Friday, November 21, 2014

 

Gaza bombings rock Palestinian reconciliation

By Nicola Nasser*

It is ironic that the annual commemoration of the death of Yasser Arafat should turn into an occasion for rekindling the flames of internal strife. This was clearly the aim of last week’s bombings that targeted the homes of Fatah leaders in Gaza, as well as the podium for the commemorative ceremonies of Arafat, who strove to make Palestinian national unity one of the pillars of his political legacy.

How desperately those concerned need to be inspired by the political legacy of that great president.

During a visit to demonstrate solidarity with the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyar, where settlers, under the protective eye of occupation soldiers, set fire to a mosque, Director of the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Kamel Abu Aliya remarked that his ministry have documented 20 similar attacks on mosques in the West Bank since 2011.

In targeting mosques, the occupation is clearly targeting major symbols of national and popular unity. Mosques, by definition, gather people together rather than drive them apart. Inside the mosque all the factions of the national struggle that are at odds with each other assemble as one with their fellow men, in solid ranks with a single heart.

The occupation has never foregone any means at its disposal to drive a wedge into the Palestinian national ranks. This has not changed. So it is ironic that the bombings would become an occasion to present the occupation with the gift of factional polarisation and a war of words, at a time when the factions most need to be united, and that they would serve to turn the national compass away from Jerusalem, on which Arafat had set his national compass until his dying breath.

But here is another important point. Both sides of the dispute — Fatah and Hamas — have condemned the attacks, denied all charges of responsibility and insist on the need to conduct an investigation into bombings as quickly as possible.

If these two factions can agree on these points, what would keep them from agreeing to form a joint fact-finding committee that would include representatives from all other factions (most notably the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front) and independent figures from civil society that would be committed to publishing its findings in fulfilment of the right of the Palestinian people to know the truth?

Moreover, why couldn’t the creation of a joint committee such as this become a new mechanism for enhancing national reconciliation and ending acrimonious exchanges before they spiral out of control?

In this regard, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that he is not interested in “an investigation by them” — referring to Hamas, of course — but does not propose an alternative investigatory mechanism, he is not helping efforts to unearth the truth, which his people are more eager to learn than the two factions whose protracted dispute has exhausted their people.

But the most appalling irony resides in their aversion to turning the finger of accusation in the direction of the ultimate beneficiary from all this — namely, the Israeli occupation authority and its state. A focus on that beneficiary would suffice, in and of itself, to contain the dangerous repercussions of the bombings on national unity and, simultaneously, to expose the truth about the existence of parties who fear their interests would be jeopardised by the end of the rift in both the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip.

These parties are exploited, knowingly or not, by the occupation, and collectively they form a “fifth column” that works to obstruct the process of national reconciliation in order to safeguard their interests.

But even if those who carried out the bomb attacks were Palestinian this does not obscure the identity of the first and foremost beneficiary. This, moreover, comes at a time when the occupation is escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people under occupation.

It is increasing its forces in the West Bank, intensifying its repressive measures and moving to augment its budget for settlement expansion. More significantly, the Israeli government recently approved a bill of law to extend the laws of the Israeli state to the Jewish colonies in the West Bank, as is the case in East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. In other words, we are effectively speaking of another Israeli annexation bid.

The history of dissension and strife is repeating itself. A statement by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) urges Fatah and Hamas to exercise restraint and to remain alert to the conspiracies that are being woven against the Palestinian people.

It cautions the two factions against falling into the Israeli trap of igniting Palestinian discord and urges them to give competent agencies and relevant political authorities sufficient time to unearth the threads of the crime.

Yet this statement, which applies perfectly to the current situation, was issued by the PFLP in July 2008 after four Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigade members were killed in a bombing on Gaza beach. At the time, Hamas accused Fatah and the Fatah charged Hamas with carrying out an “internal purge.”

Nothing appears to have changed, apart from the fact that today Fatah accuses Hamas of planting the bombs and the latter responds that the attack was related to an internal conflict inside Fatah. In both cases, the occupation power and its government come out innocent!

That rush to judgment and finger pointing before the smoke has cleared is suspicious and raises questions regarding the political motives behind such reactions. One is reminded of a similar case of accusations that were hurled after the assassination of  former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005.

