessment that there are now half a million more Palestinians than Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and the river Jordan.

Avi Dichter, a right wing legislator and a former head of Israel’s secret police agency the Shin Bet, called the data “disconcerting”.

In 1948, when the Zionist movement saw a chance to seize control of as much of Palestine as possible, it understood that this goal could be achieved only through the ethnic cleansing of most of the native population. It was Zionism’s moment to create the “empty land” mythologised in its early slogans.

Today, the demographic successes of 1948 have been largely reversed. The Six-Day War of 1967 was over too quickly for Israel to expel more than a small proportion of the Palestinians living in the rest of the historic Palestine it had just conquered.

Higher Palestinian birth rates have been eroding the Jewish majority ever since while various schemes to force or pay Palestinians to leave have mostly failed.

Israeli officials’ ultimate fear in this demographic war is that the world will judge a minority of Israelis ruling over a majority of Palestinians as a new form of apartheid.

Seven decades on from its creation, Israel has won every battle, bar this one. The Palestinians are crushed. Washington now does little more than cheerleading for the settlers. Parts of the Middle East are in disarray. The Europeans have lost interest.

But in terms of the most pressing of all Israel’s struggles – for numerical dominance over Palestinians – Israel appears to be losing its seven-decade fight.

In a sign of growing levels of desperation, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, headed by settler leader Naftali Bennett, announced a plan last week to track down those around the globe with an “affinity” to Israel or Judaism. In the ministry’s view, 90 million people may qualify.

According to an editorial in the Israeli daily Haaretz, officials regard this group as “demographic treasure … potential candidates to join the Jewish people and immigrate to Israel”.

But Israel is not only trying to bolster its Jewish population. It has been devising tangible ways to reduce the Palestinian population too.

Since 2003, Israel has effectively banned family reunifications for Palestinians in Israel who marry Palestinians in the occupied territories. Such families are under pressure to move abroad so they can live together.

More significantly, two years later Israel pulled its few thousand settlers out of Gaza, in part so it could claim it was no longer occupying the coastal enclave, even as it blockaded it from land, air and sea. It has argued unconvincingly – as the weekend’s events prove – that about two million Palestinians there, who constitute the fastest-growing Palestinian population, have been removed from the demographic equation.

Withdrawing from the rest of the territories has proven even harder. There is almost no support among Israeli Jews for giving up East Jerusalem and its holy sites, even though it is home to 300,000 Palestinians.

And a rapidly shrinking Israeli centre-left has lost the campaign to withdraw from the parts of the West Bank where large numbers of Palestinians live.

The right is committed to seizing all of the West Bank. The question now is how to annex it without the Palestinians becoming the majority population. Palestinian legislator Ahmed Tibi warned his Jewish colleagues last week that they were bringing closer their nightmare scenario of a Greater Israel ruled by an “Arab prime minister”. But no one, including Mr Tibi, believes that will be allowed to happen.

Instead two varieties of annexationists have emerged.

The first are those who want to intensify the campaign to force Palestinians out of most of the West Bank, gradually herding them into a handful of cities, in preparation for a series of ever-expanding annexations.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a warning last week that dozens of Palestinian farming communities were facing imminent expulsion from Area C, which forms two-thirds of the West Bank.

Israel has stepped up home demolitions, torn up roads, denied Palestinians electricity and water, encouraged settler violence and conducted military and live fire training on Palestinian land. The aim, said B’Tselem, is to avoid international censure as Israel makes “life unbearable to force them to leave, as if by free choice”.

These are the “moderates” in the government. The other camp, exemplified by deputy defence minister Eli Ben Dahan, believes all the West Bank can be annexed, with the Palestinians viewed more like trees than human beings.

Last week he told Arutz Sheva, a settler news agency, that the army’s warning of a Palestinian majority should not “scare us”. Palestinians would simply be denied voting rights for the foreseeable future.

“They are far from [a] meaningful democracy as we know it,” he said, adding that Palestinians might eventually earn citizenship in a Greater Israel if they submitted absolutely. “There are many examples of citizenship that are given gradually,” he added.

Seventy years on, as the massacre in Gaza has underscored, Israeli leaders are faced with the same dilemma as its founders: should they again use violence to drive Palestinians from their homeland or establish an unapologetic and brutal apartheid state ruling over them?

• First published in the National Abu Dhabi

The Last “Peace Process” Warrior: Abbas Hanging by a Thread

The ‘deal of the century’ is a farce. We suspected that, of course, but, upon his return from Washington, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, revealed in more detail why the long-anticipated plan of the administration of US President Donald Trump has no basis in reality.

