Monday, September 15, 2014
Palestinian reconciliation at crossroads
By Nicola Nasser*
President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement, which he commands, have unleashed a media campaign against Hamas and the resistance. If pressure from the Palestinian public fails to stop the campaign, Abbas may achieve politically what
failed to achieve militarily: forcing the Palestinian presidency to choose
“peace with ”
over national reconciliation. Israel
It appears that President Abbas has, indeed, prioritised “peace with
He has devised plans for resuming negotiations, and is still banking on
American support for such talks. This is the only explanation for the current
anti-Hamas media campaign. Israel
Abbas sent his negotiators — Saeb Erekat, Majed Faraj and Maen Erekat — to Washington, where they met with US Secretary of State John Kerry a week ago last Wednesday. US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki described the more than two-hour meeting as “constructive”. Abbas then prepared to obtain an Arab mandate, which seems guaranteed in advance, for his plans from the 142nd session of the Arab foreign ministers conference, held in
Ambassador to the UN Samantha
Power poured cold water over the Palestinian Authority (PA) president’s bid to
obtain US backing for his plan, which he intends to put before the UN Security
Council and UN General Assembly. The proposal would end the Israeli occupation
of the West Bank and US
within three years, during which period negotiations would resume within three
months with the occupying power over its borders with the Palestinian state. Gaza
“We don’t think there are shortcuts or unilateral measures that can be taken at the United Nations or anyplace else that will bring about the outcome that the Palestinian people most seek,” Power said in a press conference last week. “To think that you can come to
and secure what
needs to be worked out on the ground is not realistic.” New York
This clearly translates into an unequivocal US “No.” The Palestinian president’s new plan has run up against the same American wall that Palestinian negotiators have faced since negotiations were adopted as a strategic approach. The Zionist route remains the only way these negotiators can access the White House and the UN Security Council.
There can be only one explanation for this plan. It is in fulfilment of a Palestinian promise not to resist the occupation and to offer the occupying power the opportunity to agree to yet another futile round of negotiations. Such negotiations will give
the time it needs to turn
the Givaot colony into a major settler city on the 4,000 dunams of Palestinian
land that it has just seized by declaring it “state land”. Israel
The purpose of this appropriation is to separate the
Hebron and South Bethlehem
governorates in the West Bank. It is also a
means to deflect international humanitarian pressure in reaction to Israeli war
crimes in Gaza, to evade Israel’s obligations to the truce agreement with
the resistance in ,
and to fuel internal Palestinian tensions until they reignite once more. Gaza
It was not Hamas or the resistance that described Abbas’s new plan as a “spurious process”. It was independent Palestinian figures who expressed their views in a statement read out by Mamdouh Al-Akr, general commissioner of the Independent Organisation of Human Rights, on 2 September in Ramallah. They called for an urgent meeting of the unified leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), in accordance with the
Activating the unified leadership framework of the PLO will put President Abbas’s call for a “single Palestinian central authority”, uniquely empowered to “determine matters of war and peace”, into its concrete national context. Only this context can confer legitimacy on a Palestinian leadership that does not derive its authority from resisting the occupation in all forms.
Moreover, the currently missing “electoral legitimacy” is no longer sufficient in and of itself to allow Palestinian decisions on war and peace to remain in the hands of a leadership that is the product of elections that were held with the approval of the occupation power and in the framework of agreements signed with it.
The Palestinian presidency has dropped the available option of resistance from the lexicon of its negotiating strategy, let alone the option of war, which is not available. The PA, in coordination with the occupation’s security apparatus, has become “the security proxy for the occupying power, rather than an instrument to end the occupation and establish the state,” as Palestinian analyst Hani Al-Masri wrote on 26 August.
As a result, the occupying power, alone, holds the keys to the decision of war, which it continues to repeat, and to the decision of peace, which it still refuses to take.
It appears that President Abbas is working against the tide of Palestinian public opinion, as voiced in a recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in Ramallah. According to this poll, only 22 per cent of respondents supported a resumption of negotiations, while 53 per cent said they regarded resistance as “the more effective way” to realise the creation of a Palestinian state.
The results of the PCPSR poll contradict all the charges levelled by the president and Fatah against the resistance and Hamas. Of those polled, 79 per cent believe that the resistance emerged victorious from the recent war, while 86 per cent support the defensive use of rockets.
Respondents gave very low ratings to the performance of the Palestinian president, the PA, the national unity government and the PLO, while the approval rating for Hamas was 88 per cent.
