Friday, 23 December 2016

Why Israel's reaction to UN Security Council settlement vote was so vehement?

The condemnation of Israeli settlements in a UN Security Council resolution sparked angry, if not borderline psychotic, reactions by Israel's political leadership. 

Although the resolution's big print showed that Israel was dismayed with how Obama apparently stopped shielding it at the UN, the fine print is much more significant. 

The details reflects huge loss of what the Israeli government has been trying to cement the status quo with a new lexicon over the past eight years. Indeed, the importance of this resolution is not in what it said, but rather in what it did not say.

Settlements to be "part of Israel"
The resolution, whose text can be found here, reiterated an old language that Israel sought to replace, if not erase, by creating facts on the ground.

The resolution was clear that "all settlement activity" must stop and that it has no "legal validity".

The text did not add any reference to the "lands swaps", a phrase that has become part and parcel of all US statements on the conflict under Obama.

Therefore, Israel can no longer say that "we're building in settlements that will be part of Israel". This, which has been the official explanation to any building spree over the past few years, was underlined as false by the new resolution.

The Quartet and the Road map

These two were brought back to the fore. The text of the resolution underlined Israel's commitment to remove all illegal outposts built since 2001 (which are sought to be retroactively legalised by the settlers' government in Jerusalem). 

Noted is how the resolution did not refer to any Palestinian failure in meeting their commitments under the Road map. Rather, the text extolled the work of the Palestinian security services i.e. it implied the Palestinians did their part in the Road map and mentioned en passant the issue of "incitement". 

Refugees and Jerusalem

The most important part in my opinion is the fact that "all final status issues" were subject to negotiations, as mentioned by the resolution.

This came in response to the blase attitude by Israeli officials to talk about the status of Jerusalem as an undivided city. Not only did Israeli officials consider Jerusalem as a foregone conclusion, they even went to repeat again and again that Area C of the West Bank would be annexed. 

By highlighting that all the final status issue are subject to negotiations, the resolution put Jerusalem back on the agenda. 

The other and more important part is the issue of Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return. 

Netanyahu et al waged all kinds of attacks on US aid to the Palestinians and UNRWA for nearly a decade. They worked day and night to weaken the latter, either by fabrication of its ties to Hamas, or sometimes by physical violence (i.e. air strikes) against its facilities, especially in the Gaza Strip. Further, this relentless campaign sought to force the Palestinians to forgo the right of return from the outset, before any negotiations, without even providing anything in return. All of this work was undone by the resolution.

New vocab: Differentiation 

The "differentiation" part, which echoes a language used by the EU, is rather a new component. 

UN member-states were asked by the resolution to gradually ease out their investments in the settlements. They should make it clear to their companies that doing business in Israel is one thing but doing it in the West Bank settlements is another. This should make it easier for the activists especially to lobby companies such as Hewlett Packard (HP) and others who provide much high tech and services that are either used indirectly to improve the quality of life in the settlement or directly in the oppression of Palestinians, such as on checkpoints and screening systems. 

The hysterical responses by Israeli officials certainly reflected the sense of failure. The biggest losers are bound to be the cabal of settlers who suddenly realised that all their work over the past decade went down the drain. 

You have to read/watch what the settler leader and Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said at the UNSC. He really lost his mind, invoking ancient symbols such as the Maccabees' revolution and King David in his short note. He seemed to be talking at a synagogue in a right-wing settlement rather than at the UN Security Council. 

Mind you, Israeli opposition MP Tzipi Livni warned the Israeli Knesset few months ago that this exactly what was going to happen. However, the resolution was a strong message to Netanyahu that obstinacy will be met by a reset to all the sweetened language that appeared to favour the Israeli positions in the many attempts to make him accept the two-state solution. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Palestinian President Abbas as a "KGB mole"

The news media have received with interest the leaked Israeli reports on the alleged role played by Mahmoud Abbas as a KGB agent inside the Palestine Liberation Organization, or the PLO. 

The timing of these allegations is suspicious. The news was reported following the apparent failure of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to host a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

However, it is worth looking closely at this issue from the Palestinian perspective. Below is a post I made on Reddit, explaining the context and the reasoning for such a role (assuming Abbas was indeed a KGB mole):

"Saying Abbas was a KGB agent is akin to saying the Red Prince (a famous PLO commander in the late 1970s) was working for the CIA. 