Netanyahu told his cabinet that there are “no concrete details” to report on the US peace plan. One has to suspect that the ‘plan’ was, all along, the US disavowal of the so-called peace process and the dropping of the ‘honest peace broker’ act.

In fact, that much has been achieved, especially with the US decision last December to accept Israel’s illegal annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem and agreement to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Since then, Israel has initiated a clear strategy to annexing the West Bank. Its top officials are contending that the ‘two-state solution’ is not even deserving of a conversation.

“We are done with that,” said Israel’s Education Minister, in recent remarks to students in New York. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas was, thus, left with the inviable position. It is lashing out left and right, convulsing like a wounded animal.

It is hard to imagine that, at the moment, Abbas is orbiting within a grand strategy of any kind. Random statements, attacks on his Palestinian rivals, the Israelis and the Americans – mostly for betraying him – is all that seems to keep his name in the news.

“May God demolish his home,” was one of the statements attributed to the Palestinian leader, in response to Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem.

That was on January 14. A few days ago, Abbas referred to David Friedman, the ardently right wing and pro-Israel US Ambassador to Israel, as “son of a bitch.”

Friedman is an avid supporter of the illegal Jewish settlements, but name calling is not a promising sign of a constructive Palestinian strategy.

Abbas feels beleaguered, disowned by Washington and a victim of an elaborate US-Israeli plot that has cost Palestinians precious time and much land, while leaving Abbas with nothing but an embarrassing political legacy.

Abbas is not necessarily angry because the US has betrayed its role in the ‘peace process.’ He is angry because he has, for years, perceived himself as a member in the American camp of ‘moderates’ in the Middle East. Now, however, he matters not. The US government is notorious for betraying its allies.

The US, now run by the most pro-Israel administration in years, has no role for Abbas to play. They renounced him, just like that, and carried on to imagine a ‘solution’ in Palestine that only serves the interests of Israel.

A recent meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis. No Palestinian was involved in the conference.

Since Abbas has hung all his hopes on Washington, he is left with no plan B. The Europeans neither have the will, desire nor political clout to replace the US. They have often served as lackeys to US foreign policy, and it would not be easy, if at all possible, for any European government to replace the US as the new ‘honest peace broker.’

Abbas’ popularity – and that of his Authority – among Palestinians is negligible. In fact, 70 percent of Palestinians want him to step down immediately. That was according to a poll conducted last December. Yet, at 83 and suffering from ill health, Abbas is still holding on tightly to his chair.

It may appear that, during this time of political uncertainty and isolation, it would be advantageous for Abbas to reach out to other Palestinian factions. However, the opposite is true. Abbas is accusing his main rival, Hamas, of an assassination attempt targeting PA Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

After a promising agreement, signed in Cairo between Fatah – Abbas’ party – and Hamas, all hopes have been dashed once more. In a joint conference with visiting Bulgarian President, Rumen Radey, in Ramallah, Abbas proclaimed “The Gaza Strip has been hijacked by Hamas.”

“They must immediately hand over everything, first and foremost security, to the Palestinian national consensus government,” he said.

What ‘national consensus government’ is Abbas referring to, anyway? There have been no general elections since Hamas won the parliamentary majority in 2006. Abbas himself rules on an expired mandate. As of January 9, 2009, Abbas lost his democratic legitimacy.

Oddly, it is the conflict between him and Hamas that is allowing both sides to impose themselves on the Palestinian public – which is left disenchanted, practically leaderless and facing the brunt of Occupation and apartheid on its own.

Instead of mending fences with the Palestinian people, Abbas continues with his political one-man show, encouraged by his enablers in the PA, who are equally responsible for the havoc wreaked by the US and Israeli governments.

Still, the Palestinian leadership (whether in the PA or the PLO) continues with its desperate attempts to resuscitate the ‘peace process’, lonely warriors in a political illusion that has been abandoned even by its own masters.

For Abbas and the PA, participating in the US-led project was the last bridge they wished not to burn. Trump’s decision to relocate his country’s embassy signaled that the last bridge was, indeed, up in flames, but Abbas is yet to be convinced of this obvious reality.

From American and Israeli viewpoints, the ‘peace process’ could be considered a success. It allowed the US to define the political agenda in the Middle East and for Israel to shape the physical reality of the Occupied Territories in any way it found suitable.

The Palestinian leadership has emerged as the biggest loser. It first sat at the ‘negotiation table’ to talk of borders, refugees, water, territories and Jerusalem, only to be left with nothing at the end.

It has lost both credibility and legitimacy. The space in which it was permitted to negotiate withered year after year.

Now, the Palestinian people must reflect on this current harsh reality, but also hope for a new beginning predicated on unity, the re-articulating of national priorities, and a new strategy.

Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?

On March 13, while on his way to the besieged Gaza Strip, two 33-pounds bombs targeted the convoy of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.

Hamdallah was visiting Gaza, through the Israeli border checkpoint, Erez, to open a large sewage treatment plant that, if allowed to operate regularly, will make life easier for hundreds of thousands of Gazans, who have endured a perpetual Israeli siege since 2006.

The Prime Minister’s visit was also seen as another important step in the reconciliation efforts between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah – led by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Occupied West Bank – and Hamas, led by former Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyeh, in Gaza.

Although reconciliation efforts have, for years, been half-hearted at best, the latest round of talks between both groups led to a breakthrough in Cairo last October. This time, Palestinians were told that the two factions are keen on establishing unity, ending the siege on Gaza and revamping the largely dormant Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) institutions.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO at some point in the future, leading to the formulation of a unified Palestinian political program.

And, perhaps, this keenness at ending the rift has led to the attempt on Hamdallah’s life.

But who is Rami Hamdallah?

Hamdallah, 60, was chosen by Abbas to serve in the current post in June 2013, despite the fact that he was not a member of Fatah. He took over from Salaam Fayyad who served for six years, focusing mostly on state-building in a region that is still militarily occupied by a foreign power.

Hamdallah, though not a particularity controversial figure, has been a follower of Abbas and committed to his agenda. He is a political moderate by Palestinian standards, and it was through his strong ties with powerful Fatah figures like Tayeb Abdul Rahim and Tawfik Tirawi – who served under late PA leader, Yasser Arafat, and Abbas respectively – that allowed him to claim the post and keep it for nearly five years.

Last October, Hamdallah led a delegation of Fatah PA officials to Gaza to “end the painful impacts of divisions and to rebuild Gaza brick by brick.”

Since Israel destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and thousands of homes in the summer of 2014, Gaza – already reeling under a hermetic siege and the impact of previous wars – has been in ruins. Hamdallah’s visit rekindled hope among Gazans, and all Palestinians, that respite is on the way.

Hamas’ insistent attempts to break from its isolation seemed to be finally bearing fruit.

Abbas’ party, too, moved forward with the unity arrangements, although for its own reasons. Fatah has been dysfunctional for years, and the imminent exit of Abbas, 83, has opened up intense rivalry among those who want to succeed the aging leader.

Supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, who was shunned by Abbas years ago and is currently based abroad, would like to see him back in a position of power.

The United States and Israel are following these developments closely. They, too, have favorites and are vested in the future of Fatah to sustain the current status quo as long as possible.

Those who want Hamdallah dead are likely not targeting the Prime Minister for his own ideas or policies, per se, but for what he represents, as the moderate leader capable of achieving a long term understanding with Hamas.

Killing Hamdallah also means ending or, at least, obstructing the unity efforts, discrediting Hamas, and denying Abbas and his leadership the necessary political capital to secure his legacy.

Hamas’ main enemy in Gaza are the Salafi Jihadist groups who are unhappy with Hamas’ politics and what they see as a too moderate style of Islamic governance.

Of course, there are those in Fatah, including Abbas’ own office, who accused Hamas of trying to kill Hamdallah. Hamas did more than deny the accusations, but, within one day of the apparent assassination attempt, announced that it had apprehended suspects behind the explosion.

It would make no sense for Hamas to kill Hamdallah. The group has worked tirelessly to engage the PA, as life in Gaza has become truly unlivable.  Their leadership and reputation has suffered as a result of the failed efforts to end the siege.

Moreover, as Amira Hass noted, Hamas “could not have any interest in attacking senior Palestinian Authority officials on their way to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant that residents of the Gaza Strip have long awaited.”

Hamas, in turn, accused the Israel intelligence of the assassination attempt. The group’s spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, claimed that “same hands” that gunned down Mazen Fakha in March 2017 and Tawfiq Abu Naim in October are behind the attempt on Hamdallah’s life. He was referring to Israel, of course.

The timing of the bombing of Hamdallah’s convoy was quite interesting as well, as it came barely a few hours after a meeting at the White House regarding Gaza. The meeting, chaired by leading pro-Israel officials in Washington, including Jared Kushner, was dubbed as a “brainstorming session” on how to solve the Gaza crisis.

“The Palestinian Authority, furious over the Trump administration’s actions in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, and cutting aid for Palestinian refugees, refused to attend,” reported the New York Times.

One, however, should not undermine the seriousness of the remaining disagreements between Hamas and Fatah.

