Posts Tagged ‘palestinians’

UN peace coordinator unwelcome by Palestinians

February 20, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) did not object to the appointment of new UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, although he was described by Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, as “persona non grata” — not trusted by the Palestinians and nor qualified for the job.

The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously voted to appoint Bulgarian Mladenov, 42, to succeed Holland’s Robert Serry. He would also be the representative of the UN secretary general to the International Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and personal representative of the UN chief to the PLO (the State of Palestine) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Although protocol allows the PLO the right to reject diplomatic representatives to the organisation, observers cannot understand why it accepted Mladenov. There is no convincing answer except a futile desire by the PLO to appease the UN and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, at a time when PLO diplomatic efforts are focused on the UN and its agencies.

Mladenov not only failed in a similar mission as UN envoy to Iraq and resigned, he is someone who describes himself — and is described by the leaders of the Israeli occupation — as “a good friend of Israel”. As Bulgarian foreign minister, Mladenov suggested a “military alliance” between Bulgaria and Israel. He has often spoken about his bias towards “Israel’s right to exist” and its right “to defend itself” against Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation. He even admitted to being a Free Mason, served Jewish billionaire George Soros, and publicly advocated the US’s “constructive chaos” policies in the Arab world. In fact, his Jewish origins may be the least controversial aspect of him.

Meanwhile, the occupation state does not hesitate in ignoring the UN, its resolutions and representatives, disregarding and even assassinating them when necessary. Most recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to “expel” Mladenov’s predecessor Serry as “persona non grata”. Shortly before that, William Schabas, the head of the UN commission investigating the occupation’s recent war on the Gaza Strip, resigned after Israel refused to cooperate with him or allow him to enter the country.

After the UN tolerated the assassination of its first envoy to Palestine, Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948, at the hands of the Zionist Stern Gang led by Yitzhak Shamir (who later became prime minister of the occupation state), Israel was emboldened to adopt a permanent policy of disregarding the UN without deterrence so far.

In fact, over the past two years the occupation state has carried out a proxy war against the UN. It has facilitated logistics, intelligence, firepower and medical assistance to allow the domination of militias fighting the Syrian regime on its side of the disengagement zone between the liberated and occupied Arab Syrian Golan. This compelled the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to withdraw after its positions were attacked, dozens of its troops kidnapped and their weapons and equipment seized. Until today, the UN has not dared to rectify the situation, which resulted in the collapse of the UN-sponsored ceasefire and rules of engagement between Syria and Israel.

The Middle East is teeming with international peace envoys. The UN has one, so does the US, the EU, Russia, China and the Quartet. Their names change without anything on the ground in occupied Palestine changing. Except for expanding the occupation through settlements under the “peace” umbrella these envoys provide, without any hope that the international community they represent will be able to effect any real tangible change for the present and future of the Palestinian people on the ground.

So what can Mladenov do that his predecessors, the UN, the Quartet, the Arab League and others, couldn’t?

Khaled believes the real test, to remove Palestinian doubts about Mladenov’s role and mission, will be his position on the siege on Gaza and reconstruction there. However, Mladenov’s track record does not indicate there is cause for optimism. Nor does the track record of “UN special coordinators” since the creation of the position in 1994 and the subsequent expansion of its role, as well as the extensive history of choosing UN and US envoys of Jewish origins or related in the first degree to Jews, such as Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Quartet representative Tony Blair.

On 6 February, the secretaries general of the UN and Arab League issued a joint statement expressing “deep concern” about conditions in Gaza. They urged Arab and international donors to honour their financial pledges made at the Cairo Conference last October “as soon as possible”, in order to rebuild the Gaza Strip and end the siege there. A few days ago, James Rowley, UN coordinator for humanitarian affairs in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, sent out an “urgent call” for these commitments to be fulfilled and an “immediate” lift of the siege on Gaza, because he is “very concerned another conflict will break out” if not.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the statement by the Quartet on 8 February after it met in Munich, Germany, as “short of expectations” because it ignored “all the old-new and evolving truths” of the occupation state.

The Quartet also said it is “deeply concerned” about the “difficult conditions in Gaza where reconstruction needs to be quicker” and urged donors to “pay their financial pledges as soon as possible”. However, it linked this to encouraging both sides to “restart negotiations as soon as possible”.

