Joe Dyke – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 19 Oct 2018 03:28:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 US Downgrades Palestinian Mission into Israeli Embassy Fri, 19 Oct 2018 04:15:07 +0000 Co-Author: Paul HANDLEY | – –

Washington (AFP) – The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.

The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.

The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply towards Israel.

Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.

“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.

He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.

– ‘Unprecedented’ –

AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI. Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Saeb Erekat says Washington is rewarding “Israeli violations and crimes” by closing its consulate general for Palestinian affairs and merging it into the US embassy to Israel.

The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.

The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.

International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.

They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.

Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.

The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.

Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.

AFP / SAUL LOEB. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists the decision to close the US consulate general for Palestinian issues in Jerusalem is not a change in US policy.

The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.

Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.

“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.

Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”

The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.

But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.

“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.

“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.

Featured Photo: AFP/File / Menahem KAHANA. The US embassy in Jerusalem, which was opened on May 14, 2018.

Trump Aid Cuts to Palestinians Boost Tension, Embolden Israeli Hard Right Sun, 02 Sep 2018 05:28:06 +0000 Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – US President Donald Trump’s swingeing cuts to aid for Palestinians will advance Israel’s interests but risk compromising a US-led peace push and raise tensions in the Middle East, analysts and diplomats said Saturday.

The US administration announced Friday it would no longer provide any funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), a week after cutting over $200 million (170 million euros) in separate aid to Palestinians.

They were the latest in a series of controversial moves by the Trump administration that have thrilled Israel’s government but caused shock and dismay among international powers and Palestinians, making their dream of an independent state more distant than ever.

The cuts come as the international community seeks to reach an agreement to deliver significant humanitarian aid to the poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, where most residents rely on external handouts.

The US has long been the largest single donor to UNRWA, providing more than $350 million a year.

The agency provides support to Palestinians who fled their homes in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel, as well as their descendants.

Israel and the US object to the fact that Palestinians can pass refugee status to their children, and want the number of refugees covered by UNRWA to be sharply reduced.

The Palestinians accuse the US of blatant bias and of seeking to strip them of their rights.

A week earlier, the US government ended Palestinian funding by USAID, which amounted to more than $200 million a year.

In December, the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking decades of international consensus that the status of the disputed city should be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.

AFP / MAHMUD HAMS. Palestinian refugees chat at the Al-Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City on September 1, 2018.

The May opening of the US embassy in the city triggered Palestinian protests that saw dozens of demonstrators in Gaza shot dead by Israeli forces.

A European diplomat said Saturday the US moves, taken in conjunction with an American pledge to veto any motions criticising Israel at the UN Security Council, were emboldening Israel’s government, considered the most right-wing in the country’s history.

Israel is increasingly convinced it has a free hand to accelerate settlement growth and even advocate for annexing parts of the West Bank, the diplomat said.

Alan Baker, a former Israeli diplomat-turned-analyst, said the government would be thrilled by the aid cuts.

“The UNRWA thing is very logical as it has become an anachronistic organisation — maintaining the refugee status rather than trying to solve it.”

– No leverage with Palestinians –

Baker said the aim of the cuts was also to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, though others said that was unlikely.

Trump’s team, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been pushing for what the US leader has called the “ultimate deal”, but the Palestinians have boycotted his administration since its Jerusalem announcement.

The cuts mean the US is providing very little aid to Palestinians, and another European diplomat said the move weakened Trump’s hand.

“When you have no money left to threaten them with, you have reduced your leverage,” he said.

Palestinian economist Nasser Abdel Kareem told AFP the cuts would hurt Palestinians but have little impact on the government.

Unlike some European states, the US does not provide direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority.

AFP / MAHMUD HAMS. Palestinian refugee children play in a street of the Al-Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City on September 1, 2018.

The only part of US funding that goes directly to the PA -– for security coordination with Israel -– was not cut.

The cut “will not harm the treasury of the Palestinian Authority,” Kareem told AFP.

Nadia Hijab, president of the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, said returning to negotiations would be extremely unpopular among Palestinians.

But she fears that with full US support, Israel will have free reign to increase settlement growth.

“If the PA goes back and talks to the Americans it is giving them a green light to do whatever they want to do, and if they don’t go back, they are going to do what they want to do,” she said.

“At the moment it is a lose-lose situation.”

Hugh Lovatt, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, agreed.

“If anything, the Palestinians will now double down on their current approach, which is to boycott the US administration and attack the yet-to-be unveiled US peace plan,” he said.

