Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian voices for peace - and the problems they face

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Update from AIJAC

July 3, 2015
Number 07/15 #01

This Update focuses on a number of Palestinian individuals pushing for peace, as discussed in a variety of articles, and the obstacles they face, particularly from the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas.

It begins with an article by former New York Times correspondent Cliff May, reporting three voices for peace he met in the West Bank, two Palestinian and one Israeli. The three are former Palestinian Authority PM and economist Salam Fayyad, Palestinian-American entrepreneur Bashar Misri and Israeli supermarket owner Rami Levy. Fayyad is trying to extend his work as PM to provide good governance and economic development prior to Palestinian statehood - but is suddenly being investigated for supposed money-laundering and had his foundation's bank account frozen in what appears to be politically-motivated charges. Misri is building the large middle class Palestinian town of Rawabi near Ramallah, but is under fire from anti-normalisation and BDS types because his project requires cooperation with Israeli authorities. And Levy's supermarkets are a model of co-existence, with both Jewish and Palestinian shoppers and Jewish and Palestinian employees happily coexisting and cooperating. For May's description of the hope all three offer, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Washington Institute Palestinian politics expert, Ghaith al-Omari, on the larger scene behind the efforts by the PA against Fayyad, as well as a relatively moderate PLO figure Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was just forced out of his senior PLO position. Al-Omari suggests the moves against both men are related to an attempt by Abbas to consolidate power, often extra-legally, and in the process undoing the governance and anti-corruption reforms put in place by Fayyad when he was PM. Al-Omari, himself a former PA official, warns that these moves threaten the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and urges the US and other interlocutors with Abbas to make governance and basic human rights in the PA an important priority. For this important analysis of what is really happening, politically, within the PA, CLICK HERE. Veteran Palestinian affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has more on the reasons for the prosecution of Fayyad, and the larger political problems for Palestinians it reflects.

Finally, Palestinian human rights advocate Bassem Eid, together with Canadian-Lebanese writer Fred Maroun, takes on Westerners who insist on seeing the Israeli-Arab conflict through the prism of "Colonialism." They take to task people like those supporting the latest flotilla to Gaza out of a sense of guilt as harming the Palestinian people - encouraging Palestinian leaders - both from Fatah and Hamas - to view Israel as a foreign implant that will disappear in time if fought relentlessly. They point out that Israel is not the sort of European colony Palestinians and many of their supporters imagine she is, she is not going anywhere, and telling Palestinians otherwise only causes them to reject the compromise and diplomacy which is the only way they can achieve the statehood they need and deserve. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE. Another excellent analysis of how the Palestinian leadership's-  refusal to grant Israel any legitimacy is only hurting the Palestinian people comes from another Palestinian analyst, Bassam Tawil.

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Men of peace in a realm of war

Conversations with two Palestinians and one Israeli on the West Bank

By Clifford D. May

Washington Times, Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Last week, I paid a couple of visits to the West Bank or, as Israel's enemies call it, "the illegally occupied Palestinian territories." Israelis who live and work there are more likely to use the biblical name: Judea and Samaria.

I spoke with three people -€” two Palestinians and one Israeli -€” whom I regard as men of peace. Let me tell you a little about them.

Salam Fayyad is an economist and politician with a professorial mien and a reputation for integrity. In 2007, at the urging of Western diplomats tired of seeing their aid money go astray, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed Mr. Fayyad his prime minister.

But Mr. Abbas never seemed to appreciate Mr. Fayyad's work and, two years ago, he forced him to resign. Now, Mr. Fayyad heads the Future for Palestine, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the unorthodox idea that what Palestinians need most right now is good governance and economic development.

He does not hold with those who think Palestinians should devote their lives to the dream of Israel's annihilation. He believes it would be better for nation-building to precede, rather than follow, declaration of a Palestinian state and its recognition at the United Nations. He argues that creating a Palestinian state that ends up a failed state will harm, not benefit, the vast majority of Palestinians.

At the conclusion of a meeting with me and a small group of American national security professionals in his well-appointed offices in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, we wish him well. Our wish is not granted: The next day the Palestinian Authority freezes Mr. Fayyad's bank accounts and accuses him of money laundering.

He has denied wrongdoing. Count me among those who believe him. Count me among those with little confidence in the Palestinian system of justice. (Memo to the White House: Do something.)

Bashar Masri is a patrician Palestinian-American, the entrepreneurial brains behind Rawabi, "the biggest ever project in Palestinian history." A planned city north of Ramallah, it features gleaming white stone apartment buildings, shops, sports facilities, and an enormous Roman-style amphitheater. Rawabi is to be home to 40,000 solidly middle-class Palestinians. More than that, Rawabi is Mr. Masri's vision of a free, prosperous, modern, high-tech and tolerant Palestinian nation.

Because this city on a hill -€” several hills, actually -€” has had support from the Israeli government, and because it can succeed only if Palestinians and Israelis are peacefully coexisting, little support has been forthcoming from the Palestinian Authority. Leaders of the BDS (for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) movement vehemently condemn the project. The American-based website Electronic Intifada has denounced it as "blatant economic normalization" -€” normal relations between Palestinians and Israelis being abhorrent to such "pro-Palestinian" voices.

Mr. Masri, by contrast, believes that the best way to "defy the occupation" is to build, literally from the ground up, a Palestine that commands respect rather than only fear, a Palestine that most Israelis will view as a neighbor to be cultivated rather than an enemy to be defeated. "I don't believe in boycotting Israel," he says. "It is to our benefit to work with Israelis."

Rami Levy is an Israeli tycoon but you might not guess that to look at him. He greets me wearing blue jeans and a dark blue Gant T-shirt. His hair is black but it has receded far north of his forehead. The son of a sanitation worker, he now owns 32 well-stocked and very crowded discount supermarkets -€” three in the West Bank.

At his store in Gush Etzion over the "green line" in the Judaean Mountains south of Jerusalem, his customers include a colorful mix of Palestinians and Israeli "settlers." That term masks more that it reveals: As early as the 1920s, Jews legally purchased land here from Arabs willing to tolerate a little diversity. Others disagreed, however, and, in 1929, an agricultural village founded by Jews who had fled oppression in Yemen was destroyed.

More attacks followed -€” massacres, too. When Israel's war of independence -€” fought against seven invading Arab armies -€” ended in a cease-fire in 1948, Gush Etzion was among the territories Jordanian forces occupied. Any Jews who failed to flee were killed or imprisoned. Then, in 1967, Jordan joined Egypt and Syria in another multi-front war intended to exterminate Israel. When it was over, Israelis were in control of Gush Etzion and other territories Jordan had ruled for a generation.

Mr. Levy's workforce in Gush Etzion is 50 percent Palestinian. He emphasizes that he does not discriminate based on ethnicity, religion or gender. He looks for employees who are hard-working and honest.

That's good business, but that's not all it is. "Here, it is the opposite of what the world tells you," he says. "Here Jews serve Arabs and Arabs serve Jews and Muslims and Jews know each other, and they congratulate each other on their holidays."

Is he not afraid of being targeted by terrorists? "If you are doing good things, why be afraid?" is his admirable if not entirely persuasive response. He acknowledges that security is among his major expenses.

"In the beginning they tried to prevent Palestinians from shopping here," he says. "But they couldn't because soon even those trying to stop them were shopping here. The Palestinian Authority doesn't help Palestinians," he adds. "We help Palestinians."

Three very different men. On many issues, they would disagree. But what do you suppose would happen if you put them in a room and told them to negotiate? Here's what I think: They would drive hard bargains and, in the end, emerge with a result that could lead to two states for two peoples -€” peoples who would not see one other as mortal enemies.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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Abbas Targets Key Palestinian Officials

 

Ghaith al-Omari

PolicyWatch 2449
July 2, 2015

The recent actions taken against Salam Fayyad and Yasser Abed Rabbo raise broader systemic concerns about PA governance and leadership.

These are busy days in Palestinian politics. On June 15, the Palestinian Authority (PA) attorney-general froze the assets of Future for Palestine, a development NGO founded and managed by former prime minister Salam Fayyad. On June 30, PA president Mahmoud Abbas informed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee that Yasser Abed Rabbo had been relieved of his position as the committee's secretary-general. These events took place against the backdrop of a murky cabinet formation process.

Background

This is not the first time President Abbas has targeted Fayyad and Abed Rabbo. Last August, both were reportedly "audited" by the PA under suspicion of plotting a coup against Abbas. These proceedings quietly fizzled, with no formal charges or any other legal action taken.

During his tenure as prime minister and finance minister, Fayyad is credited with having enacted wide-ranging reforms and anticorruption measures targeting PA civilian and security institutions. He founded Future for Palestine, which provides services and support to vulnerable segments of Palestinian society, upon leaving office under pressure from Abbas.

Abed Rabbo, for his part, is a veteran Palestinian politician who has been a member of the PLO Executive Committee -- the organization's highest decisionmaking body -- since 1971, serving as its secretary-general since 2005. The secretary-general position was previously held by Abbas himself, until his election as PA president and PLO chairman. Following the PLO's 1988 decision to recognize UN Security Council Resolution 242 -- which established terms after the Six-Day War -- and to renounce terrorism, Abed Rabbo was the first PLO official to meet with an American counterpart. He has been active in the negotiation process with Israel from the beginning, oftentimes leading the Palestinian team in discussions both formal and informal.

Fayyad and Abed Rabbo are both political independents and are seen as political allies, although they have no formal organizational ties. They are viewed as close to the West, particularly the United States. They both enjoy strong relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Separately, they have maintained relations, if uneven ones, with Abbas's rival Mohammad Dahlan, who is based in Abu Dhabi. Both -- vocal supporters of a two-state solution -- have occasionally criticized President Abbas's policies, although their opposition has primarily been voiced in internal leadership meetings rather than publicly or in the media. Both have had tense relationships with the Fatah establishment owing to their "outsider" status as well as specific official actions they have taken that undermined Fatah's monopoly on PA institutions and finances.

Legal Framework

The recent proceedings against Fayyad and Abed Rabbo raise legal and procedural questions. For Fayyad, initial accusations of money laundering were dropped after his finances were found to be clean, including through vetting by the PA's own anti-money-laundering unit. Eventually, however, his assets were frozen directly, and with no court order, by the attorney-general under the charge of being "political money," a nonexistent category under PA law.

The decision to remove Abed Rabbo, which has not yet been officially published or transmitted to Abed Rabbo himself, raises its own procedural questions. The decision was taken by Abbas personally in his capacity as PLO chairman, in Abed Rabbo's absence and without a vote by the PLO Executive Committee, which had elected Abed Rabbo to the position. Reports from the meeting at which the PLO Executive Committee was informed of the decision indicate objections were raised by at least three PLO factions -- the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA). Indeed, never before in the PLO's fifty-year history has a PLO secretary-general been removed by a chairman's unilateral decision.

Political Drivers

These recent decisions seem to have been driven not by legal considerations but rather by the political dynamic of consolidation and exclusion that has characterized Abbas's presidency.

Indeed, since becoming president, Abbas has sought steadily to consolidate power. In line with this tendency, he has decreed that he will add acting secretary-general to his existing litany of titles, which already includes PLO chairman, president of the state of Palestine, head of the Fatah movement, and commander-in-chief, among others.

Alongside his titles, Abbas has been amassing powers that often exceed his constitutional purview. Today, for example, PA internal security forces report to the president, contravening the Palestinian Basic Law, whose 2003 amendment gives authority over these services to the government. Indeed, the continued absence of an empowered interior minister -- a requirement dating back to the 2003 Roadmap peace initiative -- is a main obstacle facing international and U.S. efforts to continue developing the Palestinian security sector. During the last cabinet formation process, in 2013, Abbas again violated the Basic Law by directly insisting on the appointment of specific ministers. Ironically, this prohibition was enacted to protect Abbas himself from President Yasser Arafat's interference when he was forming his cabinet in 2003.

Abbas has sought similar consolidation as the head of Fatah. Party conferences, for instance, are convened to elect the movement's various governing bodies. The Sixth Fatah Conference, in 2009, was supposed to be followed by the Seventh Conference in 2014, but this has repeatedly been postponed. In the interim, Abbas critics as well as perceived rivals have been sidelined, with some -- most notably Mohammad Dahlan -- actually expelled from the movement and others, such as former UN envoy Nasser al-Qudwa, informally pushed out. Not only top-tier officials but also more junior ones with questioned loyalty to Abbas have been targeted.

Parallel to such gestures, the Palestinian political space and public freedoms have become constricted. Alongside punitive measures against public figures such as Fayyad, Abed Rabbo, and others for questioning Abbas's policies, bloggers, satirists, and civil society activists who advocate engagement with Israel are more often finding themselves harassed or even detained by the PA. Likewise, recent reports indicate that the PA is planning to clamp down on civil society organizations' funding and operations. Gradually, in a process begun by Arafat but accelerated by Abbas, Palestine -- long regarded as one of the most pluralistic and vibrant Arab polities -- is coming to resemble a typical and archetypal Arab autocracy.

Political Context

Underlying the recent actions targeting Fayyad and Abed Rabbo are deep crises facing the PA. After the collapse of negotiations with Israel last year and given the dead end facing the leadership's UN strategy, Abbas is struggling to formulate a compelling diplomatic strategy for achieving Palestinian statehood. Nor have governance measures thrived under the PA, which is in a precarious financial situation and -- after a public-perception boost during Fayyad's reformist tenure -€“ is once again seen as corrupt by alarming numbers of Palestinians. Relations with traditional moderate Arab regional allies and backers are also tense. With the UAE and Qatar in particular, the PA's relations have become openly hostile -- the former for various reasons, including its hosting of Dahlan, and the latter because of its support for Hamas, Abbas's rival. Relations with Jordan and Egypt are tepid, and the PA has yet to establish significant relations with the new Saudi leadership.

Meanwhile, the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ruled respectively by Fatah and Hamas, continues to plague the larger Palestinian body politic, with drastic implications for the reconstruction of Gaza. The recent announcement of Abbas's plans to create a new government started with high-profile coverage -- including being discussed with visiting French foreign minister Laurent Fabius -- with the goal of isolating Hamas domestically and regionally. The initial bang, however, seems to have been muted to a whimper. And plans to create a factional government that explicitly adheres to the Quartet principles of recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism have been shelved in favor of a limited government reshuffle.

But even a reshuffle holds risks, with Hamas insisting that such a development would violate the Cairo unity deal, allowing the movement to disavow the whole unity deal while shifting the blame to Fatah. The "national consensus government" was a fiction, in that Hamas never permitted it to operate in Gaza. But it was a useful fiction that allowed regional actors, primarily Egypt, to insist that Gaza reconstruction could only be done through the Abbas government, thus pressuring and sidelining Hamas. With the collapse of this construct, Hamas may successfully present itself as the only viable address for Gaza reconstruction, and in doing so gain international legitimacy as well as access to reconstruction funds and materials.

Implications

The specific cases of Fayyad and Abed Rabbo will be resolved within the framework of domestic Palestinian politics and the immediate regional context. But the overall trends exposed by the actions against them raise more systemic concerns.

If the erosion of institutional reforms enshrined in the Palestinian Basic Law and implemented primarily by Fayyad continues unabated, the very domestic legitimacy of the PA will continue to suffer. After all, Fatah lost the 2006 parliamentary elections as a direct result of public perceptions of PA corruption and mismanagement. Similarly, the impulsive and ill-considered nature of decisions such as those dealing with the cabinet formation will create openings to be exploited by the likes of Hamas.

While previous U.S. administrations, most notably that of President George W. Bush, prioritized issues of Palestinian governance and public freedoms, these issues lately have fallen to a lower position. Yet if the PA's viability, and the Palestinian people's future, is to be addressed in a fundamental manner, questions of governance, democracy, and public freedoms must again become an international and U.S. priority.

Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

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Colonialist mentality in the Israel-Arab conflict

Co-authored by Fred Maroun and Bassem Eid

Jerusalem Post, 06/28/2015

We are often baffled that many otherwise sensible people seem to be totally off the mark in their analysis of the Israel/Arab conflict. They say nothing about all the Arab crimes committed against Israel or even against Palestinians, but they are always eager to call Israel a criminal state as soon as she takes any action to defend her security.

 

Are these people unable to understand the history of the conflict? People who view the conflict in this way do not understand the Middle East. They still have the old colonialist mentality of Western nations occupying territory and -€œcivilizing the savages-€, and they feel guilty about it. They project those guilt feelings on Israel, repeating to themselves that the only reason that Israel settles land is to colonize the Arab world.

 

They are missing two important pieces in their reasoning: First, unlike old colonies of Europe, Israel is not the colony of any Western country; she is a nation that has existed for over three millennia, long before modern European countries. Second, Israel has never had any interest in settling lands that were not part of the traditional Land of Israel; Israel is not in any way interested in taking over the Arab world, and anyone who can read a map can see that Israel is a tiny dot surrounded by a giant Arab world.

 

We support the concept of a two-state solution, and we do not support Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but that is not because we see them as a colonialist enterprise. It is simply because we see a two-state solution as the only viable answer to the conflict, and we see settlements as an excuse used very effectively by Palestinian leaders to refuse peace with Israel.

 

Those who view the conflict from a colonialist prism are hurting the Palestinians because they make them out to be helpless and uneducated savages who have no control over their future. The reality is that the reason the conflict has not been resolved is because too many Arabs and particularly Palestinians believe that Israel is a foreign entity that will inevitably disappear just as France left Lebanon and Syria, and just as Britain left Mandatory Palestine.

 

Because of the irrational and extremist approach taken by groups like Hamas, and often by Fatah, Israel feels no obligation to give up on what she sees as her historical right to the Land of Israel. After all, Israel left Gaza, and see what happened! The only way to reach an agreement with Israel that will achieve dignity and provide a state to the Palestinians is to use peaceful diplomacy and not violence, but because of guilt-ridden Westerners encouraging them, Palestinians do not feel the need to compromise. Hamas sees violence as achieving the destruction of Israel, and Fatah sees delays and deception as achieving the same goal.

 

Israelis have no intention of going away, and they have nowhere to return to. Jews see themselves as the most ancient native people of the Middle East, and they have the means to defend themselves. If Palestinians cannot accept a peaceful resolution of the conflict, Israelis will fight tooth and nail for a very long time. No one really knows what the future will hold if Palestinians continue to refuse peace, but they should realize that their future would not be bright anytime soon, and the very concept of a Palestinian nation could disappear.

 

If Palestinian leaders were wise, they would tell those in aid€ ships headed to Gaza to turn around and go drink through their guilt somewhere else. They would also dismantle all terrorist organizations, and they would work for the goal of a Palestinian state using the only means that work: negotiation and diplomacy. But they are not likely to do these things because Palestinian leaders have for 67 years consistently made every bad decision possible, and they have growing legions of guilt-ridden Westerners encouraging them to continue on the same destructive path.


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