What is the substance of this media campaign against Hamas? It ranges from blaming Hamas for prolonging the war and for the consequent loss of lives and material damage, to adopting the Israeli narrative regarding a Hamas-engineered “coup attempt” against the president in the West Bank and the existence of a “shadow government” in
Then there are the charges of keeping Fatah members under “house arrest”, of “opening fire on civilians”, and of “selling emergency relief on the black market.” On top of these come the accusation that Hamas has violated “the law that defines the colours and dimensions of the flag.”
President Abbas’s instructions to create a “committee to hold a dialogue” with Hamas to discuss the “fate of the national unity government,” as announced by Amin Maqboul, secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, does little to encourage optimism. The national unity government, national reconciliation, the
This is because of the confrontation stirred by the systematic smear campaign that President Abbas and the Fatah movement are waging against Hamas and the resistance. The campaign has created a media smokescreen behind which the occupation authority can conceal its foot-dragging in carrying out its obligations under the truce agreement, which will probably be echoed in Israeli procrastination on continuing with truce talks due to be held in Cairo.
It should also be stressed that to accuse the resistance and Hamas of prolonging the war is to exonerate the occupation power of responsibility. The Israeli media was quick to capitalise on this, further proof of the extensive coverage the campaign has received.
Indeed, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev virtually reiterated it verbatim when he said that the Egyptian initiative was on the table from 15 July and that while the Arab League and
The investigatory commission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council will most likely cite the president’s charges to strengthen the claims of the occupying power, as these charges would be regarded as “testimony of a witness from the other side.”
Abbas says that while the “final toll” from the most recent war in Gaza was 2,140 dead, “if added to the number of dead in previous wars, and those who died during the period of the Shalit problem, the number would be 10,000 dead and wounded, in addition to the 35,000 homes that were totally or partially destroyed.”
When Abbas says that “it would have been possible” to avert the human and material losses of the recent conflict he is effectively blaming the resistance, not the occupation, for the last war on
The spectre of discord once again hovers over Palestinian unity, with Palestinian opinion divided over a programme of negotiations versus a programme of resistance. This is the breach through which Arab and non-Arab “axes” penetrate into the Palestinian interior, deepening rather than mending Palestinian rifts.
* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (email@example.com). This article was first published and translated from Arabic by Al-Ahram Weekly on September 11, 2014.
Friday, June 20, 2014
Iraqi hydrocarbon prize of U.S. invasion in danger
By Nicola Nasser*
Excluding “boots on the ground” and leaving combat missions to local and regional “partners,” President Barak Obama and his administration say the United States keeps “all options on the table” to respond militarily to the terrorists’ threat to “American interests” in Iraq, which are now in “danger.”
Similarly, former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on TV screens and in print has recently urged western governments to “put aside the differences of the past and act now” and to intervene militarily in
the future” because “we do have interests in this.” Iraq
Both men refrained from indicating what are exactly the “American” and “western” interests in
that need military intervention to defend, but the major prize of their
in 2003 was the country’s hydrocarbon assets. There lies their “interests. Iraq
On June 13 however, Obama hinted to a possible major “disruption” in Iraqi oil output and urged “other producers in the Gulf” to be “able to pick up the slack.”
The United States has already moved the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, from the northern Arabian Sea into the Arabian Gulf (Persian according to Iran) “to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq,” according to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, on June 14. Media is reporting that
U.S. intelligence units and
air reconnaissance are already operating in . Iraq
The unfolding collapse of the
proxy government in Baghdad has cut short a
process of legalizing the
de-nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry in , which became within reach
with the latest electoral victory of the Iraqi prime minister since 2006, Noori
Anti-American armed resistance to the
proxy ruling regime in ,
especially the Baath-led backbone, is on record as seeking to return to the
status quo ante with regard to the country’s strategic hydrocarbon assets, i.e.
De-nationalization and privatization of the Iraqi oil and gas industry began with the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Al-Maliki for eight years could not pass a hydrocarbons law through the parliament. Popular opposition and a political system based on sectarian distribution of power and “federal” distribution of oil revenues blocked its adoption. Ruling by political majority instead by sectarian consensus was al-Maliki’s declared hope to enact the law.
Al-Maliki’s plans towards this end together with his political ambitions for a third term were cut short by the fall to armed opposition on this June 10 of Mosul, the capital of the northern Ninawa governorate and second only to Baghdad as Iraq’s largest metropolitan area.
