Jun 25 2015

Palestinian independence should start on the economic front

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The absence of a political horizon has strengthened Palestinians’ attempts to reach a different form of independence.
Failure on the political front made them work on a more doable idea: to empower Gaza and the West Bank economically through improving trade with their natural Arab environment.

Jordan, which has the longest border with Palestine and the only way in and out of the West Bank, is perfectly situated to help it carry out an accelerated economic boost that can focus on trade, investment and joint projects.
Joint visits by economic, business, industry and tourism Palestinian and Jordanian officials, along with connecting Jericho and other Palestinian areas to the Jordanian electric grid appear to be key components of this process.
But European diplomats working quietly on this front noticed that attempts to improve trade exchanges between Jordan and Palestine are not moving quickly.
Instead of a win-win situation for each side, the trade exchange is apparently subject to political constraints.

Jordanian-Palestinian relations under President Mahmoud Abbas and His Majesty King Abdullah are unprecedented.
Yet, one can detect a certain hesitation in this relationship on the part of the Jordanian government.
Jordan’s uneasiness with the Palestinians was recently revealed in a meeting between a senior official and journalists. Continue Reading »

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Jun 23 2015

Hanan Ashrawi: US must act quickly to save two-state solution


By Daoud Kuttab

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi blasted Israeli attempts to pre-empt the UN report on the Gaza Strip, saying that they’re trying to control the narrative. “They are trying to create a misleading and fabricated narrative so people can react to it,” Ashrawi told Al-Monitor.

 The senior Palestinian official said that Israel “handpicked select individuals to guarantee the outcome at the end.”

The left-wing Israeli website Mondoweiss called the report and the accompanying coverage in The New York Times “a whitewash,” focusing on the fact that the report exonerated the Israeli army for the killing of four Palestinian boys playing soccer on the Gaza shore.

But Ashrawi sounded upbeat as to the changes in international public opinion toward Israel. “We are starting now to see a process of accountability for Israel,” she said.

Ashrawi strongly denied concerns in Jordan that the Palestinians are holding talks with Israel behind the scenes, similar to what happened in Oslo. “There are no secret talks,” she replied to Al-Monitor’s question on the subject, stressing it was the Israelis who stopped this process and they know what’s needed to get back. “They are trying to blame us for walking away, which is a total reversal of the facts. They refused cessation of settlement activities, which is what is needed to be in compliance with international law, they violated a signed agreement to release prisoners and they rejected the 1967 borders as a basis for talks.”

Ashrawi fully rejected Israel’s attempts to build on the idea of land swaps even before any comprehensive deal is agreed to. “They are distorting the borders of Jerusalem saying they will be naturally ours. Show me any agreement where we agreed to land swaps. The issue was raised in talks but not in any signed agreement. They pocket such ideas and want us to start with land swaps as a given,” she said.

The Ramallah-based former professor of English at Birzeit University did not hold much hope for US diplomacy even after the Iran agreement. “The US needs to act differently and I am not sure that they are willing to change or stop giving Israel favors. If the US wants to salvage whatever is left of its standing, it must move quickly and act to undo the damage it has caused by its bias and mistake,” she said.

Ashrawi also did not hold much hope for the talks about the expected French resolution, which she felt might include compromises rather than an actionable mechanism. “We need a resolution with teeth, one that has a follow-up mechanisms such as an international conference and binding arbitration.”

The text of the full interview: Continue Reading »

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Jun 14 2015

UN envoy Mladenov: Absence of political process ‘dangerous’


By Daoud Kuttab

The UN’s recently appointed Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov has sounded a strong warning about the absence of any political process. In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Mladenov spoke of the need for the new Israeli government to make a move for peace, calling the current status quo “ultimately untenable.” The peace envoy insisted that such a process must include a freeze of settlement activities, saying, “The absence of a political process today is dangerous for all … particularly given the turmoil in the region.”

Mladenov said that the goal of the UN and the international community is the lifting of the closure on Gaza, generally referred to as a blockade. However, “Before that becomes possible, we will work with the [Palestinian Authority] and the Israeli government to facilitate the entry of much-needed construction materials,” he said.

The UN official called for bridging the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the framework of legitimate institutions. “Palestine is one, and I will work with determination to support President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Rami] Hamdallah in their efforts toward achieving reconciliation.”

On some of the issues that are holding up reconciliation, the UN official called for the speedy “reintegration of civil service employees and the return of PA forces to the crossings [as] critical parts of such a bottom-up approach to reconciliation.”

