Category Archives: West Bank

Israel is bulldozing Khan Al Ahmar and with it the Two-state Solution

Israel finally built an access road to the West Bank village of Khan Al Ahmar last week, after half a century of delays. But the only vehicles allowed along it are the bulldozers scheduled to sweep away its 200 inhabitants’ homes.

If one community has come to symbolise the demise of the two-state solution, it is Khan Al Ahmar.

It was for that reason that a posse of European diplomats left their air-conditioned offices late last week to trudge through the hot, dusty hills outside Jerusalem and witness for themselves the preparations for the village’s destruction. That included the Israeli police viciously beating residents and supporters as they tried to block the advance of heavy machinery.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have submitted a formal protest. Their denunciations echoed those of more than 70 Democratic lawmakers in Washington in May – a rare example of US politicians showing solidarity with Palestinians.

It would be gratifying to believe that Western governments care about the inhabitants of Khan Al Ahmar – or the thousands of other Palestinians who are being incrementally cleansed by Israel from nearby lands but whose plight has drawn far less attention.

After all, the razing of Khan Al Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population are war crimes.

But in truth Western politicians are more concerned about propping up the illusion of a peace process that expired many years ago than the long-running abuse of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Western capitals understand what is at stake. Israel wants Khan Al Ahmar gone so that Jewish settlements can be built in its place, on land it has designated as “E1”.

That would put the final piece in place for Israel to build a substantial bloc of new settler homes to sever the West Bank in two. Those same settlements would also seal off West Bank Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a future Palestinian state, making a mockery of any peace agreement.

The erasure of Khan Al Ahmar has not arrived out of nowhere. Israel has trampled on international law for decades, conducting a form of creeping annexation that has provoked little more than uncomfortable shifting in chairs from Western politicians.

Khan Al Ahmar’s Bedouin inhabitants, from the Jahalin tribe, have been ethnically cleansed twice before by Israel, but these war crimes went unnoticed.

The first time was in the 1950s, a few years after Israel’s creation, when 80 per cent of Palestinians had been driven from their homes to clear the path for the creation of a Jewish state.

Although they should have enjoyed the protection of Israeli citizenship, the Jahalin were forced out of the Negev and into the West Bank, then controlled by Jordan, to make way for new Jewish immigrants.

A generation later in 1967, when they had barely re-established themselves, the Jahalin were again under attack from Israeli soldiers occupying the West Bank. The grazing lands the Jahalin had relocated to with their goats and sheep were seized to build a settlement for Jews only, Kfar Adumim, in violation of the laws of war.

Ever since, the Jahalin have dwelt in a twilight zone of Israeli-defined “illegality”. Like other Palestinians in the 60 per cent of the West Bank declared under Israeli control by the Oslo peace process, they have been denied building permits, forcing three generations to live in tin shacks and tents.

Israel has also refused to connect the village to the water, electricity and sewage grids, in an attempt to make life so unbearable the Jahalin would opt to leave.

When an Italian charity helped in 2009 to establish Khan Al Ahmar’s first school – made from mud and tyres – Israel stepped up its legal battle to demolish the village.

Now, the Jahalin are about to be driven from their lands again. This time they are to be forcibly re-settled next to a waste dump by the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, hemmed in on all sides by Israeli walls and settlements.

In the new location they will be forced to abandon their pastoral way of life. As resident Ibrahim Abu Dawoud observed: “For us, leaving the desert is death.”

In another indication of the Palestinians’ dire predicament, the Trump administration is expected to propose in its long-awaited peace plan that the slum-like Abu Dis, rather than East Jerusalem, serve as the capital of a future pseudo-Palestinian state – if Israel ever chooses to recognise one.

Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction would be the first demolition of a complete Palestinian community since the 1990s, when Israel ostensibly committed to the Oslo process.

Now emboldened by Washington’s unstinting support, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is racing ahead to realise its vision of a Greater Israel. It wants to annex the lands on which villages like Khan Al Ahmar stand and remove their Palestinian populations.

There is a minor hurdle. Last Thursday, the Israeli supreme court tried to calm the storm clouds gathering in Europe by issuing a temporary injunction on the demolition works.

The reprieve is likely to be short-lived. A few weeks ago the same court – in a panel dominated by judges identified with the settler movement – backed Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction.

The Supreme Court has also been moving towards accepting the Israeli government’s argument that decades of land grabs by settlers should be retroactively sanctioned – even though they violate Israeli and international law – if carried out in “good faith”.

Whatever the judges believe, there is nothing “good faith” about the behaviour of either the settlers or Israel’s government towards communities like Khan Al Ahmar.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ veteran peace negotiator, recently warned that Israel and the US were close to “liquidating” the project of Palestinian statehood.

Sounding more desperate than usual, the Europe Union reaffirmed this month its commitment to a two-state solution, while urging that the “obstacles” to its realisation be more clearly identifed.

The elephant in the room is Israel itself – and its enduring bad faith. As Khan Al Ahmar demonstrates all too clearly, there will be no end to the slow-motion erasure of Palestinian communities until western governments find the nerve to impose biting sanctions on Israel.

• First published in The National

Sisi holds Key to Trump’s Sinai Plan for Palestinians

Israel and the US are in a race against time with Gaza. The conundrum is stark: how to continue isolating the tiny coastal enclave from the outside world and from the West Bank – to sabotage any danger of a Palestinian state emerging – without stoking a mass revolt from Gaza’s two million Palestinians?

In Gaza, Israel does not have the luxury of time it enjoys in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the two additional Palestinian territories it occupies. In those areas, it can keep chipping away at the Palestinian presence, using the Israeli army, Jewish settlers and tight restrictions on Palestinian movement to take over key resources like land and water.

Gaza: A death camp

While Israel is engaged in a war of attrition with the West Bank’s population, a similar, gradualist approach in Gaza is rapidly becoming untenable. The United Nations has warned that the enclave may be only two years away from becoming “uninhabitable”, its economy in ruins and its water supplies unpotable.