At that time the PLO was seeking recognition by any side. In their quasi-state status, the PLO offered help to a variety of countries: the USA, the USSR..etc. It is natural that such cooperation between a non-state actor (the PLO) would go through the intelligence services rather than the foreign ministries.

For example it is well known that the Red Prince's ties with the CIA resulted in saving many Americans from kidnapping in Lebanon during the civil war. These ties with the CIA were the main reason why Israel assassinated him, because they were interested in cutting off any possibility of collaboration or recognition of the PLO by the USA, according to ِAbu Dawud, the PLO commander who founded Black September.

I think it is under this context that Abbas may have had ties with the KGB.

If you look at the PLO now, you'll see they are doing the same thing. 

Reports showed that they helped the CIA nab an Al Qaeda operative in Libya known as Abu Anas al Libi in 2013. A similar activity was the role of the PLO in freeing two Swedish hostages from captivity in Syria in 2015. I was also told that the PLO has a huge anti-ISIS intelligence operation in Syria (probably to aid the French) but I can't confirm that myself.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Palestinian Fatah official sparks uproar after remarks on Christian voting pattern

Remarks made by a Fatah leader on the voting pattern of the Palestinian Christians in the 2006 parliamentary elections sparked wide criticism in the Palestinian territories.

Fatah movement official, Jibril Rojoub, said that “part of the Merry Christmas people”, in reference to Palestinian Christians, voted for Hamas” in an interview with an Egyptian channel.

Rujoub was pointing to the results of the 2006 legislative elections, in which Hamas trounced Fatah.
In 2006, Hamas fielded Christian candidates on its list in 2006, at least in the Gaza Strip, which won the vote.

“What did [Hamas] offer them? What did [Hamas] get them?” Rujoub went on to ask, in the interview, which was dominated by anti-Hamas campaigning content. The interview was said to have been shown on state-run Palestine TV.

Fatah movement was quick to distance itself from Rujoub’s remarks. According to one of its local officials in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Christians were “partners in blood and unity”.  Hamas, for its part, joined the wave of criticism by lambasting Rujoub’s statement as “offensive”.

On Palestinian social media, users equally poured scorn on Rujoub’s statement, and some users uploaded video clips critical of the remarks.
"What is your opinion of Rujoub's description of Christians as the Merry Christmas group?" a banner on the Faebook page of Islamic Jihad outlet Quds asked users for input.

The remarks came as the campaign for the forthcoming local elections in October gained steam.
“Although those who know Rujoub will realize he used these words jokingly,” said London-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper, “but he made a mistake by using them in a TV interview in elections period.”

The remarks by Rujoub, who is also the head of the Palestinian Footballa Association (PFA), gain more significance in light of a recent decree by President Mahmud Abbas.  In July, Abbas amended the election law to give Christian Palestinians bigger quotas in the municipal councils of some cities, such as Ramallah and Bethleham .

The move by Abbas was seen as an attempt to influence the vote in favour of Fatah, the secular group which tends to have more Christian supporters than Hamas.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Czech ministry to correct school atlas over Jerusalem blunder

The Czech Ministry of Education said it will recall a geography book used in schools after erroneously showing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

According to a report by Ma’an News Agency, the ministry informed the Palestinian embassy in Prague that the deal to use the atlas will not be renewed after 2017, the year in which the current license expires.

Palestinian ambassador Khalid al Atrash said that the book will be adopted again only after the mistake is corrected.

“The school book was reviewed by an accuracy committee of two specialists who did not inform the Czech ministry of the mistake or the need to correct it,” the ambassador added, citing the letter received from the Czech Ministry.

The Palestinian embassy added that the Czech move ensured that Prague’s position was in line with that of the European Union, which considers the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem illegal.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980 in a move deemed void by the UN Security Council.

The lack of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital explains the presence of the majority of foreign embassies and diplomatic staff in Tel-Aviv.

Ironically, these countries usually set up their diplomatic missions to serve the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Palestinians scoff at #Thanks_Hamas video clip

Palestinian Twitter users ridiculed a video clip produced by Hamas as part of its campaign for the 206 local Palestinian elections.