Before his blood had dried some fingers in Lebanon pointed to Syria, even though it was palpably evident that Damascus could not have been behind the crime as it was fully aware that it could only be harmed by the consequences.

The same applies to Hamas today. After its long political experience it would realise that it could only stand to lose from the Gaza bombings.

The hands that carried out the bombings in Gaza might be Palestinian and even Fatah or Hamas hands, but those who issued the orders could not have been Palestinian decision-makers. Anyone familiar with the history of Palestinian assassinations knows this.

The perpetrators may have been motivated by personal interests but the consequences cannot possibly serve Palestinian interests, factional or otherwise. They can only serve the occupation authority and its state, especially as the victim is certainly the Palestinian people and their national unity.

The fifth column that benefits from Palestinian division and that feels threatened by its end is still searching for opportunities to sabotage Palestinian national reconciliation. It must have seen the Gaza bombings as a perfect opportunity to fan the flames of discord, offering a service free of charge to the occupation (presuming the best possible intentions under that situation), or not free of charge (presuming the worst).

It does not take much effort to reach the above conclusion. However, building on it by containing the unpatriotic repercussions of the attacks requires great thought and effort in order to prevent outbursts of factional acrimony or to keep them contained in order to safeguard national reconciliation from collapse.

This is essential to ensure that the reconstruction of Gaza moves forward, to sustain the national unity government and to return the focus to solidifying national ranks in the face of the occupation’s ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, their security and wellbeing and their sanctities, and behind the political battle that the Palestinian presidency is waging in the international arena.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on November 20, 2014.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

 

The endgame of the US ‘Islamic State’ strategy

By Nicola Nasser*

Dismantling what the former US President George W. Bush once described as the Syria – Iran component of the “axis of evil,” or interrupting in Iraq the geographical contiguity of what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent,” was and remains the strategic goal of the US – Israeli allies in the Middle East unless they succeed first in “changing the regime” in either Damascus or Tehran.

The US, Israel and their regional allies have been on the record that the final target of their “regime change” campaign in the Middle East was to dismantle the SyriaIran alliance.

With the obvious failure of Plan A to dismantle the self- proclaimed anti-Israel and anti - US Syrian – Iranian “Resistance Axis” by a forcible “regime change” in Damascus, a US – led regional alliance has turned recently to its Plan B to interrupt in Iraq the geographical contiguity of that axis.

This is the endgame of President Barak Obama’s strategy, which he declared on last September 10 as ostensibly against the Islamic State (IS).

This would at least halt for the foreseeable future all the signed and projected trilateral or bilateral Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian pipeline networks to carry oil and gas from Iran and Iraq to the Syrian coast at the Mediterranean.

Israeli Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a former Deputy Head of the Israel National Security Council anticipated in writing on last January 21 what he called the “Salafi Crescent” that is dangerously emerging to challenge the “Shia Crescent.”

“The growing involvement of Sunni Salafi jihadis in Iraq (since 2003), among the rebels in Syria (since 2011), and in Lebanon has created a ‘Salafi Crescent’ … from Diyala [in eastern Iraq] to Beirut,” he wrote.

“A positive outcome” of this Salafi Crescent “will be the decline in Iranian influence in the region,” Shay concluded.

Conspiracy theories aside, the eventual outcome is a sectarian Sunni military and political wedge driven into the Iraqi geographical connection of the Iran-Syria alliance in a triangle bordering Turkey in the north, Iran in the east, Jordan in the west and Saudi Arabia in the south and extending from north eastern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala which borders Iran.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already effectively an independent state and cut off from the central government in Baghdad, but separating Iran and Syria as well and supported by the same US – led anti – IS coalition.

Amid the misinformation and disinformation, the fact is that the IS threat is being used as a smokescreen to confuse and blur this reality.

The IS was conceived and delivered in an American womb. The US – drafted and enforced current constitution produced the sectarian government that is still trying to rule in Iraq. Sectarian cleansing and exclusion of Sunnis could not but inevitably create its antithesis.

The IS was the illegitimate fetus born and nurtured inside the uterus of the US -   engineered political process based on a constitution legalizing a federal system based in turn on sectarian and ethnic sharing of power and wealth.

