Fin de la coopération entre l’Autorité palestinienne et Israël : sur le terrain, les conséquences se font déjà sentir

Tout a commencé par de petits incidents, presque sans bruit. Fin mai, les forces de sécurité palestiniennes situées en zones B et C de la Cisjordanie occupée, sous contrôle sécuritaire israélien, se sont retirées. Les Palestiniens ont informé la CIA qu’ils stoppaient la coopération sécuritaire avec Israël, des sources israéliennes ont confirmé que les contacts étaient rompus – en tout cas, mis en sourdine, car sur certains sujets, des canaux de communication subsistent.

Ces petites annonces, impensables il y a encore quelques mois, trahissent la fébrilité de l’Autorité palestinienne – depuis les accords d’Oslo, la coopération sécuritaire, honnie des Palestiniens, n’a été suspendue qu’une seule fois, pendant la seconde Intifada.

Le 17 mai dernier, après plus d’un an de joutes politiques, le gouvernement d’union nationale prête serment en Israël. À sa tête, Benyamin Netanyahou, flanqué de son ancien rival, l’ex-chef de l’armée Benny Gantz, promet l’annexion rapide d’une partie de la Cisjordanie occupée. Le processus doit être enclenché début juillet, selon l’accord de coalition.

Deux jours plus tard, en plein Ramadan, le président palestinien riposte à la télévision, tard dans la soirée : il annonce que l’Autorité palestinienne est absoute « de tous les accords et ententes avec les gouvernements américain et israélien ».

Personne ne prend l’avertissement au sérieux ; Mahmoud Abbas l’a maintes fois annoncé par le passé. Sauf que depuis, l’Autorité palestinienne a vraiment coupé de grands pans de sa coopération économique, administrative et sécuritaire avec Israël.

Crise humanitaire

Le but ? Qu’Israël « endosse toutes ses responsabilités et obligations en tant que puissance occupante », conformément à la quatrième Convention de Genève (1949), sans l’entremise des Palestiniens pour gérer la Cisjordanie et Gaza, a expliqué le président palestinien dans son discours.

Les territoires palestiniens occupés reviendraient alors au mode de gouvernance qui existait avant les accords d’Oslo : Israël serait en charge « des services au quotidien, des salaires et du gouvernement de la population palestinienne », décrypte la chercheuse palestinienne Ghada Karmi dans une tribune publiée par Middle East Eye.

Sauf que depuis la mi-mai, Israël n’a pas pris le relai – le retrait de l’Autorité palestinienne a juste laissé un vide, privant les Palestiniens de certains services, parfois essentiels.

C’est le cas pour les demandes de permis des malades. Certains traitements ne sont pas accessibles dans les territoires palestiniens et depuis des années, les patients doivent passer par un système d’autorisations pour pouvoir sortir se faire soigner. Jusqu’alors, les autorités palestiniennes à Ramallah transmettaient les demandes, mais depuis plus d’un mois, les malades n’ont plus personne à qui s’adresser.

En Cisjordanie, certains arrivent à déposer leurs dossiers directement auprès des Israéliens, mais à Gaza, c’est impossible. Quelques ONG et hôpitaux jouent les entremetteurs, mais les demandes ont drastiquement chuté.

Le 18 juin, Omar Yaghi, huit mois, est décédé des suites de problèmes cardiaques. Il aurait dû être opéré il y a un mois, mais sa demande de permis n’a pas été transmise à temps ; l’intervention avait dû être reprogrammée.

« Nous faisons face à un chaos médical – des centaines de patients sont concernés à présent, qui pourraient bientôt devenir des milliers », a mis en garde Ghada Majadle, directrice des territoires occupés au sein de Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

Avec d’autres ONG, l’organisation a interpellé le ministre de la Défense, Benny Gantz, sur le sujet, rappelant que la suspension de l’activité côté palestinien ne « changeait rien aux obligations qui incombent à Israël », puissance qui contrôle le passage aux frontières.

Effondrement économique ?

L’arrêt de la coopération a aussi de lourdes conséquences économiques. Début juin, le porte-parole du gouvernement palestinien annonce que celui-ci renonce à recevoir les taxes et droits de douane que perçoit Israël – qui contrôle les frontières – pour le compte des Palestiniens.