Restarting talks “as soon as possible”, nonetheless, must await the outcome of general elections in Israel and the US. This means the Palestinian people must wait for another two years in the vain hope of reconstructing Gaza. It is obvious the occupation state is enjoying the luxury of time, making easy the occupation without resistance, as well as building settlements without deterrence.

Before handing over the reins to Mladenov, Serry described the failure of donors to pay their dues as “scandalous” and warned “if there is no progress in the coming months” — not two years — towards a two-state solution, “the reality will be a one state [solution]”: the single state of Israel. Former UN coordinator Terry Rod Larsen said in 2002, “the Palestinian patient is dying in the interim.”

Last December, Serry warned in his report to the Security Council that a war in Gaza “could re-ignite if conditions on the ground do not change” in the besieged Gaza Strip. It is clear that what Serry described as a “deadly diplomatic vacuum” coupled with the ongoing siege on rebuilding Gaza, are an explosive recipe in the besieged Gaza Strip, the outcome and ramifications of which are unpredictable.

The “scandal” of donors not paying their dues to rebuild Gaza, as Serry described it, under the pretext that the PLO government does not control the Gaza Strip, is a green light given by the international community to the occupation state to carry out another military assault on national resistance forces in Gaza.

The scandal of Arabs not paying their pledges at Arab summits to provide the PA with a financial “safety net” amounts to flagrant Arab pressure on the PLO to accept the Quartet’s proposal to restart talks with the occupation state “as soon as possible”.

This is Mladenov’s dual mission as the new UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. PLO negotiators continue to wait for a breakthrough by “peace” envoys that are imposed on them and appointed by the US and the UN, although they represent the occupation state. Mladenov is the most recent. He will not change anything on the ground.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 February 2015.

Pope’s unbalanced neutrality in Holy Land

June 4, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Pope Francis’ “”pilgrimage” to the Holy Land last week proved to be an unbalanced impossible mission. The pontiff failed to strike a balance of neutrality between contradictory and irreconcilable binaries like divinity and earth, religion and politics, justice and injustice and military occupation and peace.

Such neutrality is viewed by the laity of Christian believers, let alone Muslim ones, in the Holy Land as religiously, morally and politically unacceptable.

The 77-year old head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics “is stepping into a religious and political minefield,” Naim Ateek, the Anglican priest who founded the Palestinian liberation theology movement and runs the Sabeel Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem and Nazareth, was quoted as saying by “Time” on last May 24, the first day of the pope’s “pilgrimage.”

Ironically, the symbolic moral and spiritual power of the Holy See was down to earth in Pope Francis’ subservient adaptation to the current realpolitik of the Holy Land in what the Catholic Online on May 26 described as “faith diplomacy.”

The pontiff’s message to the Palestinian people during his three-day “pilgrimage” to the Holy Land boils down to an endorsement of the Israeli and U.S. message to them, i.e.: “The only route to peace” is to negotiate with the Israeli occupying power, refrain from unilateral actions and “violent” resistance and recognize Israel as a fait accompli.

The UK-based Jordanian-Palestinian journalist Lamis Andoni, a Christian herself, wrote on May 27: “We don’t need the Vatican blessing of negotiations … Whoever sees occupation and remains neutral has no justice in his vision.”

The Vatican and the pope himself had insisted that his visit to the birthplace of the three monotheistic “Abrahamic faiths” of Islam, Christianity and Judaism was “purely spiritual,” “strictly religious,” a “pilgrimage for prayer” and “absolutely not political.”

But the Vatican expert John Allen, writing in the Boston Globe a week ahead of the pope’s visit, had expected it to be a “political high-wire act,” and that what it truly was, because “religion and politics cannot be separated in the Holy Land,” according to Yolande Knell on BBC online on May 25.

Pope Francis would have performed much better had he adhered “strictly,” “purely” and “absolutely” to making his trip a “pilgrimage for prayer” and one that is committed to Christian unity and to helping indigenous Christians survive the highly volatile and violent regional environment.

Instead he had drowned his spiritual role in a minefield of symbolic political semantics and semiotics.

The pope finished his “pilgrimage,” which was announced as a religious one but turned instead into a political pilgrimage, with a call for peace.

However, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein, while welcoming the pontiff inside Islam’s third holiest site of Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 26, said: “Peace in this land will not happen until the end of the [Israeli military] occupation.”

Palestinian-American Daoud Kuttab on May 25 wrote in a controversial column that the pope “exceeded expectations for Palestinians.”

He flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem in Palestine without passing through any Israeli entry procedures, implicitly and symbolically recognizing Palestinian sovereignty.

He addressed the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the head of the “State of Palestine,” announced that there must be “recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement” and met with Palestinian children whose parents were refugees whom Israelis displaced from their homes in 1948.

And in an undeniable expression of solidarity with the Palestinians, he made an unplanned stop to pray at Israel’s apartheid wall of segregation in Bethlehem, because, as he said, “the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.”

However, the word “occupation” was missing in more than thirteen of his speeches during his “pilgrimage” as was any reference to world’s “largest open-air prison” in Gaza Strip or to Dahiyat a-Salam (literally: Neighborhood of Peace) and other five neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem, including the Shu’fat Refugee Camp, where some eighty thousand Palestinians were cut off from the city services, including water, since March 2014 and isolated from Jerusalem by Israel’s segregation wall. His itinerary did not include the Galilee and Nazareth where most Palestinian Christians are located.

Eight papal messages

However, within less than twenty four hours the pontiff was to offset his positive overtures to Palestinians and his call for a “just solution” and a “stable peace based on justice” for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with eight messages to them.

The pontiff’s arrival in the Palestinian Holy Land came three days before Israel’s celebration of its 47th anniversary of its military occupation and annexation of the Christian and Muslim holy sites in the Arab east Jerusalem and ten days after the Palestinian commemoration of the 66th anniversary of their Nakba on the creation of Israel in 1948 on the ruins of more than 500 towns and villages from which the Zionist paratroops ethnically cleansed forcefully more than 800,000 Arab Muslim and Christian native Palestinians.

The pope had nothing to say or do on both occasions to alleviate the ensuing plight of the Palestinians except prayers, because “the concrete measures for peace must come from negotiations … It is the only route to peace,” according to the pope aboard his flight back to Rome.

That was exactly the same futile message the Israeli occupying power and its U.S. strategic ally have been sending to Palestinians for sixty six years, but especially since 1967: Palestinians should be held hostages to exclusively bilateral negotiations with their occupying power. This was the pope’s first message to Palestinians.

For this purpose, the pope invited Palestinian and Israeli presidents, Abbas and Shimon Peres, to pray for peace at “my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer” on June 8. The pope’s spokesman, Federico Lombardi, told the BBC it was “a papal peace initiative.” This was his second message.

His third message to Palestinians was to “refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement” with Israel, i.e. to refrain from unilateral actions, which is again another Israeli and U.S. precondition which both allies do not deem as deserving Israeli reciprocity.

By laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the atheist founder of Zionism who nonetheless believed in God’s promise of the land to His Jewish “chosen people,” the pope legitimized Herzl’s colonial settlement project in Palestine. This was his fourth message: Israel is a fait accompli recognized by the Vatican and blessed by the papacy and Palestinians have to adapt accordingly. The Washington Post on May 23 went further. “Some are interpreting” the pope’s act “as the pontiff’s tacit recognition of the country’s Jewish character.”

The pope sent his fifth message to Palestinians when he addressed young Palestinian refugees from the Dehiyshe Refugee Camp in Bethlehem: “Don’t ever allow the past to determine your life, always look forward.” He was repeating the Israeli and U.S. call on Palestinian refugees to forget their Nakba and look forward from their refugee camps for an unknown future in exile and diaspora.

On the same occasion he sent his sixth message: “Violence cannot be defeated by violence; violence can only be defeated with peace,” the pope advised the young Palestinian refugees. This is again the Israeli and U.S. message to them, which after more than two decades of Palestinian commitment produced neither peace nor justice for them.

The pope prayed at the Holocaust memorial, the western al-Buraq Wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Israelis call “The Wailing Wall,” the memorial of the Israeli victims of Palestinian resistance, laid a wreath at Herzel’s grave, visited Israeli president at his residence where he “vowed to pray for the institutions of the State of Israel,” which are responsible for the Palestinian Nakba, and received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Notre Dame complex. The pontiff was in fact blessing and granting the Vatican legitimacy to all the Israeli symbolic casus belli claims to the land, which justify the Palestinian Nakba. This was his seventh message.