This horrible illegitimate creature is the “legacy” of the US war on Iraq, which was “conceived” in the “sin” of the US invasion of the country in 2003, in the words of the president of the Arab American Institute, James J. Zogbi, writing in the Jordan Times on last June 16.

US Senator John McCain, quoted by The Atlantic on last June 23, thanked “God,” the “Saudis and Prince Bandar” and “our Qatari friends” for creating the “monster.”

The pro-Iran government of former Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki was squeezed by the IS military advances to “request” the US help, which Washington preconditioned on the removal of al-Maliki to which Iran succumbed. The IS gave Obama’s IS strategy its first success.

However, al-Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi in August has changed nothing so far in the sectarian component of the Iraqi government and army. The US support of Iraq under his premiership boils down only to supporting continued sectarianism in the country, which is the incubator of the survival of its IS antithesis.

Moreover, the destruction of the Iraqi state infrastructure, especially the dismantling of Iraq’s national army and security agencies and the Iraqi Baath party that held them intact, following the US invasion, has created a power vacuum which neither the US occupation forces nor the sectarian Shiite militias could fill. The IS was not powerful per se. They just stepped in on a no-man land.

Similarly, some four years of a US – led “regime change” effort, which was initially spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood and which is still financed, armed and logistically facilitated by the US regional allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as by allied western intelligence services, has created another power vacuum in Syria, especially on border areas and in particular in the northern and eastern areas bordering Turkey and Iraq.

US Senator Rand Paul in an interview with CNN on last June 22 was more direct, accusing the Obama administration of “arming” and creating an IS “safe haven” in Syria, which “created a vacuum” filled by the IS.

“We have been fighting alongside al Qaeda, fighting alongside ISISISIS is now emboldened and in two countries.  But here's the anomaly.  We're with ISIS in Syria.  We're on the same side of the war.  So, those who want to get involved to stop ISIS in Iraq are allied with ISIS in Syria.  That is the real contradiction to this whole policy,” he said.

The former 16 - year member of the US Congress and two - time US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, writing in the http://www.huffingtonpost.com on last September 24, summed it up: The IS “was born of Western intervention in Iraq and covert action in Syria.”

The US ‘Trojan horse’

The IS could have considered playing the role of a US “Frankenstein,” but in fact it is serving as the US “Trojan horse” into Syria and Iraq. Fighting the IS was the US tactic, not the US strategy.

On record, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that “the best way of fighting ISIS and terrorism in the region is to help and strengthen the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have been engaged in a serious struggle” against the IS. But this would not serve the endgame of Obama’s strategy, which targets both governments instead.

Beneficiaries of the IS “Trojan horse” leave no doubts about the credibility of the Syrian, Iranian and Russian doubts about the real endgame of the US – led declared war on the IS.

The United States was able finally to bring about its long awaited and promoted “front of moderates” against Iran and Syria into an active and “air-striking” alliance, ostensibly against the IS.

In Iraq, the IS served the US strategy in wrestling back the so called “political process” from the Iranian influence by proxy of the former premier al – Maliki. Depriving al – Maliki of a third term had proved that there is no unified Iran – backed “Shia house” in Iraq. The US has its own influence inside that “house.”

Installing a US Iraqi satellite was the strategic goal of the US – led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Instead, according to Doug Bandow, writing in Forbes on last October 14,Bush’s legacy was a corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian state, friendly with Iran and Syria, Washington’s prime adversaries in the Middle East. Even worse was the emergence of the Islamic State.”

This counterproductive outcome of the US invasion, which saw Iran wielding the reigns of power in Baghdad and edging Iraq closer to Syria and Iran during the eight years of al-Maliki’s premiership, turned the red lights on in the White House and the capitals of its regional allies.

Al-Maliki, whom Bush had designated as “our guy” in Baghdad when his administration facilitated his premiership in 2006, turned against his mentors.

He edged Iraq closer to the Syrian and Iranian poles of the “axis of evil.” Consequently he opposed western or Israeli military attack on Iran, at least from or via the Iraqi territory. In Syria, he opposed a regime change in Damascus, rejected direct military “foreign intervention” and indirect proxy intervention and insisted that a “political solution” is the only way forward in Iraq’s western Arab neighbor.