Perhaps the main point of conflict is over Hamas’ fighting force. Hamas refuses to compromise on the issue of armed resistance, and Abbas insists on the dismantling of Hamas’ armed group, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

But these disagreements are hardly strong enough reason to kill Hamdallah, the last hope for an end to the rift and easing the blockade on Gaza.

Although Hamdallah survived, the bombing achieved some of its objectives. A senior PA official told AFP that “Abbas decided no members of Hamdallah’s government would travel to Gaza in the short term ‘due to the security problems.’”

While this might not be the end of reconciliation, it could possibly be the beginning of the end.

Israel has accelerated its Annexation of the West Bank from a Slow Creep to a Run

Seemingly unrelated events all point to a tectonic shift in which Israel has begun preparing the ground to annex the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last week, during an address to students in New York, Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett publicly disavowed even the notion of a Palestinian state. “We are done with that,” he said. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”

Later in Washington, Mr Bennett, who heads Israel’s settler movement, said Israel would manage the fallout from annexing the West Bank, just as it had with its annexation of the Syrian Golan in 1980.

International opposition would dissipate, he said. “After two months it fades away and 20 years later and 40 years later, [the territory is] still ours.”

Back home, Israel has proven such words are not hollow.

The parliament passed a law last month that brings three academic institutions, including Ariel University, all located in illegal West Bank settlements, under the authority of Israel’s Higher Education Council. Until now, they were overseen by a military body.

The move marks a symbolic and legal sea change. Israel has effectively expanded its civilian sovereignty into the West Bank. It is a covert but tangible first step towards annexation.

In a sign of how the idea of annexation is now entirely mainstream, Israeli university heads mutely accepted the change, even though it exposes them both to intensified action from the growing international boycott (BDS) movement and potentially to European sanctions on scientific co-operation.

Additional bills extending Israeli law to the settlements are in the pipeline. In fact, far-right justice minister Ayelet Shaked has insisted that those drafting new legislation indicate how it can also be applied in the West Bank.

According to Peace Now, she and Israeli law chiefs are devising new pretexts to seize Palestinian territory. She has called the separation between Israel and the occupied territories required by international law “an injustice that has lasted 50 years”.

After the higher education law passed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his party Israel would “act intelligently” to extend unnoticed its sovereignty into the West Bank. “This is a process with historic consequences,” he said.

That accords with a vote by his Likud party’s central committee in December that unanimously backed annexation.

The government is already working on legislation to bring some West Bank settlements under Jerusalem municipal control – annexation via the back door. This month officials gave themselves additional powers to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem for “disloyalty”.

Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, warned that Israel had accelerated its annexation programme from “creeping to running”.

Notably, Mr Netanyahu has said the government’s plans are being co-ordinated with the Trump administration. It was a statement he later retracted under pressure.

But all evidence suggests that Washington is fully on board, so long as annexation is done by stealth.

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a long-time donor to the settlements, told Israel’s Channel 10 TV recently: “The settlers aren’t going anywhere”. Settler leader Yaakov Katz, meanwhile, thanked Donald Trump for a dramatic surge in settlement growth over the past year. Figures show one in 10 Israeli Jews is now a settler. He called the White House team “people who really like us, love us”, adding that the settlers were “changing the map”.

The US is preparing to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, not only pre-empting a final-status issue but tearing out the beating heart from a Palestinian state.

The thrust of US strategy is so well-known to Palestinian leaders – and in lockstep with Israel – that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is said to have refused to even look at the peace plan recently submitted to him.

Reports suggest it will award Israel all of Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians will be forced to accept outlying villages as their own capital, as well as a land “corridor” to let them pray at Al Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As the stronger side, Israel will be left to determine the fate of the settlements and its borders – a recipe for it to carry on with slow-motion annexation.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has warned that Mr Trump’s “ultimate deal” will limit a Palestinian state to Gaza and scraps of the West Bank – much as Mr Bennett prophesied in New York.

Which explains why last week the White House hosted a meeting of European and Arab states to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

US officials have warned the Palestinian leadership, who stayed away, that a final deal will be settled over their heads if necessary. This time the US peace plan is not up for negotiation; it is primed for implementation.

With a Palestinian “state” effectively restricted to Gaza, the humanitarian catastrophe there – one the United Nations has warned will make the enclave uninhabitable in a few years – needs to be urgently addressed.

But the White House summit also sidelined the UN refugee agency UNRWA, which deals with Gaza’s humanitarian situation. The Israeli right hates UNRWA because its presence complicates annexation of the West Bank. And with Fatah and Hamas still at loggerheads, it alone serves to unify the West Bank and Gaza.

That is why the Trump administration recently cut US funding to UNRWA – the bulk of its budget. The White House’s implicit goal is to find a new means to manage Gaza’s misery.