More than a decade of a severe Israeli blockade as well as a series of military assaults have plunged much of Gaza into the dark ages. Israel desperately needs a solution, before Gaza’s prison turns into a death camp. And now, under cover of Donald Trump’s “ultimate peace plan”, Israel appears to be on the brink of an answer.

Recent weeks have been rife with reports in the Israeli and Arab media of moves by Washington and Israel to pressure Egypt into turning over a swath of territory in northern Sinai, next to Gaza, for infrastructure projects designed to alleviate the enclave’s “humanitarian crisis”.

Late last month Hamas, which rules Gaza, sent a delegation to Cairo to discuss the measures. This followed hot on the heels of a visit to Egypt by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law who is overseeing the Middle East peace plan.

Exploiting Egyptian fears

According to reports, Trump hopes soon to unveil a package – associated with his “deal of the century” peace-making – that will commit to the construction of a solar-power grid, desalination plant, seaport and airport in Sinai, as well as a free trade zone with five industrial areas. Most of the financing will come from the oil-rich Gulf states.

Egyptian diplomatic sources appear to have confirmed the reports. The programme has the potential to help relieve the immense suffering in Gaza, where electricity, clean water and freedom of movement are in short supply. Palestinians and Egyptians would jointly work on these projects, providing desperately needed jobs. In Gaza, youth unemployment stands at over 60 per cent.

It has been left unclear whether Palestinians from Gaza would be encouraged to live close to the Sinai projects in migrant workers’ towns. Israel will doubtless hope that Palestinian workers would gradually make Sinai their permanent home.

Egypt, meanwhile, will benefit both from the huge injection of capital in an economy currently in crisis, as well as from new infrastructure that can be used for its own population in the restive Sinai peninsula.

It is worth noting that for two years an Israeli cabinet minister has been proposing similar infrastructure projects for Gaza located on an artificial island to be established in Palestinian territorial waters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly balked at the proposal.

Locating the scheme instead in Egypt, under Cairo’s control, will tie Egyptian security concerns about Gaza to Israel’s, and serve to kill the Palestinian national cause of statehood.

A decade of arm-twisting

It is important to understand that the Sinai plan is not simply evidence of wishful thinking by an inexperienced or deluded Trump administration. All the signs are that it has enjoyed vigorous support from the Washington policy establishment for more than a decade.

In fact, four years ago, when Barack Obama was firmly ensconced in the White House, Middle East Eye charted the course of attempts by Israel and the US to arm-twist a succession of Egyptian leaders into opening Sinai to Gaza’s Palestinians.

This has been a key Israeli ambition since it pulled several thousand settlers out of Gaza in the so-called disengagement of 2005 and claimed afterwards – falsely – that the enclave’s occupation was over.

Washington has reportedly been on board since 2007, when the Islamist faction Hamas took control of Gaza, ousting the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It was then that Israel, backed by the US, intensified a blockade that has destroyed Gaza’s economy and prevented key goods from entering.

A Palestinian statelet

The advantages of the Sinai plan are self-evident to Israel and the US. It would:

  • make permanent the territorial division between Gaza and the West Bank, and the ideological split between the rival factions of Fatah and Hamas;
  • downgrade Gaza from a diplomatic issue to a humanitarian one;
  • gradually lead to the establishment of a de facto Palestinian statelet in Sinai and Gaza, mostly outside the borders of historic Palestine;
  • encourage the eventual settlement of potentially millions of Palestinian refugees in Egyptian territory, stripping them of their right in international law to return to their homes, now in Israel;
  • weaken the claims of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, located in the West Bank, to represent the Palestinian cause and undermine their moves to win recognition of statehood at the United Nations;
  • and lift opprobrium from Israel by shifting responsibility for repressing Gaza’s Palestinians to Egypt and the wider Arab world.

‘Greater Gaza’ plan

In summer 2014, Israel’s media reported that, with Washington’s blessing, Israeli officials had been working on a plan dubbed “Greater Gaza” that would attach the enclave to a large slice of northern Sinai. The reports suggested that Israel had made headway with Cairo on the idea.

Egyptian and Palestinians officials publicly responded to the leaks by denouncing the plan as “fabricated”. But, whether Cairo was privately receptive or not, it provided yet further confirmation of a decade-long Israeli strategy in Gaza.

At around the same time, an Arab newspaper interviewed a former anonymous official close to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president ousted in 2011. He said Egypt had come under concerted pressure from 2007 onwards to annex Gaza to northern Sinai, after Hamas took control of the enclave following Palestinian elections.

Five years later, according to the same source, Mohamed Morsi, who led a short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, sent a delegation to Washington where the Americans proposed that “Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years”.

And since 2014, it appears, Morsi’s successor, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has faced similar lobbying.

Carrots and sticks

Suspicions that Sisi might have been close to capitulating four years ago were fuelled at that time by Abbas himself. In an interview on Egyptian TV, he said Israel’s Sinai plan had been “unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it.”

Israel’s neoconservative cheerleaders in Washington who reportedly leant on Mubarak in 2007, during George W Bush’s presidency, are now influencing Middle East policy again in the Trump administration.

And although Sisi appears to have stood his ground in 2014, subsequent dramatic changes in the region are likely to have weakened his hand.

Both Abbas and Hamas are more isolated than ever, and the situation in Gaza more desperate. Israel has cultivated much closer ties to the Gulf states as they fashion joint opposition to Iran. And the Trump administration has dropped even the pretence of neutrality in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In fact, Trump’s Middle East team led by Kushner adopted from the outset Israel’s so-called “outside-in” paradigm for arriving at a peace agreement.

The idea is to use a carrot-and-stick approach – a mix of financial inducements and punitive sanctions – to bully Abbas and Hamas into making yet more major concessions to Israel that would void any meaningful moves towards Palestinian statehood. Key to this idea is that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can be recruited to help Israel in its efforts to force the Palestinian leadership’s hand.

