Commentary & Analysis Bringing you the latest and up-to-date news from the Middle East. We go one step further, facilitating a better understanding of the issues facing the Middle East. Sat, 28 Nov 2015 11:13:13 +0000 MEMO en-gb The net is closing around Israeli war crimes suspects memo commentaryThree and a half years have passed since Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to share a platform with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. The veteran anti-apartheid campaigner believed that Blair’s actions over the war in Iraq were both “morally indefensible” and criminally culpable. Apart from the dreadful consequences of the war, Tutu’s action drew attention to the shocking failures of the international criminal justice system. South Africa’s Directorate of the Priority Crimes Investigation Unit (DPCIU) took a major step last week to address this shortcoming by issuing warrants for the arrest of four senior Israeli military officers for their role in the attack on the Freedom Flotilla ships which were sailing to Gaza from Turkey and Greece in 2010.

Palestinian victims of Israeli crimes have for a very long time sought, unsuccessfully, to activate the principle of universal jurisdiction in order to prosecute suspects in European courts. In almost every instance they have run up against the brick walls of “special immunity” granted to the individuals concerned by complicit governments. This month’s decision by a Spanish court to issue a warrant for the arrest of Benjamin Netanyahu and seven other Israeli officials was at the very least an attempt to reverse that trend.

Naturally, the Spanish and South African moves have infuriated the Israeli government, which described them as “provocative” and “ugly”. With typical arrogance, the Israeli prime minister ordered his foreign minister to work to quash the warrants, with little regard for the jurisdiction of the countries involved.

In South Africa, the arrest warrants followed a four year legal battle by Gadija Davids, who was on board the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by Israeli commandos in international waters, some 150 km from Gaza. Davids alleges that she was kidnapped and assaulted by Israeli commandos before being imprisoned in Israel. It was on this basis she made a legal complaint in 2011.

In the absence of any serious attempt by the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute Israeli officials for international crimes the burden of responsibility has fallen on individual countries. South Africa has thus taken the lead to uphold the rule of law and protect its citizens.

Although the ICC currently has the power to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, its powers are limited to crimes committed in the territories of, or by nationals of, the countries that have ratified its statute. Israel has not ratified the Rome Treaty and is unlikely to do so. After all, that would threaten its long-standing custom of acting with impunity. If ordered by the Security Council, however, the ICC will act even against a country that did not ratify the treaty. While it was such a resolution that was used to force through the indictment of Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, it is almost impossible to believe that the same would happen against Israeli officials given the US veto in the Security Council.

As its stands the arrest of Israeli suspects is not imminent. However, the upshot of the arrest warrants is that their freedom to travel may be severely curtailed. To use the words of Gadija Davids, they are now “fugitives from justice responsible to answer for crimes that were committed on the high seas.” Furthermore, they will be forced to think twice before they resort to such indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in future.

Israeli officials have every reason to be concerned. Their worst nightmare is if the South African move sets a precedent for other African states to follow suit. This is not far-fetched. The African Union has in recent years been very critical of the ICC and has adopted a number of resolutions confirming this. The vast majority of cases which the ICC is currently investigating are related to crimes committed in Africa, and there were crimes. The problem, though, is that Africans see themselves as being singled out for prosecution while other war crimes suspects, such as Israelis, enjoy immunity.

In the same manner that Israel is quick to act on behalf of its citizens as of right, so too will African countries like South Africa would be compelled to act to protect the rights of their citizens. Given South Africa’s current chairmanship of the African Union and its political and moral authority on the continent the net is expected to close ever tighter around those Israelis suspected of international crimes. A large number of African states are members of the ICC; its abject failure has left them with no other choice but to utilise domestic channels to pursue universal justice, regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 24 Nov 2015 16:42:54 +0000
The ANC and Hamas stand shoulder to shoulder against apartheid in Palestine memo commentaryWhatever political and practical weaknesses it may have, there are some things that will remain forever constant within the African National Congress (ANC). Opposition to apartheid is one of them. It was, therefore, quite natural that South Africa’s ruling party should host leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) last week.

For the ANC, and indeed the South African people who fought against apartheid rule, the Palestine issue is unfinished business. Having suffered loss of territory, state repression, colonial rule and racism of the most virulent kind, they are driven instinctively to support the Palestinian people in their own “long walk to freedom”.

As it turned out, the visit by the Hamas delegation led by Khaled Meshaal took many by surprise. There were no prior public statements about it from either the ANC or the Palestinians. Both were clearly conscious of the fact that, in 1998, the founder of Hamas, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin, cancelled a visit to South Africa after it was publicised ahead of schedule. The wheelchair-bound shaikh was assassinated by Israel in 2004.

Two things can be said about Meshaal’s visit. As far as Hamas is concerned, it underscored the movement’s determination, and ability, to overcome attempts to isolate it diplomatically. For the ANC, it demonstrated an unwillingness by the party to relinquish the long-standing principle championed by former ANC leader and President of South Africa Nelson Mandela: “No one chooses our friends for us.” Mandela, of course, was long denounced as a “terrorist” by Israel’s most devoted friends and allies.

Furthermore, the visit points to a growing recognition in the Global South that apartheid in Palestine, as in South Africa, will not be defeated because of the support of western governments but in spite of their subservience to Israel.

Look at US State Department spokesman Admiral John Kirby, for example. Last week, he infuriated Israeli officials when he suggested that Israel was partially responsible for the current unrest. When asked at a press briefing if it was the view of the US administration that the status quo in Al Aqsa Mosque has been changed he replied, “Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”

Shortly thereafter he tweeted a “clarification” about the briefing. “I did not intend to suggest that the status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif has been broken.”

If there was a need for an explanation of this sudden about turn, it was found in the subtitle of a report published by the Israeli daily Haaretz. “US Department of State Spokesman John Kirby has been forced to retract a comment he made on Wednesday that Israel had violated the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” (Emphasis added.)

With such fickle interlocutors, Palestinians will have to wait until the cows come home before they have a state with Jerusalem as its capital. Thankfully though, they have in the ANC a natural ally prepared to go the extra mile, beyond the customary protocols and photo-opportunities that mark official visits. Hence, one of the outcomes of last week’s visit was an agreement for Hamas to open an office in Pretoria.

There was, of course, outrage in Israel and even some Arab capitals. Yet by refusing to apologise, as the US does regularly, South Africa has spoken not just for the African continent but also the whole Global South.

Two decades ago, many African countries welcomed the Oslo Accords after they were signed in Washington. They ended their diplomatic boycott of Israel, thinking that the agreement would usher-in an end to the Zionist colonial enterprise in Palestine. Regrettably, even after the Palestinians had agreed to a state on just 22 per cent of their historic homeland, Israel to this day refuses to withdraw from the territory that it captured in 1967 and continues to colonise under the protection of its brutal military occupation.

Though not the only reason, this question of the occupation and settlement expansion must have forced many in Africa to change their position. In South Africa, every time a Palestinian child is killed, whether in his father’s arms like Muhammad Durra or burnt alive in his home, like Ali Dawabsheh, South Africans remember Hector Pieterson and the other victims of the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Such inhumanity, they believe, must never happen again, anywhere.

There is clearly much common experience in their individual histories that solidifies the collaboration between the ANC and Hamas. They have both been reviled and blacklisted as “terrorists” by the apologists for apartheid. They both paid a heavy price with lengthy prison sentences and the assassination of their leaders.

Ultimately, the defeat of apartheid in South Africa has left a legacy as well as a permanent responsibility. The leadership of the ANC must be saluted for taking up the challenge to defeat apartheid wherever it exists, especially in Palestine.

When they finally open their office in Pretoria, Hamas officials must hit the ground running. They will find in the South Africans a people who are highly politicised and driven by a love of freedom and justice. As such, they must take maximum advantage of this opportunity to regain support for their cause not only in South Africa but also in every corner of the free world.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 27 Oct 2015 11:31:12 +0000
Israeli lies will not deceive the British public MEMO CommentaryIsrael’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, scored a spectacular own goal with his recent article in the Guardian. In doing so, he caused considerable damage to the credibility of the newspaper and its editorial policy. It is astonishing that an item so factually incorrect and wilfully misleading could have been passed by the editors of a reputable British publication.

Under the headline “The terror in Jerusalem is based on a lie”, Erdan told the most scandalous and unconvincing canard that “Israel is not seeking to change the status of the Temple Mount.” This 36-acre site at the heart of the conflict is known to Muslims the world over as Al-Aqsa Mosque, or Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Erdan played the blameless card: “I can state in no uncertain terms and on behalf of the government of Israel that my country is not seeking to change the status quo regarding the Temple Mount.” His use of the Jewish term for the Noble Sanctuary is itself evidence of his intention to mislead the world about the status of the site.

Moreover, all of the facts on the ground contradict his claim. Just as it has done with the Ibrahimi Mosque in occupied Hebron, Israel is indeed trying to change the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque to allow Jews to perform religious rituals therein.

The Israeli occupation, as a matter of policy, prevents Palestinians living in the West Bank from obtaining permits to enter Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Even Jerusalemites face an array of restrictions to enter the sanctuary, including the withholding of their identity cards until they leave the mosque.

Only last month, the Israeli media reported that Erdan himself sent a letter to Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon urging him to outlaw a group of male and female Muslim worshippers who protest against the presence of illegal Jewish settlers in Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quite rightly, condemned Erdan’s action.

If Israel has no intention of changing the status of occupied Jerusalem, let alone Al-Aqsa Mosque, then why does it refer to the city as its “undivided eternal capital”? This has been Israel’s claim since it annexed - illegally, according to international law - occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Even Israel’s closest friends and allies reject this annexation.

In January this year a landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court underscored the bogus nature of the “undivided capital” assertion. The court overturned a controversial law that would have allowed Americans born in Jerusalem to list their birthplace as “Israel” on their US passports. Congress, noted the court, had overstepped its limits when it approved the law in 2002. As such, the official US policy remains non-recognition of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Tellingly, the Times of Israel published an item on 1 September under the title “Netanyahu agrees things must change on Temple Mount”. The report followed a one-to-one meeting between Likud activist Yehudah Glick and the Israeli prime minister to discuss the situation on “Temple Mount”. Glick revealed that Netanyahu was not only “warm and understanding” but also politically supportive of his cause. What might that be?

Glick heads an outfit called the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation which advocates for the right of Jews to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque. His views are documented in a guidebook, “Arise and Ascend”, which is geared to encourage visits by Jews to the Noble Sanctuary. In it he rejects the status quo established in 1967 by the then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan that recognises the site as a place of worship for Muslims and a tourist site for all others, but bans Jewish prayer therein.

Furthermore, Glick is full of praise for Erdan, who recently ordered the removal of female Muslim worshippers from Al-Haram Al-Sharif: “I feel there is a new guiding spirit in the police. Minister Erdan is completely different than [former] minister [Yitzhak] Aharonovitch... The only thing that can bring about change is an increased Jewish presence on the Mount. [We need] more pressure from crowds going up and from tourists witnessing the situation.”

Clearly, these remarks do not reflect a desire to preserve the status quo even though, in November 2014, Netanyahu gave an undertaking to US Secretary of State John Kerry and King Abdullah of Jordan to respect the status of Jerusalem. At the time, the King was infuriated by Israel’s repeated closure of the sanctuary to Muslims. He saw it as a direct breach of his country’s 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty with Israel which acknowledges his custodianship of the Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.

Given such differences between his words and actions, it is perhaps no wonder that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded Netanyahu a compulsive "liar". The Guardian article has now confirmed that the Israeli prime minister is not alone amongst his coalition colleagues in his predilection for falsehood; those who keep his company are affected likewise. Erdan’s deceitful narrative of Palestinian “terrorism” will continue to ring hollow as long as Palestinian youths are burned alive by trigger-happy soldiers and fanatical Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.

No amount of bogus claims made in the foreign media will give Israel the legitimacy and sovereignty over Jerusalem that it craves. Neither will brute force change the international consensus upheld by the UN Security Council that all legislative and administrative actions taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem are totally invalid, illegal, null and void. The world stands up for the resolution of issues by the force of law, not the law of force. If the editors of the Guardian newspaper do not recognise this, they can be sure that the enlightened British public does.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 19 Oct 2015 09:47:28 +0000
Netanyahu is on the path of self-destruction MEMO CommentaryHe has spent his entire political career preaching about threats to Israel’s security. When it was not “Palestinian terrorism” it was the Iranian nuclear programme. Now, Israelis are waking up to the dreadful reality that it is really their own Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who poses the main “existential threat” to their security.

Two months after winning just 30 of the 120 parliamentary seats in this year’s general election, Netanyahu barely managed to cobble together a coalition government. Along with his partners in the far-right United Torah Judaism, Shas and Jewish Home parties, he is committed to three central policies: opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, unrestricted settlement expansion in the occupied territories and total Israeli dominance over Jerusalem. Pursuit of all three was always going to end in disaster.

Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation couldn’t care less whether the decades-long negotiations between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the Israelis continue or not. They have long since lost any hope in the “peace process” that has been as fraudulent as it is counter-productive.

Is this the Third Intifada?

Rising tensions in the Occupied Territories have led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of clashes.
Are we witnessing the Third Intifada?

What they are no longer prepared to put up with is the constant barrage of terrorist attacks from Israel’s Jewish settlers. These attacks have, in recent months, become increasingly repugnant, not least because they are invariably carried out in the presence of the Israeli army or police, whose officers stand by to protect the settlers should any Palestinian be bold enough to fight back. And yet the same Israeli security agencies, which usually take just minutes or hours to identify and prosecute — and in some cases execute extra-judicially — Palestinian teenagers for stone-throwing, have not, since July, brought a single settler to court for the burning alive of 18-month old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents in the West Bank town of Duma.

Netanyahu has clearly, on this occasion, misread the situation. He has unwittingly given Palestinians across their historic homeland every reason to unite and rise up, regardless of their political affiliation. This outcome has been speeded up after the final red line was crossed by the illegal settlers who have sought to change the status of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

For weeks on end since July, Palestinians have been obstructed and denied access to the mosque while Jews have had unrestricted entry, again under the protection of the Israeli security forces. The occupation authorities obviously underestimate the importance of this sacred site and its ability to become a rallying point for Palestinians and, indeed, Muslims around the world.

As the situation now spirals out of control, Netanyahu’s only hope is that the PA will fulfil its collaborationist security obligations towards Israel. So far, attempts by the latter to crack down on Palestinian protests have failed. Suffice to say that the only way that the PA security agencies might succeed is if they become more vicious and draconian than the Israelis themselves. That is not beyond the realms of possibility if past experience is anything to go by. Inevitably, though, they, like the Israelis, will become the target of popular anger.

Already, within Israel the blame game has started. Netanyahu is now the subject of increasing domestic criticism. A recent poll conducted by Israel's Channel 2 TV revealed that three-quarters of Israelis expressed dissatisfaction with his [mis]handling of the uprising. When asked about the alternative, one-third of Israelis believe that a more hard-line politician, such as former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman or Education Minister Naftali Bennett, should be made responsible for security.

In an obvious attempt to pre-empt international condemnation, Israeli officials maintain that they don’t desire any further escalation. Yet, domestically the language they are using is distinctly different. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon demonstrated this on Friday when he urged civilians with a firearms licence to carry their weapons.

Try to imagine the international outcry if Mahmoud Abbas was to issue a similar call to Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation. The West’s criminal silence exposes the fact that it more or less condones Israel’s self-decreed “exceptionalism”.

In a related move, Israel’s security cabinet gave the green light to the police and army to use live ammunition against Palestinian stone-throwers. Again, silence from Western governments.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, remains rooted to his familiar denial mode, claiming that neither the Israeli actions at Al-Aqsa nor the Dawabsheh murders are the immediate catalysts for the violence. Instead, he continues to do what he does best, blaming the Palestinian leadership. It’s a familiar script: if Abbas and the other Palestinian factions did not condemn the settlers’ terror campaign and Israeli provocations in Al Aqsa, everything in the garden would still be rosy. This echoes the usual Israeli propaganda that the situation is “quiet” or “stable” when, in fact, Palestinians are being killed almost daily, and Israelis only ever “respond” to Palestinian violence.

Netanyahu’s belated directive to his officials not to visit Al Aqsa Mosque is meaningless at this stage. Such half-hearted stunts will not stem the rising tide of anger, especially while Israeli policies which strangle the economy and livelihoods in Jerusalem remain in place and Palestinians are denied access to Islam’s third holiest site. Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian activist and General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, was absolutely right when he said that Netanyahu should understand that those who plant oppression will eventually harvest rage. The prime minister looks hell-bent on staying on the path of self-destruction.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 12 Oct 2015 12:05:58 +0000
Like Brezhnev in Afghanistan, Putin will fail in Syria MEMO CommentaryPresident Vladimir Putin's decision to launch airstrikes against targets in Syria has effectively changed the rules of engagement in the war-torn country. In the long run, this may well be the most serious miscalculation that the Russian leader has made in his whole career.

In some ways the gamble is strikingly similar to Leonid Brezhnev’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Current attempts by the Kremlin to justify the airstrikes as part of the global “war against terror” have failed to allay fears of an unfolding Russian occupation of a predominantly Muslim country.

While many in Syria absolutely reject Daesh/ISIS and its deviant practices, they will not under any circumstances be throwing rice or flowers onto their newest invaders, if and when ground operations begin. In fact, the public endorsement by the Russian Orthodox Church of the strikes and its description thereof as a “holy war” have given a whole new dimension to the conflict in Syria. No sooner had the church Patriarch Kirill given his blessings to the operations did social media activists across the Middle East call for Muslims to go to Syria’s rescue in the same way that they had rescued Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Back in 1979, the Soviet Union was “invited” to prop-up an unpopular client state in Afghanistan. On the eve of the invasion most of the countryside, as in today’s Syria, was in open rebellion. The communist government in Kabul carried out a brutal campaign against its own people during which more than 27,000 Afghans were executed.

Bashar Al Assad’s response to popular demands for reform has been very similar. Having lost control over four-fifths of Syrian territory he has also “invited” the Russians to come to his rescue. This, of course, was after the combined mercenary forces of Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis and Lebanese-Hezbollah fighters had failed to prevent the country’s territorial and military meltdown.

Significantly, the Western alliance bombing of Daesh/ISIS targets for more than a year has not changed the situation on the ground either. The chances of the Russians doing any better, even with the best of their air power, are remote.

As it now stands, Moscow’s military intervention has set it on a collision course with Saudi Arabia and Turkey; both have condemned the operation. Syria, like Afghanistan in the 1980s, is thus fast becoming a theatre for a global confrontation, with numerous state actors trying to secure their own geo-strategic interests.

Alexander Rahr, a prominent German expert on Russia, pointed out that although Washington and Moscow both see the need to act against Daesh/ISIS, they act in line with their different priorities. “We see different priorities in Syria,” he explained. “The Russian priority is to prevent this critical region of the Middle East, Syria and Iraq from going under the control of the Saudis and of the Gulf States who are very close to the US.” Rahr believes that while Saudi Arabia is trying to reduce the influence of Iran in the region, Russia is for a strong Iran, as a counterweight to the Saudis.

Even the Israelis have joined in on the act, threatening to intensify their own airstrikes in Syria. They are positioning themselves to grab more territory as Syria disintegrates. Hence, we are witnessing the emergence of an undeclared, unholy alliance between the Russians, Iranians and regional players like Israel and Egypt.

As the battle lines are drawn Egypt’s position is noticeably ambivalent, to say the least. Unlike the Saudis who helped to install and keep him in power, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi refuses to call for Assad’s departure. In a recent interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he ducked the question repeatedly on whether Assad should go, claiming instead that he fears the disintegration of the Syrian state and the fall of its weapons into the hands of extremists. The undeclared subtext of this is his paramount concern for Israel’s security.

All told, nothing in the present web of alliances and counter-alliances suggest that a political solution is within reach in Syria. Russia’s involvement endorsed by its Orthodox Christian establishment alongside Iran and supported by Israel will only enflame the situation. Whatever the reason behind it, Russia is now well and truly trapped in the Syrian quagmire. Sooner or later, Putin will have to commit ground troops if he wants to avoid a long war of attrition that will drain his already ailing economy.

Whether he makes that fateful decision to commit ground troops or not, the fact remains that Russia is now perceived as an invader and occupier. Vladimir Putin seems not to have learnt anything from Brezhnev’s misadventure in Afghanistan. For this, he is likely to pay very dearly.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 03 Oct 2015 11:23:42 +0000
One more nail in the PLO’s coffin MEMO commentary and analysisWhen the chairman of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) called a meeting of the body for 15-16 September the date reverberated darkly, for it was on 16 September 1982 that the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia, acting with the support of the Israeli army, perpetrated the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees. The slaughter took place less than three weeks after Yasser Arafat and his PLO fighters were forced to abandon their Beirut headquarters and relocate to Tunis.

Almost 33 years later, the PLO is now a pale shadow of itself. Political and military infighting has become the [dis]order of the day. As Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, prepares to retire to his purpose-built $13 million palace, rival camps within the PLO’s largest faction, Fatah, have been settling old scores in the most public of manner.

In Lebanon, where Arafat was based for over a decade, fierce fighting erupted recently in Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest of the Palestinian refugee camps in the country, between Fatah and the Salafist group “Jund Al-Sham”. Not since the signing of the Oslo accords has the PLO been so paralysed by its internal weakness and loss of direction. One glaring sign has been its inability to incorporate into its ranks the Islamist forces — including Hamas and Islamic Jihad — almost thirty years after they emerged on the scene.

This failure has occurred in spite of the 21 March 2005 Cairo Declaration issued by 13 Palestinian groups. It envisioned the reform of the PLO and inclusion of the Islamist forces. Article 5 of the declaration is clear: “Those gathered agreed to develop the Palestine Liberation Organisation on bases that will be settled upon in order to include all the Palestinian powers and factions, as the organisation is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

It was also agreed “to form a committee to define these bases, and the committee will be made up of the president of the National Council, the members of the PLO's Executive Committee, the secretaries general of all Palestinian factions and independent national personalities. The president of the executive committee will convene this committee.”

Subsequently, in March 2011, the parties reaffirmed, again in Cairo, their commitment to the 2005 declaration. At the time, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), Mustafa Barghouti, described it as "a historic day in the lives of the Palestinian people with the development of a united national leadership as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PNI joined the PLO’s leadership framework."

In this light, it appears that the latest call for a meeting of the PNC was not issued in accord with the "interim leadership framework" of the PLO at all. On the contrary, it came after ten members of the executive council, including President Abbas, tendered their resignations. That was seen as a desperate attempt by Abbas to reshape the PLO more in accord with his personal fancies rather than the long-delayed root and branch restructuring.

At the heart of the current dispute is the view of the Islamic forces that the election of the future PNC must include Palestinians in the diaspora; Fatah does not believe that this is realistic. The PNC, remember, is the highest authority in the PLO, responsible for formulating its policies and programmes. Many believe that Fatah’s reluctance is due to it not wanting anything to interfere with the current balance of power within the PLO, which is firmly in its favour at the moment.

On another level, the current impasse also centres on the fact that Abbas and his inner circle view the discussion about reform within the interim framework as simply non-binding consultation. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, however, believe the opposite. As such, the latter charge the president with taking decisions unilaterally on a matter that will affect all Palestinians and their cause.

As things stand, the Israeli government could not hope for a better scenario, which virtually guarantees the continuation of the internal Palestinian rift. At the very least, it offers the Israelis more room to manoeuvre or, better still, to obstruct any form of negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. Politically, nothing is going to happen because Netanyahu and his ministers will tell Abbas that he doesn’t represent all Palestinians, and they’re right. In the background is the fact that, despite reports of an imminent truce between Israel and Hamas, it is now becoming increasingly clear that another confrontation looms large over the Gaza Strip.

Although 740 members of the PNC have been invited to a meeting in Ramallah next month it remains to be seen how many will manage to enter the West Bank, given the whims of the Israeli occupation authorities. Even if they manage to muster a quorum of 450, it is already believed that the venue was chosen specifically so that certain Palestinian elements would be unable to make the journey and thus be excluded from the process. Mahmoud Abbas has done this deliberately; in doing so, he has driven another nail in the coffin of the PLO with his own hands. The Palestinians are badly served by such transparently self-defeating leadership.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 29 Aug 2015 11:27:48 +0000
Even if Blair is not befriending Hamas, look for a new beginning Do Tony Blair's shuttle visits to Doha for meetings with the leadership of the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — mean that he is about to befriend the Palestinian group? The short answer is no, with a capital "N". They must not for one moment be interpreted as a change of heart or political conversion, not even in light of the fact that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. In this instance, it is all about the interests of those involved.

In spite of his failure as the Middle East Quartet's peace envoy, the former British prime minister still enjoys the trust and confidence of the Israeli establishment. His current efforts are by no means part of the so-called "peace process", even though he would have preferred some sort of link. They are, instead, limited to securing an agreement with the resistance factions in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas in particular.

In reality, the issues under discussion are very much the same that were agreed upon after the previous three Israeli offensives against the Gaza Strip. Though guaranteed by Egypt on every occasion, not one of these was fully implemented.