The slick video clip showed different scenes from what appeared to represent Hamas's achievements in the Gaza Strip since its takeover in 2007. 

All the scenes were taken in bright daylight. What looked like ordinary Palestinians, including women and children, carried a sign of the hashgtag #شكرا_حماس, which is Arabic for #Thanks_Hamas.

Most of the frames in the video were apparently taken by a camera mounted on a drone. In one part, Gaza’s water park was highlighted, while the new housing projects (mostly built by Qatari and UAE aid) were superimposed.

Strangely, none of the scenes of destruction brought about by Israel’s recurrent wars with Hamas were visible in the clip.


The video spread quickly on social media. On Twitter, many Palestinians began to use the hashtag to highlight Hamas’s failures.

“#Thanks_Hamas because you achieved the highest unemployment rate that even great countries couldn’t reach,” said one Twitter user.

Hamas’s rivals were also quick to capitalize on the opportunity to scoff at its latest PR effort. The Palestinian secular group, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas, produced a video of its own.

Fatah’s video used the same hasghtag and it was dominated by scenes from the vast destruction in Gaza.

Unlike Hamas’s bright scenes, Fatah’s video clip showed mostly dark pictures  and began with a huge question mark, highlighting footage from the tunnels used by many in Gaza to breach the Israeli blockade.

The online tussle took place ahead of the Palestinian local elections. The vote will be held in October 2016 for the first time in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 2006.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Why was Israel pricked at the Palestinian participation in Rio?

Team Palestine in Rio opening ceremony (Source: Google)
The participation of Palestine at the Olympic Games in Rio appears to have censed the Israelis.

The dual-nationality of some players, especially from Germany, seemed to be the main source of Israeli media interest. 
According to the Times of Israel website, in the Palestinian delegation, "three are Germans of Palestinian descent and one was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt".
"No Palestinian athlete has ever made the Olympic medalists’ podium. Don’t bet on that changing in Brazil," the website declared, sealing the fate of Palestine's participation.
Players with dual-nationalities, or who get naturalized specifically for representing a particular country, are not out of the world of sports. Bahrain, Qatar and Israel, to name only three, have granted citizenship to many players to play for their colours.

German "businessman"

But for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, a German player has got a special prominence, with a profile written solely on him, out of other ones.

"How a German Businessman Ended Up Representing Palestine in Rio," the Haaretz headline blurted out. 
The paper said: "Though it is unclear how he gained a Palestinian citizenship, his curious story seems to be a mix of both ideology and opportunism." It is the Olympic spirit time but for Ha'aretz, the ulterior motives of Zimmerman are more important.
Regardless of Zimmerman's motivations, the bitterness (or saltiness to use the internet slang) has been strangely very palpable in the Israeli media.

This was preceded by the seizure of the Palestinian Olympic gear by the Israeli authorities. A team member's travel from Gaza was also obstructed by the Israeli government. These problems were solved only after the Palestinians complained at the International Olympic Committee.
Palestinian public diplomacy 

The appearance of Palestine at the launch ceremony has its significance. 
It is not a secret that thanks to its popularity, regional and global sport events are golden opportunities for exposure to the media and a reminder of a country' existence. It is an unplanned moment of peaceful public diplomacy.

For the Palestinians, such events have become a reminder of the image of what Palestine is: a country that doesn't officially exist, but it is still represented as a country at the Olympics. 
The Olympics opening ceremony was also a TV moment for the Palestinians to appear to the world without being contested by the dozens of Israeli spokespeople, who bully the news media under the name of "balance". 

Watching the small delegation going around the Maracana stadium was very special. There were the slim male players who wrapped the Keffiyeh around their shoulders. The Palestinian identity shone thanks to the female players, who donned the majestic Palestinian thawb (Arabic for dress), with its unique hand-made embroidery patterns. The Maracana crowd, for its part, contributed to the moment, as they went berserk after Palestine's name was announced to the whole world.

The team might not get any medals. Some of its players have already lost in the early stages. 
But the reaction of Israel and its conduct against Palestinian sports teams and players is just a reminder that Israel’s physical actions are not only related to protecting itself, but rather to stomp any Palestinian attempt at self-determination, even if it was a judo game or a horse ride.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Is Israel an Apartheid system?