Three days on, with the fighting moving on to the gates of
Baghdad, “the most
important priority for
right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure,” a Stratfor analysis
on June 11 concluded. Baghdad
The raging war in
now will determine whether
Iraqi hydrocarbons are a national asset or multinational loot. Any Iraq U.S. military support to the regime it installed
should be viewed within this context. Meanwhile this national wealth is still
being pillaged as spoils of war. Baghdad
Al-Maliki is not now preoccupied even with maintaining Iraq as OPEC’s No. 2 oil producer, but with maintaining a level of oil output sufficient to bring in enough revenues to finance a defensive war that left his capital besieged and his government with southern Iraq only to rule, may be not for too long.
Even this modest goal is in doubt. Al-Maliki is left with oil exports from the south only, the disruption of which is highly possible any time now.
Worries that fighting would spread to the southern city of
Basra or have already sent oil prices to
nine-month high on Thursday. Baghdad
Legalizing the de-nationalization of Iraqi hydrocarbon industry has thus become more elusive than it has ever been since 2003.
On June 1 forty two years ago the process of the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry kicked off in
. Now Iraq is
an open field for looting its only strategic asset. Iraq
On April 15 last year the CNN, reviewing “The Iraq war, 10 years on,” reported: “Yes, the Iraq War was a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.”
“Before the 2003 invasion,
domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil
companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly
dominated by foreign firms,” the CNN report concluded, indicating that, “From
ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West's have
set up shop in Iraq .
So have a slew of American oil service companies, , the Texas-based firm Dick Cheney ran before becoming
George W. Bush's running mate in 2000. Iraq
The international rush for the Iraqi “black gold” by trans-national oil and gas corporations is at its height with no national law or competent central authority to regulate it.
Nothing changed since except that the “rush” was accelerating and the de-nationalization process was taking roots, squandering the bloody sacrifices of the Iraqis over eighty two years to uproot the foreign hold on their major strategic asset. The ongoing fighting is threatening to cut this process short.
Tip of iceberg
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in
Iraq has been awarding hydrocarbon contracts to
foreign firms independently without reference to the central government in . Baghdad
Since early 2014, it has been pumping crude to
own independent pipeline built last December. On this June 4, Turkey Turkey
and the KRG announced the signing of a 50-year deal to export Iraqi oil from
Kurdistan via . Turkey
deputy prime minister, threatened legal action against firms that purchased
"smuggled oil" via the Turkish-KRG arrangements; he accused of
“greed” and trying “to lay (its) hands on cheap Iraqi oil. Turkey
The dispute between
on the one hand and Turkey
and the KRG on the other is only the surfacing tip of the iceberg of the “gold rush–style” looting of ’s
national wealth. Iraq
One of the main priorities of al-Maliki all along has been to legalize the de-nationalization and privatization process.
Muttitt, author of Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, wrote a few months before al-Maliki assumed his first premiership that American and British governments made sure the candidates for prime minister knew what their first priority had to be: To pass a law legalizing the return of the foreign multinationals. This would be the vital biggest prize of the
2003 invasion. U.S.
Al-Maliki is the right man to secure a pro-privatization government in
Thomas L. Friedman described him in the New York Times on this June 4 as “our
guy,” “an American-installed autocrat” and a “big gift” the Baghdad U.S. occupation “left behind in .” Iraq
Various drafts of hydrocarbon privatization laws failed to gain consensus among the proxy sectarian parties to the U.S.-engineered “political process” and the “federal” entities of
U.S.-drafted constitution. Iraq
Al-Maliki’s government endorsed the first draft of a privatization law in February 2007 and on August 28, 2011 endorsed an amended draft which the parliament has yet to adopt.
Iraqi trade unions, amid popular protests, opposed and fought the privatization draft laws. Their offices were raided, computers confiscated, equipment smashed and their leaders arrested and prosecuted. Nonetheless, the parliament could not pass the law.
Al-Maliki government began awarding contracts to international oil and gas giants without a law in place. They are illegal contracts, but valid as long as there is a pro-privatization government in
Former British and
leaders of the invasion of ,
Tony Blair and George Bush junior, were on record to deny that the invasion had
anything to do with oil, but the U.S. President Barak Obama has just refuted
their claim. Iraq
On last May 16, Obama signed an Executive Order to extend the national emergency with respect to
for one year. His predecessor
Bush signed this “order” for the first time on May 22, 2003 “to
deal with the … threat to the national security and foreign policy of the Iraq United States posed by obstacles to the continued
reconstruction of .” Iraq
Details of Bush’s Executive Order (EO) No. 13303 are still kept out of media spotlight. It declared that future legal claims on
wealth constitute “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security
and foreign policy of the .” United
Section 1(b) eliminates all judicial process for “all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the
States, or that are or hereafter come within the
possession or control of persons.” United
EO 13303 was rubber-stamped by the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1483, which protected the U.S.-controlled governmental institutions in
Muttitt wrote in August 2012: “In 2011, after nearly nine years of war and occupation,
finally left .