Perhaps all that has changed is that the situation on the ground for the Palestinians in Gaza has worsened beyond measure, thus forcing Hamas to explore the Blair initiative. The movement's basic demands, however, remain unchanged: an end to the siege, a permanent opening of the border crossings, the flow of humanitarian aid and construction materials to be allowed to enter the enclave.

As in 2014, the current discussions are also about the establishment of a sea corridor from Cyprus and Greece to Gaza's port. Reports that Israel has agreed to this in principle must be taken with a pinch of salt. The coalition government in Tel Aviv is dominated by religious fanatics and racial supremacists of the Israeli far-right, and it is questionable whether they would ever support any of the above, let alone open access by sea.

On balance, though, the objective of having a sea corridor to Gaza should not be abandoned, given that the Egyptians are unlikely to open the Rafah crossing permanently. There are two reasons for Cairo's stance. The first relates to the security situation in the Sinai and the second to Gaza itself. The Palestinian issue is, arguably, the most potent instrument of leverage that the Egyptian regime can use to exert regional influence. As such, it will not make any concessions today or any time in the foreseeable future.

For its part, the Netanyahu government desperately wants to restore some semblance of normality to its southern border with Gaza. The current state of no war, no peace has left settlers in the area living in uncertainty. They hold their government responsible for their never-ending dread.

It is in this context that Blair's initiative becomes important. If there is anything that could reassure the Israelis it is the disarmament of the resistance factions in Gaza; Netanyahu has made this demand after every Israeli war on the enclave but has failed to achieve it.

So far, there is nothing to suggest that Blair will succeed on this issue. Sources close to the Doha discussions told MEMO that the any talk of Hamas "decommissioning" its weapons (to use Blair's Northern Ireland phrase) is off the table. On the contrary, the movement has no intention of curtailing the development of its military capability. The announcement last week that it has put into service a captured and repaired Israeli drone speaks volumes.

Despite the huge gap between the parties there is no doubt that the Blair talks have had some positive outcomes, albeit limited. For a start, it has broken the diplomatic blockade that has been imposed on Hamas for the better part of the past decade. Moreover, it is clear that whatever political or security changes are planned for the region's future, they will have to take into account the movement's legitimate demands.

Deep within himself Tony Blair must be agonising over his current role; he is having to deal with an organisation that he once helped to proscribe in Europe. Who would have thought that he would sit down with Khaled Meshaal without Hamas having first implemented the Quartet's infamous preconditions of the recognition of the state of Israel, adherence to previous diplomatic agreements, and renunciation of violence as a means of achieving its goals?

After trying everything from assassinations to blockade and war, Hamas has not disappeared. There is still no love lost between the movement and its regional and international adversaries, so the issue today is certainly not about friendship. It is simply about attesting to the failure of a discredited policy of blockading and isolating arguably the major player in Palestinian politics, leading to years of wasted opportunities to make progress. It's never too late to make a new beginning, though, and now would be a very good time to do it.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 17 Aug 2015 09:46:53 +0000
What does the trial of Hissene Habré mean for Egyptians? MEMO commentaryFrom 1982 until 1990, he ruled his sub-Saharan desert country with an iron fist. Twenty-five years after he was overthrown, the ex-president of Chad, Hissene Habré, is being tried before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. His trial undoubtedly marks a watershed moment for justice on the African continent.

What does it mean for Egyptians? It should certainly be of great interest, for despite the unavoidable differences, there are uncanny similarities between the Chadian case and that of Egypt under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

Habre's government, like that of Al-Sisi, has been accused of widespread extrajudicial killings of political opponents, systematic torture and thousands of arbitrary arrests. Indeed a 1992 Chadian Truth Commission identified 40,000 political murders and systematic torture.

Similarly, in Egypt, Human Rights Watch cites "credible independent researchers" in reporting that over 41,000 people have been detained since Al-Sisi toppled the country's elected President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. That number is still rising. Although it now seems that the country is headed for another prolonged period of being able to act with impunity, there may yet be a glimmer of hope for justice for those wronged, albeit through the African Union (AU).

According to the terms of Articles 3 (h), 4 (h) and 4 (o) of the Constitutive Act of the AU, the crimes of which Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is accused fall within its competence. Article 4 (o), specifically, allows the African Union to function in accordance with the principle of respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities.

Given the level of mistrust that exists in Africa towards the Europe-based International Criminal Court (ICC) because of its perceived selectivity and anti-African bias, it is understandable that lawyers acting on behalf of Egyptian victims of the Sisi regime are turning to the AU for legal redress.

In spite of its notorious human rights record, Sisi's Egypt, like that of Chad under Habre', still enjoys the benefits of a special relationship with Washington and Europe. In the 1980s, both the US and France courted the Habre' regime with which they collaborated to prevent Muammar Gaddafi's expansionist designs in the sub-Sahara region. Not only did they help Habre' come to power but they also lavished him with military hardware, which he used mercilessly against his own people.

In March 2015, the White House announced that it was sending 12 F-16 fighter jets, replacement kits for 125 Abrams tanks, 20 Harpoon missiles and $1.3bn in annual military funding to the Sisi regime in Cairo. Similarly, in early July France delivered three Rafale fighter jets to Egypt, the first of 24 warplanes sold in a €5.2 billion ($5.6 billion) deal. There were other assets included in the French arms package, including contracts for missiles and a state of the art multipurpose frigate.

This is a classic case of a government trying to live above its means. A CIA report for December 2014 estimated Egypt's revenues at $65.48 billion while its expenditure was $99.14 billion. At the same time, it had an external debt of $55.86 billion.

In March 2015 the European Economic and Social Committee released a progress report on Egypt's implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2014. It described the fiscal deficit as "unsustainably high", reaching 13.6 per cent of GDP, and said that without grants from the Gulf countries the figure for the 2013-14 fiscal year would have been 17.4 per cent. The same report noted an increase in poverty, with 25.2 per cent of Egyptians living below the national poverty line, and 23.7 per cent just above it.

Having an incompetent government with misplaced priorities is bad enough, but having one that disregards the sanctity of human life is even worse. Egyptians are experiencing this misfortune. With western governments pouring lethal weapons into the country at an alarming rate, the military grip on the levers of power has been bolstered significantly.

Like Chad, however, there is always the prospect of dissent, rivalry and betrayal from within the ranks of the ruling regime. After all, Hissene Habre' was overthrown by his chief military advisor and former commander-in-chief of the army, Idriss Déby.

In Egypt, rumours of infighting within the military junta are rife. They point in particular to mounting tensions between the general and the military intelligence agencies.

By authorising the Extraordinary African Chambers to try Habre' in Senegal the African Union has set a commendable precedent for justice and the rule of law. It has underscored the enduring truths that crimes against humanity are never nullified with the passage of time and that even the most brutal tyrants can be prosecuted. In Chad's long-running saga for justice there are many lessons for the people of Egypt.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:06:10 +0000
Why Jeremy Corbyn is a serious contender to lead Labour MEMO CommentaryJeremy Corbyn's entry into the race to become the next leader of Britain's Labour Party was, initially, dismissed as a publicity stunt. With just over one month left before the poll takes place, he has emerged as the front runner and a serious contender for the job. In an attempt to stop the MP for Islington North, his Conservative detractors and sections of the media have thrown everything at him. Their latest scare tactic is to try to embarrass him over his position on Hamas.

A few days ago the Channel 4 TV news presenter Krishnan Guru Murthy tried to put Corbyn on the spot by asking him why he called the Palestinian resistance movement his "friends". Despite determined efforts by the veteran politician to explain the context of a previous statement about Hamas from which Murthy's selective quote had been taken, the interviewer interrupted him repeatedly in a manner that Corbyn could only describe as "tabloid journalism".

Like him or loathe him, the veteran MP has distinguished himself for his consistency on the situation in Palestine. Throughout his dealings on the issue he has been firm in his conviction that if Britain really wants to support peace in the troubled land it should speak to all parties, including the resistance movements. This has been informed by an acceptance of the fact that peace is always made with enemies, not with friends.

Corbyn's position contrasts markedly with that of the former Labour leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. During his first term in Downing Street he succeeded in brokering the Good Friday Agreement which ended the troubles in Northern Ireland. Buoyed by that success, for a while he entertained the view that a similar approach could be used in Palestine. However, once he decided to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with George W Bush in his global "crusade" against terrorism, Blair abandoned his plan.

Alastair Crooke, the former MI6 officer and European Union Middle East advisor to Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, recalls the dramatic shift in policy well. "It was in 2003 that I realised something fundamental had changed," he wrote. At a meeting in Downing Street with the prime minister's foreign affairs adviser, David Manning, Crooke described how Jack Straw interrupted them to explain how he had persuaded Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, to add Hamas to the EU list of terrorist movements. Straw's elation was palpable.

Successive British governments have remained resolutely committed to the ban (although the political wing of Hamas has never actually been banned in Britain), which was dismissed recently as procedurally unsound by the European Court; Tony Blair, though, had expressed different views. After Hamas's victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections and successful handling of a western-backed coup attempt in 2007, Blair realised that it was time to change.

On 9 January, 2009 he told the Times, "I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas are prepared to do it on the right terms."

Even now, it is not clear whether Blair was sincere in his view. Alvaro de Soto, the retired UN coordinator for the Middle East, wrote a memo to the international organisation's secretary-general suggesting that the conditions for entering into a dialogue with Hamas had been set, deliberately, so that Hamas would be unable to meet them, thus engineering the movement's exclusion.

Whatever his motive, it is now an open secret that Blair is today talking to Hamas. Indeed, there are unconfirmed reports that he has even proposed that Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, should visit London. If true, it is inconceivable that such an overture could have been made without consulting Prime Minister David Cameron.

Whether such a proposal has been put forward in order to secure a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, or help to broker the repatriation of the captured Israeli soldiers being held in Gaza, the fact is that Blair's current undertakings reflect yet another flip flop in his tortured approach to the movement.

The same cannot be said about the aspiring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He is no political chameleon. What you see is what you get. He is by all accounts one of the last of a dying breed of socialists in the Labour Party. By choosing to be unswerving in his adherence to political principles rather than opportunism, he has never made it into a ministerial role, despite being a member of parliament for over thirty years. As Labour now stands on the brink of the political wilderness in opposition, this may well be his time. Cometh the moment, cometh the man.

Whatever the press may do to deter, distort and discredit Corbyn brings to mind the fate of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats who led his party into oblivion because he sacrificed principles and broke electoral promises. Throughout Corbyn's career, consistency has been his greatest asset; he and those who run his campaign must now use that for all its worth in an age of two-dimensional politicians who put power over principles. His position on Palestine has stood the test of time and may even, if Tony Blair's moves bear fruit, demonstrate that he was correct all along. That alone should convince Labour Party members and supporters that if they want a leader who stands for what is right, come what may, then Jeremy Corbyn is their man.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 18 Jul 2015 13:00:51 +0000
Netanyahu under pressure to repatriate captives held in Gaza MEMO Commentary

Over the past ten months, Israel's right-wing government has maintained a news blackout about the disappearance of two of its citizens in the Gaza Strip. However, on the first anniversary of Israel's Operation Protective Edge offensive last summer, the lid has been lifted on the situation dramatically. Although we don't know if the two Israelis are dead or being held hostage, from now on their fate will, inescapably, be linked to that of thousands of Palestinians "disappeared" in Israeli jails.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is coming under intense pressure to secure the release of all those missing in Gaza. To describe his task as difficult would be an understatement. After all, he broke the terms of the October 2011 prisoner exchange deal under which Sergeant Gilad Shalit was released by Hamas. As an interlocutor, Netanyahu simply cannot be trusted.

On its part, Hamas has, since the 2014 war, refused to give any information about whether it has any prisoners-of-war or whether it has the remains of dead soldiers, as some Israel sources claim. The movement's tactic, it seems, is to put the onus on Israel so that it comes clean and declares the truth about how many of its personnel are actually missing in Gaza.

Can Hamas secure the release of its prisoners from Israeli jails, as it did in the Shalit deal? Israeli commentators doubt this. They point out that the circumstances today are different. Besides, they say that the specific case of the Ethiopian-born soldier Abraha Mengistu and the other missing Israeli is also different because both individuals had "psychological problems" and strayed "innocently" into Gaza.

By releasing some senior Hamas leaders in the past two weeks Israel is clearly sending a signal to the resistance movement that it is finally ready to do a deal. For all its worth, the release of the Hamas parliamentarians hardly seems enough. Hamas officials insist that there will be no information of any kind given out before Israel releases all of the prisoners who were freed as part of the Shalit deal and then rearrested immediately by the occupation authorities.

Under the terms of the Shalit exchange deal with Hamas, 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were freed. Since then, the Netanyahu government has rearrested 70 of the former prisoners; among them there are 34 whose sentences, including life, have been reinstated.

It took five years to do a deal for Shalit's release. As it stands, the Israeli prime minister will not have the luxury of five years to secure the release of the current captives. Empty promises will not suffice. There is already growing discontent and unrest among Israel's large Ethiopian Jewish community. They accuse the Israeli establishment of systemic racial discrimination that relegates them to the status of second class citizens. So, to the same degree that the Israeli media mobilised international support for the French Jewish captive Shalit, they must now act and be seen to be doing something for the captured Ethiopian, Mengistu.

Not for the first time in his longstanding confrontations with Hamas, Netanyahu has found himself cornered. He was vilified by his right-wing allies for agreeing to the Shalit deal. They orchestrated the subsequent passage of a law to prevent any similar agreements in future. Even if the prime minister wants to help the Ethiopian community, his hands are effectively tied by the extremist elements in his own government.

Despite their usual threats that Hamas will be held responsible for the missing Israelis, both Defence Minister Moshe Yallon and Netanyahu are aware that there can be no military solution to the issue. At the end of the day, they will have to negotiate a political deal, however bitter and humiliating it might be.

The trouble is, no one knows for sure how many captives are held in Gaza and who is holding them. The presumption is that they are in the hands of Hamas, but that has not been confirmed. As far as the movement is concerned there will be no free information. Abu Obaydah, the spokesman for the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, did not give much away this week when he spoke at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the war. "Friends and foes should know that the files arising from [Operation Protective Edge] and their requirements are still open," he explained. "At the top of them is the prisoners' dossier."

The guns which blasted across Gaza last summer may have been silenced but another battle-front has opened up between the occupying power and the resistance. The stakes are equally high. To the same degree that Netanyahu's credibility is being tested, so too is Hamas called upon to deliver on its solemn undertaking to secure the freedom of thousands of prisoners. Whether it takes another five years, as was the case with Shalit, is hardly relevant. What matters is the fact that Israel has finally announced that it has missing personnel in Gaza. That in itself gives hope to thousands of Palestinian families that their fathers, sons and brothers may have a future.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 10 Jul 2015 12:31:30 +0000
Sorry AIPAC, but Washington has given BDS a boost MEMO CommentaryNothing that Israel does to stop the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign seems to be working, not even in Washington, where support for Israel is often taken for granted. President Barack Obama's decision to sign into law a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) renewal bill this week was, at first glance, a victory for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its die-hard backers in Congress; but a victory it was not.

The purpose of the TPA bill was to give the president greater negotiating powers to "fast track" trade deals, and access new trading partners in the international marketplace. The bill was, however, a victim of the long-drawn-out system of congressional debate, which allowed other bits of legislation to be added before its final adoption. The pro-Israel lobby had secured an amendment to the trade law which obliged the US government to discourage EU countries from endorsing the fast growing BDS movement in Europe.

As usual, the devil was in the detail. One curious aspect of the amendment referred not only to commercial activity with the State of Israel but also "to Israeli-controlled territories". This latter phrase was especially problematic because it was an obvious reference to the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. It implied that the US government supports the clearly illegal settlements.

As soon as the alarm bells about this started to ring, the State Department went into overdrive, issuing a clarification a day after Obama had signed the bill. While affirming US opposition to boycotts of Israel, spokesman John Kirby said a provision of the bill conflated "Israel" and "Israeli-controlled territories". He then emphasised that, just like every other administration since 1967, the Obama administration opposes Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1949 Armistice (the "Green") Line.

Lobbying to get US support for Israel in the face of BDS is one thing, but using US legislation to try to legitimise Israeli settlements is quite another. The State Department was right, therefore, to set the record straight and draw a line under the matter. On this occasion the pro-Israel lobby had, in the words of Israel's Haaretz newspaper, bitten off more than it could chew.

What happened in Washington this week must serve as a lesson to the pro-Israel lobby, wherever it may operate; unreasonable and over-zealous advocacy on behalf of Israel can backfire and become counter-productive.

For example, a few weeks ago the lobby in Britain pressured the University of Southampton to cancel an international academic conference on Palestine on the pretext that some of the proposed speakers hold anti-Semitic views. Although the cancellation did seem like a victory at the time, the fact that the university was drawn into an acrimonious stand-off with some of its academic staff, which eventually ended up in the High Court, only served to highlight the intellectual bankruptcy of Israel's supporters. By resorting to such methods to stifle debate and silence critics they only made the Palestinian case more appealing and popular.

Back in America, meanwhile, the announcement by the United Church of Christ (UCC) that it is going to divest from companies operating in the occupied West Bank coincided with this week's amendment of the TPA bill and the subsequent State Department disavowal of the conflation of Israel with the territories it "controls", the lobby's euphemism for "occupies and colonises".

The TPA bill development was not the first chink in the wall of Israeli immunity in Washington. Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government against the family of one Menachem Zivotofsky, who had taken legal action to get the boy's birthplace listed on official documents as "Jerusalem, Israel". In effect, the court ruling was a resounding rejection of Israel's claim to the occupied city. This week's intervention by the State Department constitutes another blow to Israel's anti-BDS campaign by Washington with its refusal to defend illegal settlements or criminalise the boycott against them.

To some observers, these developments may be tentative baby steps, but in the grand scheme of the global struggle against Israeli apartheid they are important because the Americans, significantly, are finally smelling the coffee.

Decades of appeasement have resulted in irreparable damage to their country's image, interests and influence in the Middle East. The age of full spectrum hegemony in this region is over. There was a time when an American bark was enough to bring recalcitrant regional states into line. That is no longer the case. Instead, America has, for example, been led down a path of never-ending negotiations by Iran over its nuclear programme. In a way, the Americans are being given a taste of their own medicine, which has been administered to the Palestinians since the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.

The moral is simple; if you uphold the law and practice what you preach you will, at the very least, earn respect and influence. This is why Washington has more or less declared its tacit support for the BDS campaign against Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from outlawing BDS, as the lobbyists proclaim, Washington has given the campaign a very welcome boost.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 02 Jul 2015 08:40:18 +0000
The politicisation of the judiciary is not confined to the Middle East MEMO Commentary

Whenever the term "politicisation of the judiciary" is mentioned one immediately thinks of Iraq under Nouri Al-Maliki or Egypt under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. This dangerous, and sometimes deadly, disease is not, however, confined to the Middle East. It is spreading and now threatens the health and wellbeing of Western democracies.

The cases of the former Israeli defence minister Shaul Mofaz in the United Kingdom and that of the Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmad Mansour in Germany are powerful examples of how this "Middle East judiciary syndrome" functions.

British lawyers acting on behalf of Palestinian families have for several years now been trying to prosecute Mofaz and other Israeli war crimes suspects under the Geneva Conventions Act [1957]. Their alleged crimes include wilful killings, assassinations, torture, home demolitions and various acts of collective punishment. Despite this, Mofaz has been in London over the past few days with no diplomatic cover to protect him.

He was not placed under arrest even though violations of the Geneva Convention are classified as crimes of universal jurisdiction. As such, they can be tried anywhere, regardless of the nationality of the alleged offender, or where the crimes were committed. In an attempt to protect Israeli suspects, the Conservative-led coalition passed a new law in 2011 that gave the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) an effective veto over private applications to judges for arrest warrants in international criminal cases.

It didn't take much for observers and the general public to realise that this procedural change was motivated more by political considerations than anything to do with law and order or justice. Former Foreign Secretary William Hague justified the legislation by saying: "We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country. The situation is unsatisfactory [and] indefensible. It is absolutely my intention to act speedily."

In Germany, a similar political farce unfolded last weekend when the authorities barred Al-Jazeera's Ahmad Mansour from boarding his flight and later detained him. Initial speculation that the matter was linked to an INTERPOL warrant ordered by the Egyptian government proved wholly incorrect. Mansour has, since October 2014, been given the all clear by INTERPOL. He produced the necessary documentation to prove this to the German authorities.

This evidence notwithstanding, it took two days for the real source of the arrest warrant to come to light. Lawyers acting for Mansour found out that their client was the target of a secret bilateral agreement between the German and Egyptian governments. The latter wanted him to be extradited to Egypt and not simply detained in Germany.

To his credit, Mansour was, from the beginning, convinced of the origins of the plot. In his very first telephone conversation with his employers, which was broadcast live from Berlin's Tegal Airport, he declared that it was truly scandalous that a democratic country like Germany should allow itself to be manipulated by a quisling dictatorship with such a bloody record as that led by Al-Sisi.

Clearly, yesterday's release of Mansour will not be the end of the affair. The German political establishment has been exposed and shaken to its core. At the heart of this scandal is none other than Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted Al-Sisi in Berlin two weeks before Mansour's detention. The controversial visit was opposed strongly by the German media, which is now expected to demand answers and accountability for all those who disgraced their country and attempted to corrupt its judiciary.

Back in Britain, we have not heard the last of Al-Sisi and his toxic presence. One day after his regime sentenced former President Mohamed Morsi to death, the British government extended an invitation to Al-Sisi to visit London. Given the strength of the extremist, Islamophobic tendency within the ruling Conservative Party, no one should be surprised if his visit also produces a similar earth-shaking scandal involving an increasingly politicised judiciary.

In fact, the chances of this happening are much greater than they were in Germany. The recently-appointed Minister of Justice is Michael Gove; he has no qualifications or previous experience in the legal profession and shares two common, and menacing, traits with Al-Sisi. They are both unashamed Zionists and they are both driven by a visceral hatred of what they call political Islam. Will the government now release its long-awaited review into the Muslim Brotherhood? Will Britain, like Germany, then attempt to hand over Egyptian dissidents to the Cairo regime? We shall see.

What is certain, however, is that by courting friends like Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Europe's great traditions of justice and the rule of law are under very real threat. Middle East judiciary syndrome has arrived, and it is far from welcome.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 23 Jun 2015 09:25:40 +0000
Speaking to the enemy, but why now? MEMO CommentaryPalestinian and Egyptian media agencies reported this week that the outgoing Quartet Envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Khaled Meshaal in Doha recently. Since neither party has confirmed or denied the reports, it seems very likely that the two men did actually meet.

Was it surprising that Blair would shake hands with Meshaal? Not really; Jonathan Powell, a former political advisor to Blair recalls in his book "Talking to Terrorists" that during a 1997 meeting with Irish Republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin Mc Guinness, he declined to shake their hands. Tony Blair, however, "was more sensible and shook hands normally as if he were meeting any other human being." Which, of course, he was.

After leaving Downing Street in 2007, Powell proposed publicly that Britain should talk to Hamas and even Al-Qaida. Given the compelling case he makes for dialogue it is understandable that a meeting with Meshaal was always going to be on the cards. But why now?

There could be any number of reasons. Some may say that after eight years of missed opportunities, Blair is determined to make one last attempt to secure his legacy as the international peace envoy. However, any talk of a comprehensive and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis is off the agenda. Barak Obama conceded recently that it would not happen in the remainder of his presidency, and Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon has said not in his life time.

In the current circumstances, though, there seems to be an emerging consensus in western capitals to push for a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel. The situation in the Gaza Strip, which is effectively still under Hamas control, remains volatile; a recent poll shows that most Israelis expect their army to launch another war sooner rather than later.

In recent weeks, there has been a constant procession of western officials to the coastal territory, including German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The EU Special Representative for the Middle East peace process, Fernando Gentilini, visited the blockaded Gaza Strip on Thursday, the first such visit by the official. From the UN there have also been pleas and warnings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging both Israel and Egypt to end their cruel blockade.

Evidently, then, the people of Gaza are neither alone nor forgotten. International solidarity activists have once again taken to the seas from Europe in an attempt to break the blockade and halt the process of what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé decries as the "incremental genocide" of the Palestinians in the territory.

Despite the prevailing risk of conflict, the truth is that neither Hamas nor the Israelis want a military confrontation this summer. The former knows very well that the people in Gaza have made immeasurable sacrifices in recent years and need both a breathing space and time to rebuild their shattered lives. The Israelis, likewise, paid a heavy price during last year's misadventure. Indeed, the remains of some of their soldiers are still unaccounted for, which carries great meaning for the people of Israel.

This is where Tony Blair comes into the picture. He is not known to be a fan of Khaled Meshaal. Like many in the west, he believes that after Hamas lost its base in Syria and with it much support from Iran, the movement would be ready now more than at any time in the past to make concessions.

Blair's decision to talk to the enemy cannot be taken lightly. He must have agonised before deciding to make his move. Furthermore, he would not have carried out such an undertaking without the approval of the Israelis whose interests he has served dutifully throughout his tenure as Quartet envoy.

Something, then, appears to be taking place behind the scenes with regards to Gaza. The people there have been patient and it looks like their sacrifices are about to bear some fruit. The diplomatic trick will be to devise a formula to end the siege without Israel and Egypt losing too much face. Last week's decision by an Egyptian court to overturn a previous ruling which classified Hamas as a terrorist organisation is, to all intents and purposes, an important step in that direction.