Worse still was his opening Iraq up to rival Chinese and Russian hydrocarbon investments, turning Iraq a part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria oil and gas pipeline network and buying weapons from the Russian Federation.

Al- Maliki had to go. He was backed by Iran to assume his second term as prime minister in spite of the US, which backed the winner of the 2010 elections for the post, Ayad Allawi. The US had its revenge in the 2014 elections. Al-Maliki won the elections, but was denied a third term thanks to US pressure.

The IS was the US instrument to exert that pressure. US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Baghdad on last June 23 warned that Iraq was facing “an existential threat.”

It was a US brinkmanship diplomacy to force al-Maliki to choose between two bad options: Either to accept a de facto secession of western and northern Iraq on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan or accept the US conditional military support. Al-Maliki rejected both options, but he had paid the price already.

The turning point came with the fall of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul to the IS on last June 10. Iraqi Kurdistan inclusive, the northern and western Iraq, including most of the crossing points into Syria and Jordan in the west, were clinched out of the control of Baghdad, i.e. some two thirds of the area of Iraq. Al-Maliki was left to fight this sectarian Sunni insurgency by his sectarian Iran-backed Shiite government. This was a non-starter and was only to exacerbate the already deteriorating situation.

Al- Maliki and Iran were made to understand that no US support was forthcoming to reign in the IS until he quits and a less pro-Iran and a more “inclusive” government is formed in Iraq.

The creation of the IS as the sectarian Sunni alternative against Iran’s ruling allies in Baghdad and Damascus was and is still the US tactic towards its strategic endgame. Until the time the US strategy succeeds in wrestling Baghdad from Iran influence back into its fold as a separating wedge between Iran and Syria, the IS will continue to serve US strategy and so far Obama’s strategy is working.

“America is using ISIS in three ways: to attack its enemies in the Middle East, to serve as a pretext for U.S. military intervention abroad, and at home to foment a manufactured domestic threat, used to justify the unprecedented expansion of invasive domestic surveillance,” Garikai Chengu, a research scholar at Harvard University, wrote in http://www.counterpunch.org/ on last September 19.

As a doctrine, since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate early in the twentieth century, western powers did their best to keep Arabs separated from their strategic depth in their immediate Islamic proximity. The SyriaIran alliance continues to challenge this doctrine.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).     



Friday, October 03, 2014

 

Palestinian-U.S. relations head for stormy times

By Nicola Nasser*

Washington’s response to the speech that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered at the UN General Assembly last September 26 confirms that the bilateral Palestinian-U.S. relations are heading for stormy times.

The U.S., which opposed Abbas’ plan to seek a UN Security Council resolution to end the Israeli occupation within a defined timeframe, not only cautioned him against proceeding with any such plan but also issued an official statement condemning the language he used to express the Palestinian people’s opposition to the continued occupation and the ongoing war crimes that Israel is perpetrating in the territories it occupied in 1967.

“Abbas’ speech today included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject,” U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement on last September 27, which criticised Abbas’ speech as “provocative,” “counterproductive” and undermines “efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties.”

Clearly, Abbas bent before the onslaught of the winds of American rejection. He “submitted” his plan to the General Assembly but he did not ask to bring it to a vote in order to secure an international resolution that would strengthen his hand when he submitted it to the Security Council. It is also noteworthy that while he called for a deadline to end the occupation he omitted the three-year timeframe that he had previously stipulated.

There is no serious Palestinian opposition to Abbas’ plan to internationalise the search for a political solution to the Palestinian struggle to end the occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. It would be extremely difficult to come up with a Palestinian who would argue against replacing US sponsorship with UN sponsorship of the process of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Israeli occupying power. Indeed, this direction is supported by a near unanimity of Palestinian opinion, including among resistance factions that have given Abbas a chance to put his strategy to a last test without obstructing his manoeuvrability.