Egypt, current reports indicate, has come under similar pressure from the Gulf to concede territory in Sinai to help Trump with his long-delayed “deal of the century”.

Muslim Brotherhood threat

Sisi and his generals have good reason to be reluctant to help. After they grabbed power from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, they have done everything possible to crush homegrown Islamist movements, but have faced a backlash in Sinai.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is the sister organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s generals have worried that opening the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and Gaza could bolster Islamist attacks that Egypt has struggled to contain. There are fears too in Cairo that the Sinai option would shift the burden of Gaza onto Egypt’s shoulders.

This is where Trump and Kushner may hope their skills at wheeler-dealing can achieve a breakthrough.

Egypt’s susceptibility to financial inducements from the Gulf were on display last year when Sisi’s government agreed effectively to sell off to Saudi Arabia two strategic Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir. They guard the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Suez canal.

In return, Egypt received billions of dollars in loans and investments from the kingdom, including large-scale infrastructure projects in Sinai. Israel reportedly approved the deal.

Analysts have suggested that the handover of the islands to Saudi Arabia was intended to strengthen security and intelligence cooperation between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in dealing with Islamic militants in Sinai.

This now looks suspiciously like the prelude to Trump’s reported Sinai plan.

Over the Palestinians’ heads

In March, the White House hosted 19 countries in a conference to consider new ideas for dealing with Gaza’s mounting crisis. As well as Israel, participants included representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The Palestinians boycotted the meeting.

Much favoured by the Trump team was a paper delivered by Yoav Mordechai, an Israeli general and key official overseeing Israel’s strategy in the occupied territories. Many of his proposals – for a free trade zone and infrastructure projects in Sinai – are now being advanced.

Last month Kushner visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan to drum up support. According to interviews in the Israel Hayom daily, all four Arab states are on board with the peace plan, even if it means bypassing Abbas.

Jackie Khoury, a Palestinian analyst for the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, summed up the plan’s Gaza elements: “Egypt, which has a vital interest in calming Gaza down because of the territory’s impact on Sinai, will play the policeman who restrains Hamas. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and perhaps the United Arab Emirates will pay for the projects, which will be under United Nations auspices.”

Israel’s efforts to secure compliance from Hamas may be indicated by recent threats to invade Gaza and dissect it in two, reported through veteran Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai. The US has also moved to deepen the crisis in Gaza by withholding payments to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. A majority of Gaza’s population are refugees dependent on UN handouts.

An advantage for Hamas in agreeing to the Sinai plan is that it would finally be freed of Israeli and Palestinian Authority controls over Gaza. It would be in a better able to sustain its rule, as long as it did not provoke Egyptian ire.

Oslo’s pacification model

Israel and Washington’s plans for Gaza have strong echoes of the “economic pacification” model that was the framework for the Oslo peace process of the late 1990s.

For Israel, Oslo represented a cynical chance to destroy the largely rural economy of the West Bank that Palestinians have depended on for centuries. Israel has long coveted the territory both for its economic potential and its Biblical associations.

Hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank rely on these lands for agriculture, rooting them to historic locations through economic need and tradition. But uprooting the villagers – forcing them into a handful of Palestinian cities, and clearing the land for Jewish settlers – required an alternative economic model.

As part of the the Oslo process, Israel began establishing a series of industrial areas – paid for by international donors – on the so-called “seam zone” between Israel and the West Bank.

Israeli and international companies were to open factories there, employing cheap Palestinian labour with minimal safeguards. Palestinians would be transformed from farmers with a strong attachment to their lands into a casual labour force concentrated in the cities.

An additional advantage for Israel was that it would make the Palestinians the ultimate “precariat”. Should they start demanding a state or even protest for rights, Israel could simply block entry to the industrial areas, allowing hunger to pacify the population.

New prison wardens

There is every reason to believe that is now the goal of an Israeli-Trump initiative to gradually relocate Palestinians to Sinai through investment in infrastructure projects.

With the two countries’ security interests safely aligned, Israel can then rely on Egypt to pacify the Palestinians of Gaza on its behalf. Under such a scheme, Cairo will have many ways to teach its new workforce of migrant labourers a lesson.

It can temporarily shut down the infrastructure projects, laying off the workforce, until there is quiet. It can close off the sole Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai. It can shutter the electricity and desalination plants, depriving Gaza of power and clean water.

This way Gaza can be kept under Israel’s thumb without Israel sharing any blame. Egypt will become Gaza’s visible prison wardens, just as Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have shouldered the burden of serving as jailers in much of the West Bank.

This is Israel’s model for Gaza. We may soon find out whether it is shared by Egypt and the Gulf states.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Young Protesters are defying Israel’s Blockade with Scraps of Paper and Plastic

First Israel built a sophisticated missile interception system named Iron Dome to neutralise the threat of homemade rockets fired out of Gaza.

Next it created technology that could detect and destroy tunnels Palestinians had cut through the parched earth deep under the fences Israel erected to imprison Gaza on all sides.

Israel’s priority was to keep Gaza locked down with a blockade and its two million inhabitants invisible.

Now Israel is facing a new and apparently even tougher challenge: how to stop Palestinian resistance from Gaza using flaming kites, which have set fire to lands close by in Israel. F-16 fighter jets are equipped to take on many foes but not the humble kite.

These various innovations by Palestinians are widely seen by Israelis as part of the same relentless campaign by Hamas to destroy their country.

But from inside Gaza, things look very different. These initiatives are driven by a mix of recognisably human emotions: a refusal to bow before crushing oppression; a fear of becoming complicit through silence and inaction in being erased and forgotten; and a compelling need to take back control of one’s life.

Palestinians encaged in Gaza, denied entry and exit by Israel via land, sea and air for more than a decade, know that life there is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Most young people are unemployed, much of the infrastructure and housing are irreparably damaged, and polluted water sources are near-unpotable.

After waves of military attacks, Gaza’s children are traumatised with mental scars that may never heal.

This catastrophe was carefully engineered by Israel, which renews and enforces it daily.