We do not know exactly what passed between Blair and Meshaal, but we can surmise that the outgoing Quartet envoy must be after something. Unlike most countries in the Arab world, Palestine has not seen the emergence of the scourge of ISIS. Despite all its troubles, Hamas has shown that it has been able to contain extremist forces in Gaza, but for how long can it do so under the interminable siege? For Tony Blair and those behind him, it is obviously preferable to deal with the enemy they know than the one they don't, which would explain why he went to speak with Khaled Meshaal. What's still uncertain is, why now?

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 12 Jun 2015 09:54:33 +0000
Never mind Israel, it's time to show the red card to the PA MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahFor many observers, the fact that Sepp Blatter was re-elected as president of FIFA came as no surprise. As expected, he was determined to stay in office despite the arrests and corruption charges this week. That Israel, unlike the European countries, supported Blatter's candidacy is also not surprising; it is a state whose own political leaders have been tainted by corruption charges over the years.

The most shocking news from the FIFA congress in Zurich was actually the decision by Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub to withdraw the resolution for a vote to suspend Israel from world football's governing body. Although the Palestinian Authority (PA) is notorious for its wanton squandering of international goodwill, this latest example is arguably the worst of all. It was a golden opportunity to take the international boycott of apartheid Israel to a new level. Rajoub's claim that he was pressured by African and Asian countries is a lame and shameless excuse. His past history as head of the PA's preventive security agency and thus a willing collaborator with Israel on security issues demonstrates clearly where his loyalties lie on such matters.

While much of what goes on at FIFA is often shrouded in secrecy, the universal support for the Palestinian case among the member federations was well known. If anyone doubts the level of international support that was there for the taking, just consider how petrified Israeli officials became in the days leading up to the Zurich meeting.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin described the imminent suspension from FIFA and popular calls for a cultural boycott as a "strategic threat" to his country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the now customary volley of threats to the PA, to Jibril Rajoub (he claims) and FIFA itself. To his credit, the Israeli leader did, at least, stand up to protect his country's interests, which is more than can be said for the Palestinian leadership. Yet again, the PA proved that it desperately lacks the political will to do the same.

If nothing else, Rajoub's farcical performance in Zurich confirms that the Ramallah authority cannot be trusted. It has now made it standard practice to betray the collective will and expectations of the Palestinian people. In 2008, for example, the PA obstructed the passage of a UN resolution proposed by the State of Qatar calling for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. The following year, it abandoned a resolution for the Human Rights Council to forward Judge Richard Goldstone's report on war crimes in Gaza to the UN Security Council. The PA has thus acquired a unique record of putting Israel's interests before that of the Palestinians.

In a bizarre and theatrical manner, Rajoub took to the stage in Zurich carrying a red card - which he obviously had no intention of using - to announce that he was withdrawing the resolution because he was aware of the harm it would bring to Israel. His words amounted to an apology to the Israelis, as if their suspension from FIFA or a sporting boycott of the apartheid state was a crime.

Gideon Levy, the Israeli columnist for Haaretz newspaper, would have made a better representative for the Palestinians than Rajoub. "A soccer ban doesn't kill anyone," he wrote. "A boycott spills no blood. It is a legitimate weapon to establish justice and apply international law."

That said, there are others, including Rajoub, who claim that politics should be kept out of sports. Of course, they would say that wouldn't they, especially when it suits their interests to do so. But didn't the US lead an international boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow after the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan? Didn't the Thatcher government in Britain as well as France and Australia support the boycott, leaving the decision about whether or not to compete to individual athletes? Similarly today, it is up to every individual citizen of the world to take a stand on Israeli apartheid. To advocate anything else would be sheer hypocrisy.

Whatever disappointment and outrage Palestinians and the thousands of people who had been campaigning vigorously for the ban may feel after Zurich, all is not lost. This latest encounter with apartheid Israel has placed the nuclear option of a sporting and cultural boycott of the rogue state well within the reach of the masses. They do not have to wait for the approval of FIFA or even the Palestinian Authority to set it in motion.

In retrospect, the failure of the PA to seek the suspension of Israel from FIFA has nothing to do with Israel's "international effort" as Netanyahu claimed triumphantly. It was all about the spinelessness of the Palestinian Authority and its utter dependency on Israeli and Western largesse. Forget about showing Israel the red card; it is high time for the PA to be sent for an early bath for its repeated failures to represent the people of Palestine and defend their national interests.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 30 May 2015 11:30:37 +0000
Segregated buses may be off the Israeli agenda, but there’s a long way to go for real equality Dr Daud Abdullah

The name Rosa Parks is one that is forever enshrined in the annals of Afro-American history. She was the courageous woman who refused to give up her seat for a white man on an Alabama bus in December 1955. For her action she was arrested and charged with civil disobedience. The rest, as they say, is history, including a 381-day boycott of the Alabama bus system and the birth of the civil rights movement that brought the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr to prominence.

Sixty years on, the world has been shocked by an incident of no less historical significance; the attempt by Israel's extreme right-wing government to introduce a system of separate Palestinian and Israeli bus travel in the occupied West Bank.

Within 24 hours of tabling the racist initiative, the Israeli government has backed-down. However, the decision taken by the Netanyahu government to suspend what has already been labelled an "apartheid" plan was clearly not because of any moral awakening or scruples; it was largely to reduce the impact of the PR disaster that it has turned out to be.

In an almost literal sense, the affair is turning out to be an own goal for the Israelis because it coincides with a vote at the upcoming FIFA congress where world football's governing body will decide whether or not to suspend Israel because it discriminates against Palestinian footballers in the occupied territories.

As abhorrent and disgusting as discrimination on buses may be, the fact is that prejudice is systemic and institutional in all aspects of Israel society. While Palestinian Arabs have borne the brunt of bigoted policies and practices, non-white Jews have also come to realise that the Zionist promise of an egalitarian and just society was always a farce. Ethiopian Jews who were lured to Israel – again, ostensibly for PR reasons - are now fast realising that they were betrayed and are actually unwanted and unwelcome.

Throughout the near seven decades of its existence Israel has entrenched a system of apartheid that has been carefully disguised; there was never anything benign about it though. It discriminated against Palestinians and denied them access to housing, health, water and education in order to force them off their land. As I write, Palestinians in the villages of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev and Susya in the occupied West Bank are locked in a bitter legal battle to save their villages from demolition. There are other similar examples, too many to mention here. In all such cases, however, the authorities are seeking to dispossess the Palestinians of their land so that more illegal settlements can be built.

Many westerners have throughout this long period failed to grasp the extent to which Israel's apartheid system has developed and matured unchallenged. They failed to look beneath the layers of slick soundbites which conceal the discrimination that lies at the heart of the so-called "Jewish State".

Unfortunately for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he overplayed his hand with the separate bus initiative which has a special resonance in the consciousness of the world community, especially in the United States, from where Israel gets most of its financial, political and military support. Shaken by the international outcry and fearing that it would lead ultimately to a withdrawal of support from the US and EU, he has decided to suspend the planned two-tier bus system.

Of course, there is still a long way to go before any US government contemplates lifting the diplomatic protection and support that is given to Israel. It will, however, come ever closer when the American people wake up to the reality of what is done in the name of democracy in Israel, paid for by their tax dollars.

For now the Netanyahu government will back down and eat humble pie, but that will only be for a limited period. In fact, the multi-layered structures of Israel's apartheid system still remains fixed firmly in place.

The single act of defiance by Rosa Parks in 1955 resulted in much more than a boycott of the Alabama bus system. It also resulted in a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation. Only a similar comprehensive boycott of Israel and Israeli goods by the free people of the world will hasten the end of Israel's apartheid system.

Waiting for governments and the UN to enforce a boycott will be a waste of time and effort. After all, it was the same UN that issued a resolution in 1975 which declared that Zionism is a form of racism akin to apartheid, only to revoke it sixteen years later.

Today, the Palestinian victims of Israeli racism may find some comfort, solace and inspiration in the words of Rosa Parks after she made her defiant stand. "When I made that decision I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me." Like her, the Palestinians have a wealth of illustrious ancestors who resisted and said no to racism. While Netanyahu's half-hearted retreat is welcome and apartheid buses are off the agenda for the time-being, his move comes nowhere near what is required to bring peace, justice and true equality of all kinds to Israel-Palestine.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 20 May 2015 16:46:19 +0000
Reconciliation is meaningless without participation MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahWhen former US President Jimmy Carter offered to mediate between Fatah and Hamas two weeks ago, few observers expressed much optimism. While one of the parties, Hamas, welcomed the initiative, the other, Fatah, chose to send mixed signals that gave no reason to be hopeful.

My sources within Hamas's political bureau confirmed that they conveyed to Carter their willingness to cooperate with his initiative for which he sought the support of the new Saudi leadership. Having witnessed the unravelling of the 2005 Makkah Agreement, the Saudis made it clear to Carter that they would only become involved if they were given written undertakings by the two main Palestinian factions. Yet again, only one of the two, Hamas, sent a letter affirming its readiness to engage.

There is no doubt that the main losers from the ongoing rift will the Palestinian people and their national cause, and not the leaders of Fatah or Hamas. For as long as this impasse continues Israel will be free to colonise more of the West Bank and Judaise Jerusalem. As far as Gaza is concerned, the rift will remain an excuse for Israel, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and the Egyptians to maintain the blockade and prevent the enclave's desperately-needed reconstruction.

All three have laid down similar unachievable conditions for reconciliation. Israel and the PA want the full disarmament and disbanding of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades; along with Egypt, they also demand full control over the Rafah Crossing. In the case of the Egyptians, I was reliably informed that they conveyed through an emissary to the Hamas leadership in Doha that they also want a public repudiation of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and a binding commitment to assist in the suppression of the insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

For what they are worth, all of these demands will, naturally, be resisted fiercely. While Hamas's Islamic identity and history are rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood, it has since its founding in 1987 been distinctly independent in its organisational structures, strategies and decision-making.

It is ironic, therefore, that the regime in Cairo, which has indicted the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, on charges of spying for Hamas, should now in its hour of desperation seek the help of the Palestinian resistance movement to crush an insurgency within its own sovereign territory. If this is a condition for lifting the blockade it appears that the people of Gaza may have to wait for some time yet before a sense of normality is restored to their lives.

As it stands, though, it may not be too long before something changes, in spite of the unreasonable demands being made by the enforcers of the siege. For a start, there is growing unease within the European Union about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Many Europeans fear that sooner or later the situation will lead to an eruption of unimaginable violence and consequences. Already, there are reports that the EU has threatened PA head Mahmoud Abbas that it will withhold aid if he does not encourage his supporters to return to work in Gaza. Paying salaries to 40,000 people to stay at home is, by any standards, an obscenity of the highest order but that is what the Ramallah-based authority has done for almost ten years.

This is the background to the recent empty overtures and meetings between the two sides. The PA's position has indeed become even more untenable with the re-election of Israel's extreme right-wing government under Benjamin Netanyahu. Any talk of a renewal of negotiations is simply wishful thinking. Common sense dictates that only a united Palestinian polity would be able to bring sufficient pressure to bear on Israel to change its course, or at least put a brake on its outlandish colonialist policies.

For now, Palestinian reconciliation will be absolutely meaningless without a complete end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. When this chapter of Palestinian history is finally written it will be noted, albeit with regret, that elements within the Palestinian Authority have played a role in prolonging this outrage. Moreover, it will be recalled that generous funding for the reconstruction of the besieged territory has been donated by countries like Qatar but bureaucratic obstacles were put in place deliberately in order to obstruct the reconstruction process.

Claims that Hamas is seeking to establish a separate entity in Gaza are both deceptive and ridiculous. Unlike Fatah, which has conceded 78 per cent of Palestine to the state of Israel, the leadership of Hamas remains committed to the strategic objective of regaining all of their historic land.

In summing up the current situation, my sources in the political bureau of Hamas pointed out that it is not very often that good comes out of America for the benefit of the Palestinians. The Carter initiative is, however, an exception, as it has clearly exposed those who really want an end to the disgraceful and debilitating rift within Palestinian ranks and those who wish to prolong it for narrow factional gain. The way that each side is leaning is not what Israel and its supporters in the West would have us believe.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 13 May 2015 16:41:47 +0000
Cameron back in No 10 looks like bad news for Middle East peace Image of David Cameron addressing British and international media earlier this morning outside Downing StreetThe closest fought UK General Election for many years has produced an unexpected victory for David Cameron and the Conservative Party. With predictions of a hung parliament built around Westminster fears of a tartan invasion by Scottish National Party MPs, the result of a clearly failing first-past-the-post electoral system is likely to fuel calls for electoral reform. Millions of votes for minority parties were, to all intents and purposes, wasted. This, though, is not the only negative aspect of the poll. It is bad news all round for peace in the Middle East, and the first to feel the effects will be Britain's 2-million Muslim citizens.

Far from his post-poll claim to want to "govern for all of the UK" - a clear reference to the SNP triumph north of the border - David Cameron's record in office suggests that the next term of Tory-led government will be possibly the most divisive ever. Cuts to public services and tax breaks for the wealthiest sections of society have hit the majority of Britons badly; threats to the Human Rights Act suggest that those in the greatest of need will not get the help they deserve. His is not One-Nation Conservatism by any means and if a week is a long time in politics, at this moment the next five years seems like eternity.

His government's anti-terrorism policies are interpreted widely by Muslims in Britain as being aimed directly at them, despite official claims to the contrary. In Home Secretary Teresa May, Cameron has had an ideological soulmate all too ready to ignore expert advice and pursue a discredited Prevent policy to curb "radicalisation" and "extremism". As the sole arbiter on what such terms actually mean, this has given the government a free hand to target anyone with political opinions at odds with its own, especially with regards to events in the Middle East. Rather than uniting British people, the Tories' juxtaposition of Muslims' conservative religious beliefs and practices with "extremism" has sown fear and suspicion among ordinary people seeking to build their lives in peace and harmony with their neighbours. Britain's Muslim citizens are now viewed as a "fifth column" within society, a view inflamed by the right-wing media and at odds with the supposed "British values" promoted by the government. Political and religious dissent have been at the heart of British identity for hundreds of years, but this fact seems to have bypassed the right-wing; the grasp of history is shaky.

Hence, Muslim community groups, mosques, charities and individuals have all fallen victim to the Cameron government's anti-Muslim, anti-Islamist and pro-Israel zeal. During the election campaign, the prime minister raised the Palestine-Israel issue only in constituencies with large Jewish communities; this signalled an intent that only the pro-Israel aspects of the conflict will be addressed seriously by his government, and that the only people with a valid interest in Palestine-Israel are British Jews. It is no coincidence that David Cameron has been described as the "most pro-Israel British prime minister ever", more so than Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill; his support goes way beyond the drive for votes and campaign donations.

Shortly after his election as prime minister in 2010, Cameron said, "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." This gave many pro-Palestine campaigners hope that here was a politician who would bring some justice to the Palestinians and curb Israel's excesses. Little were they to know that this was to be as far as his compassion for the people besieged in the Gaza Strip by Israel would go; even his criticism of aspects of Israel's bombing campaign last year, in which more than 2,000 people, largely civilians, were killed, was not backed-up with political or other action, such as sanctions or an end to arms exports to Israel, which continue unabated. As recently as last month, he sought to justify Israel's offensive as "self-defence". It has now surfaced that soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces were ordered to shoot at everything that moved, including civilians, whether they were a threat or not.

That has not moved David Cameron. As far as he is concerned, Israel is entitled to defend itself against "Hamas rockets"; its security is paramount, trumping even international laws and conventions which give people under military occupation the right to resist by any means possible, and do not give the occupying power any legal right to claim "self-defence" against such resistance. This is inconvenient legal small print as far as the prime minister is concerned; indeed, as far as the whole pro-Israel lobby is concerned. They claim that Israel is "the only democracy" in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that Hamas was elected in free and fair democratic elections in 2006, a result rejected by Britain and the West, no doubt at the lobby's insistence.

Such disregard for democracy has been repeated by Britain's government under David Cameron with its backing for Egypt's military coup against the country's first freely-elected President, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. Cameron and his ministers have turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses of the regime led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi over the past two years. Given that Israel now has its own most extreme right-wing coalition government cobbled together by Benjamin Netanyahu, one shudders to think what further excesses he will be allowed to get away with. The Israeli defence minister has confirmed that Israel will "bomb civilians" in any future hostilities, while the new "justice minister" is on record calling for Palestinian mothers to be killed so that they cannot produce any more "little snakes". Although David Cameron could claim to have been too busy with his re-election to comment on these claims, that didn't stop him from backing Israel's "rights" to Jewish audiences across North London. The Palestinians can kiss goodbye to any lingering hopes of a viable two-state solution; the already moribund "peace negotiations" will go nowhere. In fact, they can probably expect no practical help from the British government beyond financial aid given to the corrupt Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

This is shameful, for Britain has a moral and, some would argue, legal responsibility for the creation of Israel in Palestine and thus the consequent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestinians; we have a duty to do something to help them. The government, surely, should do more than just prop-up a rogue Israeli state with political, economic and military support, and a Palestinian Authority with what amounts to pension payments for its officials. In the immediate aftermath of the election, and a government in Westminster driven by neo-conservative ideologues and fully supportive of the extreme right in Israel, there can be little cause for optimism that peace and justice will be seen anytime soon in Palestine's festering refugee camps. The General Election 2015 may have produced some shocks, but this aspect, at least, should come as no surprise. Or will it?

Prime Minister David Cameron could use this anniversary of VE Day to unite Britain against the rise of the far-right. Today we remember that the British people from across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, including many Muslims, fought against fascism in Europe and won. There is some irony in the fact that 70 years later we are on that same slippery slope with neo-conservatism as its driver instead of Nazism. Mr Cameron can halt the slide; he can be a real friend of Israel and explain where it's going wrong; he can be a real friend of international laws and conventions introduced at the end of that great conflict in the late forties by implementing them; he can be a real friend of all citizens in this country struggling for social justice. He can do all of these things, or he can do nothing, and let a pernicious ideology dictate which way he is going to go and how he will govern Britain. He has been given a clear mandate by the electorate, now it's up to him. We hope he chooses wisely.

]]> (Ibrahim Hewitt) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 08 May 2015 17:14:09 +0000
Important lessons from the Birzeit University elections MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahThe conduct of public opinion polls may not be as well-entrenched in the Middle East as it is in the west but there are no doubt other credible means to gauge the public mood of which, in Palestine, university elections are one. This week the pro-Hamas "Wafa" bloc of candidates swept to success in the polls at Birzeit University in a manner that brings to mind the 2006 parliamentary elections, which Hamas won hands down across the occupied Palestinian territories. The big question now is whether PA President Mahmoud Abbas will go to the polls with presidential and legislative council elections as he has been promising for some time.

Despite being subjected by the Palestinian Authority to a cynical campaign of harassment and detention of their student supporters, the Hamas bloc won 26 seats on the students' council while Abbas's Fatah secured 19.

The elections at Birzeit came just days after those at Hebron's Palestine (Polytechnic) University, in which Hamas and Fatah gained 15 seats each and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) won 1. That result revealed a significant shift in an arena where Fatah-affiliated student groups have always won elections in recent years.

Birzeit, unlike the Islamic University in Gaza is, perhaps, the least likely place to return a resounding victory for Hamas, for it has never had an administration that could be described as Islamist. On the contrary, it has been traditionally more aligned to Fatah and the Ramallah authority. This, therefore, will be a matter of grave concern for President Abbas; if Hamas can win in this "safe" enclave what will prevent the movement from winning elsewhere and, indeed, in the national elections?

On that broader national level, the results have also exposed the failure of the Israeli occupation. Although the blockade of the Gaza Strip was intended to instigate popular anger and hostility against Hamas this has not happened. Support for the movement has remained strong and is in fact growing, obviously even in the most unlikely of quarters; Birzeit is not only the largest Palestinian university in the West Bank but also a historic stronghold of Palestinian nationalism and political activism.

Indeed the result can be seen as a message to Mr Abbas that not only was his stand on Gaza during the last Israeli offensive wholly unacceptable, but also that his current approach towards the reconstruction of the enclave and his handling of the reconciliation process leaves much to be desired. The failure of his national unity government to resolve satisfactorily the issue of public sector workers' salaries, for example, remains a toxic and damaging bone of contention.

As for Fatah and Hamas, their reactions to the Birzeit University poll differed markedly. Jamal Nazal, a member of Fatah's revolutionary council and spokesman in Europe, claimed that the student votes do not in any way reflect the thinking or mood of the Palestinian street.

Of course, he would say that, wouldn't he; had his party won, it would have trumpeted from the rooftops that it was a ringing endorsement of Abbas and his PA and a sign of greater things to come. Fatah, perhaps, might even have dared to go to the polls for the long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections.

Hamas, on the other hand, has taken the victory as an endorsement of its policies. Ezzet Rishq, a member of the political bureau, said that the victory sends an important message that Hamas is now clearly the vanguard movement of the Palestinians; that its programme of resistance is the choice of the people. He added that the results reflect a rejection of Fatah's decision to pursue futile negotiations and damaging security coordination with the Israeli occupation forces.

The other parties with a vested interest in the Palestinian elections are the Israelis, Americans and Europeans who sponsor the PA. Will they make the same mistake that they made in 2006 by pushing Abbas to hold elections? Judging from past experience, they will only do so if they can guarantee a Fatah victory; this is highly unlikely. Having supported the coup in Egypt and betrayed the democratic will of the region's people who voted for Islamist parties, the west will surely not risk another humiliating defeat in Palestine of all places. For Hamas the only possible benefit from such an outcome would be the popular reaffirmation of its resistance agenda. The fact is, however, that the movement would not be allowed to govern even if, yet again, it won a democratically-elected majority.

No matter how the parties may try to spin it, though, the results in Birzeit are significant. The university is seen as the public institution most representative of Palestinian society. In spite of all the attempts to demonise and marginalise Hamas, it evidently remains a popular force to be reckoned with in Palestine. Nevertheless, at this delicate moment in the history of the conflict, the victory must be viewed in its correct context. Khaled Meshaal was right when he pointed out that it was not a victory for Hamas per se but a victory for all the Palestinian people because it consolidates the emergence of a political process based on participation and inclusivity. If nothing else, that's a lesson that Mahmoud Abbas really should learn.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 24 Apr 2015 16:18:29 +0000
Veolia had no choice but to call time on its Israeli contracts Veolia logoThe decision by Veolia to end its operations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories sends a strong signal to similar multinationals that profiteering from Israel's occupation industry is a risky business. It can only be a matter of time before they will also have to choose between small profits from Israel and potentially colossal global losses. This is a victory for the effectiveness of the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign; without BDS, Veolia would still be conducting business for the benefit of the Israeli occupation authorities in Palestine.

Most of the charges brought against Veolia's subsidiaries have focussed on their activities in the occupied West Bank. They include the illegal dumping of waste from Israel and its settlements in landfills in the Jordan valley as well as the operation of segregated bus routes for Jewish settlers. There was, in addition, another more hateful side of its operations that has been under-reported, probably because it took place inside the state of Israel itself.

In keeping with the Zionist myth of "making the desert bloom", Veolia was charged with the task of creating green spaces and improving the quality of the natural water supply in the Naqab (Negev) Desert, which comprises about 60 per cent of the area of the state. Its Environmental Foundation supported an ecological project in Dimona "to improve [the] living conditions of its inhabitants." While this looks impressive on paper and seems perfectly laudable, it masks the dark reality on the ground and Israel's institutional discrimination against the Palestinian Bedouin population in the region.

More than half of the 160,000 Bedouins in the Negev reside in 45 villages which the Israelis designate as "unrecognised". This means that, unlike neighbouring Jewish villages and settlements, they are barred from all the public amenities and social services that would otherwise allow them to live dignified and fulfilling lives.

While Veolia pursued one of its pet projects to set up botanical gardens in schools for Jewish children, the parents of over 3,000 Bedouin children from seven schools in the Negev had to resort to legal proceedings in an attempt to force the ministry of education to connect their schools to the national electricity grid. They are still unconnected, despite a Supreme Court ruling that they should have access to electricity.

Since 2011, meanwhile, the central government has been locked in a battle to destroy the "unrecognised" villages and relocate between 40,000 and 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their villages and resettle them in townships. This has echoes of the hated "Group Areas Act" mass relocations of "non-whites" in Apartheid South Africa. The village of Arakib is emblematic of this campaign; it has been destroyed 70 times by the Israelis and rebuilt by the villagers on every occasion.

Faced with strong protest from locals and their determination to remain in their ancestral homes, the government has now stepped up its campaign to force their removal by using water as a weapon. Bedouins in the Negev are forced to pay more for their water than the local Jews. In November last year, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the human rights organisation Adalah to unify the price of water sold to the Bedouins and the residents of the Jewish municipalities. Despite their best efforts at litigation, the Bedouins are still forced to access water from water tanks provided by the Israeli Water Authority at exorbitant prices. These tanks are in all cases positioned far from the villages deliberately.