Cela représente pourtant plus de la moitié du budget de l’Autorité palestinienne, rappelle Sam Bahour, économiste au groupe de réflexion palestinien Al-Shabaka.

Sans cette somme, « le gouvernement palestinien ne peut pas continuer à fonctionner normalement », affirme-t-il. Le Premier ministre Mohammad Shtayyeh a d’ailleurs laissé entendre qu’il ne savait pas comment les salaires des fonctionnaires seraient couverts en juillet.

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EAMENA leads reform on satellite imagery restrictions in the Levant

On 25 June 2020 it was announced at the 27th meeting of the Advisory Council on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES) of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) restrictions on the optical resolution of satellite imagery over Israel would be dramatically lowered from the current level of 2m Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) down to 0.4m GSD. This news, which is important for earth observation and remote-sensing research in the region, marks a major step forward in a campaign led by me and my late colleague Dr Andrea Zerbini to reform this regressive legislation, which impacted directly on the work of the EAMENA project in the Levant, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This fundamental reform will now improve access to very high-resolution satellite imagery taken over Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights. Whereas previously imagery produced by U.S. satellites would be down sampled so that only an object 2m or larger would theoretically be visible, there will now be the possibility, depending on the capabilities of the satellite, to view images where objects as small as 0.4m in size will be visible (Fig.1). This should apply to satellite imagery captured in the future, as well as applying to previously restricted commercial imagery taken over the previous two decades, and earlier U.S. military satellite images. For archaeologists, this will see a major improvement in our ability to remotely identify archaeological sites, interpret the detailed form of those sites, and to more accurately monitor damage issues and future threats.

The KBA is a U.S. regulation which restricts the resolution of satellite imagery produced by U.S. companies covering Israel (and by implicit extension the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights), so that available imagery is relatively coarse and ‘blurred’ compared to imagery of other areas. It came in to being in the early stages of development of the commercial remote-sensing industry in the U.S. in the 1990s. As the Cold War came to an end, efforts were made under the Clinton administration in the U.S. to repurpose the espionage technology of satellites for wider commercial purpose, while also declassifying imagery collected by earlier U.S. military satellite missions in the 1960s and 1970s. The declassification of the Corona mission led to concern about the emerging satellite imaging industry on national security in Israel, and the resultant subsequent political lobbying in Washington led to the passing of the KBA by the U.S. Senate.

The brief wording of the law could be broken down into two sections, the first (a) covered future commercial satellite images, while the second sought to prevent further declassification of higher-resolution spy imagery from the KH-7 (Gambit) and KH-9 (Hexagon) missions. The phrase ‘available from commercial sources’ referred specifically to commercial imagery available from non-U.S. sources, which were barely existent in the 1990s, but was envisaged as a way of allowing U.S. companies to remain competitive against foreign companies in the future, and would be the key target of our reform campaign. While the U.S. satellite imagery industry was unhappy about this censorship when introduced, it being the only blanket censor applied by the U.S. government to any part of the world, the regulation was set in place at a limit of 2m GSD. This can be seen in comparison to the 0.8m GSD resolution attainable from the IKONOS sensor once operational in 2000, and commercial imagery available today is more likely to range from 0.25–0.6m GSD.

Fast forward to 2017, where the KBA was still in place with a 2m GSD restriction. While there was a sense that the KBA would be reviewed annually by the U.S. government, there is little evidence that this took place. Although there had been some calls for it to be revoked, particularly after the launch of online access systems such as Google Earth made this restriction readily apparent, the 2m GSD limit remained in place. There was also a wider lack of knowledge of the KBA among the remote-sensing community, with a general understanding that imagery of Israel was restricted, but not that it had the potential for reform in line with the capabilities of imagery produced outside of the U.S.

The EAMENA project had started in 2015, and while we too were vaguely aware of the KBA restrictions, it was only in late 2016 when the project received funding from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund to provide training in the EAMENA methodology to archaeologists and heritage professionals from the Palestinian Territories and five other countries, that these restrictions loomed firmly into view. Satellite imagery is a key tool used by EAMENA for survey and monitoring, but the 2m GSD limit over the Palestinian Territories was of very limited use for this methodology, lacking the details necessary to identify and monitor changes to heritages sites, particularly when compared to the c.0.5m GSD average that was accessible for other countries that we were working with as part of this funded project such as Jordan and Tunisia.