What is needed now is someone to arm-twist the Palestinians. Mike Pompeo’s move from the CIA to State Department, Mr Trump may hope, will produce the strongman needed to bulldoze the Palestinians into submission.

• First published in the National

Israeli Parliament Endorses Final Version of “Jewish Nation-State Bill”

After seven years of delays, the Israeli governing parties have agreed the final terms of controversial new legislation that would define Israel exclusively as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

The bill is now expected to be fast-tracked through the Israeli parliament and on to the statute books in the coming weeks.

Approval by the parliament’s justice committee this week of the Basic Law, which carries much greater weight than normal legislation, marks a dangerous turning-point for Palestinians, according to analysts.

Amir Ohana, the committee’s chair, called it the “law of all laws”, while a government minister termed it “Zionism’s flagship bill”.

It effectively blocks any chance for Israel’s large Palestinian minority – one in five of the population – to reform Israel in the future into a normal, Western-style democracy.

In the words of one of the handful of Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament, Aida Touma-Suleiman, the bill “institutionalises an apartheid regime in the most blatant way”.

But equally significantly, and largely unnoticed, the Basic Law paves the way for Israel’s right-wing government to consolidate and expand the annexation of Palestinian lands under occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – and stymie any legal moves intended to prevent such efforts.

Arabic demoted

The weight of expectations on the new bill is part of the reason it has undergone such a lengthy
process of redrafting since a first version was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The proposed Basic Law has attracted scrutiny chiefly for the unconcealed nature of its anti-democratic provisions.

The final version approved this week demotes the status of Arabic – the mother tongue of one-fifth of Israel’s citizens – so that it is no longer an official language alongside Hebrew.

It also promotes Jewish communities that strictly enforce rules to exclude Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens. It reiterates Israel’s mission to “ingather the exiles”, restricting immigration to Jews only, and prioritises the rights of Jews abroad over those of the country’s Palestinian minority.

Most significant of all, it dispenses with any “democratic” component in Israel’s self-definition. Israel’s “Jewishness” is made paramount.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who maintains close ties to Netanyahu, observed of the bill: “It will bring order, clarify what is taken for granted and put Israel back on the right path. A country that is different from all others in one way – that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Court challenges

As Levin suggests, while there is little ostensibly new in the bill, it “clarifies” and shores up Israel’s current anomalous political makeup.

The Arabic language is already invisible in most public spaces in Israel. Some 93 percent of Israel’s land is already reserved exclusively for the Jewish people around the world, not Israel’s citizens. The Law of Return already allows only Jews to immigrate.

And many critics, including Israeli scholars, argue it is impossible for Israel to be both “Jewish and democratic” – any more than it could be “white and democratic” or “Christian and democratic”. They describe Israel as a non-democratic type of state known as an “ethnocracy”.

So why go to such trouble to legislate the current bill when it changes so little?

There are several urgent impulses behind the Basic Law.

In part, it is the right’s response to a series of embarrassing legal and political challenges that have needed to be faced down since Israel passed a Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity in 1992.

After the law defined Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, legal rights groups initiated challenges in the courts for Israel to respect equality.

That gradually exposed the unresolvable contradictions between the state’s “Jewish and democratic” claims, according to Ahmad Saadi, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva.

Jewish-only communities

The first major crisis arrived at the Israeli supreme court in 2000, when a Palestinian citizen, Adel Kaadan, sued to be allowed to live in one of Israel’s 700 exclusively Jewish communities. Each community had set up a so-called “admissions committee” specifically to block access for Palestinian citizens.

Lawyers argued that, in excluding 20 percent of its population from almost all land in Israel, the state was enforcing residential apartheid.

The judges agonised over the case for years. In 2011, Netanyahu’s government finally took the court off this hook by giving the committees a statutory basis.

But the reverberations are still being felt. Last month, the far-right justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, cited the Kaadan case as a reason for the nation-state Basic Law, saying: “It’s all right for a Jewish community to, by definition, be only Jewish.

“There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights,” she added.

Demand for reform

Political challenges have compounded the legal ones. In 2006, Palestinian leaders in Israel produced a document, the Future Vision, demanding that Israel reform from being a Jewish state into a civic democracy. They urged that Israel become a “consensual democracy”, where all citizens had equal rights.

In a highly unusual move, the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police agency, responded in public. They called the document “subversive” and warned they would “thwart” any activity, even if legal, to promote its aims.

Since then, the figurehead of the democratisation campaign, Azmi Bishara, has been forced into exile, accused of treason.

Israel has also passed a series of measures to weaken the standing of Palestinian politicians in parliament, including an Expulsion Law that allows Jewish legislators to oust Palestinian colleagues.