After years of stonewalling, natural justice has finally caught up with Veolia. Its involvement in maintaining Israel's apartheid system has become a threat to its global interests. With clients and partners across the world, it could no longer continue to jeopardise its other business interests by being an integral part of a system that utilises water as a tool of oppression.

With less than 10 per cent of the country's population living in the Negev, there is no need or justification for Israel to dislocate the Bedouin population, except for the selfish Zionist desire to have more of the land with fewer of its indigenous people on it. Water is used to enforce an immoral choice upon the Bedouins: they can either leave or go thirsty. Without the economic collusion of multinationals such as Veolia, Israeli politicians would find it much more difficult to develop and maintain the apartheid infrastructure now in place in all of mandate Palestine. There are besides Veolia other multinationals with extensive interests in Israel and the occupied territories; they too profit from the misery of the Palestinians. Like Veolia, their operations are morally indefensible. Since legal recourse in the Israeli justice system has proven to be a futile exercise the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Bedouin in the Negev can now take heart that the global BDS campaign has come of age and is beginning to deliver tangible results. A victory for BDS is a victory for the people of Palestine.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 11 Apr 2015 14:12:54 +0000
Post-ICC accession, reconciliation must top the Palestinian agenda MEMO commentary

Now that Palestine has formally become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), its political forces can no longer afford to delay national reconciliation. It has been overdue for far too long. The same courage and political will that was used to pursue membership of the ICC must now be deployed to forge an all-inclusive national unity and consensus.

Putting aside any concerns about the independence of the ICC, Palestine's accession marks a significant turning point in the history of its relations with Israel. The occupying power's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will, no doubt, do whatever it takes to minimise the potential impact of this development, even if it means another military offensive against the vulnerable Gaza Strip.

The recent EU decision to keep Hamas on its list of "terrorist" organizations, despite a court ruling to the contrary, has coincided with a series of Israeli attacks on fishermen and farmers on the northern and eastern borders of the enclave. Blockaded and isolated as Gaza is from the outside world, Israel has in the past launched wars on the territory not just to weaken Hamas, but also to reinforce the rift with Ramallah.

Divisions within the Palestinian national movement and the quest for reconciliation have become something of a soap opera. While all factions profess commitment, they seem to be pitifully incapable of putting aside their differences for the greater national good.

Last week, the Beirut-based Al Zaytouna Centre for Studies & Consultations and the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) from Johannesburg hosted a conference under the title "Palestinian reconciliation: Prospects and Challenges". This was, by all standards, a unique initiative. Though not an attempt to mediate between the disparate forces, it offered a sound platform to build upon what has been achieved in the past. Unlike the previous efforts by regional governments, this NGO-led programme involved the active participation of senior South African diplomats, past and present.

After two days of discussions, all the major political actors reaffirmed the need for fresh efforts for reconciliation. Given the current circumstances, Hamas's representatives stressed that an end to the blockade of Gaza, its reconstruction and the activation of the unity government in all of the occupied Palestinians territories, not just the West Bank, were necessary steps to aid the process.

On his part, Fatah representative Dr Husam Zomlot pointed out that on a procedural level it was important for the search for reconciliation to be conducted within the framework of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Though the point is entirely valid in principle, many questioned the practicality of the suggestion, given that the PLO has itself been subsumed by the Palestinian Authority and has become a pale shadow of what it once was.

At the end of the day, the real challenge facing the parties is not how to divide power but rather how to advance a new vision and strategy for the future. This poses a huge dilemma for those followers of the Oslo formula, since the attainment of Palestinian national rights within the context of security coordination with the Israeli occupation authorities is as absurd as trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ears.

In order to succeed, reconciliation should never be a self-serving or tactical exercise. Nor must it ever be subject to crass opportunism. It must be seen as a strategic objective. Thus the visit by Prime Minister Hamdallah to Gaza last week was welcomed widely and seen as an encouraging development. That new hope was, however, dashed almost immediately when President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the Arab summit in Sharm El Sheikh and warned menacingly of the "dangers of division which we must confront culturally, religiously and in addition to treating it through security means."

The inference was that there was somehow a similarity between the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the resistance forces in Gaza and, as such, the latter should be dealt with in the same manner. Amazingly, Abbas's "religious adviser", Mahmoud Habbash, used last Friday's sermon to call for a "Decisive Storm" against the Gaza Strip, similar to that launched against the Houthis.

That said, it is clear that for every one step taken forward towards reconciliation there are always two corresponding steps backwards. This sad state of affairs will continue as long as reconciliation is viewed simply as a means to bring Hamas into government (and thus, it is envisaged, make it more "moderate") and not as a means to realising the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

After the squandering of far too many opportunities in the past, Palestine's accession to the ICC will, perhaps, give new impetus, meaning and purpose to the long overdue reconciliation process. Whatever the doubters may say, membership of the ICC marks a major step toward the recognition and preservation of Palestinians and their human rights. If nothing else, it should put an end to the creeping genocide that is engulfing them under Israel's brutal military occupation.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 02 Apr 2015 09:31:41 +0000
Military options for MENA chaos will fail; it's time to root out the causes MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahIn the same way that the "Seventh Cavalry" was the staple means for American settlers in the Old West to be rescued in the movies, calls for a multinational intervention force have become the standard blueprint for dealing with the threats of "terror" and insurgency. Such calls are currently being heard in Somalia, Mali and the countries surrounding the Chad basin. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi believes that the Arab countries are desperately in need of such a force.

Speaking at the opening of the latest session of the League's council of foreign ministers, Al-Arabi explained that his proposed military security force would serve a number of functions: fight against the terrorist organisations; help in the process of preserving peace; secure relief and humanitarian operations; and protect civilians. Will it work though?

Every one of the countries which now teeter on the verge of collapse, from Iraq through Syria to Yemen, Egypt and Libya, have all been ruled by military dictators for decades. As such, it goes without saying that the dictators were ultimately responsible for the chaos that has engulfed their respective countries. It is, therefore, hard to envisage how the same military establishments so deeply embedded in such countries can suddenly become part of a regional solution for the said chaos. It is a bizarre twist of the "poacher turned gamekeeper" analogy.

Furthermore, judging from the Arab League's record, it is not clear exactly who will be the beneficiaries of this latest proposal. Since assuming the leadership of the organisation in 2011, Al-Arabi has, for example, never visited the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that his office is in neighbouring Egypt. Neither the Israel-Egyptian blockade of the Palestinians in the territory nor Israel's murderous military offensives have been enough to merit even a token visit of solidarity from this senior Arab official.

Still on the question of Gaza, it was truly mind-boggling to hear the intervention of Egypt's foreign minister, Samih Shoukri, at the Arab League meeting. He spoke of the need to lift the siege on Gaza, which he concedes is experiencing a distressing humanitarian crisis that could lead to another round of fighting. As if his own country is playing no part in maintaining the blockade, Shoukri called on the international community to pressure Israel to honour its legal obligations as the occupying power towards the Palestinian people.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn from the stance of the Egyptian authorities: either they have no sovereign control over their border with Gaza, or they are too indebted to and enthralled by Israel to open the Rafah crossing. Israeli officials have on their part said repeatedly that the level of security cooperation provided by Egypt has far exceeded their wildest expectations. Whichever way we look at it, if Egypt cannot deliver aid to one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza, how will they do it for 10.3 million displaced Syrians?

Apart from the obvious contradictions in the Arab League's policies, there are practical problems associated with the proposed Arab military force. To begin with, there is no single definition of who the "terrorists" are who will be targeted. While Egypt and the UAE, for example, designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist organisation", other members of the League such as Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco do not. Arab regional politics have become so absurd that while an Egyptian court can declare Hamas to be a "terrorist entity", the country's political establishment still insists that the ruling does not affect national policy towards the Palestinians.

In addition, given the close ties between several governments and armed militias across the region it is unthinkable that the Arab League would ever be able to devise a uniform and consistent approach to these non-state actors. While the Saudis and Iraqi governments appear to be synchronised in the fight against ISIS, for example, will they see eye to eye on the Shia militias operating in Iraq, Syria and Yemen?

For all its ambition, the proposed joint military force seems doomed to fail; there is every reason to believe so. Throughout the organisation's history, the meetings of Arab League interior ministers have been recognised widely as the best organised. Unlike other ministerial meetings and summits, they are always attended by everyone, with no absentees. This fact notwithstanding, the august body has failed to prevent the region's decline into the chaos that we are witnessing today.

On the surface, the new proposal seems to be a desperate attempt to legitimise and build upon what has already started. Since the killing by ISIS of the Jordanian pilot Muadh Al-Kasasbeh, several Arab countries have joined in the bombing campaign against the extremist group in Syria. Similarly, both Egypt and the UAE have carried out airstrikes in Libya. None of these operations have produced any conclusive results apart from more civilian deaths and destruction.

The prospects for the future remain grim. Like the Western governments and commentators who deny that there is a causal relationship between their interventionist wars in the Middle East-North Africa region and the spread of terrorism, the Arab governments continue to bury their heads in the sand and deny the link between the absence of freedom and democracy in their countries and the spread of extremist networks. Until and unless we root out the socio-economic and political reasons why people opt for violence in the face of repression and exploitation, the region will remain a permanent magnet for insurgents and "terrorists" and an area of dangerous instability which threatens us all.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 10 Mar 2015 16:35:09 +0000
A perfect gift for Egypt's failing regime MEMO CommentaryThe callous murder of 21 Copts in Libya over the weekend was a welcome gift to the military-led regime in Egypt. Like the senseless killings in Paris, it offered an opportunity for the government in Cairo to present itself as a deserving and credible partner in the great "war on terror".

Domestically, the impact of the crime is two-fold. On the one hand, it exposes the Cairo authorities as incompetent, weak and woefully incapable of protecting its citizens. Despite numerous appeals for help to secure their release, relatives of the victims assert that the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs failed to respond adequately.

In the same vein, the killings serve as an obscene distraction from the chronic economic and political problems facing Al-Sisi's regime. He has already started to use the outrage to solicit public support for his interventionist policies in Libya.

Whichever way the pendulum swings, the regime will always regard the domestic reaction as secondary, as long as it is guaranteed the lethal means to suppress dissent and opposition within Egypt. What really matters, however, is the level of support it receives from regional and international actors.

For all practical purposes, it is not clear how much the bombing of targets in Libya would actually achieve. The failure of NATO's bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and that of the Assad regime against ISIS in Syria are now all too apparent. If anything at all, the unintended "collateral damage" in terms of civilian casualties will only fuel local anger and draw more recruits towards the ranks of the ISIS network.

Furthermore, a major Egyptian onslaught against Libya could have the undesirable effect of exposing the large Egyptian expatriate community there to further harm. There are no exact figures for the current number of Egyptian workers in Libya but the International Organisation for Migration estimates that there were 330,000 to 1.5 million up to the time of Muammar Gaddafi's ouster in 2011.

In any case, Egypt's use of airstrikes in Libya is nothing new. In August 2014, Libyan officials in Tripoli accused both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of striking targets on its territory. Both countries initially denied the accusation, though it was revealed later that the attacks did, in fact, take place. American officials said that the Egyptians and the Emiratis had collaborated to attack Islamist targets inside Libya, particularly in the eastern city of Derna.

Whereas in the past there was no public international endorsement of regional intervention in Libya, the slaughter of the 21 Copts may well be the pretext for such a move. To the same extent that regional governments have become more openly involved in the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria after the burning of the Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh, Egypt's Al-Sisi is now appealing for an international alliance to fight in Libya.

There are, though, two immediate concerns in the case of Libya. The first is based on the fear that Egypt will use its international support to go well beyond airstrikes and take control of oil reserves in eastern Libya. The predictable justification would be to deny a potential source of revenue to the "terrorists".

A second concern stems from Egypt's political alliances in Libya. It is no secret that Egypt's former military chief, Al-Sisi himself, is allied closely to retired General Khalifa Haftar, one of the main protagonists in Libya. They share a common antipathy to "Islamists", in particular the Muslim Brotherhood. In this light it is not clear whether Egypt is seeking retribution for its murdered citizens or just seizing a prized opportunity to support a neighbouring protégé.

Bizarrely, since the killing of the Copts, other Egyptians have been demonstrating for the release of their relatives held hostage in camps run by Haftar, Al-Sisi's Libyan ally.

On the whole, the murderers of the 21 Copts have handed a lifeline to Egypt's Al-Sisi. His calls for a UN Security Council meeting on Libya may well work in his favour. Much has changed in the country since the overthrow of Gaddafi and it remains to be seen whether Russia will oppose military intervention as it did back in 2011. On that occasion Russia abstained from the vote and its then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the UN resolution supporting military intervention in Libya as a medieval call for a crusade.

On more than one count, therefore, Egypt's military-led regime stands to benefit from the murder of its Coptic citizens in Libya. From a public relations point of view, Al-Sisi will be able to strut on the world stage, as he did at Davos, and claim his place at the top table in this latest phase of the apparently endless "war on terror". Militarily, it strengthens his case for more lethal weaponry from the West, which would, ultimately, be used in the Sinai and wherever else there is internal opposition to his government. Finally, there is the enticing prospect of access to Libya's rich oil reserves. For a regime that has proved itself to be an abject failure on virtually all levels, it could not ask for more from those who are supposed to be its adversaries.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 17 Feb 2015 12:28:25 +0000
Israeli war crime suspects may be able to run but they cannot hide MEMO Commentary

The resignation of William Schabas from his post as head of the UN commission to investigate possible war crimes during Israel's 2014 onslaught on Gaza was always on the cards. From the time of his appointment in August last year, he has been subjected to a relentless campaign that questioned both his integrity and impartiality.

The manner and timing of his resignation, weeks before the commission presents its report to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), recalls the case of Judge Richard Goldstone who was forced to disassociate himself from the findings of another UN enquiry into the 2008-09 war on Gaza. Instead of subjecting himself to similar humiliation, Schabas decided to throw in the towel sooner rather than later.

While Israeli officials may count this as a victory, it does not lift the spectre of war crimes charges against them. Nor will it alter Israel's image as an international pariah. Whether Schabas stayed or resigned is, therefore, actually irrelevant. Israel has never, and never will, cooperate with an independent investigation into its wartime conduct. Hence, the claim that the UNHRC is innately biased must be seen for what it is — a rather pathetic attempt to evade accountability.

Lawyers acting on behalf of human rights organisations in Gaza point out that all the evidence presented to the UN suggests that there is a compelling a case for a formal investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The character assassination of Schabas will not change the course of events.

What is at stake is whether or not Israel acted within the confines of the law that governs armed conflict. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's claim that the UNHRC "is the same body that only in 2014 passed more resolutions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined" is immaterial; it's simply an attempt to deflect world attention from the real issue.

Did the UNHRC set out deliberately to malign Israel as Netanyahu claims? On 23 July2014, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reiterated the fact that war crimes and crimes against humanity are two of the most serious types of crimes in existence. She noted that in the case of Israel's war on the Gaza Strip the "credible allegations that they have been committed must be properly investigated."

A newly published survey by Chatham House — the Royal Institute of International Affairs — showed that 35 per cent of Britons said that they "feel especially unfavourable towards" Israel. The study, conducted in 2014, showed that the number of those viewing Israel unfavourably had actually increased by 18 points since 2012, presumably because of its military campaign in Gaza which led to thousands of casualties among Palestinian civilians.

Significantly, the categories of international crimes referred to by Pillay originated in the Nuremberg Tribunal of 1945-46. Though intended to deal with those responsible for the persecution of Jews in Europe, their writ was never confined to the Nazi leadership. Robert H Jackson, the former US Supreme Court Justice and prosecutor at Nuremberg, wanted to make it clear, "That if this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment."

Given the circumstances which led to the tribunal it seems utterly mind-boggling that Israel should today seek to deny others the benefit and protection of the laws used at Nuremburg. As such, none of these laws will be worth the paper they are written on as long as Israeli officials continue to enjoy apparent impunity and evade accountability for their actions. The consequences of this selective approach to justice and the rule of law are already evident across the Middle East and beyond.

Moreover, not even the countries that support Israel have been spared the consequences of its disregard for the rule of law. Consider, for example, the 2010 assassination of a Hamas official, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel. Several of the suspects involved used false passports of several European countries to carry out the operation. Apart from the expulsion of junior diplomats from Britain, Australia and Ireland, not one of the 29 Israeli suspects have been brought before a court of law.

More than anyone, Israelis who have hunted down Nazi war criminals for decades are well positioned to know that the pursuit and prosecution of those believed to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity is relentless and not bound by time. Their perceived success in bringing down William Schabas will have absolutely no bearing on the Palestinian quest for justice. Israeli war crime suspects may be able to run but they cannot hide; they may continue to avoid arraignment at The Hague but they know for sure that they have already lost in the court of world opinion. In the grand scheme of things, it is perhaps this which matters most, for Israel must remain isolated and a pariah in the community of nations until justice is seen to be done.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 05 Feb 2015 12:35:47 +0000
UNRWA and the next explosion of violence against Gaza MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahBy international donor standards $720 million is small change. Yet, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has only managed to procure $135 million from UN member states to assist the victims whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Israel during its 2014 war on the Gaza Strip. As a result, the agency has decided to suspend its cash assistance programme for repairs and rental subsidies to 66,000 families displaced by the war.

There are several reasons for donors' reluctance to deliver the $5.4 billion pledged to reconstruct the beleaguered Palestinian territory. For example, in the absence of any lasting political solution to the conflict and guarantees of future stability, they fear that sooner or later Israel will invade Gaza yet again and destroy what was rebuilt.

Whatever the risks, all donors nonetheless owe it to the Palestinian people in Gaza to ensure that the reconstruction effort is in no way jeopardised. Back in 2009, after the first of Israel's most recent wars, a similar $5 billion was pledged of which only a fraction was delivered. To their credit, Arab donors and Islamic international NGOs on that occasion contributed more than western governments and UN organisations.

By not supporting UNRWA such governments have played, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, into Israel's hands. The occupying power has made no secret of its desire to see an end to the organisation which has, since May 1950, provided aid to Palestinian refugees in historic Palestine itself as well as in neighbouring countries. No doubt some Western donor states are happy to oblige by helping Tel Aviv in its quest.

Hamas officials in the enclave described UNRWA's decision as "dangerous and shocking". They assert that it will exacerbate the suffering of thousands of displaced people in Gaza. At the same time they question whether the agency has done all in its powers to procure the required funds.

If nothing else, the current crisis reflects not only the failure of the donors but also, more importantly, that of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism which was brokered with Israel by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) Robert Serry. Instead of challenging the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza the UN has become a partner in the siege by agreeing to an Israeli veto on who should receive what and how much material to rebuild or repair their homes. Under the guise of preventing the flow of weapons to the Palestinian resistance groups, the agreement allowed for the private information of every affected family to be passed to the Israelis for approval.

Politically speaking, the Hamas leadership in Gaza has also laid some of the blame at the door at the Palestinian Authority. It accuses Ramallah of obstructing the functioning of the national unity government and by default creating a climate of uncertainty, which has discouraged donors from honouring their commitments. After all, who wants to pour billions of dollars into Gaza's reconstruction when there is no guarantee that it will not be destroyed by Israel? In this light, the PA should have signed up to the Rome Treaty long ago if only to serve as a deterrent to Israeli warmongers.

UNRWA's suspension of aid has left no doubt about who the real winners and losers are. Israel emerges as the main beneficiary of the move, because it has helped to discredit the agency in the eyes of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza. On another level, it has created another headache for Hamas, which remains the de facto authority in Gaza charged with the wellbeing of its people.

The losers are the tens of thousands of families who suffered enormous personal and financial losses during last summer's war. Israel and its backers will continue to say that this is they price they must pay for supporting Hamas, but their words are just more outrageous sophistry. The fact is that it is not the business of the international community to decide who the people of Gaza should vote for in free and fair democratic elections. Has anyone imposed sanctions on Israelis for electing racial supremacists and neo-fascists? Are similar punishments meted out in Europe, where xenophobia and jingoism go hand in hand with racist politics paraded as proud nationalism?

Before this latest crisis, UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness warned that the needs of the Gaza Strip have moved well beyond humanitarian aid. Without political action that ends Israel's blockade and illegal wars the international community will be forever firefighting in the territory, which is today in a worse situation than it was last spring; such conditions led eventually to Israel's summer offensive.

Left to their own devices, the Palestinians in Gaza have embarked on self-help initiatives instead of waiting for the goodwill of friends and neighbours. Their effort to build a sea port is just one example, though, which will inevitably put them on a collision course with Israel, which maintains its occupation of the Gaza Strip by closing the borders and blockading its territorial waters.

For better or worse, UNRWA's decision to suspend the cash assistance programme is, in effect, a coded warning that Gaza is about to erupt.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:00:14 +0000
Mahmoud Abbas faces a creeping coup MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahThe search for a successor to President Mahmoud Abbas is getting nastier every day. His bitter rival, Mohamed Dahlan, has emerged as the front runner and favoured candidate. Regional governments, Israel included, have been rehabilitating the elusive fugitive from Palestinian justice. Reports that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with Dahlan in Europe recently must be disturbing for Abbas. Increasing calls by Israeli officials for his resignation have led to heightened speculation that a creeping coup against Abbas is well underway.

One of the most ominous signs from the point of view of the Palestinian Authority head has been the reception that Dahlan was given in Cairo last week; it's a place notorious for its knowledge of staging coups d'état. Although the Egyptian government has neither confirmed nor denied anything, the country's media has been awash with reports that Dahlan was afforded an audience with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi; some sources actually referred to Dahlan as "the Palestinian leader".

President Abbas's decision to go to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) was apparently the final straw for his opponents. Although it is highly improbable that any of its citizens will be dragged to The Hague in the near future, at least, the move by itself will remain a permanent source of embarrassment and irritation for Israel. Its reaction to the Palestinian diplomatic initiatives was not limited to the withholding of tax revenues due to the Ramallah authority; it has also threatened not to release the money until after Abbas has resigned.

Clearly rattled by events, the PA president hastened to Cairo four days after Dahlan's visit. Whatever the details of his discussions with Egyptian and Arab League officials might be, there has been a marked toning down of his rhetoric; he is now offering not to resort to the ICC if Israel would only freeze its settlement expansion in the occupied territories. Having provoked the fury of both Israel and the US, it now appears that the Arab Zionists are themselves hanging Abbas out to dry; they don't care in the slightest whether he stays or goes.

In the absence of a full capitulation by the Ramallah authority, Liebermann wants the imposition of a solution supported by the "moderate" Arab states; there is no better place to start than in the UAE and Egypt. Both have been in the forefront of Western-backed efforts to reverse the process of regional political change that began in 2011.

Throughout their long involvement with the Palestine question successive governments in Cairo have allowed their intelligence agencies to handle the portfolio. One of the charges brought against Egypt's deposed President Mohamed Morsi was that he collaborated with Hamas, a "terrorist" organisation. The question that must now be asked is whether Al-Sisi will ever be indicted for collaborating with Dahlan, a disgraced Fatah official and fugitive from Palestinian justice.

The answer to this is obvious. The current Egyptian administration will always support Dahlan because he is seen as having the necessary popularity within Gaza to subvert the Hamas project in the coastal enclave. Hamas's origins in the Muslim Brotherhood qualify it to be a legitimate target for Al-Sisi. It is within this context that the Gaza-based political analyst Dr Mustafa Sawaf believes that there is a growing regional consensus around Dahlan.

While Gaza may be the Fatah rebel's point of entry or launch pad, there is no doubt that his vision is focussed on the bigger prize of Ramallah. For now, his ability to channel much-needed funds into Gaza will endear him to the deprived population and ease some of the pressure on Hamas. Cornered as it is by enemies in every direction, the Islamic Resistance Movement has apparently taken the tactical and risky decision to allow Dahlan to transfer UAE funds into Gaza. Not surprisingly, soon after Dahlan announced that the problem of the Rafah crossing will be solved, the Egyptian government opened the border, albeit for just three days.

Whatever the game plan, the ultimate aim is to get rid of Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in Ramallah. Having failed in three brutal wars against the people of the Gaza Strip, Israel and its regional allies are resorting to the use of soft power. Egypt's expansion of the buffer zone between its side of the border and Gaza is an example designed to isolate and deny Hamas the means to withstand another Israeli offensive.

For now, it is not a matter of whether there will be another onslaught on Gaza, but when. Hence, there is no talk in Cairo today about implementing the terms of the 2014 cease fire with Israel. Nor is there any discussion about the Egypt-brokered reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

The new priority for all concerned is to install Abbas's successor-in-waiting without delay. Whichever way the rivalry between the PA president and Dahlan is resolved, ordinary Palestinians will remain the losers and victims. After all, the sweeter of the two rivals will still be a bitter pill to swallow.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:07:26 +0000
The OIC visit to Jerusalem was an act by an organisation in disarray MEMO CommentaryDesperate people often do desperate things. This is perhaps the only way to explain the visit to Jerusalem by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General, Iyad Madani. Although it was not the first ever undertaken by a serving OIC official this was viewed as a regrettable setback.

Following a brief meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Madani and his entourage had to endure a humiliating delay of two hours, courtesy of Israeli occupation forces, before they were allowed to enter the holy city and Al-Aqsa Mosque. With an evident sense of triumphalism, the visiting Saudi-born official declared that it was his right and the right of every Muslim to pray in Al-Aqsa, the third most sacred mosque in Islam. No one can question this. However, the controversy over the visit was not about his right to pray there but whether or not he should have gone there at all in coordination with the Israeli occupation authorities.