But Abbas’ plan signifies that he has thrown in the towel on his reliance on U.S. sponsorship, which in turn means confrontation with Washington. Clearly, he will not succeed in neutralising the U.S. by merely bowing before its opposition to his plan or by asking for U.S. approval. Certainly, he should not hold out any hope that Washington will not use its veto to defeat his proposed resolution in the UN Security Council. Nor will he placate the U.S. by deferring Palestinian applications to join international treaties and organisations, such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

All the indications are that the U.S. will campaign against the Abbas plan and continue to insist on brokering a solution that it has been unable to produce during the more than two decades in which it monopolised the sponsoring the negotiating process with the Israeli occupying power.

On September 23, 88 US senators signed a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to take prevent negative developments at the UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court that could derail any prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Senator Rand Paul refused to sign this letter. He wants Washington to cut off “all aid to the Palestinian Authority until the conditions in Senator Paul’s Stand with Israel Act are met,” according to his e-mail statement to The Washington Post that day.

Warning Abbas that America’s willingness to cooperate with him will continue to depend on his willingness to return to the negotiating table with the Government of Israel and avoid unilateral measures,” the senators were keen to sustain the usual U.S. “carrot-and-stick” policy, in this case by enabling the Palestinian Authority to move toward becoming the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza.” This was their bribe to him.

But any policy of confrontation with the U.S. means that Abbas must reject all U.S. bribes, which would inevitably come at the cost of sacrificing the Palestinian resistance.

In addition, in a confrontation of that sort, Abbas would risk losing Arab support in view of the Arab consensus to ally with — or at least not oppose — the U.S. in the war it has declared against ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Therefore, the resistance and Palestinian national unity will be the only foundation on which President Abbas can rely in the confrontation.

In this context, the Arab League’s declared support for the Abbas’ plan lacks credibility and cannot be relied on when it comes to confronting the U.S. In fact, in the event of a confrontation, the likelihood is that this support would dwindle and fade and turn into an American tool to pressure the PA presidency into bowing to U.S. conditions.

This confrontation is foreshadowed by preliminary chapters of the same, especially since 2011 when the U.S. defeated the Palestinian drive to obtain UN recognition of Palestine as a member state. The following year, the U.S. was not able to prevent the UN from recognising Palestine as a non-member observer state. But Palestinian memory has not forgotten how the U.S. undermined Palestinian accomplishments, such as the International Court of Justice recommendation regarding the separating wall designed to annex another chunk of the West Bank, and the Goldstein Report. The Palestinians remember very well how the U.S. obstructed dozens of international resolutions in support of Palestinian rights and how it continuously prevented the international community from sponsoring any just negotiating process that might end Washington’s own monopoly over what it fraudulently calls the “peace process,” in which the U.S. has never been an honest broker.

The US-Palestinian confrontation was inevitable, even if much delayed. Palestinian leaders from both the resistance and the negotiating factions always tried to avert it. The Palestinians never chose confrontation; successive US administrations however were constantly bent on forcing it on the Palestinian people.

If President Abbas, who for decades placed his faith in U.S. good will, has finally reached the conclusion that it is futile to continue to depend on the U.S. and that now is the time to stand up to Washington and turn to the international community to sponsor his negotiating strategy. His decision will receive the unanimous support of the Palestinian people. However, if he backs down, he will undergo the most important test of his political career, as he will come face-to-face with the people’s judgment of the credibility of his strategic choices, which have never obtained a national or popular consensus.

The choice of confrontation also entails the need to press forward in creating and setting into motion the mechanisms for implementing the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, as well as the need to respond quickly to the overwhelming Palestinian demand to apply for the membership of international treaties and organisations.

But above all, it requires safeguarding the resistance in all its forms and developing it in quantity and quality until its scope is expanded to embrace all the Palestinian people, wherever they may be. Confrontation means refusing to allow Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam to be assassinated twice!

Even if the inconceivable occurred and the U.S. acknowledged the will of the international community in support of Palestinian rights, refrained from using its influence to stop Abbas’ plan and even refrained from wielding its veto in the UN Security Council, there remains the perpetual risk that the UN resolution would amount to no more than a paper victory to add to the pile of Palestinian paper victories, since any such political victory requires a national force to translate it into a reality on the ground in the occupied territories.

If the Palestinian presidency does not respond to these needs and demands, which receive the full support of the Palestinian people, he will find himself once again singing outside the his national flock.