Saadi, the professor, told Al Jazeera: “The Israeli right understands the international political climate and believes it is far more conducive to violations of human rights and overt racism than it was a decade ago.

“It senses the direction the wind is now blowing.”

Judges’ hands to be tied

Additionally, Shaked, the justice minster, has linked the Jewish Nation-State Bill to revisions she is making to another constitutional-type Basic Law, one dealing with legislation.

Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, pointed out this would allow the governing coalition to reverse any ruling by the Israeli supreme court against a piece of legislation, even if it violated human rights. The court’s powers of judicial review would be voided.

“This legislation will tie the judges’ hands,” Farah told Al Jazeera. “They won’t be able to intervene in government decisions.”

In a Facebook post, Shaked said she was undoing the “constitutional revolution” instituted by the 1992 Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity – or in her words, “realigning the train track that was twisted a quarter-century ago”.

She added: “In the past 20 years court rulings have sharpened the universal values more than the state’s Jewish character.”

Tailwind from Trump

Which alludes to a likely second ambition for the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law. The restraining hand of the supreme court will be lifted just as the Israeli right enjoys the tailwind of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Farah noted Israel has still not decided on its territorial limits.

“Israel refuses to define its borders and then states through this Basic Law that only the Jewish people have a ‘unique right to self-determination’ in the region,” he said.

That could open the door to Israel consolidating its hold on occupied East Jerusalem and accelerating a policy of creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Trump is preparing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting in Israel’s favour one of the traditional final-status issues that were supposed to be settled in peace talks with the Palestinians.

At the same time, Israel is drafting legislation that would strip tens of thousands of Palestinians of their residency rights in East Jerusalem, while annexing parts of the West Bank to Jerusalem to skew the city’s demography towards a solid Jewish majority.

In the words of Nir Hasson, a veteran Israeli reporter on Jerusalem: “The Israeli political system has already understood that Jerusalem is an anomaly that has to be solved.” It intends, therefore, to provide a solution that refuses to “recognise the place of the Palestinians in the city”.

Proving Hasson’s point, the parliament passed last week a law empowering the government to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Precondition for talks

These violations of human rights and international law would be hard for the supreme court to stomach.

But if the Israeli government carries on its current path, the courts will soon have no say on such matters, observed Farah.

The new Jewish Nation-State Basic Law may offer other advantages, Saadi pointed out.

Netanyahu has been trying to impose a precondition on peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian leader first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. In recent years, Washington has sounded as if it accepts this idea.

By stripping Israel of even a pretension towards democratic principles, Netanyahu would place Abbas in an impossible position.

The new Basic Law includes all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and gives the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination in the region. No Palestinian leader could contemplate recognising a “Jewish state” defined this way.

“Neither Israel nor the US wants negotiations. They are interested only in the Palestinians submitting,” said Saadi.

Netanyahu and his allies on the right may hope to take advantage of Washington and European capitals’ blind acceptance of Israel on its own terms as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

Will they notice that through this latest piece of legislation Israel has quietly dropped the claim that a Jewish state even aspires to be “democratic”?

• First published in Al Jazeera

Will Israeli Policies change If Netanyahu Leaves Office?

If scandal-plagued Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, exits his country’s political scene today, who is likely to replace him? And what does this mean as far as Israel’s Occupation of Palestine is concerned?

Netanyahu, who is currently being charged with multiple cases of corruption, misuse of government funds and public office, has, for years, epitomized the image of Israel internationally.

In Israel, Netanyahu has masterfully kept his right wing Likud Party at the center of power. Even if as part of larger coalitions – as is often the case in the formation of most of Israeli governments – the Likud, under Netanyahu, has shaped Israeli politics and foreign policy for many years.

As Israel’s Jewish population continues to move to the right, the country’s political ideology has been repeatedly redefined in the last two decades.

Now, a negligible eight percent of Israeli Jews see themselves as left wing, while a whopping 37 percent consider themselves right wing. Although 55 percent see themselves as center, the term itself does not represent what political centers traditionally do in other countries.

For example, it is quite acceptable to be a member of Israel’s center and support the idea of forced expulsion of Palestinian Arab natives living in Israel.  48 percent of all Israeli Jews, in fact, do.

But what does all of this mean for the Palestinian people, for the Israeli Occupation and for a just solution to the ongoing suffering in Palestine?

Here are some characters that are seen as possible heirs to Netanyahu’s political throne.

This should certainly not indicate that Netanyahu’s political future is over. But due to the number and seriousness of the scandals surrounding him, Netanyahu’s skills may no longer serve him.