Not surprisingly, the Islamic movement in Israel has roundly condemned the visit because it appeared to convey some degree of legitimacy upon Israel as an occupying power. In a press release, the movement reaffirmed its stance that it will be the first to welcome Muslim and Arab visitors to Jerusalem when the city becomes the "capital of liberation and not the capital of tourism."

That position, though contrary to the official stance of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, is understandable, especially given the fact that Palestinians, even from within the Old City itself, are barred from worshipping in Al-Aqsa. Indeed, there seems to be very little to celebrate when millions of Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, are denied access to Jerusalem by Israel's apartheid wall and racist policies.

Opposition to visits to Jerusalem is not confined to the Islamic movement in Palestine or the International Union of Muslim Scholars. The latter has a long-standing fatwa – edict – prohibiting visits under the shadow of Israel's military occupation. The same can be said of Al-Azhar University and the Coptic Church in Egypt. Both rejected an invitation to send senior delegates to join the OIC visit. The late Coptic Pope Shenouda III famously confronted Anwar Sadat over his visit to Jerusalem. He remained steadfast until his death to the view that, "From the Arabic national point we should not abandon our Palestinian brothers and our Arabic brothers by normalising our relations with the Jews... From the church point of view, Copts who go to Jerusalem betray their church in the case of 'Al-Sultan Monastery' that Israel refuses to give to the Copts."

As such, Copts who visit Jerusalem face excommunication because such visits will bring harm to the Christian and Muslim people of the region.

At the heart of the debate about Madani's visit is the OIC's seeming trajectory towards the normalisation of relations with Israel. As early as last May the organisation called for the Jordanian, Palestinian and Saudi ministries of tourism to coordinate efforts to encourage Muslims to visit Jerusalem.

The underlying fear in the region is that this initiative will pave the way for normalisation and recognition of the Israeli occupation, albeit in the guise of religious tourism. Is tourism the best that the OIC can offer to end the occupation? Let us not forget that the OIC was established in 1969 "as a result of criminal arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem." Almost fifty years on the organisation and its 52 member countries have made little progress towards doing something about such attacks on the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa.

There is clearly a political context to Madani's visit to Jerusalem; this was made clear within days of the PA's attempt to get the UN Security Council to fix a deadline for an end to Israel's occupation. Although the vote against the PA's draft resolution is seen widely as a failure of Palestinian diplomacy, others must bear some responsibility, namely the Arab League and the OIC. After all, both have always professed that Palestine is the heart of the Islamic world and Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine.

The fact is that the days of gesture politics are long gone. What matters today in the face of Israeli intransigence and western complicity is that the OIC utilises all the levers of power at its disposal. There is no shortage of economic options that can be adopted by its members.

Instead of engaging in photo visits and opening-up back channels for the distribution of Israeli products, the OIC would serve Jerusalem much better by activating a total boycott of Israel. This has already been written in OIC summit resolutions but not implemented.

If only it has the political will to do so, the OIC is well positioned to ensure Israel's international isolation. It does not need the UN to do this even though it would help if the Islamic organisation mobilised its members to secure a General Assembly resolution to this effect. The truth of the matter is that the OIC is ineffective and in disarray. It must put its house in order, for if it cannot even get its members like Nigeria to support its position on Palestine, what sort of future does it have?

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 07 Jan 2015 15:25:03 +0000
Has the Henry Jackson Society been trying to buy influence in parliament? Henry Jackson Society logoThe news that the right-wing Henry Jackson Society has pulled funds for parliamentary groups rather than disclose who its own donors are will be no surprise to those who are concerned about the influence of lobbyists in Britain. Nor will Muslims be shocked by this; many have been on the receiving end of vicious anti-Islam propaganda produced by the charity and those associated with it. Muslim-run charities reacted with alarm at the appointment of the society's director, William Shawcross, as chair of the Charity Commission in 2012, "despite reservations among some MPs over his independence and experience". A subsequent sharp rise in the number of Muslim-run charities under investigation and "review" by the commission appears to justify concerns that the supposedly neutral charity regulator is now pursuing a right-wing, neoconservative agenda targeting Muslims. The regulator denies any bias of any kind.

The withdrawal of funding for parliamentarians focusing on "homeland and international security" resulted from a disclosure request submitted by Spinwatch, an organisation which campaigns for greater transparency in public affairs. According to a report in the Guardian, the Henry Jackson Society "provided an office and staff to organise meetings for the two groups, chaired by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin and Labour MP Gisela Stuart."

It is alarming that the provision of such support also, apparently, entitled "the society's political director, Davis Lewin, and its events manager, Hanna Nomm" to be given House of Commons passes.

Quite apart from this sudden withdrawal of support for parliamentary committees —do other committees operate without external support? — this issue raises questions about the influence of shadowy lobby groups within parliament as well as the operation of a registered charity. How, for example, does providing "an office and staff to organise meetings" for two groups of MPs fulfil the stated "charitable objects" of the Henry Jackson Society, which are: "To advance the education of the public in national and international political, social and economic policy, including the promotion of research in any of those areas and the publications [sic] of the useful results of such research"?

How do these objects fit with the HJS briefing paper in October 2014 which sought to persuade Members of Parliament not to vote for recognition of the State of Palestine? Instead of pointing out to MPs that the State of Israel is guilty of ignoring its obligations under the Oslo Accords, the HJS briefing insisted that "the UK is explicitly committed to the bilateral principle entailed in the Oslo Accords" (which Israel is most definitely not) so "it is incumbent upon UK policymakers to join the US in seeking to persuade the Palestinian leadership to return to bilateral negotiations, the only path with a chance of success."

The fact that negotiations have failed the Palestinians miserably for decades is missing from the openly pro-Israel paper. Indeed, the double-speak beloved of pro-Israel lobbyists is evident in the HJS argument; it derides the UN in one paragraph while claiming a few lines later that support for Palestine may have "serious negative consequences... [for] the UN system and international law"; Israel has treated both with contempt for decades.

Donors named by Spinwatch include the Atkin Charitable Foundation, whose support for the Henry Jackson Society went from £5,000 in 2010 to "£375,000 between 2011 and 2013". It is worth asking the charity commission how it believes that such support for the HJS fulfils the Atkin foundation's own charitable objects. This happened on William Shawcross's watch at HJS, so perhaps he could explain this to his colleagues at the commission.

"The Stanley Kalms foundation, named after the Dixons boss, also gave the society £100,000 last year," the Guardian reported. "Baron Kalms, once a big Tory donor, called then shadow foreign secretary William Hague an 'ignorant armchair critic' for criticising Israel's actions in the 2006 war in Lebanon."

Although it claims not to follow an anti-Islam agenda, those who fund the HJS clearly do. One donor, Nina Rosenwald, "also finances the US-based right-wing Gatestone Institute", which uses its foreign status to publish potentially libellous attacks on British Muslims and pro-Palestine campaigners and organisations. Gatestone also publishes the work of HJS associate director Douglas Murray, who said in 2006 that "conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board".

Mehdi Hasan's Huffington Post article updated on 20 September, 2013, refers to Murray's "extreme views" which have been written about at length by Paul Goodman MP.

According to Spinwatch founder Professor David Miller, this is indicative of the HJS becoming "increasingly anti-Islam". The society, he says, expresses views "characteristic of the far right... While it continues to pose as favouring a moral approach to foreign policy, it is dabbling in the politics of hate in an approach which is supposed to be the opposite of British values of fair play and the rule of law."

Not surprisingly, a Henry Jackson Society spokesman (anonymous, of course) denied that the group is anti-Islam, describing such allegations as "scurrilous and unfounded". He then went on to accuse its detractors of "playing the man rather than the ball" without any irony, apparently, given that some of those associated with the HJS are adept at the character assassination of people they disagree with.

Why is the society so shy about naming its donors? They are, said its spokesman, entitled to privacy. "We do not wish to expose them to unwarranted funding requests by publishing their details," he added, very nobly.

It is unlikely though, that such donors would be free of unsolicited funding requests with or without the Henry Jackson Society's stand on this point. Surely the general public and politicians alike are entitled to know the identity of the people trying to influence government policy at the highest levels. Why else would a think-tank with charitable status wish to have two senior officials with House of Commons passes and privileged access to members of committees dealing with security issues?

We are not suggesting that the honourable members of parliament on the committees in question are guilty of any wrongdoing. We do think, however, that it is in the public interest for such information as the identity of the donors behind HJS support to be in the public domain. Crucially, so does the House of Commons Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Hudson. The Henry Jackson Society has opted to cut and run instead of being open and transparent.

According to the charity commission website, the HJS accounts for 2013 list Damian Collins MP as a trustee. His Conservative Party colleague Michael Gove MP, the party's Chief Whip in the House of Commons and a leading neoconservative, was a founding trustee of the Henry Jackson Society. It has friends in high places already, so why has it been trying to extend its influence even further? What are the real "objects" of this right-wing "think-tank" with money to secure parliamentary influence? The public has a right to know who is trying to buy our democracy.

]]> (Middle East Monitor) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 02 Jan 2015 15:28:37 +0000
Can the Cuban scenario be repeated in Palestine? MEMO CommentaryWith the necessary political will, President Barack Obama's 17 December announcement that "it's time for a new approach" towards Cuba could be applied to Palestine. There is, indeed, a strong case to argue this point, given that the underlying issues in both cases are very similar.

In Cuba, as with Palestine, it has always been a question of America not being willing to recognise the national right of the people to independence and self-determination. In both instances, crippling blockades have been imposed to induce political change. Yet in a rare show of national humility, Obama announced from the White House, "These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked."

No one should underestimate the importance of this dramatic admission, for without it there could be no movement towards a meaningful change in relations between Washington and Havana. The US president must now take a bold step and use his executive power to end the embargo imposed on Cuba in October 1960 and codified into law in 1992. The blockade has not only caused enormous human and economic damage to the Cuban people but undermined substantially the ability of the US to become a serious partner for social, political and civil progress across the Americas.

For the past 22 years, the UN General Assembly has voted annually almost unanimously for an end to the US blockade of Cuba. Not surprisingly, only Israel has voted with America at the UN against resolutions calling for an end to the blockade. A similar open-ended collaboration to deny Palestinian self-determination has made the Middle East become what the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Hass, has called the "chief cauldron of contemporary disorder".

One week before the announcement about Cuba a survey presented to the Brookings Institution showed that 71 per cent of Americans (84 per cent of Democrats, 60 per cent Republicans) favour a single democratic state in Israel-Palestine with equal status for all of its people. When asked whether the US should lean towards one side in the conflict, 64 per cent of Americans said that they want the US to be entirely neutral, with no bias towards either Israel or the Palestinians.

If President Obama is to live up to the accolade that he is the consummate pragmatist he must ditch the same outdated "failed approach" that has burdened US Middle East policy for almost seven decades. America's commitment to peace and a just solution in Palestine will continue to ring hollow as long as it finances Israel's apartheid policies amongst its citizens and ongoing land grab in the occupied Palestinian territories. Washington cannot condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine on the one hand and demand support for Israel's acquisition of territory by force in Palestine on the other.

If America does make a change, as it should, it will not do so without substantial support. In Europe, for example, political trends suggest that there is widespread weariness with the conflict and its attendant social, economic and security consequences.

Within the UN there is similar overwhelming support for full recognition of Palestinian rights. Israeli intransigence supported by the US veto remains the main stumbling block. In June, 50 international organisations and UN agencies issued a joint statement demanding an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza, which they regard as a violation of international law.

The Cuban experience shows that there are international players with enough influence and the capability to act as honest brokers. The Vatican and Canada may not necessarily be the right candidates for Palestine, but there is no harm in asking around to find suitable parties, not least because the US has long proved itself to be a party to the conflict and not a neutral mediator.

Of course there are notable differences which made the Cuba deal possible and have delayed a similar solution in Palestine. Havana has always insisted on charting a foreign policy independent of Washington, albeit often in consort with its Latin American allies. Neither the Palestine Liberation Organisation nor any of the 22 Arabs states have dared to adopt such a stance.

What was accomplished in Cuba is only the start of the long journey toward a just resolution of the dispute with the US. President Raul Castro was right to assert that progress is always possible when there is a willingness to resolve problems on the basis of equality and mutual respect between the two countries.

As it stands, there is scope to replicate the Cuban scenario in Palestine if certain conditions are met. For a start, the US must take the bold step to act on the basis of international law and the UN Charter, while the Palestinian leadership must remain steadfast and hold true to all of its national principles.

Has the second-term American president got the courage to take such a step? The Middle East and, indeed, the rest of the world, would become more stable, safer and prosperous if he has and does. The failed approach adopted for the past seven decades has to be abandoned once and for all. It's been done for Cuba; now let it be done for Palestine.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 25 Dec 2014 17:59:01 +0000
Europe Court decision provides a rare opportunity to correct a discredited policy Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahThe decision by the General Court of the European Union to annul the decision to place Hamas on the European list of terrorist organisations was long overdue. It should never have taken place in the first place because, as the Court itself attested, the decision was "based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet."

Like the recent votes in several European parliaments and that of the EU to recognise the State of Palestine, the Court's ruling will not result in an immediate change of existing policies. This is by no means the end of the road. These developments do, however, expose an important chink in the wall of propaganda and innuendo that has enabled Israel to avoid accountability and deny Palestinian rights.

As it stands, the Court has left the doors open for any party to appeal and to provide the real evidence that Hamas has been engaged in terrorism. Given that they could not provide such evidence since 2001, it is hard to see what they would be able to produce in the coming weeks.

Alastair Crooke, the former Middle East advisor to Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (1997 to 2003)recalled his shock and dismay with the role played by the former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in having Hamas blacklisted. Crooke was present in Downing Street when Straw burst into a room he was in with an advisor; he gloated that he had persuaded Joschka Fischer, his German counterpart, to add Hamas to the EU list of terrorist movements.

Both Britain and Germany share historical responsibility for creating the "running sore" that is often referred to as the Palestine Question. It is not far-fetched, therefore, that either one, or both, will try during the next three months to provide the Court with "evidence" in order to keep Hamas on the terrorist list.

According to Crooke, who also worked for MI6 in Palestine, the decision to blacklist Hamas was underpinned by the "security first" doctrine that envisaged a Palestinian state only if Israel's self-defined security needs were met. It sought, moreover, to create total Palestinian submission and a dismantling of the resistance. As a resistance movement that was resolutely committed to its vision of a liberated Palestine, Hamas was naturally seen as an obstacle and hence the political decision was taken to designate it in its entirety (its political as well as its military wing).

There were, of course, other political considerations. By demonising one Palestinian faction and favouring another, the groundwork was carefully laid for the odious division that has now become an almost permanent feature of the Palestinian national landscape. Divide and rule; a classic British and European tactic.

Although the Court's decision is symbolic for the moment, it does create a useful platform for the reappraisal of policy towards Hamas, not just in the West but also in the Middle East. In Europe, there will be a debate on the efficacy of conducting foreign policy on the basis of newspaper clippings and media reports; it is entirely right and proper that such a debate takes place.

In reality, the EU has, thanks to its politicians, painted itself into a corner by its original decision and this may well be a welcome opportunity to extricate itself. If Europe is genuinely committed to an inclusive and representative politics in Palestine this is its opportunity. If, on the other hand, it still believes that it can dismiss Hamas as a major player in Palestine, then Europe and its politicians will remain forever deluded.

In practical terms, this Court decision also provides an opportunity for the EU to end its support for the disgraceful medieval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The denial of food, medicine and a decent living to almost two million people is unjustified, immoral and without any basis in law. Indeed, it contradicts the very laws which the Europeans themselves helped to write, and signed up to.

David Cameron is one who must now lead by example. It was he who at the beginning of his tenure in July 2010 said that "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." Even if regional governments like Egypt maintain the blockade Mr Cameron should not allow his national politics to be held hostage by narrow-minded partisanship and vindictiveness, especially when it victimises an entire population.

The next three months will no doubt witness a heated battle between the pro-Israel lobby and the voices of reason and justice in Europe. The former will call for the listing to remain and the latter will demand the end of the charade. It is clear that the whole intent of the initial policy was based on the erroneous assumption that Israel will reciprocate and withdraw from the lands occupied in the territories and recognise a Palestinian state. That has now been proven to be a massive miscalculation.

Closer to home, the EU Court's decision provides a lifeline to Mahmud Abbas and his Fatah movement. They have always dragged their feet on the national reconciliation fearing that the European and western governments will veto any inclusion of Hamas in the political process. If for no other reason than this, and if there really is something called respect for the rule of law and justice in Europe, the Court's decision must be allowed to stand unopposed.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:31:32 +0000
Al-Qaradawi and the Egyptian military MEMO CommentaryIt is now official. The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has placed Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi on its "wanted" list. The decision to issue a "red alert" for the arrest of the chair of the International Union of Muslim Scholars was made at the behest of the Egyptian government. Dr Al-Qaradawi has been a vocal critic of the military regime which, in July 2013, ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup. The noted cleric has "never killed anyone or incited anyone to kill", so the Interpol decision seems a classic case of misdirected blame and ill-judged priorities.

The red alert for Al-Qaradawi was issued just days after an Egyptian court cleared the former military dictator Hosni Mubarak of conspiring to kill 846 protesters during the 2011 uprising against his rule. The judgment overturned the life sentence Mubarak received in June 2012. There never was, and never will be, any talk of an international arrest warrant issued for Mubarak. Those who opine that he is too old to be pursued by the law should remember that Al-Qaradawi, at 88, is two years his senior.

The veteran Islamic scholar summed up the duplicity of his detractors thus: "There are those who killed thousands of innocent people at the Republican Guard headquarters [in Cairo] and at Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Nahda Squares without any consideration for justice or law."

In reality, the Interpol decision raises fundamental questions about its modus operandi. For a start, should international arrest warrants be issued strictly on the basis of verifiable evidence or simply at the whim of an accidental politician? Surely, if the former is adopted, then the Egyptian military leadership itself would have a lot to answer for.

On another level, there is also the question about whether international warrants should be used as a means to silence the critics and opposition of signatory governments? Suffice to say that institutions responsible for upholding the rule of law and international security can ill-afford to become instruments in the hands of dishonest politicians guilty of breaking the law.

At a time when the Middle East is plagued by destructive wars, the collapse of states and proliferation of weapons across borders, international agencies have everything to gain from preserving their own integrity. The example of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is particularly instructive. It is regarded by many as a blunt instrument used by western governments to target "unfriendly" leaders, mainly in Africa; as such, it has lost much of its credibility and respect as a force for justice.

Shortly before Interpol publicised its latest red alert, the nefarious conduct of the Egyptian military was exposed with the leak of audio recordings featuring several senior army officers discussing how to resolve the problem of where to detain Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian Law prohibits the detention of a civilian inside a military barracks for any period of time, but that is where the ousted president has been held.

The scandalous revelations bear striking resemblances to the Watergate affair for which the late US President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in the face of impeachment. In the absence of genuine democratic processes in Egypt, there is virtually no chance that any of the generals involved will ever face a court of law.

After Egypt sentenced 183 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death in June this year, Britain's former Foreign Secretary William Hague noted that, "These sentences damage the reputation of Egypt's judicial system..." Six months on, his observation has proven to be the understatement of the year.

Under the current circumstances, international organisations and institutions, including Interpol, owe a huge debt to the Egyptian people to avoid being complicit in providing cover for corrupt and criminal elements. If ever there are any doubts about what took place in Egypt during the summer of 2013 and thereafter, Interpol officials are obliged to examine the leaked audio recordings.

At the end of the day it is the Egyptian people, not Interpol, or any other international body, who will pass the final verdict on this dark period of their history. They will in the fullness of time learn the lessons from their current tragic condition and devise suitable ways to rebuild their judiciary and military institutions into independent but patriotic institutions that will not be a source of embarrassment and disgrace.

When public institutions lose their moral compass the consequences can often be catastrophic for society. In Egypt the signs are that the ramifications will be felt beyond its borders. The siege of Gaza and demolition of homes in Rafah are some of the earliest signs of things to come. Indeed President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi spelt it out clearer when he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he is ready "to send military forces to a Palestinian state" in order to assist local police and "reassure the Israelis, serving as guarantors."

Meanwhile Al-Qaradawi remains undeterred and steadfast believing in the total liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. For this, and little else it appears, he is now wanted by Interpol.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 11 Dec 2014 11:02:14 +0000
Israel's PR machine is failing in the West MEMO CommentaryFor all its bravado, Israel is terrified of bad publicity. So it should be, for neither the legions of public relations companies nor well-paid lobbyists have been able to halt the tarnishing of its image in world public opinion. This is not because they lack the skills and resources to get their message across; far from it. There are two major issues at the heart of the Israeli dilemma; a discredited message and political conduct that is indefensible.

In a recent lecture delivered at the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, Britain's Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould highlighted the latter. He dismissed the notion that better advocacy would improve Israel's standing in the West. Having witnessed first-hand the consequences for the Palestinians of Israeli policies, Gould's message was clear: "There is no amount of hasbara or public diplomacy that is going to convince the vast majority of the British public that settlement announcements are a good thing."

Of course the British public is not unique in this respect. Right across Europe people are judging Israel not by what it claims to be, but by what it does. Its unjust efforts to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967 have fuelled the public impatience that is now being demonstrated in parliamentary votes on the continent in support of the State of Palestine.

The contrast between Israel's pseudo-democracy and that of the West was highlighted by recent parliamentary activity. While elected members in the West were exercising their democratic right to criticise their own governments, members of the Israeli Knesset were attempting to pass a curious piece of legislation called the "Zoabi Law" intended to silence opposition voices.

"An MK who in a time of war or military action against an enemy state or terror organisation offers public support for military struggle against the State of Israel," reads the text of the bill, "their term in the Knesset shall be terminated on the day the Knesset decides by a majority of its members and at the recommendation of the Knesset House Committee that the published comments constitute the aforementioned expressions of support."

In her response, Haneen Zoabi MK lamented that no parliament that expels its members has a right to speak in the name of democracy. "This is a hostile act against my constituency and against every democrat in the country," she insisted.

The second piece of legislation which shatters any notion of democratic credentials that Israel claims to have, is the "Jewish nation-state" bill, which has been approved by the cabinet and now awaits approval by the Knesset. It defines Israel as the "nation-state for the Jewish people", despite the fact that 20 per cent of Israelis are not Jews.

With such patently racist and discriminatory laws supported by the majority of Jewish Israelis, it is very hard for them to be "sold" to an international audience. Realising the difficulty that his policies create, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced as early as August last year a scholarship scheme for students to propagate pro-Israel information on social media networks and "engage international audiences online" in order to combat perceived "anti-Semitism" and calls to boycott Israel. In its early stages, this programme was headed by someone called Danny Seaman. He was lambasted in the Israeli media for his anti-Muslim rants on Facebook. The Haaretz columnist Barak Ravid asked, "Is an abusive racist the best Israeli PR can produce?"

Under the present laws, the views of such an individual are deemed to be dangerously toxic in Britain. Seaman would, in theory, be classified as a purveyor of hate and hence disqualified from engaging with students in British schools, colleges and universities.

If nothing else, throughout his political career Netanyahu has been doggedly opposed to the internationalisation of the conflict with the Palestinians. He has, perhaps more than any other politician, sustained the myth that this conflict can only be resolved through bilateral negotiations, led by the US. It is now abundantly clear that their efforts to quarantine the Palestine issue from global public opinion and pressure have failed.

As European parliaments have belatedly offered parliamentary debates that resulted in every instance in a vote for recognition of the State of Palestine, it can only be regarded as a step in the right direction. However, only when parliamentary votes are translated into government policies will they be worth anything tangible with the potential to make real change.

Ordinary Europeans have grown increasingly impatient and disgusted by Israel's ongoing denial of Palestinian rights; hence the attempts to take the flourishing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign beyond church and academic circles. In the same way that sporting and cultural boycotts played a crucial role in dismantling South Africa's apartheid system, so too will they have a defining role in ending the Israeli version. The clock is ticking, as more and more entertainers are refusing to perform in Israel and there are calls for FIFA to kick Israeli racism out of football. This follows a call for Israel to be expelled from cultural extravaganzas such as the Eurovision Song Contest.

With every outrageous piece of legislation and policy enacted by Israel, the day that it is recognised as an international pariah comes ever closer. No amount of expensive PR will be able to prevent it.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 02 Dec 2014 16:13:22 +0000
'Terrorist' list destroys integrity of UAE MEMO CommentaryThe first thing that catches the eye about the newly-released United Arab Emirates list of 83 "terrorist organisations" is its broad sweep. It contains Islamic institutions from across Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Asia. Although patently absurd, the list does possibly have the unintended effect of reinforcing the common myth that all terrorists are Muslims. Not a single Jewish organisation was mentioned, despite the violent campaigns waged by some of the Israeli settlers' groups against the Palestinian inhabitants of occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, and daily assaults on the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On one level, the UAE list speaks volumes about those who have compiled it. It tells the story of a country that feels, at best, terribly insecure and, at worst, at peace with neither itself nor its neighbours. Moreover, it suggests a state that is lacking in confidence so much that it sees the modern equivalent of reds under every bed.