– Regional fears –

Hijab and many Palestinians do not believe the US is seeking to get the Palestinian leadership back to the table.

Instead, she said, they believe the US is trying to help Israel “end the conflict on its terms and legalise its occupation”.

AFP / MAHMUD HAMS. Palestinian refugees sit near computers at the Al-Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City on September 1, 2018.

That would mean stripping refugees across the region of their rights, specifically the idea they could one day return to historic Palestine.

In both Jordan and Lebanon, Palestinian refugees have fewer rights than citizens and rely on UNRWA services for education, healthcare and other basic services.

In Gaza, run by the Islamist movement Hamas, the majority of the two million residents are refugees, meaning the UNRWA cuts will hit particularly hard.

Job losses for a few hundred of the agency’s staff have already sparked major protests.

The Gaza Strip suffers from desperate poverty and is largely sealed off by both Israel and its other land neighbour, Egypt.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.

Some in the Israeli security services quietly express concern that immediate cuts to UNRWA could increase tensions with Israel in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian Teen Ahed Tamimi: Israelis should put Selves in My Place, Recover their Humanity Tue, 31 Jul 2018 05:00:16 +0000 Nabi Saleh (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi said Monday she was deeply changed by her eight-month sentence in an Israeli jail for slapping two soldiers, but does not regret any of her actions.

Tamimi, who was 16 when she was arrested in December for hitting and kicking soldiers in front of her house in the occupied West Bank, was released Sunday and swarmed by media from across the globe.

In an interview the day after her release, the now 17-year-old told AFP that she understood she had become a “symbol” of the Palestinian cause.

“Of course my life has been changed a lot. I changed a lot in prison,” said Tamimi.

“I became more focused, more aware also. Prison ages a person. In one day you age 100 years,” she said in the backyard of her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

Asked if she would have done the same thing if she had known it would land her behind bars for months, she said yes.

She pointed to the circumstances in which the soldiers had entered the garden of her house in December during a day of major protests that saw her cousin shot in the head with a rubber bullet.

Her confronting of the Israeli soldiers was recorded and went viral online.

“I didn’t do anything wrong that I should regret,” she said.

“If I had known I would be in jail eight months, of course I would have done it because it was a natural reaction to a soldier being in my house shooting at people, people from my village,” she said.

“Any person in this situation — I hit him, maybe there are people that would have killed him.”

Israel’s military said the two soldiers had been in the area to prevent Palestinians from throwing stones at Israeli motorists.

The video of the altercation does not show the soldiers reacting to Tamimi’s actions or using their weapons, and the teenager was arrested four days later.

Tamimi said she hoped to study law to expose the issue of Israel’s occupation to the rest of the world.

Israel has long said Tamimi and her siblings have been manipulated by her parents — longtime activists — and used as pawns in staged provocations.

When she was only 14, a picture of her biting a soldier’s hand to prevent him from arresting a family member went viral.

She denied claims that she had been exploited.

“My family never exploited me once,” she said.

“I am mature enough and I know the cause. I know the consequences that will stem from choosing this path. I am not a child.”

Tamimi and her mother Nariman were sentenced to eight months by an Israeli military court in a plea deal following the December incident.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem since seizing it in a 1967 war. Tamimi’s village Nabi Saleh is close to a number of Israeli settlements.

– ‘No ice cream’ –

Even though she’s only 17, Tamimi’s stint in jail has made her one of the best-known living Palestinians.

Palestinians and their supporters see her as a hero standing up to the Israeli army unarmed.

Many Israelis view her with contempt and some accuse her activist family of being supporters of “terrorism.”

Last week a 14-foot (4-metre) mural of her was painted on Israel’s separation wall that cuts off the West Bank. The Italian artists who painted it were arrested by Israel.

After her release on Sunday, throngs of media and supporters rushed to catch a glimpse of her and greet her.

At times when speaking to AFP she sounded like a budding Palestinian politician, at others like the teenager she is.

She said she still loves football and was crazy over the World Cup — watching the games when possible in jail and supporting Brazil and Neymar in particular.

One of the first things she did after leaving prison was visit an ice cream parlour in central Ramallah, the West Bank city where the Palestinian government is based.

“Of course there is no ice cream in prison ever. I love it a lot. When it was summer I would avoid food. I would only eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said.

Asked if she had a message for Israelis who think of her as a “terrorist”, she said she would ask them to “put themselves in my place, just that, nothing more”.

“Go back to their humanity a little so they can understand the reality.”

Featured Photo: AFP / ABBAS MOMANI. Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, 17, listens during an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on July 30, 2018.