Regardless of whether or not there is a confrontation with the U.S., these needs and demands are national requirements that must be promoted, enhanced and developed, because they are indispensable if Palestinian popular will is to succeed in liberating its land and translating “paper” victories into real victories on the ground.

The Palestinians have learned an important lesson from their enemy. The Palestinian national movement has dozens of international resolutions in its favour. This is something the Zionist movement never possessed throughout its history, apart from that one non-binding partition resolution, 181, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1947. But this one resolution the Zionists had translated into reality on the ground and then expanded on it through the exercise of overwhelming military force. This is the power that Palestinians are being prevented from possessing today, just as has been the case in the past.

May God bless late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser who always said that what has been taken away by force can only be regained by force. History has proven him right and events have shown that the course the Arabs and Palestinians took after he died — which headed in the opposite direction to his — was gravely wrong, indeed sinful.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

This article was first published and translated from Arabic by Al-Ahram Weekly on October 3, 2014.



Friday, September 19, 2014

 

Donors will fail Gaza again

By Nicola Nasser*

On 12 October, Cairo is due to host a conference, sponsored and chaired by Egypt and Norway, of international and Arab donors for the reconstruction of Gaza. This is their ostensible aim. But the reasons that the donors cited for not fulfilling earlier pledges, made in Paris in 2007 and Sharm El-Sheikh in 2009, still exist.

This means that the donors who attend the upcoming Cairo conference will probably make the same pledges they made at the two previous conferences and then once again fail to fulfil them.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian people under blockade in Gaza will remain in suspense, waiting for the next aggression to be unleashed on them by the Israeli occupation, purportedly in order to eliminate the causes that the donors cite for recycling their pledges for the reconstruction of Gaza that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Fulfilment of the donors’ old/new pledges is still contingent politically on the imposition of the status quo in the West Bank on Gaza. This entails security coordination with the occupying power, the pursuit and elimination of all forms of resistance to the occupation, rendering all reconstruction activities subject to the approval of the Israeli security regime, and much more.

Even should these conditions be met, the donors’ fulfilment of their pledges will remain contingent on the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) continued commitment to negotiations as its sole strategy, and to the agreements that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

All the evidence indicates that the PLO and the PA have spearheaded the battle to impose the donors’ conditions on their behalf. Beneath the rubric of “legitimacy”, “the national project” and “the single central authority” that “alone holds the powers to make decisions on war and peace,” the PLO and PA have demonstrated that they are ready to abide by the donors’ political conditions.

The irony is that Israel has never met the conditions it compelled the donors to impose, not just in order to proceed with the reconstruction of Gaza, but also on the PA in general.

Israel has never renounced violence. It repeatedly wages war and unleashes its instruments of state terrorism against the Palestinians under occupation. It has flagrantly and repeatedly violated every agreement signed with the PLO. It has not even reciprocated the PLO’s recognition of Israel, nor has it officially acknowledged the Palestinians’ right to establish a Palestinian state.

Currently, the occupation authorities are threatening to dissolve the Palestinian national reconciliation government if it does not assert its full authority over Gaza. The message was driven home by PA Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa, who said that there would be no reconstruction unless his government can fully assert its control over Gaza.

However, all the evidence also indicates that the resistance is there to stay in Gaza and that its powers to resist the imposition of the donors’ conditions — on it and on Gaza — are increasing.

The only possible way to read all of the foregoing, and other facts, is that the reconstruction of Gaza under such conditions and circumstances will be deferred until further notice and that deferring reconstruction and linking it to a process of cloning the West Bank model in Gaza is actually a strategy that paves the way for yet another invasion of Gaza.

It is also a fact that reconstruction needs in Gaza are accumulating as a result of this strategy. Destruction in Gaza did not begin with the response to action against this strategy in 2007. The reconstruction of Gaza’s airport and seaport, for example, has been pending since the occupation destroyed these facilities in 2002. Reconstruction dues from the destruction wrought by the Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2012 are also continuing to accumulate.

A recent report by the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR) estimates that it will cost around $8 billion to rebuild what was destroyed during the last Israeli attack on Gaza. The report says that this process would take five years if the occupation authority were to “fully” lift the embargo on Gaza, which is hardly likely to happen soon.