Mindful of that possibility, some Israeli politicians, even in Netanyahu’s own party, are ready to take the helm when the opportunity arise:

Minister of Education and leader of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), Naftali Bennett is a right wing, ultra-nationalist. He is vehemently opposed to any talks with the Palestinians and has long advocated the full annexation of all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on March 8, Bennett made it clear that he would run for the post of Prime Minister when Netanyahu “exits the political stage.”

In recent remarks made at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, Bennett, a champion of the settlers’ movement, insisted that neither settlement blocs nor large sections of the Occupied West Bank will ever be relinquished.

He was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that any criticism from the West regarding the annexation of occupied land is likely to be fleeting. “After two months (of annexation) it fades away, and 20 years later and 40 years later it’s still ours. Forever.”

Head of the centrist party, Kulanu (All of Us) and the country’s Finance Minister, Moshe Kahlon, is a vital member of Netanyahu’s right wing-extremist coalition.

He was a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, and he merely differs with Netanyahu on some domestic issues.

Although, Kahlon advocates the resumption of the so-called peace process, he, like Netanyahu, places the blame mostly on the Palestinian leadership, not on Israeli policies, predicated on the continued expansion of the illegal settlements.

If he is to become Prime Minister, he is likely to reproduce Netanyahu’s political strategy, to keep his party as close to the right as possible, and to engender future coalitions with the country’s ultra-nationalists and extremists.

Gideon Sa’ar is also an ex-Likud member. Despite his popularity in the party (as shown in the results of the 2008 and 2012 elections), he stepped down from politics in 2015 due to strong disagreements with Netanyahu. He had made it clear that his ultimate “goal is to lead the country in the future.”

As he is now back in politics following Netanyahu’s corruption scandals, Sa’ar is articulating his political programs in various media platforms. He dismissed the ‘two-state solution’ as a ‘two-state slogan,’ not because he is a believer in co-existence in one democratic state, but because the status quo suits Israel well.

Delighted by a decision made last December by US President, Donald Trump, to accept Israel’s own definition of Jerusalem as the ‘eternal capital of the Jewish people’, he said, “understanding, as the US President has said lately, that this conflict is not the heart of the regional conflict, is crucial.”

“It’s a very, very small and marginal conflict in comparison to the multi-front regional war between Shiites and Sunnis.”

One of the most outspoken right wing, ultra-nationalists, known for her racially-loaded and often outrageous views is Ayelet Shaked.

She is a very influential member of Bennett’s Jewish Home Party, serving as the Minister of Justice in Netanyahu’s current coalition.

What is most problematic about her views is not simply her lack of interest in a Palestinian state, as she has repeatedly made clear, but rather her views on non-Jewish minorities in the country and on democracy as a whole.

“There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained, and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality,” she said as reported by the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz.

“Israel is a Jewish state. It isn’t a state of all its nations. There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”

And, finally, there is Avi Gabbay, who split from the Kulanu Party four years ago to run for, and eventually lead, the Labor Party, the leading ‘left’ party in Israel.

Gabbay’s political views are, in fact, as hawkish as that of Netanyahu and other right wing politicians regarding the Jewish settlements, as he understands that the most powerful political constituency in Israel is now that of the right.

He said in an interview, soon after taking over the Labor, that peace with the Palestinians does not necessarily require dismantling the illegal Jewish settlements.

Israeli politics can be complicated, as often displayed in their intricate government coalitions. However, when it comes to Israel’s military Occupation of Palestine, leading Israeli politicians are, more or less, the same.

Regardless of Netanyahu’s political future, Israeli policies towards Palestinians will remain unchanged, leaving Palestinians with the urgent responsibility of developing their own unified political strategy to counter the Israeli Occupation, human rights violations and illegal Jewish settlements.

Theresa May recruits Royalty to thwart BDS

Prince William, second in line to the throne, is being sent to the Holy Land by the UK Government “to promote diplomatic and cultural ties”. In effect he’ll be helping to normalise 70 years of Israeli occupation and sanitise the unimaginable cruelty that has gone with it. His trip cuts across the Boycott Divestment & Sanctions movement’s efforts to bring pressure for justice.

*****

Kensington Palace has announced in a tweet that “the Duke of Cambridge will visit Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian territories in the summer.”

The visit “is at the request of Her Majesty’s Government.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately welcomed the news, saying: “It is a historic visit, the first of its kind, and he will be received here with great enthusiasm.” And President Reuven Rivlin wrote on his Twitter account that Prince William will be “a very special guest” and his visit will be “a very special present for our 70th year of independence.”

Royals are supposed to remain aloof from politics, at home and abroad. The Monarch, for good reason, has avoided any state visit to Israel since the entity established itself in treacherous circumstances back in 1948.