All those events took place in Jerusalem, which Israel annexed as the “eternal” capital of the Hebrew state and the “Jewish people.” Reuven Berko, writing in Yisrael Hayom, said that the Pope’s meetings with Peres and Netanyahu were “de facto expressions of the Vatican’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.”

The pope’s eighth message to Palestinians was on the future of Jerusalem: “From the negotiations perhaps it will emerge that it will be the capital of one State or another … I do not consider myself competent to say that we should do one thing or another.”

Normalization with Israel

The “greatest importance” of Pope Francis’ visit “may lie in the fact that it reflects the normalization of relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel,” head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wrote on May 23.

The Second Vatican Council early in the sixties of the last century rejected the collective Jewish guilt for Jesus Christ’s death. Since then the Vatican’s “normalization” of relations with the Jews and Israel has been accumulating.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, was quoted as saying by the USA Today on May 26: There “has been a revolution in the Christian world.”

At Ben-Gurion airport on May 25, Pope Francis reiterated his predecessor Benedict’s call for “the right of existence for the [still borderless] State of Israel to be recognized universally,” but was wise enough not to reiterate his “thanks to God” because “the Jews returned to the lands of their ancestors.”

To emphasise interfaith coexistence he broke the precedent of including a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim sheikh in his official delegation. “It’s highly symbolic,” said Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

By laying a wreath of white and yellow flowers, the colours of the Vatican, on the Herzl’s grave, the pope broke another historic precedent. It was an unbalanced act, 110 years after Pope Pius X met Herzl and rejected the idea of a Jewish state.

The pontiff’s “pilgrimage” could not dispel the historical fact that lies deep in the regional Arab memory that papacy was “still linked to the Crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries” when the successive popes’ only link to the Holy Land was a military one, according to the international editor of NPR.org, Greg Myre, on this May 24.

Of course this does not apply to Christianity. The indigenous oriental churches’ link to the land has never been interrupted while the Catholic Church was cut off from the region since the end of the Crusades until it came back with the European colonial domination since the nineteenth century.

No pope ever travelled to Jerusalem until Paul VI spent one day in the city, on January 4, 1964, when the holy sites were under the rule of the Arab Jordanians. John Paul visited thirty six years later and established a new papal tradition that has been followed by Pope Benedict, who visited in 2009, and now Pope Francis.

It doesn’t bode well with the Arabs and the Palestinians in particular that the new papal tradition is building on the background of recognizing Israel, which is an occupying power and still without a constitutional demarcated borders, as a fait accompli that the Palestinian people should recognize as well.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by the Middle East Eye. nassernicola@ymail.com

Palestinians Trapped at Crossroads

June 1, 2008

 

By Nicola Nasser*

 

Firing home-made primitive rockets at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip, the mass sweeping through the Palestinian – Egyptian border crossing of Rafah in January and the series of ongoing peaceful demonstrations at Gaza’s crossing points with Israel are not an aggressive demonstration of self-confidence, but more a show of defensive despair and weakness against the tight Israeli military siege, as much as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ threats to resign are passive defensive reaction to the political siege imposed on him by the United States and Israel, who so far fail to deliver on their promises to bring about an agreement to create a Palestinian state by the end of 2008.

 

Given the corruption investigations, which have already heralded either a premiership change or early elections that would lead to a government change in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is likely nearing the end of his term to join Abbas and US President George W. Bush, whose terms will come to their end next January, as outgoing leaders whom all their protagonists are counting down time until their departure, before they could deliver on their promised vision of a two-state solution for the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.         

 

Their failure is trapping the Palestinian national movement at a historical crossroads by a peace option that could not deliver, with no other alternatives, and a peace process that is meant for itself as a crisis management tactic, while a multi-layer internal division is paralyzing its central decision-making to render it incapable of being up to the challenge of breaking through the impasse.

 

The Palestinian national movement finds itself in a deteriorating state of paralysis. “There’s almost no Palestinian leadership,” Kadoura Fares, a former Palestinian Cabinet minister and a leading member of President Abbas’ Fatah party, told the Washington Times on May 15.