So in March 2017 Andrea and I began looking at the KBA directly, trying to find a solution to our problem that would allow us to work with unrestricted satellite imagery of the Palestinian Territories. What followed were two weeks of frantic research, culminating in what we saw as all the evidence needed to push for a reform of the current restrictions. The key point was that a number of non-U.S. companies had been producing and retailing satellite imagery of Israel above the 2m GSD U.S. limit, which should have triggered the KBA’s inbuilt reform mechanism to keep U.S. satellite companies competitive. Most prominent was the Airbus Pleiades constellation, which had been producing imagery of the region from at least 2012 at a resolution of c.0.5m GSD (Fig. 2), and we had even been able to purchase said imagery directly from U.S.-based satellite imagery resellers. If an annual review of the KBA had been taking place, this should have led to the reduction of the restrictions nearly a decade ago, but clearly no such monitoring was taking place. Since 2012 a number of other non-U.S. companies had joined the ranks in producing imagery above the 2m GSD level, including the South Korean company Kompsat, whose K3a satellite could achieve a leading 0.4m GSD. Our research also picked up a number of other interesting issues, including the fact that some of this high-resolution Airbus imagery had already been uploaded to the U.S.-based Google Earth virtual globe platform, but the key point was that the reform mechanism of the KBA should have been triggered given the advances in commercial satellite imaging outside of the U.S.

We set about working our findings up into a research papers, and began contacting the KBA regulators at the NOAA, naively assuming that they would be bound by the wording of the KBA legislation to, at the very least, lower the current KBA resolution restrictions. In March 2017 we had emailed the regulator to ask about a review of the restrictions, and although we had no response, we would read in the ACCRES meeting notes of 24 August 2017 that they were now aware of non-U.S. companies producing imagery above the 2m GSD limit and would now begin a review. We saw this as a positive, and set about looking to publish our own research on the subject. This in itself proved to be a lot more difficult than we had supposed, as while nobody could question the findings of our research, we came up against some reluctance to actually go ahead, in part because our paper seemed to fall between the cracks of various journal remits. We finally found a home for it in the journal Space Policy, with the final publication arriving in early 2018, nearly a year after our initial burst of research, and ahead of the next ACCRES meeting in the U.S., where we expected to hear the result of their own KBA review.

With a published paper in hand, we reached out again to the ACCRES committee, and this time received a response. But communication soon ran cold, and we subsequently were to find out that the ACCRES review was still ongoing, with a final announcement put back until at least October 2018. The ACCRES review would therefore have taken over 12 months to complete, compared to the two weeks that we had taken in early 2017, with no experience of research on satellite regulations, to flesh out the salient points of our reform argument. Worse was to come in October 2018, when the ACCRES would announce their review complete and that they did not accept that sub-2m GSD satellite imagery was readily accessible outside of the U.S.

The news left us deflated. We knew our research was conclusive, and yet the regulator of a scientific industry had rejected them out of hand. But there was still hope for reform if we could push the case harder, particularly as ACCRES had not reported on their research methodology, preventing any comparison with our results. But how could we hope to impact government policy in the U.S. from our little office in Oxford. It was at this stage that we called on new colleagues based in the U.S., particularly Zena Agha and Mimi Kirk of the al-Shabaka network based in Washington D.C. They provided an avenue into the workings of U.S. government, with Mimi attending ACCRES meetings (and fielding my convoluted questions), while Zena’s editorial on the subject did so much to raise the profile of the issue.

A lot had also changed in the EAMENA project by this stage, as Andrea had moved on to a new post as Assistant Director of the CBRL in Amman. While he still remained involved in the campaign, it was very much more a passive position. Tragically his role would come to an end completely in December 2018, when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

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Reflections on Palestinian Leaderships Past

Overview 

The leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is at a standstill, as is that of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). They have no clear path to counteract Israel’s annexation of key areas in the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), which will exponentially increase the fragmentation of Palestinian land, freedom of movement, and livelihoods. In this commentary Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Jamil Hilal reflects on the Palestinian history of leadership, drawing on his own rich experience in the Palestinian national movement as well as his scholarship for and on that movement, to identify strengths on which to build and weaknesses to avoid. 