In the absence of any tangible and verifiable evidence of a terrorist threat to the UAE, the list appears to reflect a fear of change on the one hand and fixation with its Gulf neighbour, Qatar, on the other. Whereas the latter has openly supported the popular uprisings for democratic change across the region, the UAE adopted the exact opposite stance. It chose, for example, to offer sanctuary to remnants of the Mubarak regime.

In the circumstances, it was only a matter of time before the rulers of the UAE, like their Egyptian clients, launched an all-out attack on the Muslim Brotherhood and groups associated with it. So while the list of 83 groups includes the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaida, the real target is undoubtedly the Islamic movement.

Earlier this year when Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron announced a review of the Brotherhood's activities it was believed widely that this was undertaken in response to pressure from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In August, the Financial Times reported that the review had concluded that "the group should not be labelled a terrorist organisation and in fact [...] found little evidence its members are involved in terrorist activities." One government source told the newspaper that "Sir John [Jenkins, Britain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia] will say that the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation. The Saudis and Emiratis will then be very upset with us."

Since then, there has been a flow of media "leaks", notably to the Daily Telegraph, which asserted that the government was about to enforce measures against 60 British organisations with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Lawyers acting on behalf of the movement had no doubts that the leaks were all ordered to put pressure on the government to alter the report with a demand that the Jenkins Report be published in full and in its original form. It is in this context that the UAE list appears to be part of a carefully-choreographed attempt to twist the British government's arm.

At this point, the old saying, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones" looks to be very relevant. While the UAE has compiled its colourful list of "terrorist organisations" it has some explaining to do about its own distinctly murky affairs in Libya, Tunisia and even Oman, a fellow GCC member.

In January 2011 security officials in the sultanate told the Oman News Agency that the authorities had arrested spies "belonging to the state security forces of the UAE targeting the regime in Oman and the mechanism of governmental and military work." In August, The New York Times cited four senior American officials who reported that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates had launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied targets in Libya.

Still more recently Al-Jazeera broadcast a documentary on the assassination of Chokri Belaïd, the Tunisian politician. The programme highlighted a telephone conversation with Belaid's driver moments before he was shot. The call originated in the UAE. Many Tunisians now believe that the politician was murdered to provoke anger and opposition to the then ruling Ennahdah Party; public anger and political opposition were duly provoked.

In the chaotic world of the Middle East it is very easy to play the terrorism card. Leaders, past and present, use it instinctively to silence dissident voices and discredit political opponents. At other times, it is used to cover up internal failures and win western support. As such, it is losing its ability to shock; "terrorist" doesn't really mean anything when it is bandied about so liberally with neither rhyme nor reason.

Indeed, so far, the UAE list seems to have failed to impress even the American and British governments. Both have requested explanations as to why respected civil society groups in their countries have been designated as "terrorist organisations".

It takes no great skill or intelligence to compile a list of alleged terrorists when no evidence has to be produced to justify it. A much more difficult task is to prove that those named on the list have been involved in terrorism or pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the UAE.

If anything, the government in the UAE is looking in the wrong place for such a threat to its sovereignty. According to the Emiratis, the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb have been "occupied" by Iran since the early seventies; shouldn't the Gulf state be focusing on discussions with Tehran rather than seeking to discredit popular civil society groups? In behaving like a playground bully, the UAE has destroyed whatever integrity it may once have had.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:08:41 +0000
Bomb attacks in Gaza are a sideshow which won't divert attention from Al-Aqsa Just when the new Al-Aqsa intifada was gathering momentum the homes of senior Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip were bombed this week. Those responsible must be rubbing their hands with glee as the finger of blame was pointed immediately at the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas stand to benefit from an armed confrontation in Gaza or anywhere else for that matter. So, in the absence of any hard evidence about the Islamic movement's involvement, the focus of the investigation must surely turn to the "sleeper" cells of Israeli collaborators in the coastal enclave.

Apart from disrupting attempts by both factions to consolidate a functional national unity government, Friday's attack, if mishandled, could regrettably serve as a useful distraction from the worsening security situation in occupied Jerusalem. However, from a purely pragmatic point of view it would be stupid for Hamas to antagonise Fatah at this time when the latter's cooperation has become crucial for the procurement and delivery of aid for the reconstruction of Gaza.

In the event, sources in the besieged territory point out that the attack could actually be linked to the ongoing power struggle between Mahmoud Abbas and the disgraced Fatah official Mohamed Dahlan. On the night prior to the bombings there were reports of clashes between the supporters of both men at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, a traditional stronghold of the secular faction.

Still, there are other lines of inquiry that must also be pursued rigorously by security officials in the Strip. As the explosive devices did not result in fatalities and caused only limited damage to property, it could well be that the attacks were staged in order to send a strong message to Fatah and Hamas, or for any number of other reasons.

In the few days before the explosions Abbas came under increasing pressure from Benjamin Netanyahu to end what the Israeli prime minister described as "incitement" against settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Despite the widespread publicity given to Netanyahu's claim, only the most naive would give any credence to it. After all, had it not been for the security coordination between Abbas's Fatah movement and the Israelis, the situation in the occupied West Bank would be very much different today. Thus, instead of pretending to blame Abbas, Netanyahu should actually thank him for suppressing popular dissent amongst Palestinians and maintaining the status quo.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, where Abbas's writ has absolutely no effect, the resistance to Israeli attacks against the integrity and sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque continues to grow. Hamas has publicly claimed responsibility for operations carried out against Israeli soldiers.

As long as the Israelis continue to desecrate Al-Aqsa and its compound the situation is set to become even more incendiary. Far from subsiding, Palestinian outrage will grow in direct proportion to every act of Israeli provocation.

Israel's closure of the mosque and daily attacks on worshippers have convinced many in Palestine and beyond that the conflict has now taken on a distinct religious character. The inability of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to protect the Islamic sanctities has belied its claims that Jerusalem will become the capital of the future Palestinian state. A Jerusalem without Al-Aqsa would be like a body without a soul.

While President Abbas continues with his rhetoric about UN initiatives and statehood, Israel's messianic government is busily engaged with legislation to divide the mosque so that Jews can have access through all its entrances and worship in it every day of the week, except Friday.

The attacks against Fatah officials in Gaza have thus come at a convenient time for Messrs Netanyahu and Abbas. While the former will certainly use them as a smokescreen to divert attention from his policies in Jerusalem, so too will Abbas find them a useful distraction from his failure to protect Al-Aqsa.

In addition, by implicating Hamas in the attacks in Gaza there will be added pressure on the authorities in the territory which will embolden Abbas to demand, like the Israelis, the disarming of the resistance groups. In that way, Gaza will no longer be an "existential" threat to Israel and, like the West Bank, it will be brought under Palestinian security forces that exist to serve the occupation.

There is a huge flaw in this thinking though. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are bigger than any single Palestinian faction. Mahmoud Abbas may not acknowledge this, but the Israelis do. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned last month that Israel was "a step away from a national conflict turning into a religious one", which will make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a war between the self-declared Jewish state and Muslims the world over.

For all its worth, the struggle in Jerusalem has transcended the mundane issues of inflation, development and capital flow. Accordingly, it is fool-hardy on the part of Ramallah to suppress popular protests in the West Bank in order to prevent Hamas from gaining political and popular support. This is a narrow-minded approach.

The attacks on Al-Aqsa have ignited a fuse and there is no turning back. No sideshow in Gaza will be big enough to divert attention from what is happening to the Noble Sanctuary.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 10 Nov 2014 12:22:52 +0000
The problem is not Netanyahu; it's the US and Israel's special relationship MEMO CommentaryNot for the first time the Obama administration and the Israeli government have been hanging out their dirty linen in public. On the face of it, the Americans are said to be livid with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's illegal settlement expansion in Jerusalem. The problem, however, runs much deeper.

While the Israelis try to explain the crisis as simply bad chemistry between Netanyahu and Obama, at the heart of it is the 'special relationship' to which the Americans have irrevocably wedded themselves.

The fault-lines in this curious relationship are never far below the surface. They are a constant source of tension and embarrassment for the Americans because they cannot reconcile their international drum beat for human rights and democracy with bank-rolling Israel's subjugation of the Palestinian people.

So how did the world's dominant super-power find itself in this mess; where it blindly follows, often against its proclaimed laws and values, the whims of a client state that is unapologetically racist?

Last month, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin decried the increasing wave of racism and violence against Arab Israelis in the self-styled Jewish state. Addressing the Israeli Bar Association in occupied Jerusalem he said:

"We are fools to make such irresponsible statements or to remain silent about them. Hateful calls of 'Death to Arabs' were not spray-painted on neglected walls in the dead of night, but spoken loudly and clearly, in the light of day."

Surely the authors of the American constitution, and the patriots who died for its independence, would have regarded support for such indignities as a betrayal of all that they stood for.

Ever since Netanyahu announced his plan to construct an additional 1,060 housing units in Jerusalem, relations with Washington have gone from bad to worse. It became all too apparent during Israel's Security Minister Moshe Ya'alon's recent visit to the US. Despite strenuous efforts, he was denied meetings with senior US officials.

In public, both sides have been at pains to limit the damage. While the Israelis claim that the real target of the snub was not Yaalon per se but Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Americans, on their part, were equally quick to plaster the sore.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration dutifully distanced itself from a media report that described Israel's prime minister in stridently 'undiplomatic' language. The report by the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an unnamed US official who described Netanyahu as "a chickenshit".

Predictably, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the public believe all is well. While admitting that differences currently exist, he asserted that relations with Israel are "as strong as ever". Short of making a full-blown apology, Earnest denied that the unnamed official's views were indicative of those of the administration.

As an individual, Netanyahu may have appeared spineless; he has on countless occasions pandered to the demands of the settlers in order to save his political career. However, on balance, it must be said that Israeli officials are never afraid to criticise and even rebuke US officials; whether they be Secretary of State or the President. On the other hand, it is the Americans who have demonstrated a penchant for ambiguity and making statements under the cover of anonymity.

Ultimately, Israel will be the loser from this current spat. Americans, it seems, are growing increasingly tired and fed up with the bizarre relationship in a case of the tail wagging the dog. It is one that is certainly not good for their image, and highly detrimental to their international interests.

As it struggles to secure its share of global markets, investments and resources, America can ill-afford to be seen as being a purveyor of injustice. For fear of being seen as guilty by association European countries are today lining up to recognise the state of Palestine, in spite of US-Israeli opposition and rhetoric about the peace process.

Danny Ayalon, the Israeli diplomat and former deputy foreign minister admitted that the growing crisis in relations with Washington is threatening Israel's interests. He explained that:

"There is no doubt that there is a very bad thing happening at the level of relations between Israel and the US... When the relations become really bad, they would certainly have significant repercussions, and could shake the American public opinion out of favour with Israel."

In due course, Benyamin Netanyahu will leave office, but America's problems with Israel will persist. That is because his successor will, almost inevitably, be even more extreme and derisive of international norms. No president after Obama, however sympathetic, would be able to convince the American people that they must prop-up a 21st century colonial enterprise. It runs contrary to their beliefs, their ethos and their history.

Furthermore, with all that is happening in Syria and Iraq, the last thing Americans want is to become entangled in a religious war, the type of which Israel is dragging them towards. Israel's attempt to seize Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred Muslim site, will lead to unimaginable consequences that would make Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria all look like a picnic in the park. An honest and dispassionate reappraisal of the special relationship may just prevent that from happening.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 31 Oct 2014 14:29:14 +0000
Like ISIS in Iraq, settlers in Jerusalem must be stopped Are there similarities between the so-called "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria and the self-styled "Jewish State" in Palestine? Quite a few. For a start, both thrive on religious bigotry and pursue exclusivist, expansionist and repressive agendas. Everything taking place in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque today underlines how very little distinguishes the two.

There is one major difference, though. While the Jewish state enjoys the political, economic and military backing of the West, ISIS is fought against, as it should be, for its heinous crimes. Furthermore, just as the Kurds and Arab tribes of Syria and Iraq have the right to resist ISIS, so too do the Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem have every right to resist Israeli oppression.

For several months now there have been almost daily clashes in Jerusalem. The Israeli media have taken to describing events there as a quiet "Intifada". They have been a response to and consequence of the excesses of Israeli settler-vigilantes backed by the state.

Reports that the Knesset will next month vote on a draft law to partition Al-Aqsa Mosque have raised the stakes to critical levels across the occupied territories. But this is not all.

The seizure of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers in Silwan, south of Jerusalem, has also brought tensions to the surface. It is there that more than 30 illegal settler families have been preparing to occupy apartments seized in the area during the past three months.

The odds against them are enormous but the Palestinians are not pinning all their hopes on support from any of their immediate neighbours or those further afield. "We Palestinians are not depending on the Arabs or Muslims at the present time," said Shaikh Ekrima Sabri, the imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, "because they [the Arabs] are also busy in what is called fighting terrorism and they don't know that the Zionist occupation is the real terror."

Israel's ambition to seize Al-Aqsa is as old as the occupation itself. It is one that Palestinians have thwarted successfully over the years. Short of imposing a blanket ban on all Muslims visiting the mosque, Israel has resorted to every form of repression and subterfuge to change the status quo therein. This has only increased Palestinian resolve to ensure that the sanctuary remains the collective heritage of all Muslims.

Under the pretext of the observance of Jewish religious holidays, the Israeli authorities close the mosque repeatedly to Palestinian worshippers. And just as ISIS has attacked Christians in their churches in Iraq, Israeli forces have attacked Palestinian Muslims with tear gas and rubber bullets in Al-Aqsa Mosque. They have evicted Muslims forcefully from the site, seized control of its main gates, and allowed only Jews to enter and "worship".

ISIS has evicted the Yezidis from their villages in Iraq; similarly, Israeli settler organisations backed by the army continue to evict Palestinians from their homes in Silwan.

These acts of aggression are often portrayed in the Western media as the errant practices of fringe elements in Israeli society. This is, however, an obscene misrepresentation of reality. When the government funds the settlers and ministers participate in their actvities this can only be described as state policy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indeed, has personally given orders to suppress the Palestinians who are seeking to exercise their fundamental human right to worship in their historic mosque.

Israel is relying on Western support and Arab preoccupation with their own crises, as it did during its war against the people of the Gaza Strip and other misadventures. Netanyahu interprets international and Arab silence as a green light. In fact, he is in a hurry to complete the imposition of Israeli "sovereignty" over all of Jerusalem before the Palestinian Authority makes any further moves at the UN.

It is regrettable that the PA is still not acting with the sense of urgency that the situation requires. While President Mahmoud Abbas calls on Palestinians to defend Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, his security forces suppress any effort to resist the rampaging settlers.

To the same degree that Western governments, the Vatican and other religious institutions have condemned and opposed ISIS, as they should, the time has come for them to stand up to Israeli bigotry passed off as democracy.

No country in the world has recognised Israel's unilateral claim to Jerusalem and its religious sites. On the contrary, it is still overwhelmingly recognised as an occupying power. The rights of the civilian population and the duties of the occupier are well documented in international law.

As a belligerent occupier, Israel can only requisition land and carry out physical transformation in the occupied territory under two conditions: if there is an "urgent military necessity" or if the change "benefits the local population". Neither holds true in the case of Jerusalem and so, for this reason if no other, the international community must act to uphold its will and the rule of law. The self-styled "Jewish State" must be tackled in the same robust manner as the equally self-styled "Islamic" version in Iraq and Syria. Anything less makes Israel's international backers complicit in its constant breaches of international law.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:17:57 +0000
Egypt's rehabilitation suffers a major setback MEMO CommentarySupporters of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had much to celebrate after his maiden appearance at the UN General Assembly last month. For them, it was a turning point that completed his transformation from military general to international statesman. The former army chief was so assured of his apparent arrival that he even used his UN speech to announce that Egypt was seeking a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. This confidence was clearly misplaced and premature.

Amid growing reports of Egyptian military involvement in Libya it was no wonder the bid was unsuccessful. This, however, was not the only setback for Egypt's new rulers. September's hubris has all but evaporated with the announcement this week that the Carter Centre is closing its office in Egypt and will not send a mission to observe this year's parliamentary elections.

If nothing else, the move has confirmed the ongoing international dissatisfaction with what the organisation founded by ex-US President Jimmy Carter described as Cairo's "crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms". It is the Carter Centre's aim to "to fight disease, hunger, poverty, conflict and oppression around the world"; clearly, what is happening in Egypt does not sit well with such objectives.

Simultaneously, the decision was also an indictment of the Obama administration, which chose to deliver a new consignment of Apache helicopters to the Egyptian military and ignore the plight of US citizen Mohamad Soltan, 26, who is fighting for his life after spending the past 263 days in prison on hunger strike. He is accused by the military-backed regime in Cairo of "spreading false information" to the media.

The delivery of the American helicopters coincided with a new security crackdown against students, political dissidents and opposition forces in Egypt. Scores of students have been wounded and detained on campuses across the country.

Under the Leahy amendment which was first introduced in 1997, both the US State Department and the Department of Defence are prohibited from providing military assistance to foreign armed forces which violate human rights with impunity. The appalling human rights record of Al-Sisi's government has been well documented and called into question by several national and international organisations.

While Egyptian officials have tried to put on a brave face in response to the closure of the Carter Centre, they cannot pretend that it is business as usual. There is no doubt that the decision not to monitor the elections will reinforce concerns about Egypt's commitment to a genuinely inclusive democracy.

For the time being, Al-Sisi may appear to be ensconced safely in the presidential palace, but there are still obstacles ahead. For one thing, he desperately needs the support of a functioning parliament and government; he has to be sure that they will pose no threat to his tenuous authority, or opposition to his policies.

In order to ensure that this is the case, Al-Sisi has tailored electoral law to fit. It grants the president the right to appoint 27 members of parliament (five per cent) and that 420 (77.8 per cent) must come from single member districts contested by individual candidates, with 120 (22.2 per cent) from party lists.

Already a number of former army officers have thrown their hats into the ring. They include the failed presidential candidate General Ahmed Shafiq; Major General Murad Muwafi; former Chief of Staff General Sami Anan Sami; and former Egyptian Intelligence Agency official General Hossam Khairallah.

Although no date has yet been set for the polls, real concerns about the process have already emerged. The changes in the electoral law stipulate that the votes will not be counted in the secondary committees but only in the main committees. This has given rise to questions about transparency.

As Egypt inches toward its proposed elections, the similarities with Hong Kong have not gone unnoticed. Just as the Chinese leadership has set out limits on who can run in 2017for the role of chief executive, Hong Kong's top position, so too in Egypt has the former army chief Al-Sisi taken all the steps necessary to determine the composition of the next parliament.

Given the carefully choreographed nature of the process, the Carter Centre had no choice but to withdraw. Its credibility is sure to have been at stake were it to endorse a process that is so manifestly selective rather than elective.

To some, whether the centre monitors the elections or not may all seem rather academic. However, the reality is very different. President Al-Sisi has spent tens of millions of dollars on public relations initiatives to gain acceptance and respect abroad. The last thing he wants, or needs, is a damning report or snub by a prestigious institution such as the Carter Centre.

The closure of its office in Egypt will not bring about an immediate end to support for Al-Sisi and his government, nor will it stop the election parody from taking place. It does, however, set back Egypt's efforts to be rehabilitated and gain acceptance among the family of democratic nations. As for the Obama administration, its calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong will continue to ring hollow when deference is shown to the sham that passes for democracy in Egypt.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 18 Oct 2014 15:54:25 +0000
The deadly crossing is an international disgrace MEMO CommenatryDeath in the Mediterranean is no longer the exception; it is the norm. More than 3,000 would-be immigrants have drowned trying to cross into Europe this year alone. Recent estimates suggest that the number of those who actually made it has risen to 130,000 in 2014, up from 60,000 last year. While some have undertaken the perilous journey in pursuit of a better life in Europe, the vast majority are fleeing the wars that are spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. With the onset of the latest US-led Middle East war it is inevitable that the numbers will rise.

Iraq and Syria are not the only conflicts contributing to the exodus. Other regional struggles are displacing thousands. Whether it's the insurgency in the Egyptian Sinai; the sectarian confrontation in Yemen; the tribal wars in Libya and Somalia; or Israel's wars to expand and cement its occupation, they have all had the same consequences, including mass migration to Europe.

Most of the 3,000 refugees rescued by the Italian coastguard in the weeks prior to mid-September were Palestinians and Syrians; among them were pregnant women, children and even the disabled. Whatever commonalities the Mediterranean boat people may share, the Palestinians are unique in one respect. The vast majority are fourth generation refugees and their tragedy goes back to a common cause; the Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of their land. Their ongoing misfortune is also a consequence of Israeli policies. While the Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria are denied their right of return to their homeland, the inhabitants of Gaza are besieged and bombarded so that they might leave.

Notwithstanding this fact, other regional actors have also contributed to the ongoing Nakba (Catastrophe). Unlike their Syrian counterparts, Palestinian refugees from Syria have found it much harder to relocate in Lebanon and Turkey. Enticed by human traffickers, many have invested their life savings or incurred debts in order to head for Europe.

In Gaza, the chair of the Oversight Committee in the Palestine Legislative Council, Yahya Moussa, accused the Israeli occupation authorities of instigating the migration of young Palestinians through a combination of harsh economic policies and military aggression; many have indeed decided to leave. This is a manifestation of what the British House of Commons Select Committee on International Development in 2004 described as "a deliberate Israeli strategy of putting the lives of ordinary Palestinians under stress." Zionist ideology calls it "silent transfer".

Since the end of the latest war on the Gaza Strip the number of such young Palestinians trying to make their way to Europe has risen. Living conditions in the devastated enclave are not for the faint-hearted. With the fast diminishing availability of safe drinking water the UN reckons that by 2020 Gaza will no longer be liveable. Worse still, unemployment in Gaza now stands at 36 per cent; the figure for the occupied West Bank is 27 per cent.

While the flight of young Palestinians from Gaza continues to make the headlines, the larger numbers leaving the West Bank go unreported. Either way, all those who perish in the Mediterranean or end up in European detention centres are victims of an entirely avoidable man-made catastrophe. Both the Israeli occupiers and the human traffickers who profit from their misery are culpable.

The record numbers of crossing attempts and deaths in the Mediterranean must elicit an urgent rethink of policy in the MENA region and across the EU. As a major trading partner, Europe could do much more to halt Israel's deliberate strangulation of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By tacitly accommodating Israel's siege of Gaza they have in effect contributed to the intolerable conditions that are forcing young Palestinians to try their luck on the high seas.

From a purely economic point of view it would be more cost effective if European countries were to break the Israeli siege and enable the Palestinians in Gaza to live decent and dignified lives. In the case of Italy, for example, the $12 million per month being spent by the government on rescue operations could be reduced substantially and the money put to better use.

Regional governments can also play a more constructive role. Although the Egyptians have acknowledged that a "mafia network" is operating the human traffic across the Mediterranean, efforts to crack down can best be described as half-hearted. It is unlikely to be stopped completely without the consent and approval of Israel, which is the real beneficiary of "transferred" Palestinians. So terrified is the government in Tel Aviv about the presence of Palestinians in their historic homeland that it not only forces them to migrate, but it is also now contemplating restricting the birth rate of those under its jurisdiction.

As for Palestine, the flight of its young people, many of whom are university graduates, is nothing but a national disaster. No faction should try to score political points with the issue. The mudslinging, accusations and counter-accusations by Fatah and Hamas are counterproductive and only serve the interests of the occupation.

In as much as Hamas has stepped up security controls to stem the haemorrhaging of people from the Gaza Strip, the problem requires a comprehensive approach that includes economic as well as political measures. Sadly all of these will be insufficient as long as Israel's occupation persists. And with the spread of war and associated violence in the region, many more seem destined to die in the Mediterranean or be thrown into detention camps or prisons somewhere in Europe, when they all deserve to live in dignity and happiness. To let them gamble with their lives on the deadly crossing is an international disgrace.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 02 Oct 2014 10:43:52 +0000
Why is Abbas refusing to sign the Rome Statute? This is the question that is etched on everyone's mind. If there is only one issue that Palestinians agree upon today it is the need for President Mahmoud Abbas to sign the Rome Statute. That would clear the way to file charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israeli officials for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

By stalling the process Abbas has committed three cardinal errors. First, he has enabled Israelis to escape punishment; second, he has undermined and squandered the international support for Palestinian rights; and third, he has failed to answer to the call of the ICC and the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) issued one year after Palestine became a non-member state of the UN.

On 27 November 2013 the ASP to the Rome Statute adopted a resolution inviting "States not yet parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to become parties to the Rome Statute, as amended, as soon as possible."

In an obvious attempt to clear the air once and for all, the ICC's Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wrote on the Guardian's Comment is Free pages an article headed "The truth about the ICC and Gaza". She confirmed that "Palestine could now join the Rome Statute" after the UN General Assembly had formally recognised it as a non-member state on 29 November 2012.

As it stands, the onus is squarely upon Abbas personally. In a letter to the Paris-based legal firm Gilles Devers & Associes, which is acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Bensouda said on 14 August, "In accordance with article 7 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), only the Head of State, Head of Government and Minister of Foreign Affairs are considered lawful representatives of a State by virtue of their functions and without having to produce full powers, for the purpose of expressing a State's consent to be bound by a treaty."