In their place, Big Oil is now present in force.” Iraq
“Big Oil” is now the only guarantor of the survival of the
U.S. proxy government in , but the survival of “Big Oil” itself
is now threatened by the escalating and rapidly expanding armed opposition. Baghdad
Obama said the “threats” and “obstacles” to U.S, interests in
Iraq have not
changed eleven years after the invasion; has not enacted yet a
hydrocarbon law to legalize the privatization of its oil and gas industry. Iraq
The developments of the last week in
Obama’s renewal of EO 13303. The Iraq U.S. war
is not over and it is not won yet. Hence Obama’s recent extension of the
national emergency with respect to Iraq for one year. Iraq
its restricted independence in 1932, the nationalization of Iraqi oil wealth
was the national and popular battle cry for complete sovereignty. It is now the
battle cry of the armed opposition. Iraq
* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Antagonizing Palestinians, Australia’s linguistic blunder snowballs
By Nicola Nasser*
Reacting to antagonized Palestinian snowballing protests to her government’s decision on June 5 to reverse a 47-year old bipartisan consensus on describing eastern
as “occupied,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on June 13 denied any “change in
the Australian government’s position.” Jerusalem
On June 5, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis in a statement said: ''The description of
Jerusalem as 'Occupied East Jerusalem' is a term freighted with
pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.''
The new Australian terminology provoked Jordan, the third largest importer of Australian sheep in the Middle East, to summon Australia's charge d'affaires, John Feakes, to convey its “concern” because “The Australian government's decision violates international law and resolutions that consider east Jerusalem as an integral part of all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.”
Similarly, the Australian Representative in Ramallah, Tom Wilson, was summoned by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey “deep concern” because Brandis’ remarks “contradict all international resolutions.” They requested “official clarification.”
Bishop’s “no change” statement came in response. It was followed on June 14 by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who said, while on a trip to
America, that his government had made only a “terminological
Abbot two days earlier stated that the
(OPT) are in “truth … disputed territories." Occupied
“I think we just call the West Bank, ‘the
West Bank,’ as a geographical entity without adding any
adjectives to it, whether ‘occupied’ [the Palestinian position] or ‘disputed’
[the Israeli position]. We’ll just call it what it is, which is ‘the West Bank.’,” he told the Tablet. However, this is not
official yet, he said.
“There has been no change in the Australian government’s position on the legal status of the
Territories, including East Jerusalem,” Bishop “clarified” in her statement. She
was not convincing. The credibility of Bishop’s and Abbot’s denial of “change”
could hardly be plausible.
It is a “radical change in the Australian position on
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said. The head of the Palestinian delegation
to Palestine Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi, said ’s new
stance is “very provocative.” Australia
On June 12, Arab and Islamic ambassadors from 18 countries, including
Egypt and Indonesia, protested
to Australia's Department of
Foreign Affairs in . Canberra
The Australian on June 10 reported from
Jerusalem that the 57-member OIC will hold a joint
emergency meeting this month with the 22-member Arab League to decide their response to ’s
“terminology” declaration. Australia
Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi sent Bishop a “letter of protest” requesting “official clarification,” his deputy Ahmad bin Hilli said last Monday.
Palestinians are on record to invoke the multi-billion annual Australian agricultural exports to the member states in the discussions. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters last Friday that “we will work very hard with them … to maintain the trade,” but so far his government has shown no signs to that effect.
Bishop’s and Abbot’s “no change” statements tried to imply that their country’s policy has not changed and that if there was a change it is a linguistic one only.
Either case the change in “terminology” serves neither Australian nor Palestinian interests. Coming ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to
summer, to be the first ever sitting Israeli premier to visit , it serves only as a free of charge
welcoming present. Canberra
However, coming on the 47th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory in eastern Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip and in 2014, which the United Nations proclaimed an International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Australian “change of language” was “absolutely disgraceful and shocking,” according to the member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hanan Ashrawi.
“Such inflammatory and irresponsible statements … are not only in blatant violation of international law and global consensus, but are also lethal in any pursuit of peace and toxic to any attempt at enacting a global rule of law,” Ashrawi was quoted as saying by the Times of Israel on June 6.