The kites have long served as a potent symbol of freedom in Gaza. Children have flown them from the few spots in the tiny, congested enclave where people can still breathe – from rooftops or on Gaza’s beaches.

Five years ago, the film Flying Paper documented the successful efforts of Gaza’s children to set a new world record for mass kite-flying. The children defied Israel’s blockade, which prevents entry of most goods, by making kites from sticks, newspapers and scraps of plastic.

The children’s ambition was – if only briefly – to retake Gaza’s skies, which Israel dominates with its unseen, death-dealing drones that buzz interminably overhead and with missiles that can flatten a building in seconds.

A young girl observed of the kite’s lure: “When we fly the kite, we know that freedom exists.” A message scrawled on one read: “I have the right to pride, education, justice, equality and life.”

But the world record attempt was not only about the children’s dreams and their defiance. It was intended to highlight Gaza’s confinement and to issue a reminder that Palestinians too are human.

That same generation of children have grown into the youths being picked off weekly by Israeli snipers at unarmed protests at the perimeter fence – the most visible feature of Israel’s infrastructure of imprisonment.

A few have taken up kite-flying again. If they have refused to put away childish things, this time they have discarded their childish idealism. Their world record did not win them freedom, nor even much notice.

After the snipers began maiming thousands of the demonstrators, including children, medics and journalists, for the impudence of imagining they had a right to liberty, the enclave’s youths reinvented the kite’s role.

If it failed to serve as a reminder of Palestinians’ humanity, it could at least remind Israel and the outside world of their presence, of the cost of leaving two million human beings to rot.

So the kites were set on fire, flaming emissaries that brought a new kind of reckoning for Israel when they landed on the other side of the fence.

Gaza’s inhabitants can still see the lands from which many of them were expelled during the mass dispossession of the Palestinian people in 1948 – under western colonial sponsorship – to create a Jewish state.

Not only were those lands taken from them, but the Jewish farming communities that replaced them now irrigate their crops using water Palestinians are deprived of, including water seized from aquifers under the West Bank.

The kites have rained fire down on this idyll created by Israel at the expense of Gaza’s inhabitants. No one has been hurt but Israel claims extinguishing the fires has already cost some $2 million and 7,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

Sadly, given the profound sense of entitlement that afflicts many Israelis, a small dent in their material wellbeing has not pricked consciences about the incomparably greater suffering only a few kilometres away in Gaza.

Instead, Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan called last week for anyone flying a kite, even young children, to be shot. He and other ministers have argued that another large-scale military assault on Gaza is necessary to create what Mr Erdan has termed “durable deterrence”.

That moment seems to be moving inexorably closer. The last few days have seen Israel launch punitive air strikes to stop the kites and Palestinian factions retaliate by firing significant numbers of rockets out of Gaza for the first time in years.

The Trump administration is no longer pretending to mediate. It has publicly thrown in its hand with Israel. It withdrew last week from the United Nations Human Rights Council, accusing it of being a “cesspool of political bias” after the council criticised Israel for executing Gaza’s unarmed demonstrators.

On a visit to the region last week, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, urged ordinary Palestinians to rebel against their leaders’ refusal to accept a long-awaited US peace plan that all evidence suggests will further undermine Palestinian hopes of a viable state.

Mr Kushner is apparently unaware that the Palestinian public is expressing its will, for liberation, by protesting at the Gaza fence – and risking execution by Israel for doing so.

Meanwhile, Prince William is due in Israel on Monday, the first British royal to make an official visit since the mandate ended 70 years ago. While Kensington Palace has stressed that the trip is non-political, Prince William will meet both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in an itinerary that has already been claimed by both sides as a victory.

From the vantage point of the Mount of Olives, from which he will view Jerusalem’s Old City, the prince may not quite manage to see the kite battles in Gaza’s skies that underscore who is Goliath and who is David. But he should see enough in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem to understand that western leaders have decisively chosen the side of Goliath.

• First published in The National

What’s in Trump’s “Deal of the Century”? The Answers are in Plain Sight

There are mounting signals that Donald Trump’s much-delayed Middle East peace plan – billed as the “deal of the century” – is about to be unveiled.

Even though Trump’s officials have given away nothing publicly, the plan’s contours are already evident, according to analysts.

They note that Israel has already started implementing the deal – entrenching “apartheid” rule over Palestinians – while Washington has spent the past six months dragging its heels on publishing the document.

“Netanyahu has simply got on with deepening his hold on the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and he knows the Americans aren’t going to stand in his way,” said Michel Warschawski, an Israeli analyst and head of the Alternative Information Centre in Jerusalem.

“He will be given free rein to do what he likes, whether they publish the plan or, in the end, it never sees the light of day,” he told Middle East Eye.

Eran Etzion, a former Israeli foreign ministry official, agreed: “Israel has a much freer hand than it did in the past. It feels confident enough to continue its existing policies, knowing Trump won’t stand in the way.”

Netanyahu ‘the winner’

According to the latest reports, the Americans may present their plan within days, soon after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Yossi Alpher, a former aide to Ehud Barak during his premiership in the late 1990s, said it was clear Netanyahu was being “kept in the loop” by Trump officials. He told MEE: “He is being apprised of what is coming. There won’t be any surprises for him.”

Analysts are agreed that Netanyahu will emerge the winner from any Trump initiative.

Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli politician who was a pivotal figure in the Oslo peace process of the early 1990s, said Netanyahu would cynically manipulate the plan to his advantage.

“He knows the Palestinians will not accept the terms they are being offered,” he told MEE. “So he can appear reasonable and agree to it – even if there are things he is unhappy with – knowing that the Palestinians will reject it and then be blamed for its failure.”

Alpher agreed. “If the plan is rejected, Trump will say he did his best, he offered the parties the greatest deal ever, and that they must now be left to settle the issues on their own.”

He added that the only obstacle to Washington presenting the plan were fears about Abbas’s waning health. Trump’s team might then prefer to shelve it.

Even then, he said, Netanyahu would profit.