Despite the overwhelming support among Palestinians, the Director-General of the human rights organisation Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, explained that in the past the PA had deferred its signing of the Rome Statute because it was unwilling to anger Israel, America and some European countries. At other times it claimed that it was awaiting the agreement of the Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas. Abbas insisted that the resistance movement should give a written undertaking of support to approach the ICC, acknowledging that it bears full national and international responsibility for the consequences.

In late August, Hamas duly signed the document as stipulated but still no steps have been taken to sign the Rome Statute. With this agreement from Hamas it seemed that Abbas would have no further excuse for not putting his signature to the document. All that is needed is a formal letter from the Palestinian president to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announcing that Palestine has accepted the Statute.

So, could it be that Mahmoud Abbas is himself afraid that he could be prosecuted? That may be so. This is a constant ploy used against him. In April of this year at the International Criminal Court (ICC), an Israeli lawyer, Mordechai Tzivin, lodged a complaint against Abbas and nine members of Hamas for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression. This did not deter Hamas from signing the agreement. On 3 September, The Israel Law Centre announced that it had formally requested the ICC's prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes committed by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during "Operation Protective Edge", Israel's brutal military attack against the civilians of the Gaza Strip.

According to the Rome Statute, the ICC's jurisdiction includes individuals who are citizens of a state that has ratified the treaty, individuals who commit their alleged crimes on the territory of a state party and cases referred to the ICC by demand of the UN Security Council. While the ICC's chief prosecutor may under article 15 initiate investigations against those who have committed serious crimes without a formal request from a state or a concerned party, the PA does not have the luxury of time to wait for this to happen.

For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, signing up to the Rome Statute has been long overdue. While they have no illusions that it will bring an immediate end to their suffering and Israeli crimes, it would mark a major step towards that end. Currently, many Israeli officials will only travel to Europe if they are granted special diplomatic immunity from prosecution under Universal Jurisdiction Laws. The long arm of the law is finally catching up with them but, as Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, once said, "The ICC will work when you, the eyes and the ears of the international community, observe, defend, report and inform the rest of the world about what is happening."

For the Palestinians, it will work when their president, Mahmoud Abbas, overcomes his deep-rooted fears and places the interest of his people above all else.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 09 Sep 2014 10:39:18 +0000
Running out of options MEMO stickyIsrael's inability to crush the Palestinian resistance in Gaza has triggered renewed efforts to end its war. While Britain and France spearhead a European initiative to obtain a UN Security Council resolution, Egypt is making yet another attempt to "mediate" a ceasefire. Whichever way the pendulum swings, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel encouraged. Israel holds the record for the highest number of Security Council resolutions vetoed in its favour, thanks to the US.

Now Egypt, under the former military chief Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi is, like Israel, equally committed to defeat the Islamic resistance movements in the embattled enclave. Had it not been for an accident of geography it's hard to imagine any significant role for Egypt in the current impasse. Many in the region, including Hamas spokesmen, often make patronising statements about its importance, which may have had some relevance in days gone by. Sadly, the Egypt of today has different priorities and Palestinian freedom is not among them.

One of the great ironies of Egypt's "mediation" role was highlighted last week when a court postponed the trial of deposed president Mohamed Morsi on charges of espionage on behalf of Hamas. This was presumably done to allow the current negotiations to continue. Having declared Hamas to be a terrorist entity, no one thought that the time would come when the same officials who took that decision would welcome senior Hamas personnel in Cairo.

Try as they might, it is clear that regional and international actors cannot sidestep the resistance and achieve peace in Gaza without talking to Hamas. Even the US, which claims that it does not do business with "terrorists", have had to open up channels of contact, albeit indirectly through third parties. In fact, throughout the previous rounds of negotiations, US officials were coming and going from Cairo in quick succession.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's political options have been decreasing as fast as his military choices. His grovelling praise for Israel's Arab allies are hardly worth the effort since none of these, including Egypt, is in a position to fulfil his immediate need, which is to restore a sense of normality to Israeli society.

Netanyahu's worsening relations with Washington, and President Barack Obama in particular, are no secret. US Secretary of State John Kerry's scornful outburst on a hot mic in July revealed the level of dismay in Washington when he mocked Israel's killing of four little boys playing football on the beach as, "A hell of a pinpoint operation".

As for Obama, the memories of his November 2011 exchange with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy are still fresh and relevant. When Sarkozy described Netanyahu as a compulsive liar who he couldn't stand, Obama lamented, "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day." If that was his position three years ago one can only imagine what it is today after all the lies and broken promises made to Kerry during the negotiations.

The more the Israeli leader becomes isolated and estranged from his western counterparts the more outrageous his claims become. The assertion that there was somehow a link between Hamas and ISIS was as ludicrous as it could get, but there was more to come.

He has claimed that Israeli intelligence has prevented a Hamas plot to stage a coup in the West Bank. It doesn't take much to work out that this was timed to influence the outcome of negotiations in Cairo. For all its stupidity it was undoubtedly intended to create friction between Hamas and Fatah and undermine their unified stance at the talks. Indeed, Israel would dearly love to see a repeat in the West Bank of the bloody in-fighting that took place in Gaza in 2007.

The notion of a plot to stage a coup in the West Bank, though, actually beggars belief. Normally coups d'état are carried out against real governments to acquire real power, not against entities that are under occupation. There are simply no incentives or benefits to be accrued by a Hamas coup in the West Bank. Moreover, if the PA's President Abbas should be wary of anyone it should be Israel, not Hamas. It was the Israelis who, ten years ago, incarcerated the late President Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound until his death in suspicious circumstances. No wonder Abbas has moved his family to Jordan and spends more time abroad than usual.

If it was intended to be a distraction, Netanyahu's coup d'état claim has failed to divert attention away from Gaza. As the search for a truce continues, on what basis will it be formulated? For sure, both the Security Council and the Egyptian "mediators" will seek a formula based on containment and stability, which is code for returning to the status quo in place prior to Israel's attack. This, however, is hardly a formula for the Palestinians who seek freedom from a brutal military occupation. They simply cannot and will not be contained any longer. There is, accordingly, one option left for the mediators: lift the blockade and end Israel's occupation.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:13:59 +0000
The days of open-ended Palestinian concessions are over Commentary and analysis stickyEven after its collapse, the Cairo negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were, perhaps, the most important in many years. For the first time ever, Palestine Liberation Organisation/Palestinian Authority negotiators were joined at the table by representatives of the armed resistance movements, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Thanks to the Israeli war on the people of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are united in their immediate demand for an end to Israel's aggression and its eight-year blockade of the enclave.

Reflecting on these developments, Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, said that he has no doubt that this latest battle in Gaza will shorten the journey towards achieving the prime Palestinian goal of ending Israel's decades-long occupation. "Whatever you take away from the negotiating table," insisted Meshaal, "is a consequence of your position on the ground and the outcome of the balance of power in the field."

Hamas's position on the ground today has changed drastically and so too has the balance of power. Not only has the movement repelled the Israeli ground offensive, but, equally importantly, it has also repositioned the Palestine issue and that of the blockade firmly at the top of the regional and international agenda. Even the Obama administration now recognises the need to end the collective punishment that is the disgraceful blockade.

In the past, Israelis milked the so-called peace process and negotiations to present themselves as straightforward and reasonable people who sought peace but couldn't find willing partners among the Palestinians. Now, by rejecting the legitimate demand to end the blockade, they have exposed themselves as nothing less than serial aggressors.

In Gaza, Palestinian citizens insist that they have made every possible sacrifice and will, as a consequence, accept nothing less than the unfettered opening of their borders, seaport and airport. As an indivisible part of Palestine, they believe that the Gaza Strip is entitled to have access to the outside world.

To the same degree that Israel's 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead ended the political career of Ehud Olmert, so too Benjamin Netanyahu's Operation Protective Edge is threatening to bring his career to a close. Having spent an estimated $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion in the first four weeks, Netanyahu can ill-afford to fund a prolonged campaign. Already, the financial cost is beginning to have a negative impact on the lifestyle of Israel's consumer society and the country's 2015 budget deficit is expected to rise significantly. Sooner or later Netanyahu will have to pay a political price for jeopardising the social comforts of Israeli citizens.

The position of President Mahmoud Abbas, is no less tenuous. True, Palestinian control over the land, sea and air space in Gaza will carry the symbolic trappings of sovereignty, the ultimate achievement that he has laboured for. However, even if this comes to pass, many Palestinians will view it as a vindication of the resistance agenda and not Abbas's negotiating strategy. That in itself is enough to damage his leadership position.

Ultimately, Israel will have to make concessions. As part of its psychological war against the Israelis, Hamas is keeping mum about prisoners of war and the remains of soldiers killed. There will obviously be a price to pay for their return to Israel. Already, Hamas has demanded the names of Palestinian collaborators in return for Israel's dead soldiers. The chances are that if Israel hands them over, no one will ever want to collaborate in future; if it doesn't, its demand for the return of its troops' remains will be ignored.

In this context, there is also the future of the settlements that form a belt north of the Gaza Strip to consider. Given the inability of the Israeli army to guarantee their security, Netanyahu has no choice but to meet the demands of the Palestinian resistance if he really wants the settlers to be able to return to their homes.

This is the changed situation on the ground that Meshaal alluded to. The balance of fear and deterrence is now evenly spread. Just as the Palestinians in Gaza must live with the threat of F16s and drones, so too will Israelis have to put up with the fear of resistance fighters coming out of tunnels under the border with Gaza.

The new realities in Palestine have shaped events and influenced popular thinking well beyond the region, despite Israel's well-oiled propaganda and war machines. Universal demands for justice in Palestine can only grow stronger. Even if the demonstrations in cities around the world peter out the support for Palestinian rights will continue to be manifested in the fast-growing international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

For sure, neither the resistance nor negotiations are ends in themselves; they are both means employed by the Palestinians to achieve their strategic national goals. To the same degree that there has been a shift in the military balance on the ground, there will be a shift in the negotiating balance that must be capitalised upon. When the parties finally return to the negotiating table one thing will be certain; that open-ended Palestinian concessions to Israel are a thing of the past.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 20 Aug 2014 10:26:06 +0000
Livni exposes Egyptian-Israeli collaboration... again Tzipi Livni may no longer be Israel's foreign minister but she still has a capacity to cause diplomatic tremors. Last weekend she did just this by declaring that there was an agreement between Israel and Egypt to strangle Hamas. Since there was no official affirmation or denial from Cairo, despite calls from Hamas to do so, Livni's remarks evoked a flood of commentary. Few doubted that there is indeed an Israeli-Arab axis, spearheaded by Egypt, whose immediate aim is to dismantle Hamas' control over the Gaza Strip. Ultimately, it also seeks to eradicate from the region all structures of what they call political Islam.

In her heyday as foreign minister Livni secured in December 2008 what was perceived as the green light from the Mubarak regime to launch Israel's Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip. Standing beside Egypt's then foreign minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit, the former Mossad operative vowed to retaliate against Palestinian rocket attacks. 'This is something that has to be stopped, and this is what we're going to do.' This, to all intents and purposes, was the declaration of war which began two days later.

Despite the absence of an explicit, official response from the Egyptian authorities there were indicators of how Livni's remarks went down. Supporters of the regime dismissed them saying that they were so accustomed to such Israeli claims that these latest didn't merit a response.

Notwithstanding, an item posted by the military spokesman Lt. Col. Muhammad Samir on his Facebook page the day after Livni made her declaration did highlight to some measure the current level of collaboration between Egypt and Israel. He noted that the Egyptian army had destroyed a total of 1,659 tunnels in the border area between Gaza and Egypt; a feat which the Israelis themselves could not have pulled off from their position on the northern and eastern borders of Gaza.

What the officer did not concede, however, was that this was largely due to American assistance. Since 2008 the US had given the Egyptian army equipment worth $23 million to identify and destroy the tunnels, which for the past eight years have been the lifeline for Gaza's population.

Furthermore, in one year since the overthrow of Egypt's civilian President Mohamed Morsi the regime in Cairo have closed the Rafah crossing for a total of 320 days. The reason, they claim, is to counter security threats in the Sinai.

Apart from the tunnels and Rafah crossing, the Egyptian authorities had yet another lethal weapon in its arsenal. That was the state-backed media, which during the same period revelled in an orgy of anti-Hamas vitriol that reached its climax with their wholehearted support for the latest Israeli onslaught on Gaza. In a country where press freedom has long been dead and buried, such ranting could not take place without official approval and support.

Undoubtedly, the easiest way for Egypt to dispel Livni's claim and reassure the besieged Palestinians would be to open the Rafah crossing. Until this is done they will be seen as complicit in the crime of collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Their only offence is that they voted for and continue to support Hamas, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Sisi regime is determined to destroy.

With this outlook Cairo, like Tel Aviv, was never favourably disposed to the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Not that they favoured Abbas any more than Hamas. So instead of encouraging Palestinian unity they not only played on the differences between Fatah and Hamas, but equally between Mahmoud Abbas and his arch-rival Muhammad Dahlan.

While Egypt had nothing to gain from this connivance, Israel remained the sole beneficiary.

For their part the Palestinians have never concealed their unease with current Egyptian policy. Instead of supporting them against the Israeli occupier they have acted, at best, as hired intermediaries and at worst as willing partners in Israeli crimes.

In the aftermath of the military campaign the political battle will be long and protracted. Having failed to achieve their declared objectives the Israeli government will rally its regional and international allies, as Livni suggests, to secure maximum political advantage.

Meanwhile, in Israel the long daggers are already out for Netanyahu. His opponents maintain that victory cannot be measured by the number of Palestinians killed but in the achievement of stated objectives. Israel's declared objectives were; the destruction of the tunnels; ending the rockets; and destruction of Hamas. By their own admission none of these have been accomplished.

As for their unannounced goals, they are to do with the unfulfilled Zionist dream in Palestine. A reading of Israel's media during the last month was dominated by the rhetoric of ethnic cleansing and territorial expansionism that has long been associated with the Greater Israel project. It is simply mind-boggling that Egypt's rulers, and those who support them, are oblivious to the fact that their countries are also slated for occupation given that Greater Israel expands from the Euphrates to the Nile.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 12 Aug 2014 11:36:13 +0000
Gaza between Latin American solidarity and Arab deceit MEMO CommentaryAfter almost one month of unspeakable Israeli savagery, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has finally decided to break his silence on Gaza. While some may say it is better late than never, others insist that it's too little too late. Whichever way it is viewed, the grudging official Arab response to the Israeli aggression is a far cry from the emphatic reactions from Latin America.

Collectively, the failure of the League of Arab States to convene a summit on Gaza was not simply a dereliction of duty but even complicity with the aggressor. Its members' inaction is nothing but a betrayal of their treaty of joint defence which reads, in part: "The Contracting States consider any [act of] armed aggression made against any one or more of them or their armed forces, to be directed against them all."

Where are the signatories who pledged that, "in accordance with the right of self-defence, individually and collectively, they undertake to go without delay to the aid of the State or States against which such an act of aggression is made, and immediately to take, individually and collectively, all steps available, including the use of armed force, to repel the aggression and restore security and peace"?

Although the Palestinians never expected a military response from the decrepit regional organisation, it goes without saying that there should have been an appropriate response given the scale of the crimes committed in Gaza.

Not one capital, for example, has had the courage to do as much as even threaten an oil embargo on countries supporting Israel. At a time when relations with Russia are at an all-time low and the flow of Russian gas to the west hangs in the balance, the timing seems perfect to exact political concessions from Israel's western allies.

That is not likely to happen in the immediate future. In the case of Saudi Arabia, even if it feels that it is incapable of making such a stance as was done in 1973, it could have easily ordered Egypt's Al-Sisi regime to lift the criminal siege of Gaza and allow its people to live normal lives. Sadly, even that is too much for Riyadh.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his aides have continued to gloat about their emerging strategic alliance with "moderate" Arab states in the fight against "terrorism". That, of course, is the west's and Israel's inaccurate euphemism for legitimate Palestinian resistance to a brutal occupation.

Having lost the military campaign as well as the battle for global public opinion, Israel claims that it is fighting Hamas, which the United States and the European Union view as a terrorist organisation. It took offence at the stand taken by several Latin American countries, claiming that they were once plagued by terrorist groups and should therefore stand by the government in Tel Aviv.

This simplistic approach did not wash in Latin America where five countries - Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru - recalled their ambassadors from Israel. After the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, two countries, Venezuela and Bolivia, broke diplomatic ties with Israel. One common thread running through these responses is that Israel's systematic and deliberate targeting of civilians in Gaza is both unacceptable and unjustified.

Not for the first time Israel's isolation and pariah status was confirmed on 23 July when 29 members of the UN Human Rights Council voted to investigate its onslaught on Gaza. Only one country, the United States, voted against the resolution; no surprise there.

Will the Palestinian Authority now take advantage of this groundswell of support? Will it accede to the Rome Treaty and thereafter take its case to the International Criminal Court? Despite popular demands from his people to do just this President Mahmoud Abbas continues to procrastinate, leaving many to conclude that he is also complicit in the aggression on Gaza.

Back in October 2009, the PA took the controversial decision to delay a vote by the Human Rights Council to endorse the Goldstone Report. It chose instead to accept a US document that nullified the PA's opportunity to prosecute Israeli officials at the ICC. The American document stated: "The PA will help to promote a positive atmosphere conducive to negotiations; in particular during negotiations it will refrain from pursuing or supporting any initiative directly or indirectly in international legal forums that would undermine that atmosphere."

Clearly the failure to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity is not because the process is exceptionally difficult. It is simply because there is a lack of political will on the part of the Ramallah authority.

However, the PA is not alone. In most of the 22 countries that make up the Arab League there is a staggering lack of political leadership. Unlike Latin America, where political leaders feel committed and accountable to their people, in the Middle East it's all about protecting personal and family fiefdoms. Any claims to the contrary are deceitful. It is no wonder that over the past six decades the League and its members have failed to achieve what the resistance in Gaza has done in one month.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 03 Aug 2014 12:13:20 +0000
Netanyahu needs a lifeline MEMO CommentaryIf war is a continuation of politics by other means, Israel's aggression on the Gaza Strip has been a political disaster. Apart from its mass killing of civilians and destruction of homes, the Israeli army has accomplished nothing to write home about. On the contrary, it has suffered heavy losses, particularly among its elite Golani brigade. This failure on the battlefield has rendered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu incapable of imposing the settlement he wants.

With the growing number of casualties and near paralysis gripping Israel, time is against Netanyahu and his war cabinet. After weeks of threats to widen the ground offensive, the Israeli troops are still stalled on the borders; unable to go forward, and too embarrassed to withdraw.

In the past, Israel has relied almost exclusively on the Egyptian intelligence to deliver its 'security' needs in Gaza. However, with the coming to power of the former head of military intelligence, Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, Netanyahu hoped that the time had come to make a decisive blow not just against Hamas in the Gaza Strip but the Palestinian national project as a whole. His gamble has proven to have been a grave blunder.

Whether he was fed misleading intelligence or the lack thereof, Netanyahu has evidently misjudged the changes taking place in the region. Buoyed by the support of the Egyptian regime and its backers, the Israeli prime minister concluded that Hamas in the Gaza Strip was sufficiently isolated and weakened by the siege that it would not be in a position to resist an all-out assault.

Alas, much to his chagrin there are other regional actors with the political will and courage to back the primary demands of the resistance - an end to the aggression and a lifting of the eight - year blockade of the territory. Both Qatar and Turkey have been foremost in this regard.

Even though it is important to ensure to open the borders and allow the unfettered delivery of food and medicine, their demand is much greater. The ultimate goal remains an end to the Israeli occupation and freedom for Palestine.

While not seeking to circumvent or exclude Egypt, Qatar and Turkey have emphasised that Gaza must not become a theatre where Al Sisi settles his political scores against the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, they insist, that the Egyptian intelligence should not be allowed to play rival factions within Fatah against each other (notably Dahlan versus Abbas), or Fatah against Hamas. Despite claims about security concerns, Netanyahu's decision to launch his attack on Gaza was actually an attempt to ruin the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. In fact successive Israeli governments have, since 2005, acted to detach the Gaza Strip from the rest of Palestine, geographically and politically.

The political fallout for Netanyahu's latest adventure will have far-reaching consequences, domestically and externally. He will have to take full political responsibility before his people for this military humiliation. The world's most 'moral' army has exposed itself as a merciless killer of women and children. Meanwhile, despite the disingenuous 'claims' of being branded as 'terrorists', the resistance in Gaza has inflicted military losses on Israel; much more than it has disclosed to date.

After three weeks of relentless bombing, Israel is now further away from its political objectives than it has ever been. Its leaders can shriek high-sounding demands but within themselves they know these are all meaningless and unattainable. Those who echo these demands are equally deluded.

Accordingly, Netanyahu's demand that the resistance in Gaza be disarmed sounds more like a desperate cry for a lifeline rather than a serious political proposition. It is, besides, a crude reminder of all that has gone wrong in Palestine. The country which possesses the fourth largest army in the world is demanding the disarmament of the resistance simply because it wants to remain an occupying power.

There could only one response to this farce. As long as Israel maintains its military occupation, there will be Palestinian resistance.

Despite the heavy loss of life and property the resistance in Gaza has changed the direction of the Palestinian national project. It has to all intents and purposes, created a new reality and opened up opportunities in Palestine. In spite of their little means and many enemies, it has shown what can be achieved when there is strong political leadership and a willingness to sacrifice. Surely, if it had the support it deserves much more could have been achieved. But even if the world were to abandon it, it is determined to go it alone.

There is no doubt Israel's prime minister is in dire need of a military victory of sorts before he decides to climb down from the high horse which he mounted. Unfortunately for him, the days of free political concessions to Israel are over. The next battle is almost now certainly not for the defence of Gaza but the liberation of Palestine.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:08:26 +0000
The Arab Zionists and Gaza MEMO CommentaryBad faith and defeat have underlined their record in Palestine. Israel's vainglorious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes them as his friends. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians denounce them as yesterday's men who wish to be relevant today. With every victory scored by the resistance it has become ever clearer that there is no future for the Arab Zionists who have thrived on Palestinian misery for generations.

On 15 July Israel's Channel Two carried a report of a secret meeting in Paris in late June between Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah ibn Zayd, to discuss how to eradicate Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, the Saudi and Jordanian foreign ministers were also in Paris at the time, where they met with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss developments in the Middle East. In the end, it was agreed that Israel would execute the military operation against Hamas while the UAE provided the funds.

The only notable absentees from the Paris meeting were the Egyptians. It appears that their participation was so assured that they required no meeting to persuade them. Moreover, since they are in no position to act independently of their US and Gulf paymasters their presence in the French capital was deemed unnecessary. All that was required from Cairo was that it kept the Rafah crossing closed and coordinated with Israel when the assault began.

Two days after Israel launched its offensive on 7 July, Egypt announced the destruction of 19 tunnels on the border with Gaza. Once the civilian death toll in Gaza began to rise Cairo proposed a "ceasefire initiative" knowing full well that it would be unacceptable to the resistance groups in Gaza, not least because they were neither party to the discussions nor offered guarantees that the blockade of the territory would be lifted.

In effect, the Egyptian proposal gave Israel more time to finish the job. The involvement in its preparation of Tony Blair reinforces this view, given that in 2006 as British prime minister he had refused to call for a halt to a similar Israeli attack on Lebanon in the hope that his friends in Tel Aviv would be given enough time to crush Hezbollah.

Gaza has had more than its fair share of Israeli aggression in recent years. However, what distinguishes this latest attack has been the level of regional complicity. The role ascribed to regional governments has varied from active collaboration at one extreme to tacit approval on the other. Egypt's double-dealing was always crucial. While it drummed up support for its plan, it turned the screws ever tighter on the Rafah crossing, denying entry to European and regional medical teams sent to help the victims of Israeli brutality.

After two weeks of relentless bombing from land, air and sea, it is clear that Netanyahu has bitten off more than he can chew in Gaza. Despite claims that the Israeli ground offensive has started the facts disprove them; Israel's soldiers still remain holed-up in and behind their tanks and artillery on the borders of Gaza, unable to push more than 300 metres into the enclave. Egypt's former military chief and now president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, had apparently given Netanyahu his unreserved support and assurance that the operation would be short and that the Israeli forces would be able to pull out with ease. That has turned out to be a deadly miscalculation.

Faced with a rising number of soldiers killed in action, calls are now being heard in Israel for an inquiry into this latest fiasco. With the capture of a soldier by the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades the pressure on the Israeli prime minister will intensify in coming days.

Despite its superior US-supplied hardware, the Israeli army seems reluctant to take on the highly motivated, well-trained and disciplined resistance forces. After staging a series of daring commando raids behind enemy lines they have left the Israelis demoralised and confused. Hence, the feted Israel "Defence" Forces (Motto: "Purity of Arms") have resorted to indiscriminate attacks on civilians across Gaza.

Even though Israeli spokesmen claim that Hamas is using civilians as pawns, the massacre in Shujaeya demonstrated that the opposite is true. In an attempt to pressure the resistance the Israeli army refused, for several hours, to grant access to the Red Cross to evacuate the dead and injured.