Clearly, the reconstruction of Gaza requires a new Palestinian strategy, one that draws a line between the grants donors offer and their political conditions, and that rejects once and for all any Palestinian commitment to those degrading conditions that, as the years since the so-called “peace process” began have proven, have brought more destruction than construction, and have served as the chief incubator of Palestinian divisions and not brought even a minimum degree of national benefit.

At the same time, any new government that emerges from a national partnership must embrace resistance against the occupation. The current national reconciliation government, with its six-month term and its principle tasks of preparing for presidential and legislative elections, is by definition an interim government and is not qualified to shoulder heavy and long-term burdens such as the reconstruction of Gaza and securing the end of the blockade.

Both of these tasks are humanitarian and national goals that are higher than any political or factional disputes. Yet the Palestinian presidency’s determination to toe the line with the donors’ conditions, which make no distinction between humanitarian needs and political ends, is a strategy that fails to discriminate between national needs and factional interests. It is a strategy that protracts the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

Unfortunately, the need to separate politics — factional or otherwise — from the humanitarian issue does not appear to be on the agenda of either foreign and Arab donors, or of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in spite of the letter he sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on 30 July declaring Gaza a “disaster zone” in the grips of a “dangerous humanitarian crisis.”

This “dangerous humanitarian crisis” is the product of forms of collective punishment that were inflicted against the people of Gaza before the Palestinian rift and that grew worse afterwards. Any Palestinian assent to continuing to adhere to donors’ political conditions, which are responsible for perpetuating the collective punishment, is a form of Palestinian complicity in subjecting the people of Gaza to this punishment. The time has come for all Palestinian leaders to exonerate themselves from all charges of complicity in such punishment.

The collective punishments that have been and continue to be visited on Gaza are not acceptable, even on the pretext of punishing Hamas. Under the Geneva Conventions and before international criminal law they constitute a war crime inflicted on the civilian inhabitants of Gaza, who are protected by international humanitarian law, at least in theory.

To insist that Gaza’s reconstruction be linked to the reinstatement of the “full” authority of the Palestinian presidency and the PA over Gaza, and to the donors’ political conditions which, in fact, are the conditions of the occupying power, is merely another way to say that the reconstruction of Gaza should be linked to the imposition of Fatah’s factional agenda on Gaza.

It also means that civilians in Gaza are to be collectively punished for the factional disputes that Fatah has with Hamas, in which case it becomes very difficult to avoid pointing fingers of accusation at Palestinian complicity in the ongoing collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and more difficult yet to defend any possible Palestinian contribution to the perpetration of such a war crime.

As long as the current situation persists, reconstruction of Gaza will remain pending indefinitely, and the reconstruction burden will only grow. Eventually, the people of Gaza will have no alternative but to look for salvation through other means that they, alone, can control. The Palestinian presidency and its faction must decide to free themselves once and for all from their financial and political dependence on donors and the sterile “peace process” that has so far wrought only death, destruction and division.

It is not too late to opt for the national alternative, which is still available given good intentions, to save the people of Gaza, national unity, the resistance, and decision-making autonomy.

This alternative entails following through on implementation of the mechanisms for national reconciliation, activating the unified command framework for the PLO, agreeing on a new Palestinian strategy based on the principles of partnership and resistance, and creating a new national unity government committed to this strategy and qualified to shoulder such enormous tasks as the reconstruction of Gaza and lifting the blockade.

All of the foregoing requires no more than honest introspection, the prevalence of national conscience, and political free will.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

This article was first published and translated from Arabic by Al-Ahram Weekly on September 19, 2014.



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 Israel failed to achieve militarily: forcing the Palestinian presidency to choose “peace with Israel” over national reconciliation.

It appears that President Abbas has, indeed, prioritised “peace with Israel.” 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.

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 Cairo this week.

However, US 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 Gaza within three years, during which period negotiations would resume within three months with the occupying power over its borders with the Palestinian state.

“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 New York and secure what needs to be worked out on the ground is not realistic.”

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 Israel 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”.

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 Gaza, and to fuel internal Palestinian tensions until they reignite once more.

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 Cairo agreement of 2011, so that it can serve as a frame of reference for the Palestinian will and take critical national decisions.