 

This state of affairs is old enough. On May 31 2007, former Palestinian negotiator and senior associate member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, Ahmad Samih Khalidi, wrote in The Guardian: “What was once a dedicated and vibrant Palestinian national movement is today almost bereft of effective leadership.”

 

The emergence of Fatah al-Islam in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, “the infestation of al-Qaida-type salafism,” which has already reached Gaza Strip, according to Khalidi, and the wide-spreading attraction of the one-state or bi-national state option among the Palestinians, as an alternative for the two-state solution for the Palestinian Israeli conflict, are manifestations of the deteriorating influence of the national movement led by both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and “Hamas.”

 

Several interrelated and interdependent factors are sustaining the status quo:

 

First, the US-sponsored political process launched with much fanfare in Annapolis, Maryland on November 17 last year has almost lost steam, leaving the two-state solution doomed and the PLO disillusioned, but in a loss of what the next step should be.

 

The PLO is now aware that they were used by the US-Israeli allies to appease the Arab “moderates” into being tricked in their turn into closing their eyes to the US free hand in Iraq and vis-à-vis Iran and Syria. The Quartet of the Middle East peace mediators, comprising the US, UN, EU and Russia, subscribes to the same policy.

 

Second, Peace alternatives, like the one-state solution, have slim chances to find Israeli subscribers and are already ruled out by the US-Israeli determination to impose the recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” on Palestinians as a precondition for making peace.

 

Third, Both Amman and Cairo as well as a Palestinian semi-consensus decisively rule out an old Israeli alternative to annex the West Bank to Jordan (the so-called Jordanian option) and Gaza Strip to Egypt. “Jordanians consider the mere talk on this … a conspiracy against them,” former minister of information and member of the upper house of parliament, Saleh Qallab, wrote in Asharq al-Awsat on January 31, adding that Egypt “knows” that restoring Gaza to its pre-1967 status would be an Egyptian “time bomb.”

 

Forth, the peace “contacts” via Turkey between Syria and Israel is further proof of the impasse on the Palestinian – Israeli track. in The Jewish Daily Forward on May 22, quoted Aaron David Miller, who was part of American peace negotiation teams in the region for three decades, as saying:  “Leaving one track and going for the other is a way for Israel to get some leverage on the Palestinian track that seems stuck.”

 

Fifth, the multi-layer internal division (between Hamas and Fatah, within Fatah itself, the presidency and Hamas, which dominates the Palestinian legislative Council (PLC), the governments of Ramallah and Gaza) is paralyzing Palestinian central decision-making. “Neither the peace process, nor the (upcoming) sixth Fatah conference can succeed without national reconciliation,” senior Fatah leader and former national security adviser, Jibril al-Rjoub, told Al-Arabiyya satellite television on February 17. However, national reconciliation remains hostage to US-Israeli veto and anti-Hamas preconditions.

 

Sixth, the crossroads is not only visible because the US sponsor of the peace process is already preoccupied with the electoral campaign that will bring about a new administration next January, but it is more visible by the internal Palestinian division.

 

National institutional terms of reference have almost been obsolete for years now. The last Fatah conference was held in 1989. The PLO has been practically overtaken and marginalized by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its marginalization doomed its leading role among the Palestinian Diaspora and refugees in exile, leaving a vacuum that was filled by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

 

Moreover the PA institutional references are either in no better legitimacy or their legitimacy will expire by the end of the 2008. President Abbas’ term expires next January; the PLC, whose term will expire in January 2009, is paralyzed by Israeli detention of more than fifty of its lawmakers. Palestinian Central Election Commission is already bracing for local elections be the year end.

 

Convening the Fatah sixth conference, reviving the PLO back to its leading role, inclusion by the PLO of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other emerging non-PLO political parties, are overdue prerequisites for a “legitimate” national unity, while renewal of the PA institutional references is already on the agenda.

 

If the national institutional references are not revived for whatever reason, be it the US-Israeli veto or other, and the renewal of the PA institutions is adversely affected by the national division and not properly done according to the Basic Law, the ensuing inaction would not only exacerbate the divide but it would render the Palestinian people leaderless, deprive Israel of a credible Palestinian peace partner and rule out peace and any credible peace process for a long time to come; in the end this could be the real undeclared US-Israeli strategy!

 

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab Journalist based in Bir Zeit of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank.