The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has almost but disappeared from headlines. Only a bloody war in Gaza or a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv grabs the world’s attention. Supporters of a peace-deal have grown frustrated at the lack of diplomatic progress, both on the ground and internationally.
Since the spectacularly failed effort of U.S. Secretary Kerry in 2013, a somber mood hangs over the conflict. In Israel a surreal status-quo has settled in: life goes on as normal, as if one of the most intractable conflicts was not happening right in their midst. Indeed, peace in the region has never seemed so out of reach.
But this week, Al-Monitor reported that unnamed European officials where busy with a policy review that planned for an eventual E.U. diplomatic push for peace. This would be a first for the Union, who until now has never dared to venture in the region’s politics. One explanation was its utter lack of leverage over Israel, creating an utterly irrelevant mediating position. In the coming weeks, the E.U. will vote on imposing an embargo on Israeli goods coming from settlements, showing a more assertive approach to the Palestinian conflict. But invariably, while creating some sort of leverage, it is a position that chooses sides as well. Meanwhile, expect some diplomatic initiatives coming from the External Action Service. Should and can the E.U. achieve peace? Is it a Mission Impossible doomed from the start? Let us investigate the obstacles to peace the E.U. will face, and how to overcome them.
Assessing Positions of Strength, the Kissinger Way
Henry Kissinger, writing in his seminal ‘Diplomacy’, offers a lucid insight into what makes negotiations fail or succeed: bringing North Vietnam to the negotiating table proved impossible for years as the North Vietnamese had the upper hand on the battlefield, creating a formidable position of strength, which in effect meant that a diplomatic deal for them was utterly meaningless. The ensuing strategy of president Nixon and secretary Nixon was to significantly weaken Hanoi, until the parties were somewhat more equal. Only then could a negotiation work. As Kissinger taught, positions of strength need to be assessed if one does not want a diplomatic effort spectacularly failed from the start.
That is something Mr. Kerry could have taken note of when he started his diplomatic Middle East shuttle in 2012. Israel’s militarily superiority is clear, which is one obvious position of strength: the Palestinians do not pose a credible conventional threat. However, a more important position of strength for Israel is its economic blockade it imposed on Gaza and the West Bank, creating a stranglehold on the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian economy stands or falls with Israel’s approval. There is nothing to balance this position of strength.
And while the state of Israel is a fully functioning one, Palestine is mired in severe underdevelopment, corruption, and nepotism, according to international reports. Israel’s superior infrastructure, its sound economy, its institutional strength, its military superiority and its veto over the Palestinian economy make for the most unequal of state relationships. Israel has strong positions of strength. Another core strength is its political leverage in the United States. No U.S. president has been capable of withstanding the pressures of a powerful pro-Israel lobby excelling in the art of influencing Congress. (As a result, the U.S. can and is not a neutral mediator, even if it is desperate to present itself as such.)
We can be very short on Palestine’s positions of strength. Apart from terrorist threats and rocket attacks, there is no single position of strength. The sole leverage that remains for Palestinians is the framing of the conflict in human rights: their right to self-determination, dignity, an end to occupation. Although largely a successful strategy in Europe, it has only created the occasional PR headache for Israel. Nothing more. It is a framing strategy that has no impact on the ground. As long as Israel feels strong, the argument that a situation is unjust will by itself change nothing.
What does this all mean to the E.U.’s External Action Service? If you want an genuine peace deal that holds, make sure the parties become more equal, or any talks will prove meaningless.
Search For Internal Incentives
However positive or negative the strength assessment, the critical driver for any negotiation is an incentive for both parties to reach a settlement. Let this be clear: we are talking about internal incentives, not a stick-and-carrot approach. Do the parties possess internal incentives that drive them towards finding a solution? Is a deal less costly than the current situation? If so, good news for the E.U.’s mediator: it will not be too difficult to get talks started.
When one visits Israel, one notices how ordinary, calm and efficient everything goes. It could be Switzerland, only hotter. Indeed, today’s status-quo is perfectly livable for Israelis. The Palestinian issue does not hamper its functions as a state; its citizens are able to build a decent life; the economy is doing pretty fine. Best of all for the right-wing government, the Palestinian issue does not figure prominently in the Israeli media. Housing shortages and internal government squabbles do. A recent Al-Monitor report cited a survey that showed Israelis had never been happier. Costs of maintaining the status-quo? Nil, apart from the occasional international condemnation. Political costs of a peace-deal for Israel? Considerable, given the concessions needed. Incentives to answer an invitation for a round of peace talks? None, except courtesy.
For Palestine, incentives are high: official recognition of a state; a stronger economy; a future for the young; an end to sometimes devastating hostilities. However, the political costs of a peace-deal are high for its leadership: the concessions reached at the table might be too much for a suffering, poor population to bear. What about the right of return for the refugees, a demand certainly to be watered down significantly in viable negotiations? The economy will not boom overnight. Only the next generation of leaders will bear the fruits peace, creating a paradox: while there is every incentive for the Palestinian people to reach a peace deal, there are high costs for its political leadership. Convincing Mr. Abbas that he will enter the history books might be difficult, even for a sympathetic E.U. mediator. Thus, rule number 2 explains Israel’s current inertia. For the E.U. it will be key to raise the cost of a status-quo. A limited economic embargo might create such an internal driver in Israel, although a creative approach will be needed in finding additional drivers.
The Core: At the table, finally
Expect some nice photo-op’s at this stage, with smiling delegates and a beaming E.U. mediator. The though work is finally there: delving into the core issues.
For a starter, negotiators and mediators will need to distinguish between symbolical issues such as the refugee question, and on-the-ground issues such as the territorial definition of a state and of Jerusalem. But a first pitfall presents itself in the guise of a time-table. Should the parties commit to a deadline? The recent Iran negotiations proved that a deadline is self-defeating: parties can use it to exert pressure on the opponent and on the mediator, who does not want to loose his or her face. With other words: drop the timetable.
If the negotiations get serious, expect a good dose of shouting matches, bruised ego’s, threats and manipulations. It will take a seasoned team to wade through one of the most difficult conflicts of modern history, fraught with historical and cultural sensibilities. To the External Action Service: assemble a team of diplomatic wolfs, genre Richard Holbrooke.
A two-layered approach will work best: first design a constitutional framework; secondly, build on that to resolve the real issues such as territory and population.
Easier said than done, of course. First up is the military aspect. Israel will insist, as it has done in the past, that any future state does not have a standing army that can threaten it. As one might imagine, not only a practical but also a symbolical issue for Palestine. A state with no military is in effect at the mercy of its neighbors, or with other words: a surrogate state. A compromise is possible here, one were Israel receives security guarantees, such as a buffer zone between the West Bank and Jordan, patrolled by an international force. There would be limits on what material Palestine can acquire. A most importantly, an explicit and detailed security guarantee from Jordan should be a cornerstone in this approach; Israel needs a defensible Western flank. It is crucial that Jordan participates rather than obstructs this demand. An insightful diplomatic approach will have a team shuttling back and forth between Amman.
The more difficult layer now needs to be applied: the territorial demarcation and application of this new constitutional entity. A phenomenal hurdle exists in the form of the settlements scattered around the West Bank. Currently, these zones are administered by the Israeli authorities, as are its main roads. Israeli law applies here, ordered in three zones (A,B,C). A look at the map makes it clear: if all settlements remain part of Israel, there would not be much left for a Palestinian state, less than 50 percent of the West Bank. That is unacceptable for Palestinians. Land swaps alone will not be sufficient, as the remaining patch-work would make any state unworkable.
A starting point should be roads an entry-points. Free movement should be crucial. While Israel could retain control over the highway bordering the Jordan Valley, it should cede control of all the other highways in the West Bank. It is highly improbable that Israel is willing to cede large settlements such as Ariel – which even has its own university – to the Palestinian Authority. Ehud Olmert’s land-swap proposal of 2011 will be the road to follow: the large settlements along the Green Line (sometimes, as Ariel, a little bit further away from it) would be absorbed by Israel; the smaller settlements in the heart of the West Bank evacuated. That would mean the evacuation of 56.000 settlers; 413.000 could stay in the larger settlements, in 2015 numbers. To make up for the lost territory, there are land swaps, mostly desert. Although politically painful for both leaders – Israeli media will be awash with images of settlers being forcefully evicted, something that almost toppled former PM Sharon when he did just that in Gaza, on a far smaller scale – it is the only way out. It is crucial that the E.U. possesses the same realism and does not press purely legalistic, historical or moral convictions. An absolute impartial mediation is certainly at this point crucial.
Expect endless nightly sessions to be the new norm by now. Next issue up: Jerusalem. No other issue mixes all controversial ingredients of the conflict as the old capital. Territory, religion, right to exist, statehood and history all come together. Enough to overwhelm any mediator. The essentials: have in mind how Israelis feel about Jerusalem. That is, apart from the Western Wall, not very special (‘To see the past, you go to Jerusalem; to see the future, you go to Tel Aviv’ as once an Israeli remarked to the author). Then, new Jerusalem, built by Israel, is not the same as the Old City, which since ancient times has always been shared, and is not East Jerusalem either, which is mainly Arab. Designating the latter as the capital of Palestine should not be too difficult, with compromise in the wording. The Old City will be neither from Israel or Palestine; it will have a special statute. Joint patrols, assisted by an international peacekeeping force, are the only way out here. The current situation in which Israeli soldiers rule the Old City is unworkable in any peace agreement. The mediator will have to take care of constructing a thorough statute for Jerusalem, with a good conflict-resolution mechanism. (Note that Israel will have to cede sovereignty here; diplomatic leverage will be essential).
Two thorny issues remain, each on its own formidable, but certainly not unexpected. Does a Palestinian state have to state explicitly Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Every right-wing government has insisted on it; only a left-wing government will be able to drop the ‘Jewish’ before ‘state’ thus avoiding an explicit betrayal by Palestine of its Arab co-citizens who possess Israeli nationality. Don’t expect Netanyahu to make a concession on this; and neither expect the Palestine leadership to be able to swallow such a bitter bill. A mediator who would insist on just that would be creating a catastrophic failure. Therefore, the mediator needs a very clear picture of Israeli politics: it is up to them to concede on this point, political timing (read: a left-wing government) will be the main guide in this effort.
Next concession up, this time for the Palestinian leadership: the right of refugees to return. There are according to UNWRA around 5 million Palestinian refugees, displaced in 1948 and 1967. The majority live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Two million live in the West Bank and Gaza. Letting 3 million refugees return to homes that are now in Israel will be impossible. A compromise will need to be worked out: refugees can return back to the state of Palestine, but not to Israel. All of them would receive a financial compensation from Israel. Those who left behind property receive extra compensation. That is a deal that makes sense; but one that for the Palestinian leadership will be a though sell, as it goes to the heart of the Palestinian struggle. It will be essential that Palestinian refugees in third countries do not feel betrayed by this compromise; they should be encouraged to return, enjoy full citizenship, and be able to count on support. (note that the plight of these refugees has been a very sad one: for over 50 years they have been in essence stateless, as the host-countries do not award them any nationality, and as a result, often cannot find employment).
Yes, now is the time to finally uncork that bottle of Champagne, if it hasn’t yet been emptied in a previous, despairing moment. Celebrations ensue, with signing ceremonies in Brussels.
The last act: implementation
While the External Action Service heaves a sigh of relief and Europe has scored a diplomatic triumph, now the real work starts: implementation. The good news first: media attention will fade, bringing some much-needed respite. The bad news: left to each other, the parties are wholly incapable of implementing a deal; tension would immediately rise, as neither party would move first.
International oversight will be crucial, with a peacekeeping force. A large troop commitment by nations is not needed; rather, a small, capable, understanding force that can navigate subtle cultural sensibilities. They would jointly patrol buffer zones such as the security zone in the Jordan valley; they would assist in keeping the calm in the Old City of Jerusalem; in the first years the force would man the border crossings between Israel and Palestine; and provide for accessible roads throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The OESO could have a role in overseeing democratic elections in Palestine, while the World Bank and the U.N. would assist in strengthening principles of good governance in the new state. An international oversight committee would meet on a regular basis, with a special representative submitting yearly reports on progress. A note of caution though: it should not become a second Bosnia and Herzegovina: there should be a clear date when the international oversight would end. Political elites in Palestine would then need to take full ownership. That will be the primary task of the international community. Donor aid should be in proportion to GDP, so as not to inflate the Palestine economy and create an unsustainable dependency.
Europe’s Finest Hour
It is doubtful that the European Union has the capacity to lead one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations imaginable. The External Action Service has too often seemed to be the External Inaction Service. A united diplomatic front amongst all E.U. leaders will be difficult to maintain. And for the time being, it does not look as if the European Council is ready to give the High Representative a broad, authoritative mandate. Too many times, history has judged the E.U. harshly for inertia, and for a lack of vision and courage. The Balkan Wars are tragic examples; the current response to the refugee crisis does not give much hope. If the E.U. can achieve a Israeli-Palestinian deal, it will be truly Europe’s finest hour and worthy of a Noble Prize. Let’s hope Brussels knows what it is getting into. Peace is both urgent; arduous; and possible.
Conflict in Yemen is a Global Threat and Iran’s Trump Card
Few people outside analyst and scholarly circles think of Yemen and Libya conflicts as anything central to contemporary confrontation with some of the sprawling global state and non-state threats, and yet both are gateways to much greater crises, and even a fundamental shift in international alliances. In the view of the United States, Yemen is practically a forgotten conflict. While sectarianism continues to splinter the society, and radical ideologies take deep root following the withdrawal most of the UAE forces in 2019, the US is tittering closer to the edge of contemplating withdrawal.
President Trump’s administration is torn between the seemingly mutually exclusive election promises to his base (and beyond) of withdrawing US participation from “endless” Middle Eastern wars but at the same time confronting and pressuring Iran and other threats such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, as well as keeping to the recently articulated commitments of strengthening US defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, which leads the Arab Coalition effort against the Iran-backed Houthis in that theater of war. So far, most of the US pressure campaign to minimize Iran’s dangerous aggression in the region and expansionist ambitions consisted of sanctions and financial limitations, as well as from the engagement in a limited (and mostly reactionary) cyberwarfare. US engagement in Yemen consists mostly of logistical and intelligence assistance to the Arab Coalition, and a fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, which flourish in the chaotic environment, and on tensions among the members of the +Coalition with sometimes divergent long-terms goals and visions of Yemen’s future.
If US bases in Yemen are attacked by Houthis, that would not make the news coverage or the public briefings. Part of the reason US had worked to minimize the appearance of Houthis’ potential threat to US security interest is the preservation of the delicate balance between being involved just enough to keep a modicum of stability in the war-torn country, keeping stable the relationship with US allies, and at the same time avoiding accusations of being drawn in into another long term conflict that may end with a physical escalation and confrontation with Iranian forces. There is increasing evidence that the purpose of the Houthis is global, rather than local or regional nuisance aimed at the Saudis. Houthis are modeled after Hezbullah, which itself started as a local Lebanese militia aimed at ousting Israel, but grew into a quasi-formal military structure that now controls the Lebanese Parliament, as well as has taken advantage of the country’s tribal structure to ensure local support.
Now, despite dissatisfaction with government corruption and foreign control which has affected even the Shia Lebanese residents, due to Hezbullah’s willingness to make allies with corrupt Christian parties and weak Sunni representation, it is nearly impossible to excise from power. Additionally, Hezbullah forces retain presence in strategically important areas, close to natural resources and organized crime schemes which help pay for Iran’s military expenditures and keep the economy afloat through a shadow market system. Hezbullah’s operations in Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia, and Europe are intelligence, political, military and covert operations, and also business related. Hezbullah has been involved in everything from abductions for ransom, drug trade, and control of diamond markets to ideological influence campaigns and social jihad “hearts and minds” psych ops.
The Houthis are being molded into the same type of faction, with global presence and a level of resourcefulness which far exceeds their initial purpose in toppling the Yemen government, destabilizing the country, and miring Saudi Arabia in a seemingly unwinnable asymmetrical contact. Having expressed threats in the general direction of UAE, Israel, and having spread anti-American propaganda, Houthis are becoming effective counterparts to Iraqi militias and other Iranian foreign legions, and with time, may become part of a more integrated network of well disciplined ideologically loyal forces that are alotted a portion of control over local territories in exchange for their availability to strike at Iran’s favored target anytime anyplace and give Iranian propagandists and lobbyists in the West a cover of plausible deniability to keep pushing deals with Tehran and to help the Islamic Republic avoid accountability in the form of sanctions snapbacks and arms embargoes. Like Hezbullah, they are increasing armed with sophisticated missiles, drones, and mining capabilities which so far they have used primarily against Saudi Arabia, but which, as with Hezbullah can be used against Israeli targets or to supplement Iraqi militia targeting of US sites.
The ruse is working with the European Union, which has criticized the possibility of snapback sanctions over the violations of the JCPOA, and shown reluctance to back the renewal of the arms embargo due to expire in the fall. Furthermore, several leading European countries are working to circumvent US economic sanctions on Iran through various financial instruments. All of this points to Iran’s position that there is international goodwill to exploit, but that Iran needs “safe spaces” to distract the world from its general malfeasance.
Yemen is a perfect convergence of a multitude of crises, illnesses, debilitating conditions, threats, and conflicting interest that becomes increasingly more complicated to untangle with time. Iran has in part succeeded in discrediting Saudi Arabia’s efforts in that regard through a combination of intense and largely successful one-sided media and political campaigns, which the Saudis and their allies have struggled to refute, coupled with the limited attention span for the conflict accorded by the US government. Saudis themselves appear to be demoralized as rumors of their eventual withdrawal persist, without any of the accompanying defense and security concerns being addressed or resolved. Separatists have taken control of a portion of Aden; the territories once cleared of Al Qaeda presence by UAE backed forces are now increasingly falling prey to the sprawling Muslim Brotherhood ideologies.
Despite a few key victories in terms of eliminating Al Qaeda and ISIS leaders in Yemen by joint operations with the Coalition, the groups are finding fodder for radicalization. The Houthis are increasingly legitimized by the Western media, the United Nations and other international organizations, and by human rights NGOs. While key donors have cut humanitarian aid, the Houthis are using the chaos to their advantage to amass power, impose self-serving new taxes, such as the “khums” tax to benefit “Hashemites” – tribal affiliates of prophet Mohammed, to which some Khomeinist followers also lay claim, and to mobilize support from youngsters recruited and indoctrinated through special training camps since they are children.
With the situation spiraling out of control and little international support for the Arab Coalition’s operations, Yemen is quickly becoming Iran’s backdoor to the Middle East. Once strengthened, Houthis can infiltrate the Saudi borders and through subversion, spread radical ideology and recruit supporters in the East, and mobilize the Yemeni diaspora in the South. They can exploit factionalism and alliances of conservative clergy, remnants of Islamists, pan-Arabists obsessed with the Hashemite return to power and opposed to the idea of even limited defense rapprochement between Israel and the Kingdom, as well as various opportunists who may not particularly care for Shi’a but will jump on any bandwagon that can bring them to power.
The Houthis are already using routes through Lebanon and Oman to reach Iran and to engage in effective trade, training, and the spread of Khomeinist revolutionary thinking and corona virus all over the region. Finally, Turkey is looking to make limited alliances with both Muslim Brotherhood (Al Islah) followers on the ground, the Hadi government, and even the pro-Iran Houthis to exploit the vacuum of power left by UAE withdrawal, US unwillingness to engage beyond defensive measures, and the beat down against the Saudis by the international community. They are offering to send humanitarian aid and ideological material through Somalia, using same routes that could in the future also deliver weapons.
It is time for Israel and the United States to start taking Yemen as more than just a backwater battle for Saudi self-assertion and to treated as part of Iran’s and its allies’ strategically important entry to the takeover of the Middle East and later, important, African and Middle Eastern routes – by political, military, and ideological means.
Has Turkey Colonized Libya?
During his visit to Tripoli July 4th Turkey’s defense minister Hulusi Akar signed an agreement on military cooperation with the representatives of the Government of National Accord (GNA). The signature was held behind the closed doors, but the few details that were leaked to the media are enough to conclude that the GNA has effectively traded its ostensible sovereignty for the Turkish support in the stand-off against the Libyan National Army and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.
The agreement between Turkey and Tripoli authorities stipulates that the GNA is a guarantor of Turkish interests in Libya. The real meaning behind that is that the government led by Fayez al-Sarraj officially put the Turkish interests before the national concerns of Libya. The GNA also gave Turkey an official permission to establish military bases on the Libyan territory.
These concessions are no doubt important, but perhaps the most brazing innovation introduced in the agreement is that all Turkish servicemen are given diplomatic immunity. This effectively means that the representatives of the Turkish metropole walking the Libyan soil are automatically granted a number of important privileges, granting them a legal advantage over the indigenous population.
Furthermore, the diplomatic immunity unlocks new possibilities for the transfer of foreign militants and supplies of arms, including internationally banned munitions, in violation of the arms embargo. Since the beginning of the year Turkey flew in to Libya over 15,000 of Syrian mercenaries, including child soldiers, who were recruited in the Syrian province of Idlib and received military training under the supervision of the Turkish advisers. In addition to that, it has been recently discovered that Turkish campaign to recruit fighters is not limited to Syria, but also includes Yemen.
The new agreement further facilitates transfer of foreign fighters into Libya. The GNA has officially given up its right to at least formally check Turkish ships and planes and allowed Ankara to create military bases that are out of Libyan jurisdiction. In these conditions the Turks will be able to send in as many mercenaries, including former members of terror groups, as they see fit without any restrictions or knowledge of the outside world.
In truth, Turkey’s behavior in Libya is already that of a colonial power in the new incarnation of the Tripolitanian Wilayet, a former colony of the Ottoman Empire. Human rights watchdogs report that the next day after the agreement was signed a number of Turkish planes with members of radical groups on board landed in Tripoli.
By signing the new agreement Fayez al-Sarraj and his government pledged allegiance to Turkey and cast away any pretence of being a leader of Libya. Turkey, in turn, is reluctant to declare Tripoli its colony, but this thin varnish will not hide the ugly reality behind.
Palestinians between COVID-19 pandemic and unilateral Israeli plan of annexation
On March 2020 took place the third general elections in the parliamentary Republic of Israel, for the 120 seats of the Knesset. The results viewed the victory of the right-wing Likud party, leaded by Netanyahu, obtaining 58 seats, although his charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in November 2019, and the left-wing “Blue and white” party, headed by Gantz. After several compromises, the 20 April formed an emergency government of national unity for a limited period of 36 months, presided by Netanyahu for the first 18 months and by Gantz during last 18 months, under the approval of the president Rivlin. In the first phase Gantz will be vice-premier and Minister of Defence. The alternation on the guide of executive will be enshrined by a law of the Knesset.
This even slight predominance of Likud party will entail the implementation of the so-called US President Trump “deal of the century”, which encompasses the Israel political process of incorporation of the occupied West Bank, that include Israeli settlements, the region of Jordan Valley and nature reserves. In other words, government has been authorized to bring a de-facto ‘annexation” plan to debate in the Knesset since 1 July 2020. This Israeli proposal would include up to 30% of the total areas of West Bank.
Amnesty International underlines that this agreement would worsen the violations of human rights, the impunity of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violations, perpetrating a flagrant violation of international law. Being annexation an acquisition of territories by the use of force, it’s breaching at the same time art. 2 (4) UN Charter, generally set out jus cogens norms and humanitarian laws. This plan would extend Israeli law to the OPT, not changing their legal status. In fact, under domestic Israeli law, it’s nothing else but an Israeli settlement expansion, thus denying civil and political rights to Palestinians, their freedom of movement, of speech, of association, equality and non-discrimination rules.
As well known, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world longest-running struggle between two self-determination movements: the Jewish Zionist and the Palestinian nationalism that claim the same territories and throughout this atavic conflict Israel has been accused of treating non-Israelis people as in the Soth African’s apartheid.
On both sides, have been recorded unlawful killings, that are crime of war, arbitrary detentions, many forms of discrimination, human trafficking, denial of humanitarian access, abuses and maiming of women and children, used as human shields and forced to be involved in military actions in an overall framework of rides, incitation campaigns and retaliations.
In his annual report on children and armed conflict, the UN Secretary General Guterres reported in June 2020 the omission from the “list of shame” of States perpetrating these crimes, such as Saudi-led coalition, Yemen, Myanmar and also Israel, despite abuses in the occupied territories have been well-documented by UN. Human rights associations and organizations from all over the world are asking this list be evidence-based, avoiding to coddle powerful countries.
The uprising of the turmoil in these strips of land are likely to escalate at a planetary level. In front of what has been described by A.I. as an incoming “law of the jungle” after latest elections, this ngo is currently urging international community to strengthen the implementation of international law stressing, that any annexation of the occupied West Bank is nul and void. It’s also claiming an halt of the construction of Israeli illegal settlements and infrastructures in the OPT and all trades with them, decrying the Israeli attempts to undermine Palestinian human rights, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees and supporting ICC investigations and calls on governments to offer political and practical support to the Court over the Palestinian situation.
In fact, according to art.47 of the 4th Geneva Convention, protected people who are in occupied territories shall not be deprived of their rights as the result of the occupation neither by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the occupying powers, not by any annexation of whole or part of the occupied territories.
Moreover, it’s not clear what will be ruled out about citizenships and residency under this incorporation of lands. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu affirmed that Palestinian residents in the areas that will be annexed wouldn’t get Israeli citizenship.
Profiting from illegal blockade on Gaza and fragmentation of the population in the OPT, annexation would result in a mass-expropriation of private and agricultural Palestinian lands and home demolition, thus violating the right to adequate housing (in 2019 Israel demolished 617 Palestinian structures and evicted 899 people in the West Bank). The law of occupation prohibits demolitions if not necessary for military operations. Punishing demolitions are collective punishments, thus forbidden by international law as well as the transfer of prisoners in the occupying country, being in Israel occurring administrative detentions, with neither fair process nor accusations, of about 4600 people.
The PA (governing body of autonomous Palestinians regions) and the paramilitary PLO called international community to impose sanctions against Israel and started boycotts and disinvestment, announcing that this Israeli expansion would face with the resistance of Palestinians in any forms, considering it as a “declaration of war” .
On the wave of the USA proposed “Deal of the Century”, an “International Conference on the Question of Palestine” was held last February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, gathering practitioners, academics and civil society, in order to thwart the phenomenon of unilateral actions and to implement the substantive exercise of inalienable rights in Palestine. In this occasion Member States of ASEAN were urged to continue their operations in the pursuit of justice and peace and was highlighted the uselessness of a new plan and the necessity of an effective execution of existing agreements and UN resolutions, based on the two-State formula.
More precisely, the 28 January Trump administration held a press conference in the White House, announcing a “peace to prosperity: a vision to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people” plan, that pleased to the new coalition government in Israeli. It proposed the incorporation of the existing Israeli settlements in West Bank, including Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem; Jerusalem as undivided capital of Israel; a territory for the future Palestine, including parts of West Bank, Gaza strip and some Jerusalem surrounding; linking of the Palestinian territories through new roads, bridges and tunnels; freezing for 4 years Israeli settlement construction; US embassy in Palestine; investment of $ 50 billion to build a new Palestine state.
The PA and the League of Arab States, among others, rejected the plan and under the mounting pressure of Tunisia and Indonesia, thereafter USA proposed many amendments.
Thus it’s crystal clear that lately protests against the recently announced plan for annexation, proclaimed by Israel and sponsored by USA, and lockdown security measures against Covid-19 have dragged Palestinians in a hell of oppression and restrictions that considerably limit the freedom of civilians that are currently exacerbating further clashes and opposing resistance, regardless the ban of gathering for the pandemic and the quarantine imposition, being their lives at risk in any case.
The outbreak of coronavirus in 2019 propelled a common effort and a new opportunity of collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis in the attempt to enforce the Middle East peaceful process, being the watchword a strong cooperation on the ground and one at an international level. Nicholay Mlandenov, the Bulgarian Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process in the UN Security Council, stressed the “inspiring example” of cooperation in these lands, before the elections, in order to contain the spread of the virus and seized the moment to impact communities in order to make further steps toward peace and to reject unilateral decisions. In this perspective, UN has delivered over 1 million of aid items, such as protective equipment and test kits, for Palestinians hospitals and clinics, due to insufficient funding. Special Coordinator added that UN will do its utmost for the well-being and safety of Palestinians and Israelis, ensuring that no less than $137 million would be transferred to the region in the coming four months.
UN will move in this direction especially through the Middle East Quartet (composed of Russian Federation, USA, EU, UN), that see cooperating the world’s existent superpower countries and institutions involved in the pacification of these areas, its agencies (i.e. UNRWA and coordination office for Humanitarian Affairs -OCHA) and other international organizations, such as WHO.
In order to tackle the spread of the virus, Israeli government has approved a legislation for a partial lockdown and has increased restriction of movement of people and trade, exception done for health workers in Gaza strip, for special medical and humanitarian cases. Furthermore, it has imposed a curfew in the West Bank. It has also tactically allowed counter-terrorism surveillance technology to be used to track infections. On the other hand, an internal cooperation within Palestine, between Hamas and Fatah (in the PA) has been tightened.
Israel was one of the first countries to close its borders and imposed restrictions when the global pandemic first outburst and soon after PA followed its example, by adopting measures such as the suspension of. public prayers, although the mosques are still opened.
All over the world, many western countries, such as France and UK, but also countries in the Arab world, such as Gulf Arab states, are declaring and recognizing that, although their Israeli backing, this plan is occurring in open violation of international law, thus execrable, severely damaging and affecting human rights of Palestinians, not even ensuring the international minimum standard and the right of repatriation, compelling those who left their country to stay abroad.
The 1 July hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Gaza and West Bank against the annexation. The following day, Pope Francis summoned the US and Israel ambassadors for preventing an escalation of violence in these lands, reckoning that the state of Palestine and that of Israel have the same right “to exist and live in security, within international recognized borders”, discouraging unilateral actions.
The Pope and UN are, in fact, in search of an establishment that seems will never happen, trying to demonize the upcoming of a new world conflict, triggering an international alarm to stop this crusade and massacre of civilians. The Holy See recognized the State of Palestine in 2013, soon after followed the recognition by the UN with the status of non-Member observer State. Last March also the Muslim World League urged the moral duty of an interfaith partnership to overcome the crisis.
Israeli defence minister and alternate prime minister Gantz has announced that it would be desirable that the propaganded annexation would take place after the proclaimed state of emergency due to the coronavirus. In fact, the Palestinian ministry of health last week said that 2636 people have tested positive for Covid-19 compared with 1256 recorded a week ago, expressing the fear of a “second wave”of infections after the easing of the full lockdown since last May.
What furthermore is inflaming the crisis is the Palestinian economic dependence on Israel, especially for the 150.000 Palestinians working in Israel (5000 in Gaza) with official permit and about 60.000 work illegally in Gaza strip and West Bank. Their average daily income is 250 Israeli shekels (about $70 per day), so the adopted restrictions mean depriving hundreds of millions of dollars flowing for Palestinian market and a decline of Palestinian purchasing power due to the lack of liquidity, causing a reduction of 50% of the Palestinians civil servants wages. Moreover, the health measures imposed at Israeli airports, crossings and ports have impeded the arrival of imported products from Palestine, whose exportations have been banned, putting at risk the furniture of goods and foods. To get things worse OPEC continues to cut oil exports, holding up the prices. The World Bank reported in April that, if coronavirus crisis and its economic effects wouldn’t ease, the Palestinian economy will shrink by 7%, causing an unprecedented collapse. Palestinian financial minister has already asked for a loan from Israel of 500 million Israeli shekels ($141 millions) per month until the end of the pandemic but it’s unlikely it could fulfill its obligations.
So, in conclusion, the economic downturn, the spread of Covid-19 and the paralysis of the both nationalisms, that claim the same lands under their religious auspices and believes, have highlighted the weakness of the international system in the Middle East, and in particular in Israel and Palestine, putting them in the hands of Trump’s American hegemonic policy of “America first”, consisting in the affirmation of its economic global power and its presence on the field in an anti-terrorist key of interpretation.
As a matter of fact, although resonant speeches, has been revealed a consistent lack of democracy and effective protection of liberal values, especially from USA and UN on one hand, and through continuous terrorist attacks from Palestinian organizations recognized as terrorists by UN and EU such as i.e. Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, al.Aqsa Martyr Brigade and LFP, on the other
Bearing in mind that “terrorism” has been defined in 1994 by the UN as “criminal acts intended or calculating to provoke a state of terror in general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them”, it’s clear that on both sides the destiny of innocent civilians, that are daily struggling simply for their livelihood are nowadays still put at risk.
In an economic strangulation and political entanglement, many Palestinian people are actually living in danger and facing violence; they are often forced, having no choice, to be enrolled in military corps, both terroristic or legally recognized, in order to avoid indigence, in a quest for revenge and social redemption.
Once again, in the slowness and inadequacy of political summits in the control rooms of power, through the diplomatic meetings and clumsy changing strategies in the international arena, long distant from the dramatic reality ground, this is one of the saddest quarrels in which are always the helpless battered people that continues on suffering and paying for economic giants damages and interferences and that are far to be resolved in a lack of a clear direction and solutions for a long-lasting peace and security at the four corners of the world.
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