So why the sudden change in Palace policy?

Recruiting Prince William to shmooze the Zionists follows the warm welcome extended to Netanyahu by Theresa May to the infamous Balfour Declaration celebrations in London last November and her earlier speech oozing adoration for Israel. In that speech she attacked the successful BDS campaign calling it unacceptable and warning that her government would “have no truck with those who subscribe to it”.  The Israel lobby meanwhile has agitated furiously for the UK to shut down BDS.

Mrs May was ticked off for her hostility to BDS by 200 legal scholars and practising lawyers from all over Europe who pointed out to her that BDS is a lawful exercise of freedom of expression and outlawing it undermines a basic human right protected by international convention. Any efforts to repress BDS amount to support for Israel’s violations of international law and a failure to honour the solemn pledge by States to ‘strictly respect the aims and principles of the Charter of the United Nations’.

So why is she so stiff-necked about it? After all, Netanyahu is on many a wanted list for crimes against humanity and should, in a sane world, be locked up. What’s more, he is under investigation for corruption in his own country. Israel, as everyone knows, is in flagrant breach of umpteen UN resolutions of the sort that would have brought crippling sanctions down on any other offender.

The international community’s failure to act has left civil society no option but to fill the vacuum with BDS.

All the same Mrs May and the Israel lobby are pressing ahead with their anti-BDS programme and it looks like they’re getting special help from the Royal Family. But if Prince William seeks to undo the efforts of civil society he sets himself against the people.

According to May’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt, the official reason for the royal trip is that it’s “an important and unique opportunity to promote diplomatic and cultural ties in the region”, which is shorthand for enriching big business post-Brexit. So that’s OK then. Don’t let the misery of decades-long military occupation get in the way of new riches, eh?

Prince William’s mission needs to be very different to the one intended by May and Netanyahu

Kensington Palace’s tweet received this reply from a certain Suzanne Levy, who describes herself as a full-time ‘kook’: “Fantastic news, but please correct your erroneous terminology. The Palestinian Territories are not occupied by Israel – they are under the rule of Hamas and the PA.” As if jumping to her kooky instruction the British embassy in Israel released a Hebrew-language version of the Kensington Palace announcement omitting the words “occupied territories” and replacing them with “Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.

In denying the Israeli occupation Ms Levy, like other hasbara trolls, is at odds with the United Nations, international law, world opinion and documented history. Even the UK Government officially refers to Palestine as the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories), so the edit by its own embassy is puzzling.

Unless, of course, it tells the truth and the plan is to prevent Prince William from actually experiencing the Occupied Territories by confining him to the witless ‘Palestinian Authority’. The PA has precious little legitimacy and is led by a ‘quisling tendency’ who have done next to nothing for the Palestinians. Their reward for wasting the nation’s time and wrecking its prospects is a life of comparative luxury, very different from that suffered by the unfortunate people they are supposed to serve. They can be relied upon to give the Prince a suitable skewed view of things.

Here’s acid test number 1. The Occupied Territories include Gaza. So will the Israelis and May allow Prince William to visit there, shoot the breeze with Hamas (whose political wing are not proscribed as terrorists in the UK and who struggle to run the devastated place after 10 years of vicious blockade, almost daily air strikes, repeated military ground incursions and occupation of its territorial waters and airspace by Israel) and to see for himself the true horror of the humanitarian crisis all this has caused? If the answer is no, the entire visit should be called off. But it won’t be.

Acid test number 2 is this. Prince William will likely succeed to the throne one day and become Defender of the [Christian] Faith, a 500 year old obligation. As a true Christian – if that is what he is – he’ll know all about the cry for help issued only months ago by the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine to the World Council of Churches and the entire ecumenical movement. It was signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

They say:

We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour declaration…. A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule…. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.

The message ends with these ominous words:

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse…. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.”

William must be allowed to hear direct the serious concerns of the Christian and Muslim communities and take a robust line that involves consequences for the occupier if those concerns are not properly dealt with.

Prince William’s wife Kate (Duchess of Cambridge) is expecting their third child towards the end of April so he’ll probably make the trip without her. But expect the visit to be accompanied by waves of media rapture over the new arrival, with Israel’s propaganda machine working flat-out to milk maximum PR benefits and subliminally stamp the Royal seal of approval on their apartheid regime.

If Prince William does set foot in the Holy Land his mission must obviously be very different to the one described by Alistair Burt or wished for by Netanyahu and May.  If he is seen to lend legitimacy to a grasping, racist enterprise like the Israel Project, which shows no respect for human rights or international law, it will surely come to haunt him.