“He can then continue with what he’s been doing for the past 10 years. He will expand the settlements, and suppress the rights of Israelis who oppose him. He will move Israel towards a situation of apartheid.”

Fragments of land

In an early effort to win Trump’s favour, reported by MEE a year ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas proposed a land swap ceding 6.5 percent of the occupied territories to Israel. That was more than three times what had been accepted by the Palestinians in previous peace talks.

But the Palestinians appear to have lost the battle and are now braced for the worst. Abbas has derided the plan as “the slap of the century”, and has said he will not commit “treason” by agreeing to it.

According to Palestinian officials, they are likely to be offered provisional borders over fragments of land comprising about half the occupied territories – or just 11 percent of what was recognised as Palestine under the British mandate.

The Palestinian areas would be demilitarised, and Israel would have control over the borders and airspace.

Israel and the Palestinians would then be left to “negotiate” over the status of Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with Trump likely to back Netanyahu to the hilt, according to the analysts.

It is widely assumed that the Americans have rejected any principle of a right of return for Palestinian refugees, either to Israel or to the areas of the occupied territories that Israel wins US approval to seize.

Gaza and Golan windfalls

The US embassy’s move to Jerusalem last month appears to signal that the Trump administration will recognise all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That would deny Palestinians East Jerusalem, long assumed to be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

And separate reports this month suggest that the announcement of the peace plan may be timed to coincide with new measures for Gaza and the Golan Heights. There have been rumours for several years that Washington and Israel have been pressuring Cairo to let Palestinians in Gaza settle in Sinai.

According to Israeli reports, Washington may be close to unveiling a scheme that would weaken the border between Gaza and Egypt, and allow Palestinians to work and maybe live in northern Sinai.

The aim would be to gradually shift responsibility for the enclave away from Israel on to Egypt and further undermine prospects for a Palestinian state in historic Palestine.

And in a separate move that would complete Netanyahu’s windfall, an Israeli government minister claimed late last month that the Trump administration may be ready to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

The Heights were seized by Israel from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed in violation of international law in 1981.

No longer ‘occupied’

A Jerusalem Post report last month suggested that the White House document would be unlikely to include a commitment to a “two-state solution”, reflecting previous comments from Trump.

That would free Israel’s hand to seize areas of the West Bank it has colonised with its ever-expanding settlements.

Noticeably, the latest annual report from the US State Department on the human rights situation by country, published in April, drops for the first time the term “occupied Palestinian territories”, implying that the Trump team no longer views much of the West Bank as under occupation.

Netanyahu told a recent meeting of his Likud faction: “Our successes are still to come. Our policies are not based on weakness. They are not based on concessions that will endanger us.”

So given Israel’s recent moves, what can we infer about the likely terms of Trump’s peace plan?

1. Gerrymandering Jerusalem

The most sensitive of the final-status issues is Jerusalem, which includes the incendiary Muslim holy site of al-Aqsa. Trump appears to have effectively recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by relocating the US embassy there last month.

The embassy move is likely to be interpreted by Netanyahu as a retroactive seal of approval from the US for a series of Israeli measures over recent months designed to engineer a Greater Jewish Jerusalem.

The main thrust are two legislative proposals to gerrymander the city’s boundaries and its population to create an unassailable Jewish majority. Both have been put on hold by Netanyahu until the announcement of the peace plan.

The first – called the Greater Jerusalem Bill – is intended to annex several large Jewish settlements close by in the occupied West Bank to the Jerusalem municipality. Overnight that would transform some 150,000 West Bank settlers into Jerusalem residents, as well as effectively annexing their lands to Israel.

In a sign of the impatience of members of Netanyahu’s cabinet to press on with such a move, the bill is due to come up for consideration again on Sunday.

A separate bill would strip residency in the city from some 100,000 Palestinians who are on the “wrong side” of a wall Israel began building through Jerusalem 15 years ago. Those Palestinians will be all but barred from Jerusalem and assigned to a separate council.

In addition, Israel has intensified harsh measures against Palestinians still inside East Jerusalem, including night arrests, house demolitions, the closing down of businesses, the creation of “national parks” in Palestinian neighbourhoods, and the denial of basic services. The barely veiled aim is to encourage residents to relocate outside the wall.

Experts have noted too that Palestinian schools inside the wall are being pressured to adopt the Israeli curriculum to erode a Palestinian identity among pupils.

2. Abu Dis: a Palestinian capital?

With Jerusalem as Israel’s exclusive capital, Trump’s team is reported to be seeking a face-saving alternative location for a future Palestinian “capital” outside Jerusalem’s municipal borders.

According to rumours, they have selected the town of Abu Dis, 4km east of Jerusalem and cut off from the city by Israel’s wall more than a decade ago.

The Abu Dis plan is not new. At the end of the 1990s, the US administration of Bill Clinton proposed renaming Abu Dis “al-Quds” – Arabic for “the Holy”, the traditional name of Jerusalem because of its holy places. That was seen as a prelude to designating it the future capital of a Palestinian state.

Reports about the elevation of Abu Dis in the new peace plan have been circulating since late last year. In January, Abbas rejected the idea outright.

Only last month Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s centre-right Yesh Atid party, highlighted reports about the imminent change of Abu Dis’s status in comments directed at Netanyahu.

Abu Dis is a densely populated village home to 13,000 Palestinians. In practice, it is all but impossible to imagine how it could function meaningfully as the capital of a Palestinian state – something that makes it an attractive proposition for most of Netanyahu’s coalition.

Currently, most of Abu Dis’s lands are under Israeli control, and it is hemmed in by the wall and Jewish settlements, including the 40,000 inhabitants of Maale Adumim.

Several government ministers have made Israel’s annexation of Maale Adumim a priority. Netanyahu has delayed such a move, again citing the need to wait for the announcement of the Trump peace plan.

Beilin said it was mistakenly believed that he and Abbas agreed on Abu Dis as a Palestinian capital back in the 1990s.