As to the continuation of Israeli settlement activities, Mladenov reiterated the position of the UN secretary-general that the international community “will not recognize unilateral actions” on the ground. “I will not speculate on the intentions of the new Israeli government, but rest assured that the UN is looking to Israel to demonstrate its readiness to engage with the Palestinians on building peace, including by freezing settlement activities,” he added.

The full text of the interview follows: Continue Reading »

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Jun 14 2015

Radical Islamists add to Hamas’ burden


By Daoud Kuttab

The political and security situation in the Gaza Strip has become more complicated with the rise of Palestinian groups that are reportedly sympathetic to the Islamic State (IS) and operate under its banner.

 While radical jihadist Salafist elements have existed in Gaza for years, this is the first time that responsibility for a rocket fired at Israel has been claimed by an organization apparently publicly aligned with IS. The claim came by way of a statement posted on Twitter under the name of Omar Hadid Brigade, reading that the June 2 attack was an act of revenge for Hamas killing its fighter Younis Hanar on June 1. Factions in Gaza often show their dissatisfaction with Hamas by firing rockets at Israel while Hamas is under a cease-fire agreement.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for any attacks against it and on June 4, Israeli warplanes bombed two training bases of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza. No one was injured.

While it is early to say whether IS has found a foothold in Gaza, there are signs of increased pressure in the past few months on women, intellectuals and moderate figures in Gaza from radical Islamic elements.

A major step up from demanding that women dress according to their version of Islamic attire, IS entering the security domain indicates more troubles for the Hamas security apparatus, already weakened by reduced funding from Iran after disagreements over the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts. In trying to govern a community with different levels of religiosity, Hamas has had to moderate its social code, leaving it vulnerable to attacks from more radical groups. Continue Reading »

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Jun 10 2015

Palestinians need non-violent strategy

Following appeared in the Jordan times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

For the first time in 48 years, Palestinians are playing in a much more level playing field.

By strategically moving into the non-violent field, Palestinians are in a much stronger position to make an impact in their decades-long struggle.

Whenever Palestinians fought the Israelis in militarily they failed. Not only was Israel superior militarily, it was also using its fight as a country struggling to exist and survive.

Palestinians were painted as blood-thirsty terrorists with no respect for “civilised” rules.

Israel was careful to superficially “apologise” when its attacks caused civilian deaths, leaving Palestinians losers both on the military front and the political front.

By restricting their struggle to non-violence only, the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and independence is much more powerful politically, for a host of reasons.

Unlike the military action, which is restricted largely to trained young men, non-violent struggle can be fought by all Palestinians, both inside the occupied territories and outside.

The international version of this non-violent struggle has taken the form of boycotts, divestments and sanctions. The BDS campaign, which started in the academic sphere, has taken root in major international locations causing panic to the Israelis. Continue Reading »

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Jun 04 2015

Palestinians Waver Between Politics and Nonviolent Revolution


Following appeard in the Jordan Times newspaper

To many people, the entire non-violent Palestinian movement came down to a moment last Friday in Zurich.

Many would argue that head of the Palestinian Football Federation Jibril Rjoub blinked at that moment. In the very last seconds of a match that witnessed a steadfast and unyielding determination, the Palestinian team leader backed away, avoiding a possible confrontation with Israelis and their supporters.

It might not be that simple and it would be unfair to put so much on the shoulders of one man. Rjoub probably had much more than he could handle alone, but many would argue that people feel let down having believed in him and expected him to stay steadfast until the end.

Rjoub, who insisted up to the last minute that he was going to demand the ouster of the Israeli Football Federation, accepted an amendment to the resolution that avoided the call to dismiss the Israeli federation and, instead, agreed to a committee with the participation of the world football body to look into the Palestinian charges against Israel’s discrimination and racism that violate FIFA by-laws.

The decision was taken by a vote of the general assembly and the issue is no longer in the hands of the FIFA executive.

What caught many off guard is that the committee has been charged to check with the UN about whether five Israeli settlement clubs are actually in the occupied territories. Continue Reading »

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Jun 02 2015

Israel’s Christian schools demand equality with Jewish schools


By Daoud Kuttab

Students graduating from church-run schools in the Holy Land are among the best performing and successful. Some of these educational institutions recently received worldwide visibility with the canonization of two Palestinian nuns whose selfless efforts wereinstrumental in raising the level of education in what is now Palestine and Israel.

 Christian schools in Israel, however, are facing severe financial difficulties, leading to an unprecedented demonstration in Jerusalem on May 27.

While the financial crisis in schools is not new, funding inequalities have recently became more clear. Haaretz reported May 15 that as part of the recent coalition negotiations, United Torah Judaism won financial equality between Heredi (Jewish Orthodox) and state education systems.

As a multiparty parliamentary system, Israeli governments are regularly created as a result of painstaking coalitions in which Cabinet portfolios, policy issues and financial disbursements are carrots used to convince small parties to keep the government in power.

Israel guarantees education for its citizens and has a special clause that gives nonpublic schools support for taking some of the burden from the government for educating its citizens. Continue Reading »

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May 31 2015

No promises in Netanyahu’s offer to negotiate settlement annexation


By Daoud Kuttab

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed that he is a masterful politician in his most recent offer to the EU’s top foreign official. During her visit to Israel and Palestine May 24, the Israeli leader told EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini that he was ready to discuss the borders of settlement blocs that would one day be swapped with the Palestinians. Haaretz reported that Netanyahu wants “to reach understandings on the borders of settlement blocs that Israel would annex under any peace agreement.”

The offer, which was quickly rejected by Palestine’s top negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, can be seen in both negative and positive lights.

Erekat correctly noted that by prioritizing the borders of the Israeli settlement blocs that will become part of Israel, Netanyahu is giving legitimacy to settlements without making commitments on the issue of a Palestinian state. It is as if the Israeli prime minister is taking for granted that the illegal settlements will become part of Israel while retaining the right to negotiate later on a Palestinian state.

On the other hand, what appears to be an Israeli concession of sorts does reflect the serious dilemma facing Israel in its settlements enterprise. Netanyahu made his statement knowing very well that the EU is about to sharply increase the pressure on Israel over settlement products and settlers who carry European passports. The EU is insisting that Israel can no longer label any products made in West Bank settlements as “Made in Israel.” Continue Reading »

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May 27 2015

How Netanyahu keeps fooling the world

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

For the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the pressure from the EU regarding Israel’s settlements is nothing compared to the pressure of forming a majority coalition.

Netanyahu used his shrewdness and clever play on words to charm the visiting European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Instead of balking on the issues of the peace process and what Israel calls the right of Jews to settle everywhere in “Eretz Yisrael” (Greater Israel), Netanyahu surprised Mogherini, telling her that Israel is interested in negotiating the borders of the West Bank settlement blocks.

The idea behind the offer rests on a concession made by Yasser Arafat during the failed 2000 Camp David summit regarding Palestinian acceptance of the idea of land swaps.

The Israeli leader, therefore, wants to agree on the settlement blocks that will be swapped in a future deal so as to annex those blocks to Israel and thereby avoid the claim that products made in these settlements are wrongly labelled as being made in Israel.

Of course, the concept of land swap was made on the basis of two important features that Netanyahu cleverly ignores: that it will be made as part of the two-state solution in which an independent, contiguous state will replace the current military occupation; and that it will be equal in size and extent.

It is not clear at all from the leaked report of the meeting between Netanyahu and Mogherini if either of these conditions was talked about. Continue Reading »

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May 27 2015

Jibril Rajoub confident FIFA will vote on expelling Israel


By Daoud Kuttab

The head of the Palestinian Football Federation spoke optimistically of winning the vote that the general assembly of the world soccer association FIFA will hold May 29. Three-fourths of the association’s 209 members are needed to remove a member. “I am 100% sure we will win the vote and remove the Israelis from FIFA,” Jibril Rajoub told Al-Monitor on May 21 after meeting with FIFA head Joseph “Sepp” Blatter.

Rajoub appeared to have little faith in the mediation efforts of Blatter, who had met May 19 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinians have been through this before and have in past years agreed to withdraw their efforts to kick the Israelis out only to find that travel restrictions have continued, Rajoub argued. Palestinian players, especially from the Gaza Strip, are often denied travel to the West Bank or abroad to participate in training or in games. Players from visiting teams are also sometimes denied entry, causing embarrassment to the Palestinian Football Association.

“He tried to present some new assurances about the movement of our players, but it was too little, too late,” Rajoub said.

Blatter told Palestinians that he has received new concessions from the Israelis regarding the travel issues of Palestinian players. A committee has been created, including a Palestinian, an Israeli and a FIFA representative, who meet on a monthly basis to review the situation.

“Our issue with the Israelis is not only about the movement of our players. We can’t accept that the Israeli Football Association includes five clubs from settlements and the racism in Israeli stadiums,” Rajoub said. Israeli soccer teams and their fans act and tolerate a high level of racism against Arabs in the stadiums. FIFA has a strongpolicy against racism and conducts campaigns to root it out of the game. Continue Reading »

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