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 Gaza that prevents the national unity government from functioning.

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 Cairo agreement of 2011, the unified leadership framework that it stipulated, and the reactivation of the PLO, all stand at a crossroads.

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 Israel had approved the initiative, Hamas rejected it, only to turn around and agree to it a month later. “If [Hamas] had agreed then to what it agrees to now” it would have been possible “to avoid all that bloodshed,” he said.

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 Gaza and the two wars since 2008 that preceded it.

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 (nassernicola@ymail.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 Iraq “to save the future” because “we do have interests in this.”

Both men refrained from indicating what are exactly the “American” and “western” interests in Iraq that need military intervention to defend, but the major prize of their invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the country’s hydrocarbon assets. There lies their “interests.

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 U.S. proxy government in Baghdad has cut short a process of legalizing the de-nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry in Iraq, which became within reach with the latest electoral victory of the Iraqi prime minister since 2006, Noori al-Maliki.

Anti-American armed resistance to the U.S. proxy ruling regime in Baghdad, 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. nationalization.

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 Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure,” a Stratfor analysis on June 11 concluded.

The raging war in Iraq now will determine whether Iraqi hydrocarbons are a national asset or multinational loot. Any U.S. military support to the regime it installed in Baghdad should be viewed within this context. Meanwhile this national wealth is still being pillaged as spoils of war.

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 Baghdad have already sent oil prices to nine-month high on Thursday.

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 Iraq. Now Iraq is an open field for looting its only strategic asset.

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, Iraq's 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 largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq. So have a slew of American oil service companies, including Halliburton, the Texas-based firm Dick Cheney ran before becoming George W. Bush's running mate in 2000.

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.

Iraq’s “oil industry” now “operates, gold rush–style, in an almost complete absence of oversight or regulation,” Greg Muttitt wrote in The Nation on August 23, 2012.

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 Turkey via its own independent pipeline built last December. On this June 4, Turkey and the KRG announced the signing of a 50-year deal to export Iraqi oil from Kurdistan via Turkey.

Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's deputy prime minister, threatened legal action against firms that purchased "smuggled oil" via the Turkish-KRG arrangements; he accused Turkey of “greed” and trying “to lay (its) hands on cheap Iraqi oil.


Baghdad filed for arbitration against Turkey’s state-owned pipeline operator BOTAS with the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.

Baghdad says those Turkish-KRG arrangements are illegal and unconstitutional, but its own contract awarding is also unlawful. Should a change of guard occur in Baghdad, al-Maliki and his government would be held accountable and probably prosecuted.

The dispute between Baghdad 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 Iraq’s national wealth.

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 U.S. 2003 invasion.

Al-Maliki is the right man to secure a pro-privatization government in Baghdad. 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 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 Iraq’s U.S.-drafted constitution.

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 Baghdad.

U.S. Executive Order 13303

Former British and U.S. leaders of the invasion of Iraq, 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.

On last May 16, Obama signed an Executive Order to extend the national emergency with respect to Iraq 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 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 Iraq’s oil wealth constitute “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

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 United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.”

EO 13303 was rubber-stamped by the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1483, which protected the U.S.-controlled governmental institutions in Iraq.

Muttitt wrote in August 2012: “In 2011, after nearly nine years of war and occupation, U.S. troops finally left Iraq. In their place, Big Oil is now present in force.”

“Big Oil” is now the only guarantor of the survival of the U.S. proxy government in Baghdad, but the survival of “Big Oil” itself is now threatened by the escalating and rapidly expanding armed opposition.

Obama said the “threats” and “obstacles” to U.S, interests in Iraq have not changed eleven years after the invasion; Iraq has not enacted yet a hydrocarbon law to legalize the privatization of its oil and gas industry.

The developments of the last week in Iraq vindicate Obama’s renewal of EO 13303. The U.S. war on Iraq 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.

Since Great Britain granted 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 has been targeted by western powers since the “republic” under the late Abd al-Karim Qasim enacted law No. 80 of 1961, which deprived foreign companies of the right to explore in 99.5% of the Iraqi territory, but mainly since the Baath regime led by the late Saddam Hussein decided to nationalize the hydrocarbon industry on June 1, 1972.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com.



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