“It wasn’t credible as an idea then, and the map looks very different now,” he said. “The Palestinian capital has to be in East Jerusalem. Nothing else will work.”

3. Access to al-Aqsa

There has also been talk of a plan to create a narrow land corridor from Abu Dis to the al-Aqsa mosque, so Palestinians can reach it to pray.

However, Israel has been allowing ever larger numbers of settlers into al-Aqsa, which is reputedly built over two long-destroyed Jewish temples.

Meanwhile, Israel has been tightly restricting access to the site for most Palestinians. There have been long-standing Palestinian fears that Israel is seeking to engineer a situation where it can impose its sovereignty over the mosque.

David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel and a benefactor to the settlements, only heightened such fears last month when he was pictured apparently accepting a photo doctored by religious settlers that showed al-Aqsa mosque replaced by a new Jewish temple.

4. Jordan Valley

Under the Oslo accords, some 62 percent of the occupied West Bank was classified as Area C, under temporary Israeli control. It includes much of the Palestinians’ best agricultural land and would be the heartland of any future Palestinian state.

Israel never carried out the withdrawals from Area C intended in the Oslo process. Instead, it has been accelerating the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements there, and making life as hard as possible for Palestinians to force them into the confines of the more densely populated Areas A and B.

The Trump plan is reported to offer recognition of provisional Palestinian borders on about half of the West Bank – effectively awarding most of Area C to Israel. Much of that land will be in the Jordan Valley, the long spine of the West Bank that Israel has been colonising for decades.

Last December, as the Trump plan took shape, Israel announced a massive programme of settlement expansion in the Jordan Valley, designed to more than double the settler population there. Three new settlements will be the first to be built in the valley in nearly 30 years.

At the same time, Israel has lately been intensifying the harassment of the ever-shrinking Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley, as well as other parts of Area C.

In addition to denying Palestinians access to 85 percent of the Valley, Israel has declared military firing zones over nearly half of the area. That has justified the regular eviction of families on the pretext of ensuring their safety.

Israel has also been developing accelerated procedures to demolish Palestinian homes in the Jordan Valley.

5. The rest of Area C

Israel has been speeding up efforts to expand the settlements in other parts of Area C. On 30 May, it announced nearly 2,000 new homes, the great majority of them in isolated settlements that it was previously assumed would be dismantled in any peace deal.

Additionally, Israel has been quietly preparing to “legalise” what are termed “outposts” – settlements, usually built on private Palestinian land, that violate a “no new settlements” agreement with the US dating from the 1990s.

At the same time, Israel has been destroying Palestinian communities in Area C, especially those that stand in the way of efforts to create territorial continuity between large settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Late last month, France objected after Israel’s supreme court approved a plan to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, next to Maale Adumim. The families are supposed to be moved to a garbage dump in Abu Dis.

The French statement warned that Israeli actions were threatening “a zone of strategic importance to the two-state solution and the contiguity of a future Palestinian state”.

In its place, it was recently revealed, Israel is planning to build a new settlement neighbourhood called Nofei Bereishit.

In another sign of mounting international concern, some 70 Democratic members of the US Congress appealed last month to Netanyahu to stop the destruction of the Palestinian community of Sussiya, between the Gush Etzion settlements and Jerusalem.

US lawmakers expressed concern that the move was designed to “jeopardise the prospects for a two-state solution”.

6. Gaza and Sinai

It is becoming hard for the Trump administration and Israel to ignore the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza – one Israel helped to engineer with an 11-year blockade and intermittent military attacks. The United Nations warned some time ago that Gaza would soon be “uninhabitable”.

Seeking a solution, the White House hosted 19 countries at a meeting in March to consider the situation in Gaza. The PA boycotted the meeting.

At the time, Arab media reported that the Trump peace plan might include a commitment from Egypt to free up northern Sinai for a future Palestinian state. According to a Hamas official, Cairo offered reassurances that it was opposed to “settling Palestinians in Sinai”.

But a report in Haaretz has revived concerns that the White House may try to achieve a similar end by other means, by launching a Gaza initiative to coincide with the peace plan.

The paper noted that the Trump team had picked up proposals from an Israeli general, Yoav Mordechai, who participated in the White House meeting in March.

A reported initial stage would see Palestinians from Gaza recruited to work on $1.5bn worth of long-term projects in northern Sinai, funded by the international community. The projects would include an industrial zone, a desalination plant and a power station.

Egyptian opposition to such an initiative is reported to be weakening, presumably in the face of strenuous pressure from Washington and Arab allies.

Palestinian protests

The Palestinians are doing their best to try to halt the peace plan in its tracks. They are currently boycotting the Trump administration to show their displeasure.

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called last month on Arab states to recall their ambassadors from the United States in protest.

And an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has proposed that an international peacekeeping force, modelled on those used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, be deployed to protect Palestinians.

In another sign of anger at the Trump initiative, the Palestinians defied the US by submitting a referral for the International Criminal Court at the Hague to investigate Israel for war crimes last month.

Etzion, the former Israeli foreign ministry official, however, warned that a turning point could be on the horizon.

“A Palestinian implosion is coming and that could change the situation in unexpected ways,” he told MEE. “The question is which implosion comes first: the humanitarian catastrophe about to engulf Gaza, or the political vacuum created when Abbas leaves.”

Arab pressure

Nonetheless, the Palestinians are facing huge pressure to give in to the peace plan.

The Trump administration has already cut funding to the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, which cares for more than two million refugees in the occupied territories. It is also poised to pull more than $200m of funding to the Palestinian Authority this summer.

Trump has also sought to recruit the Arab states to lean on Abbas. According to reports, the Palestinian leader was presented with a 35-page document originating from the Americans when he visited Saudi Arabia last November, and told to accept it or resign.

In recent years the Saudis have increased their aid to the Palestinian Authority, giving them greater leverage over the Palestinian leader.

In exchange for the Arab states acceding to Trump’s plan, Washington appears to be rolling out a more draconian policy towards Iran to limit its influence in the region.