Many have drawn parallels between the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon with the massacre at Shujaeya. The bloody, mangled bodies are, undoubtedly, similar. Perhaps the only major difference on this occasion is that whereas in 1982 it was the Maronite Christian forces who collaborated with the Israelis, today it is the "Muslim" Arab Zionists. Having planned and collaborated with the enemy to attack the Palestinians when they broke their Ramadan fast, they can only be described as "Muslims"; their real status is becoming clearer.

The systematic massacre of civilians in Gaza over the past two weeks was by no means the work of a strong or "moral" army. It could never have happened without the betrayal of the Palestinians by the Arab Zionists. Even so, this latest aggression is heading toward one result; a humiliating defeat for Israel and its allies. Their fatal error is that they misjudged the nature and capability of the resistance, which has seen the prize of freedom closer than at any other time in this long-running conflict.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:06:56 +0000
Abbas has lost his people's trust and seems more irrelevant than ever MEMO CommentaryAfter his pathetic remarks concerning the Gaza Strip, it's hard to see how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could ever regain the confidence and trust of his countrymen. His admission of failure to do anything for the people of Gaza and claim that they are just fuel for the "merchants of war" have provoked widespread condemnation.

On the face of it, the latter remark seemed to be a calculated slur against Hamas and the other resistance forces. Not surprisingly, it was met with undiluted scorn, for when Israeli officials announced a few days earlier that they had a "bank" of targets that included the Hamas leadership, Ismail Haniyeh responded quickly that the blood of him and his colleagues is no more valuable than that of the children and women who are being killed.

A few days later, three of Haniyeh's own relatives were killed. The message was clear; in Gaza, everyone is paying the ultimate price for life with freedom or death with dignity. After all, as far as Palestinians are concerned, Israel makes no distinction between civilians and combatants.

Mr Abbas is not only out of sync with the embattled enclave. In the West Bank, even from within his own Fatah movement, there was also dismay and derision at his comments. Hussam Khader, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, went as far as to assert that the resistance in Gaza will succeed, and that Abbas will leave office.

No politician, however gifted and experienced, is immune from making media gaffes. However, showing such a lack of sensitivity and disrespect for one's people is never acceptable. Hence, the recent suppression of West Bank solidarity rallies for Gaza by Abbas's security forces, held in Hebron and Nablus, was deemed to be utterly disgraceful.

Regionally, the official Palestinian position was considered to be even more scandalous. According to Morocco's Foreign Minister, Salah Al Din Mizwar, his country had put forward a request for an emergency meeting of the Arab League's foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Gaza, but President Abbas asked for it to be postponed.

Given the savagery of the Israeli aggression against Palestinians this intervention by Abbas was nothing but an abdication of duty and a pitiful attempt to ease the international pressure on the Israeli occupation. Despite tenuous claims to be their leader, the Palestinians in Gaza recall with bitterness Abbas's refusal to visit the territory both before and after the reconciliation agreement. His indifference to the plight of 40,000 government employees who have not been paid their salaries for months has not helped his popularity.

Of course this is not the first time that Abbas has turned his back on the people of Gaza in their hour of need. In January 2009 he refused to attend a summit of Arab states to discuss Israel's so-called Operation Cast Lead, a brutal 21-day bombardment and invasion which left thousands of Palestinians dead or wounded. In his absence, it was left to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to address the summit.

Reacting to this latest attack on the Gaza Strip and events across occupied Palestine, Meshaal sent a stark warning to the Israelis: "Within a short time, you will not find any Palestinians who dare to talk about a state based on 1967 [borders]." This was a reference to the existing faux diplomatic formula that limits the territory for a Palestinian state to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

As it now stands, even with its limited resources, Hamas has managed to transfer the struggle to the territories occupied in 1948. Although the home-made rockets have not caused damage anywhere near the carnage that Israel is inflicting on Gaza, they have paralysed the whole country. Millions of Israelis scutter to bomb shelters and tourists are leaving in droves, causing substantial harm to the tourism industry.

By the Israelis' own admission, what Hamas has achieved in one week the combined armies of the Arab states have failed to do in six decades. When the movement warned that it could bomb Tel Aviv within one hour with its J80 rocket, named after assassinated Hamas commander Ahmad Al-Jabari, it was clearly not grandstanding. Not even the vaunted US-supplied Iron Dome missile defence system could prevent the attack.

If Hamas can strike at will and at targets of its own choosing, then it could develop the capability to achieve its declared strategic objectives. This is a major headache for the Israelis. Since their intelligence agencies and spies have no idea where the missiles are made and stored, there is now talk of the Israeli government offering the resistance millions of dollars to disarm. That is how desperate they are, and how much of their bombast is pure folly.

It is now self-evident that the resistance groups in Gaza have actually created unprecedented conditions that place President Abbas and his negotiating team in a favourable position, but will he exploit the growing deterrent capability of the resistance to his own advantage? Highly improbable. Old habits die hard and as far as Mahmoud Abbas is concerned his hatred of Hamas blinds him to the possibilities to advance the Palestinian cause, so he will continue to grant free political concessions to the Israelis, incapable of thinking beyond his nose. For this reason, his comments and unwillingness to challenge Israeli hegemony make his position increasingly untenable. He is more irrelevant than ever before.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 13 Jul 2014 15:58:31 +0000
As Palestine simmers, calls for mutual restraint are both predictable and unjust MEMO CommentaryDuring the past week much has been written about whether the long expected third intifada has started. Opinion is still split down the middle. Despite the differences there remains a strong belief that given the appalling inhuman conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories it is not a matter of if, but when, the eruption will happen.

Amid all the confusion, one thing is certain; the next intifada will not be like the first two. For a start, it will not be confined to the 1967-occupied territories but will engulf all of Mandate Palestine. Secondly, the next round will not just be against Israel alone, but also against those who collaborate with the occupation forces.

For several years now the territories have been simmering with tensions provoked by the combined assaults of Israel's government, army and settlers. They have made life a living hell for Palestinians. When it has not been the theft of land, it's been the bulldozing of agricultural land, house demolitions, arrests, detention, torture and ultimately extrajudicial killings.

People can only take so much before a response has to be expected.

One reason why some observers believe that the third intifada has started stems from the role of Jerusalem. Unlike other cities in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has absolutely no presence in Jerusalem. As such it cannot intervene there to suppress anti-Israel demonstrations as it does in the rest of the West Bank, to Israel's benefit. In other words the Palestinians in Jerusalem are much freer to resist settler attacks and provocations.

Fearing that the unrest was spiralling out of control, President Abbas last weekend sent two aides, Sultan Abu Al-Aynayn and Uthman Abu Gharibah, to Jerusalem to implore religious and community leaders there to calm the situation. That mission failed spectacularly and any plan to send another in the near future would be pointless while Israel's aggression against the largely unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip continues.

Oft-regarded as the heart and nerve centre of Palestine, Jerusalem has throughout history been in the forefront in the resistance against foreign conquest. It was here that the second intifada erupted in September 2000 when the notorious Israeli general and war criminal, Ariel Sharon, made a provocative intrusion into Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Today the immediate cause is even more compelling. The recent burning alive of Jerusalemite teenager Mohammad Abu Khdair seemed to be the final spark to set the atmosphere alight.

Despite Al-Aqsa's distinguished status as the third most holy mosque in Islam, the life of a single Palestinian youth is even more sacred. Hence, it was for this reason that the streets and alleys of Jerusalem and its environs have witnessed the worst outburst of public anger recorded in recent years.

In many ways, living conditions for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and its suburbs are worse than they were in 2000. They have no control over their economy and their freedom of movement is curtailed and dictated by the Israeli occupation.

The events of recent weeks have shown that no military force or power can suppress a people who desire freedom. After enduring 47 years of life under Israel's brutal military occupation, it appears that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem will take charge of their destiny regardless of the direction in which the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah chooses to go.

Nothing reinforces this conviction more than the inability of the PA to protect its people from the ravages of the settlers, despite President Abbas's proud claim that security coordination with Israel is "sacred". No political rhetoric can now conceal the fact that this so-called "security coordination" is, in reality, a business relationship whereby the PA provides services to the occupation and it receives in return a handsome payment from Brussels and the Washington. It is a "sacred" cash cow.

This Intifada Al Quds, as it has been already dubbed, could still be different in other ways. If the PA stands in its way as Abbas has said repeatedly that it will, then ultimately it too will become a target of popular discontent. While this may be portrayed as retrogressive, it may be a necessary step to regain Palestinian rights.

The groundswell of anger that has been building up after years of deception and betrayal by "friends" and foes alike has reached its limit. Armed with a vision and an unstoppable will, Palestinians in the occupied territories know that the prize of national liberation will never be granted; it has to be taken.

The White House and EU are already calling for restraint from both sides. This was not only predictable but unmistakably unjust in what is a clear asymmetric conflict. The truth is that such calls will never realise even the most basic of Palestinian rights: the right to life and happiness. Worse still, they will never be respected, or trusted, as long as these same power-brokers continue to provide Israel with the diplomatic cover and military hardware to suppress Palestinian aspirations.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:35:04 +0000
Why Al-Sisi should not be appeased MEMO CommentaryWestern appeasement of Egypt's former army chief is as reckless as it can get. European leaders should know from their own history that appeasement only whets the appetite of despots, wherever they may be. In the case of Egypt's Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, he did not relent after he got away with the military coup and the 2013 massacres in Cairo.

Whether as a temporary policy or a long-term strategy, appeasement is neither good for Egypt nor the region. Cairo's repressive policies under Nasser and then Sadat, which gave rise to a first generation of takfiris (Muslims who pronounce other Muslims to be infidels), have returned with all their ferocity. It is now only a matter of time before the consequences are manifested in the emergence of a 21st century generation of takfiris.

The chances are that they may prove to be the most violent and extreme than any other the region has seen, a rating held currently by ISIS, whom adversaries label as "takfiris". Already, observers attribute the extremism of ISIS to the ill-treatment of its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi at the hands of his American jailers in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. On his release, he told them, "I will see you in New York."

The flood of condemnation at the jailing of three Al-Jazeera journalists seems to have been too little too late. Despite the stark warnings about the danger to press freedom after last year's coup, western officials placated the Egyptian military. From day one TV stations and newspapers were closed; journalists were detained, press offices were ransacked; and broadcast equipment was destroyed; Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau is a case in point. From July 3 to date, 14 journalists have been killed and 90 remain behind bars; that's what Al-Sisi's Egypt means by press freedom. Its descent into this despotic state was both predictable and avoidable; its cheerleaders and apologists, in Egypt and abroad, now stand indicted.

As for former army chief Al-Sisi himself, he continues to espouse ideas that, at best, betray symptoms of megalomania; at worst they reveal messianic tendencies. His well-publicised dreams about holding a sword with the words "there is no God but Allah" inscribed in red still prompt debate. Under normal circumstances, that and the outlandish claims of his media and religious entourage would have been dismissed in the western media as lunacy. On 11 May, for example, the Egyptian newspaper ElFagr ran an article under the headline, "Sisi has met God twice." That coincided with the appearance of a video clip of the preacher Saad El-Din Al-Hilali speaking before a large crowd at what appears to be an Interior Ministry function saying: "As God sent two prophets on a mission before, Moses and Aaron, here came Al-Sisi and Muhammad Ibrahim [the interior minister]." One only need to recall how Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was pilloried mercilessly whenever he referred to the coming of the Mahdi and the end of time to see the double standards of Western journalists and politicians alike in their dealings with Al-Sisi.

More recently, the Egyptian president has claimed that the security of the whole region lies on his shoulders. It would do western leaders good to interpret this claim correctly. Under the usual pretext of fighting "extremism" and "terrorism", Libya's failed coup leader General Khalifa Haftar announced recently that he was willing to cooperate with Egypt in this struggle. Such statements must sound like mood music to some western officials, especially the likes of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who told a TV interviewer: "Right here in Egypt I think it is fundamental that the new government succeeds, that we give it support in bringing in this new era for the people of Egypt. And, you know, we can debate the past and it's probably not very fruitful to do so, but right now I think it's important the whole of the international community gets behind the leadership here and helps."

With friends like these fully behind him, Egypt's former army chief may well feel encouraged to intensify his campaign to suppress freedoms at home and embark on regional adventures. Since these will inevitably be geared towards the reversal of democracy and bolstering of dictatorships across the Middle East the consequences are predictable: more destruction, mayhem and chaos. The events in Iraq bear ample testimony to this likelihood.

At the heart of today's turmoil across the region is Western preference for Middle Eastern "strong men", the code word for despots and tyrants. After the democratic uprisings of 2011 this option has become discredited and wholly untenable. It is only by support for genuine democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights that the region will enjoy stability and progress.

This week's jailing of journalists in Egypt was both shocking and instructive. It was a sharp reminder of all that can go wrong when despots are appeased. They not only turn against their own people but also their friends and supporters. There are Egyptian journalists who now languish in jail even though they supported the coup. Egypt's descent into this state of tyranny was avoidable; if only the cheerleaders and apologists had realised their folly and withdrawn their support. It is still not too late for them to do so.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 27 Jun 2014 18:02:30 +0000
Contentious article could lead to yet another tragedy for the Palestinians MEMO CommentaryThe Palestinians have learnt from experience to be wary of political initiatives "Made in London". They have witnessed how projects from the Balfour Declaration to the Oslo Accords were incubated in Britain's capital and have had devastating consequences. Hence their alarm was perfectly justified after the publication of an article titled "The Two State-solution: The Way Forward" in the Fathom web-based journal, which is linked to the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). It purported to set out the terms of a final peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

While many academic papers on the conflict often go unnoticed, anything written in the name of a Palestinian ambassador is bound to attract attention and be scrutinised. That is exactly what happened in the case of the article published by Fathom on 12 June and attributed to Palestine's Ambassador to the UK, Professor Manuel Hassassian and Professor Rafael Cohen-Almagor, an Israeli academic based at Hull University.

Many of the proposals cited in their article were a rehash of clauses either from the ill-fated Oslo Accords (1993) or the more controversial Geneva Accords (2003). However, there was something which was new and hugely disturbing to many Palestinians. Under the subtitle of "mutual recognition", the article states that "Palestine shall recognise the Jewish State of Israel." This, of course, was a major bone of contention throughout the recent negotiations; the PLO/Palestinian Authority delegation had time and again reaffirmed that they were not prepared to offer such recognition.

In February, during Al Jazeera's Head to Head programme, Mehdi Hasan asked the PLO's chief negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat whether he was prepared to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. "I will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state," he insisted. When asked why not, Erekat replied, "Because I have already recognised the state of Israel's right to exist in exchange for future recognition, in 1993." Was the veteran Erekat speaking in his personal capacity? No, he explained. "I'm saying that on behalf of 11 million Palestinians. I'm their Chief Negotiator." Significantly, Prof Hassassian was himself a member of the panel on that occasion. So what has changed that led to last week's article?

Nothing, apparently. Ambassador Hassassian has issued a clarification pointing out that the offending article was actually written by Cohen-Almagor, who published it and added Hassassian's name after he had commented on the draft.

A statement posted on the Palestine Embassy's website noted: "The PLO recognises the State of Israel and not the Jewish State. [Ambassador Hassassian] strongly opposes the recognition of a Jewish State because it denies the right of return and jeopardises the status of 1.5 million Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship."

Meanwhile, the pro-Israel publishers of the article have lavished the ambassador with praise, claiming that he is the first Palestinian ambassador to advocate publicly recognition of Israel's "Jewishness".

The controversy surrounding this article will surely continue to rumble on until there is absolute clarity from the Palestinian leadership. Until then, the nagging doubt will persist that this was in fact a testing of the water by elements within the PLO.

As it stands, not even the summoning of Ambassador Hassassian to Ramallah would be enough to quash suspicion. It should be recalled that the publication of the article coincided with a meeting between the PA's Foreign Minister, Riyad Al Maliki, and Israeli negotiator and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni in London last week.

Hassassian's clarification is, of course, welcome. Nevertheless, because of his official position as the representative of 11 million Palestinians, both he and his political bosses will have to do much more than simply decry the matter as a "terrible misunderstanding" about which the ambassador had been "tricked".

If he was not a co-author of the article as the embassy statement suggests, then at the very least he must demand the immediate removal of his name and a public apology from the author and publishers. If they fail to comply with this demand the ambassador and PLO should initiate legal proceedings.

The issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was just one of several highly contentious issues featured in the Fathom article. Its proposals on Jerusalem, refugees, water, security and education are all shrouded in misleading and ambiguous language. The history of this conflict is replete with papers written by academics. They have often appeared initially as "unofficial" studies only to end up as official documents and points of reference.

If the controversy surrounding this latest article is not dealt with openly and properly, it may also be adopted as a point of reference in future negotiations. This, no doubt, would be yet another tragedy among many for the people of Palestine.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 15 Jun 2014 17:56:00 +0000
Hamas and Fatah still have a mountain to climb MEMO commentary stickyEven in the best of times it would take much more than good intentions and hope to make the unity arrangement between Fatah and Hamas work. Both parties have managed, thus far, to avoid the external meddling and pressures that have derailed previous agreements. Their ability to continue doing so will now be tested to its limit on two fronts: the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and security in the West Bank.

On the former, it seems that Egypt literally holds the key. This, however, is only partially true. The regime in Cairo is, perhaps, even more committed to security cooperation with Israel than the Palestinian Authority (PA) is. Indeed, newly-elected President Al-Sisi is hugely indebted to Israel for its staunch political support from the time that he toppled democratically-elected President Muhammad Morsi with his military coup almost a year ago.

Despite assertions that the government is committed to opening the Rafah Crossing under the new unity government, Cairo will, inevitably, come under Israeli pressure to extract maximum concessions from both Hamas and the PA. Already, Israel has called for the disarmament of Hamas. As far as President Mahmoud Abbas is concerned, he will be nudged vigorously to return to the negotiations unconditionally, if only to create the facade that they are working towards a just settlement.

Given the untold human suffering caused by the siege of the Gaza Strip, it would seem that it's an open and shut case that the Egyptian authorities will end its contribution towards the collective punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the enclave. However, this is a regime that cares very little about its public image and international standing. Only a few countries are well positioned to bring pressure to bear upon them. One such broker is Saudi Arabia, which financed the coup that brought Al-Sisi to the presidential palace. Riyadh is unlikely to respond to a call for an easing of the siege while Hamas continues to exercise influence on the ground. It views Hamas as a natural extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, towards which the Saudis, like Al-Sisi, have a visceral antipathy.

According to official figures, there are about 15,000 people now registered in Gaza to travel; they include thousands in need of medical treatment abroad. On top of that, after two devastating wars imposed on it by Israel, Gaza's fast growing population faces a chronic housing shortage. More than 180 construction projects have been suspended because the Egyptians and Israelis are blocking the delivery of essential building materials, with a serious effect on Palestinian unemployment.

Despite these obstacles, officials in Gaza are trying to put in place a mechanism that will allow the free movement of goods and people on both sides of the border. Unlike the past seven years, they seek an arrangement of participation and inclusion of all forces. Furthermore, they have demonstrated considerable flexibility by expressing a willingness to discuss with Fatah a possible role for EU monitors.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank the challenges are equally formidable. Growing support for the prisoners in Israeli and Palestinian jails is testing the ability of both Fatah and Hamas to maintain cordial relations. There are some 127 administrative detainees held by Israel who are approaching their 50th day on hunger strike. A number have already been hospitalised. Instead of allowing solidarity protests, the Ramallah security forces have sought to suppress demonstrations and arrest activists. Israel has overtly encouraged the crackdown, claiming that Hamas is poised to take over the West Bank. It has passed a new law prohibiting its president from granting pardons to Palestinian prisoners. If approved by the Israeli parliament this would be yet another blow to the 5,271 prisoners and 191 administrative detainees in Israeli jails. The consequence could be a ground-swell of popular outrage.

Contrary to local custom and traditions, PA forces recently attacked a women's demonstration in Tulkarem. They manhandled some of the women, ripping off their hijab, claims Ikhlas Al-Sayed, the wife of Abbas Al-Sayed, one of the most prominent prisoners held by the Israelis. That may well be the tipping point. Some of the victims now hold President Abbas personally responsible. There is a growing perception across the West Bank that Abbas is not doing enough to help the cause of the prisoners. This was reinforced substantially when he made his controversial decision to abolish the ministry of prisoners' affairs.

Even so, it's not just about Abbas; the relatives of detainees are urging Hamas to adopt a more proactive stance towards the situation in the West Bank. This will, undoubtedly, add further strain to the fragile reconciliation agreement.

Despite the signing of the Shati agreement and formation of the national unity government, Hamas and Fatah both still have a mountain to climb. Time seems to be running out; without an opening of the Rafah Crossing and an end to the security abuses in the West Bank, the agreement will not be worth the paper it is written upon. While it may be too early to pronounce judgement on the new government, the writing is already on the wall, and it doesn't make pleasant reading.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 09 Jun 2014 09:11:51 +0000
Make or break time for President Abbas Memo commentary stickyOn the eve of the swearing-in of his new government, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems headed for the biggest test of his political career. Not only has the Israeli government barred ministers from the Gaza Strip from travelling to the West Bank for the occasion, but it has also launched an international campaign to boycott and threaten the new government. This is a huge test for Abbas; it is also a test for the international community, which faces a moment of truth: is it ready to support the Palestinian right to national unity or not?

Quite rightly, Ramallah has dismissed the call by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a boycott of the new government. Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh explained that the world community had encouraged and welcomed the steps taken by President Abbas to unite the Palestinian people. Besides, he has given ample assurances that the new government will be one that is independent of both Fatah and Hamas, comprised solely of technocrats. After reaffirming his commitment publicly to all the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Mr Abbas went even further to address Israeli concerns by pointing out that he regards ongoing security cooperation with Israel as "sacred".

In reality, the formation of a national unity government is just a tiny step in the healing process for Palestinian society. Reconciliation between rival parties is one thing but it would be meaningless if it does not transcend the political arena to reach every facet of social life. Can Abbas last the course? Many doubts persist. For one thing, he has a record of caving in to Israeli and US pressure; there are already worrying signs of déjà vu in all of this.

Nothing underscored this more profoundly in recent days than the Palestinian president's decision to abolish the ministry of prisoners' affairs which was formed by the late Yasser Arafat in 1998. At the time, it is believed that Arafat did this largely in response to pressure from the Palestinian public, many of whose sons and daughters were incarcerated in Israeli jails. It is worth recalling here that, since 1967, around 20 per cent of the whole Palestinian population has been detained at one time or another, a total of 750,000 people.

Naturally, therefore, Mr Abbas's decision to dismantle the ministry has provoked outrage not only from Hamas but even from within his own Fatah movement. Across the board the decision has been seen as unnecessarily provocative, not least because it undermines Arafat's legacy. Worse still, the move is seen not as an attempt to rebuild the Palestinian Authority, but to placate Israel.

Furthermore, implicit in the move is an acceptance of the Israeli view that the prisoners are "terrorists" and not freedom fighters or political prisoners. For the thousands of prisoners' families throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, this will remain unconscionable forever. President Abbas is walking into a high-risk confrontation with his people on the one hand and his Israeli interlocutors on the other. Sooner or later, he will have to choose between Palestinian rights and Israeli dictates.

Hardly a day passes without a member of the Netanyahu cabinet demanding the total annexation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem with all its Islamic and Christian sanctuaries. The most recent was a call by the Israeli Foreign Ministry's judicial consultant, Ellen Baker, for the adoption of the recommendations of the Levy Committee Report which does not recognise the West Bank as occupied territory or the settlements as illegal under international law.

Back in January 2012, Netanyahu commissioned retired Supreme Court of Israel Justice Edmund Levy to head a committee to examine the issue of settlement building in the West Bank. On July 9, 2012, the Committee, published its report, concluding that Israel is not an occupying power, but has sole sovereignty rights over the Palestinian territory.

In the coming days, Israel will, no doubt, step up its pressure on Abbas by calling for an international boycott of the technocrat unity government, perhaps of the type imposed on the Gaza Strip for the past 8 years. Moreover, it will use the spectre of Muhammad Dahlan to threaten Abbas with an imminent coup. This stands to be counterproductive, as it will leave Abbas with no other option but to forge ahead with the national reconciliation project whilst simultaneously purging Fatah's ranks of Dahlan loyalists. The latter process, in fact, has already begun. Although the EU has indicated that it will work with the newly-formed unity Palestinian government, there is no doubt that it too, like the PA, will come under enormous pressure from Israel.

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether the US will support Netanyahu's outlandish demands. Some officials in Ramallah believe that by inviting prime minister designate Dr Rami Hamdallah to Washington the Obama administration is contemplating recognition. Officials apparently need his personal assurances about Palestinian recognition of Israel. If only to expose US deceit, Dr Hamdallah must take the opportunity while he is in America to demand Israeli recognition of the Palestinians' right to live in freedom in their own land.

As for President Abbas, he must rest assured that he enjoys the unqualified support of the vast majority of nation states, unlike Netanyahu, who relies solely on American political muscle. Like the late Yasser Arafat, however, this may well be his last showdown for which he may pay with his life. In the end, though, he stands a good chance of emerging with his honour and legacy intact.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 02 Jun 2014 09:52:59 +0000