In fact, describing the Palestinian territories, eastern
inclusive, as “occupied” is not only a Palestinian position. Jerusalem
The Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem has not been recognized by the international community and all 193 countries of the UN, including the
to have their embassies in Jerusalem because it
would imply their recognition of the city as ’s capital. Israel
Published by The Guardian on this June 11, Ben Saul wrote: “Calling east
‘occupied’ simply recognizes the
near-universal legal status quo, namely that it is not sovereign Israeli
“Declaring that east
will not be described as ‘occupied’ implies that rejects the application
of international humanitarian law … The term "occupation" is
therefore not pejorative or judgmental.” Saul said, adding that “ Australia Australia’s new view … corrodes the
international rule of law and violates Australia’s
international law obligations” in accordance with the Geneva
conventions to which both Australia
are signatories. Israel
The UN Security Council Resolution 478 on August 20, 1980 censured “in the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem,” affirmed “that the enactment of the ‘basic law’ by Israel constitutes a violation of international law” and determined “that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”
Ninety UNSC resolutions, let alone 40 others vetoed by the
rule accordingly. Now U.S. Australia
only other nation that joins and supports in its
violation of all these resolutions. Aside from Israel Israel,
it is also the only nation to change its language on the . Palestinian Occupied Territories
Australian linguistics in context
The Palestinian people are not known for their short memory. They view the Australian government’s “terminological clarification” in the context of the country’s recent pro-Israel changes of policy as well as in
historical anti-Palestinian policies. Australia
Last month, Ambassador Sharma met in
Jerusalem with the Israeli Minister of Housing Uri Ariel, who is
in charge of the illegal construction of the colonial settlements in the OPT.
In January this year, while on an official visit to Israel, Foreign Minister Bishop told the Times of Israel that she isn’t convinced that Israeli construction of illegal settlements in OPT is a violation of international law, and called international boycotts of these settlements “anti-Semitic” and “Hypocritical beyond belief.”
failed to join 158 nations who supported a UN General Assembly resolution
calling for an end to Israeli settlements or to join 160 countries which
supported another resolution calling on to “comply scrupulously” with the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Israel
In November 2012, Australia abstained from supporting the UNGA recognition of Palestine as a “non-member observer state” by a vote of 138 to 9, rendering PM Abbot’s latest “clarification” that Australia still “strongly” supports the “two-state solution” a hollow statement.
Quoted by Emeritus Professor Peter Boyce AO, President of the Australia Institute of International Affairs in
Tasmania, a 2010 study found that 78% of
Australians were opposed to Israel’s
settlements policy and only 22% thought Jerusalem
should be recognized as ’s
capital. More recently, at the time of the 2012 General Assembly vote on
Palestinian non-member observer State status, 51% of Australians thought their
country should vote “Yes” and only 15% “No.” Israel
Australia has had an important role in the
establishment of the Israeli state” and it “stood alone among western governments in
its uncritical alignment with ,”
Professor Boyce wrote. Israel
Certainly Boyce had history in mind.
Australia in its capacity as the Chairman of the UN General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on helped to push through the UN Partition Plan on
November 29, 1947. It was the first UN member state to vote in favor of Israeli
statehood and the first to grant Palestine Israel
de-jure recognition when the
recognized it de-facto only. U.S. Israel
was also the first Middle East country with which established diplomatic
relations in 1949. Australia
* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. email@example.com
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Pope’s unbalanced neutrality in Holy Land
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.” Jerusalem
Palestinian-American Daoud Kuttab on May 25 wrote in a controversial column that the pope “exceeded expectations for Palestinians.”
He flew directly from
to Bethlehem in without passing through any Israeli
entry procedures, implicitly and symbolically recognizing Palestinian sovereignty. Palestine
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 , because, as he said, “the time has
come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly
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
where most Palestinian Christians are located. Nazareth
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
That was exactly the same futile message the Israeli occupying power and its
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. U.S.
For this purpose, the pope invited Palestinian and Israeli presidents, Abbas and Shimon Peres, to pray for peace at “my home in the
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. Vatican
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
. This was his
fourth message: Palestine Israel is a
fait accompli recognized by the
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
The pope sent his fifth message to Palestinians when he addressed young Palestinian refugees from the Dehiyshe Refugee Camp in
: “Don't ever
allow the past to determine your life, always look forward.” He was repeating
the Israeli and Bethlehem
call on Palestinian refugees to forget their Nakba and look forward from their
refugee camps for an unknown future in exile and diaspora. U.S.
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
message to them, which after more than two decades of Palestinian commitment
produced neither peace nor justice for them. U.S.
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
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
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 Israel Vatican's
recognition of Jerusalem as capital of .” Israel
The pope’s eighth message to Palestinians was on the future of
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.” Jerusalem
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
“normalization” of relations with the Jews and has been accumulating. Israel
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
By laying a wreath of white and yellow flowers, the colours of the
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. Vatican
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
No pope ever travelled to
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. Jerusalem
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. firstname.lastname@example.org