The Arab states understand that they need to first defuse the Palestinian issue before they can be seen to coordinate closely with Israel and the US in dealing with Tehran.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Palestinian Courage Should Spur International Action

After 70 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. The conflict simmers for a few years, then erupts again with new massacres and violence. This article describes recent events, the failure of the “two state solution” and need for a different approach.

In the past couple months, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers have killed 118 Palestinian protesters and seriously wounded many thousands more. The protesters were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers. Gaza hospitals overflow with victims.

In the wake of this violence, human rights groups filed a legal petition to make it unlawful for Israeli soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Israeli violence is usually portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian violence, but the reality is the opposite. The sequence of recent events is as follows:

– From the end of March til May 25, Palestinians in Gaza protested against their oppression as close as they could get to the border fences. About 118 were killed and many thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. They were all shot inside Gaza.

– On May 27 – 28, the Israeli military launched tank mortars at Palestinian military outposts inside Gaza, killing four.

– Next day, on May 29, Palestinian militants launched unguided mortars into nearby Israel. Most of them fell harmlessly and there were no Israeli casualties.

– Next day, on May 30, Israeli jets and helicopters launched guided missiles and bombs on 65 different locations within Gaza.

Clearly, the violence started with Israelis killing protesters and then militants inside Gaza, but it’s not portrayed that way. Time magazine began its article with, “Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel….”

Pro Israel advocates wish to prevent people from seeing what is really happening. They know the potential damage if people see video such as Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of unarmed protesters. To prevent this, a proposed law will make it illegal to photograph or video record Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists have condemned this attempt to criminalize journalism.

The Reality of the Israeli Occupation

Israel calls itself the “Startup Nation” because of the economic and technological achievements. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli policies and actions strangle the economies and worsen living conditions.

Palestinians in Gaza are kept separate from Palestinians in the West Bank. There is no trade, travel or inter-family visitation. This is in violation of international agreements including the Oslo Accords.

The claim that Israel “departed” Gaza is false. Israel controls the borders, sky and waters around Gaza, a coastal strip just 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length. Unemployment in Gaza is approaching 50%, the highest unemployment in the world. Fisherman are prevented from going out into deeper waters and shot at when they go beyond Israel’s imposed zone. Gazan farmers cannot export independently. Israel frequently blocks the import and export of crops and products. It is almost impossible to leave Gaza. Even outstanding students winning international scholarships may have their exit denied. The electrical and water treatment facilities have been bombed and destroyed by Israel. Nearly all the drinking water is contaminated. Israel restricts the amount of food permitted to enter Gaza so there is continual shortage leading to nutritional deprivation, stunted growth and anemia.

This situation is not new. Eighteen years ago, Israeli journalist Amira Hass described the history, the facts and statistics as well as her personal experience living in Gaza in the profound book Drinking the Seat at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. The situation was extremely grim then but keeps getting worse.

At the northern Gaza border, Israel is now building a sea barrier extending far out into the Mediterranean. It will be above and below the water line. A major reason for this expensive project is to block sewage and pollution from the waters in front of Gaza. Because of Israeli attacks on sewage treatment and electrical infrastructure, sewage flows into the sea. Last summer, Zikim Beach in southern Israel had to be closed due to the inflow of sewage from Gaza. The ‘sea barrier’ now in construction will block the sea currents. This will keep the Israeli beach clean and greatly compound the problem in Gaza.

The strangulation, impoverishment and oppression is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand. This increases the number of check points, restrictions and repression. Travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is impossible for most Palestinians. The majority of West Bank water from the aquifers is transferred to Israel or provided cheaply to settlers while Palestinians must buy water and store it in tanks on their rooftops. In the last few years, Israel has made it increasingly difficult or impossible for humanitarian groups to provide medical support including breast cancer screening. A compelling new book titled The Other Side of the Wall describes the daily struggle in the West Bank where Palestinians and international allies protest against the theft of land, abuses, random killings and imprisonments.

Defiant Courage

There seems to be a trend toward greater Palestinian unity and strategic agreement. The tens of thousands of Palestinians protesting in Gaza were unarmed and united behind the Palestinian flag rather than separate party or movement flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, etc..    

The Palestinian protesters in Gaza show remarkable courage. Beginning on Friday March 30, they have returned week after week despite seeing thousands of their fellows shot and wounded or killed.

In an article titled “The Gaza Fence that Separates the Brave from the Cowardly“, Amira Hass wrote:

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land – who have been subjected to a 27 year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them.

Steadfast and Persistent

Palestinian resistance continues despite Israeli violence and bloodshed. Seven years ago Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon held “March of Return” protests at the northern borders. Israeli soldiers killed 13 and wounded many more.

In recent days, Gazans have again challenged the Israeli port blockade which prevents ships from departing or arriving. International solidarity with the Palestinian cause is also persistent. Three ships (two Swedish and one Norwegian) recently departed Scandinavia heading for the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza. Named the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, the ships are carrying dozens of international citizens to again demand that Israel stop its blockade of Gaza.

Despite the huge imbalance today, time may be on the side of the Palestinian cause. Systemic apartheid in South Africa existed for a long time and seemed strong. But ultimately it collapsed quickly. The same may unfold in Israel/Palestine.

Today, South Africa is an important supporter of the Palestinian cause. South Africa was the first nation to recall its ambassador to protest the “indiscriminate and grave Israeli attack” in Gaza.

Israel has the military might but Palestinian resistance and courage persists. The Palestinian population is steadfast, persistent and growing. They have increasing number of allies who support their cause. Young American Jews are unlike their parents and increasingly critical of Israeli policies. Some courageous Israelis, such as Miko Peled, speak out unequivocally that Israeli apartheid must end and be replaced by one state with democracy and equality for all. A million registered Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon and Syria, patiently waiting. They have not forgotten their legal claim and right to return.