The internet is obviously awash with arguments, rebuttals and keyboard activism on this question. 

My two cents below briefly cover how this analogy is relevant to the Palestinian territories (and to a lesser degree to Israel itself). I'm no professor emeritus but I have had the chance to grow up in that part of the world, and as such, can claim to understand both sides.

By definition Israel is a state made for the Jews, so some Israeli laws (the Jewish National Fund, the Present Absentees, the Right of Return) will favour the Jews over the Arab in Israel (while the Palestinians in the territories will be totally out of this equation).

This status is strange, given the multi-ethnic, multi-religious state of Israel. At the individual level, it becomes even unfathomable when, say, a Jew from France (who very likely emigrated to France from North Africa) can smoothly migrate and reintegrate into Israeli society with full state support. But then a Palestinian from Shafat in East Jerusalem - an area all the staunch pro-Israel crowd brags about as being part of "the united capital of Israel" - cannot get that support.

I guess you can sometimes get away with things, especially when the judges of our times (i.e the West) have the guilt and responsibility for the death of 6m Jews in WWII and before that.

The Arabs in Israel aren't disenfranchised. They have lots of access to government funds/services like any other Jew. Per se, an Arab, or a Palestinian for that matter, going to an Israeli state hospital for medical care or a university for education will still be treated and will receive education.

But still many lament the apparent priority given to Jewish communities in some important aspects. 

The military service is considered a requirement if any Israeli citizen wishes to become part of the system. Arab access to some jobs will be by default restricted without doing the military service (think high-tech and state organizations not assistant bar tender, a brickie or a hotel receptionist). 

But then, again, how can you, as an Arab Israeli, serve in an army where you may go the next day to your village to fire live bullets on nothing-to-do youths who are throwing stones? Going to t his village, which isn't exactly an "existential threat" to Israel, makes no sense. It is confusing and brain-splitting, especially when it is against people you probably know and also identify with.

The bigger problem for Israel regarding the Apartheid analogy is the Palestinian territories: You are occupying an area of 3.5m people, not giving them self-determination and not naturalizing them either. Not only that, but you're incentivizing other Jews to settle in part of that land and you shower those new arrivals with all the help (financial and material) they want. You treat the new comers according to Israeli civil law, while the Palestinian living 200 meter downhill is treated under Israeli military law. Excuse me?

Think of  East Jerusalem, the other half of Israel's "United Capital". Once you cross the 1967 border from west Jerusalem to East Jerusalem, the visually unappealing scene will make you understand the material and the psychological gap separating the two sides. 

Many will tell you "East Jerusalem Palestinians are free to apply for Israeli citizenship if they want to". Of course they are goddamn free to apply. In fact, anyone in this world is free to apply, but does the mere application mean they will get citizenship? and even if they get it, best-case scenario is they will get "privileges"under the same pro-Jewish policies mentioned above i.e they will become "Arab Israelis".

Other will claim that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank takes care of the public services (health, education, policing..etc) provided to the Palestinians over there. Israel has got nothing to do with controlling them. But what is Area A? It's ~3% of the whole West Bank. Area B? It's ~25 % of the West Bank. 

This division gives Israel more ease in controlling the Palestinians than it gives the Palestinians more self-determination and freedom. Few years ago, the Palestinians began building a new city called Rawabi (on lands in Area A and B). The amount of bullying, blackmailing the Palestinians got to build this city and connect it to other Palestinian areas by a road would make one think the Palestinians were building a nuclear programme.

It is not as if Israel is unaware of these problems. Israeli academia have probably written a warehouse-load of research papers on these issues and on ways to solve them. 

But the problem is that Israeli politicians seem to enjoy a buzzword called "conflict management". In short, it means they can keep playing around, juggling an egg and a stone, while delaying a solution. In the meantime, keep subjugating the Palestinians and bite off parts of their land in tactics meant to to regulate the mood of the Israeli public. 

The wheel of time is rolling faster than how the Jewish rulers are responding, nevertheless. At some point, even if they will decide to improve the situation and achieve equality and justice, it will be just too late.