The recent bloodshed and massacres underscore the fact that there is no solution on the current path. It only leads to increasingly unlivable conditions in Gaza plus more illegal settlements and oppression in the West Bank. The so-called “two state solution” has been dead for many years and should be forgotten. As happened in South Africa, the international community can and should help. It is time to increase international pressure and expand BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel to help bring a peaceful end to this conflict with its constant oppression and recurring massacres.

The alternative is very grim. As described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

The truth is that Israel is well prepared to massacre hundreds and thousands, and to expel tens of thousands. Nothing will stop it. This is the end of conscience, the show of morality is over. The last few days’ events have proved it decisively. The tracks have been laid, the infrastructure for the horror has been cast. Dozens of years of brainwashing, demonization and dehumanization have borne fruit. The alliance between the politicians and the media to suppress reality and deny it has succeeded. Israel is set to commit horrors. Nobody will stand in its way any longer. Not from within or from without.

Palestinian courage should spur international action.

The Colonization of Palestine: Rethinking the Term ‘Israeli Occupation’

June 5, 2018 marks the 51st anniversary of the Israeli Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

But, unlike the massive popular mobilization that preceded the anniversary of the Nakba – the catastrophic destruction of Palestine in 1948 –  on May 15, the anniversary of the Occupation is hardly generating equal mobilization.

The unsurprising death of the ‘peace process’ and the inevitable demise of the ‘two-state solution’ has shifted the focus from ending the Occupation, per se, to the larger and more encompassing problem of Israel’s colonialism throughout Palestine.

The grass-root mobilization in Gaza and the West Bank, and among Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Naqab Desert are, once more, widening the Palestinian people’s sense of national aspirations. Thanks to the limited vision of the Palestinian leadership, those aspirations have, for decades, been confined to Gaza and West Bank.

In some sense, the ‘Israeli Occupation’ is no longer an occupation as per international standards and definitions. It is merely a phase of Zionist colonization of historic Palestine, a process that began over a 100 years ago, and carries on to this date.

“The law of occupation is primarily motivated by humanitarian consideration; it is solely the facts on the ground that determine its application,” states the International Committee of the Red Cross website.

It is for practical purposes that we often utilize the term ‘occupation’ with reference to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, occupied after June 5, 1967. The term allows for the constant emphasis on humanitarian rules that are meant to govern Israel’s behavior as the Occupying Power.

However, Israel has already, and repeatedly, violated most conditions of what constitute an ‘Occupation’ from an international law perspective, as articulated in the 1907 Hague Regulations (articles 42-56) and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.

According to these definitions, an ‘Occupation’ is a provisional phase, a temporary situation that is meant to end with the implementation of international law regarding that particular situation.

Military occupation’ is not the sovereignty of the Occupier over the Occupied; it cannot include transfer of citizens from the territories of the Occupying Power to Occupied land; it cannot include ethnic cleansing; destruction of properties; collective punishment and annexation.

It is often argued that Israel is an Occupier that has violated the rules of Occupation as stated in international law.

This would have been the case a year, two or five years after the original Occupation had taken place, but not 51 years later. Since then, the Occupation has turned into long-term colonization.

An obvious proof is Israel’s annexation of Occupied land, including the Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian East Jerusalem in 1981. That decision had no regard for international law, humanitarian or any other.

Israeli politicians have, for years, openly debated the annexation of the West Bank, especially areas that are populated with illegal Jewish settlements, which are built contrary to international law.

Those hundreds of settlements that Israel has been building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not meant as temporary structures.

Dividing the West Bank into three zones, areas A, B and C, each governed according to different political diktats and military roles, has little precedent in international law.

Israel argues that, contrary to international law, it is no longer an Occupying Power in Gaza; however, an Israel land, maritime and aerial siege has been imposed on the Strip for over 11 years. With successive Israeli wars that have killed thousands, to a hermetic blockade that has pushed the Palestinian population to the brink of starvation, Gaza subsists in isolation.

Gaza is an ‘Occupied Territory’ by name only, without any of the humanitarian rules applied. In the last 10 weeks alone, over 120 unarmed protesters, journalists and medics were killed and13,000 wounded, yet the international community and law remain inept, unable to face or challenge Israeli leaders or to overpower equally cold-hearted American vetoes.

The Palestinian Occupied Territories have, long ago, crossed the line from being Occupied to being colonized. But there are reasons that we are trapped in old definitions, leading amongst them is American political hegemony over the legal and political discourses pertaining to Palestine.

One of the main political and legal achievements of the Israeli war – which was carried out with full US support – on several Arab countries in June 1967 is the redefining of the legal and political language on Palestine.

Prior to that war, the discussion was mostly dominated by such urgent issues as the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees to go back to their homes and properties in historic Palestine.

The June war shifted the balances of power completely, and cemented America’s role as Israel’s main backer on the international stage.

Several UN Security Council resolutions were passed to delegitimize the Israeli Occupation: UNSCR 242, UNSCR 338 and the less talked about but equally significant UNSCR 497.

242 of 1967 demanded “withdrawal of Israel armed forces” from the territories it occupied in the June war. 338, which followed the war of 1973, accentuated and clarified that demand. Resolution 497 of 1981 was a response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. It rendered such a move “null and void and without international and legal affect.”

The same applied to the annexation of Jerusalem as to any colonial constructions or any Israeli attempts aimed at changing the legal status of the West Bank.

But Israel is operating with an entirely different mindset.

Considering that anywhere between 600,000 to 750,000 Israeli Jews now live in the ‘Occupied Territories’, and that the largest settlement of Modi’in Illit houses more than 64,000 Israeli Jews, one has to wonder what form of military occupation blue-print Israel is implementing, anyway.

Israel is a settler colonial project, which began when the Zionist movement aspired to build an exclusive homeland for Jews in Palestine, at the expense of the native inhabitants of that land in the late 19th century.

Nothing has changed since. Only facades, legal definitions and political discourses. The truth is that Palestinians continue to suffer the consequences of Zionist colonialism and they will continue to carry that burden until that original sin is boldly confronted and justly remedied.

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