Hilal discusses the leadership prior to 1948, when Israel was created, the rise and fall of the PLO before and since the Oslo process that began in 1993, and aspects of the leadership of the First Intifada (1987-1993). He identifies key factors in the success or failure of leadership, including the extent of its integration with the people it claimed to represent and its ability to position itself to respond to changing circumstances. 1

The Leadership Disconnect Pre-1948

The largely traditional leadership pre-1948 – whether semi-feudal or religious – was not in a position to organize the Palestinian people because it was largely disconnected from their lives and concerns. These leaders did not represent the mass of peasants or workers; small or landless peasants at the time constituted over 55% of the population. Following the outbreak of the Second World War the British colonial rulers needed laborers in the ports and in other sectors, expanding the working class in the major cities which had formed a strong trade union movement. The traditional leadership of the Jerusalem-based Husseini and Nashashibi families was also disconnected from this movement. 

The mass confrontations that faced the British colonial power and the growing Zionist movement largely emerged from peasant, worker and urban professional mobilizations rather than calls by the land-owning and clerical leadership. There were organized groups in the earlier part of the twentieth century but up until the 1930s there were only two political parties – the communist party, which was active with the new working class, and the Nablus-based liberal reform party Hizb Al-Islah. 

Indeed, at that time the concept of national representation was not yet clearly articulated. When it was expressed it was in opposition to British colonial domination and the Zionist project. The traditional leadership represented families and their interests and believed they had the right to leadership rather than having to earn it democratically. Leadership conflicts arose largely from family rivalry over position and status, although there were political differences as the Nashashibis’ leadership was generally closer to the British while the Husseinis’ leadership was more nationalist.  

There were many acts of resistance to the British and to Zionist colonization, particularly from the 1917 Balfour Declaration onward. The nationwide Palestinian revolt and strike of 1936-39 was in response to the specific call by the then unified national leadership and drew inspiration from the life and resistance of Sheikh Izzedin Al-Qassam. 2 However, given the traditional style of the leadership it was relatively easy for the British to dismantle it and disperse its members through imprisonment or exile. As is well known, the British were draconian in their efforts to crush Palestinian resistance to their rule, executing and imprisoning many while offering support to the Zionist movement that was building a Jewish state in Palestine. The emergency laws used by the British to imprison without trial are still used by Israel today. By the 1940s, because of British actions, there was no longer even the semblance of an effective unified leadership to represent the Palestinian people at a critical time. 


By the 1940s … there was no longer even the semblance of an effective unified leadership to represent the Palestinian people at a critical time
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Overall, the balance of power was heavily tilted against the Palestinians in terms of organization, military capability, and leadership, and their ability to grasp the power politics of the international situation was limited. The Palestinian leadership also lacked sufficient understanding of the internal and international dynamics of the Zionist project. Furthermore, most Arab countries were under some form of colonial rule and the support they could give the Palestinians was very limited and lacked a clear aim and purpose. The Palestinian leadership, which was scattered and had no organized popular constituency, did not inform or consult the people about various alternatives and policy routes to face both British rule and the Zionist movement. In short, the lack of a unified leadership and an organized popular base was devastating. 

By contrast, the Zionist movement was very well organized, well armed, and well equipped; it had the support of the superpower of the day and access to diverse resources. The Zionists also had a clear vision to achieve their aim of building a settler colonial project and a more astute leadership that was willing to accept the 1947 UN partition plan and build on it.

The Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 resulted not just in the destruction of the Palestinian political field and the elimination of Palestinian leadership; it also destroyed a thriving civil society made up of political parties, workers, youth, women, and other agencies and cultural institutions that had developed despite the continuous assaults against the Palestinians by the British and the Zionists. 3 Indeed, Palestinian civil society had blossomed as early as the 1910s with rich output from Palestinian intellectuals and businessmen calling for a democratic state in Palestine and suggesting ways to develop it. Some of this thinking was captured in the book Reconstruction of Palestine, published in the US in 1919. 4 

The PLO’s First Two Decades

The Arab League established the PLO in 1964 to give Palestinians a state-sanctioned role in liberating Palestine. It was designed to be more accountable to the Arab regimes than the population seeking return and self-determination. After Palestinian resistance groups took over the PLO in the late 1960s, the composition and structure of the organization changed. The new leadership drew on the refugees and the middle class and on the strategy of armed struggle. It was able to build a following amongst Palestinian refugees and exiles as well as amongst Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

The social composition of the PLO leadership was radically transformed, as was the constituency it represented and the form that representation took. The PLO was based on a party structure (the parties being the constitutive militant factions) and people had a say in the system. They were offered training and membership, not just in political bodies but also in popular and professional organizations. The PLO’s base included popular nationalist institutions of workers, women, students, teachers, and writers, and others, all of which cut across political and geographic borders to become a national movement for all Palestinians. 

A look at the social origins of the leaders of the PLO’s different factions, such as Yasser Arafat, Khalil Al-Wazir, Salah Khalaf, Nayef Hawatmeh, and George Habash, shows that they came from middle or lower middle class backgrounds. This was very different from the leadership of notables that the Palestinians experienced before the Nakba. The PLO’s most important achievement was to provide an over-arching structure that brought the dispersed communities together under one narrative, with the sense of being one people with unified aims: When something happened in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, people responded in the Yarmouk camp in Syria, in Al-Amari in the West Bank, in Al-Wihdat in Jordan, and in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, as well as in Palestinian towns and villages elsewhere and in the diaspora. The Oslo Accords destroyed this because they effectively dismantled the institutionalized relations and structures that had been created and fostered under the PLO umbrella. 

Equally important was the leadership’s capacity for strategic thinking at that time and its access to diverse sources of information about world events. The leaders were very well connected to the Arab world, to socialist countries, and to democratic movements in the West. Each of the PLO’s member organizations had strong connections with Russia or China, and some had links with Western countries through representatives and through relations with left-wing parties and associations of Palestinian living in those countries. The leadership had access to myriad opinions and clashing views from Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, and others.     

During its years in Beirut the PLO leadership met regularly, and discussions frequently lasted for hours until some sort of consensus (ijma’) emerged. The leaders each had access to information from different countries and political strands. This was not how it had worked pre-1948 or how it works today. In the 1970s Arafat had to listen; he could not ignore what was said, especially as all the groups were armed, although the weapons very rarely pointed inwards before the PLO was expelled from Beirut in the summer of 1982 and a small Fatah faction split. 5 Each of the main groups had its independent organization and relations with other political and diplomatic sources as well as its own information outlets.


(Oslo) disrupted… the tradition of consensus building and access to sources of independent knowledge and assessment
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In addition, the leadership had access to papers, studies, and evaluations prepared for them or published by the PLO Research Center and the Planning Center on issues that demanded their attention. They also participated in international meetings. This all changed after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the expulsion of the PLO. The big trap of Oslo was that it disrupted, and eventually marginalized, the tradition of consensus building and access to sources of independent knowledge and assessment. 

The unified leadership that led the First Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that broke out in 1987 was a success because it relied on mass-based organizations that the leadership represented. The leadership was composed of the four political parties actively present in the OPT and, though the leaders remained incognito, people listened to their instructions and directives. They never posed a threat to the PLO leadership because the leadership inside the OPT was organizationally and politically an extension of the leadership on the outside. The difference was that the local leaders were individuals who were active in their local community and were accountable to it. 

The Waning of Representative Leadership 

One cannot isolate the Palestinian question and the evolution of its leadership from the developments in the region. The Camp David Accords of 1978 between Egypt and Israel weakened and sidelined the PLO and the Palestinian question. The Iranian revolution of 1979 gave a boost to the Islamist perspective, and the growing strength of “petrodollars” helped to grow Islamist movements, including those of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut in 1982 fragmented the PLO’s forces and dispersed its leadership far away from Palestine and Palestinian communities.

By the time of the 1988 Palestinian National Council (PNC) the PLO faced considerable pressure from the Soviet Union, European countries, and the United States, which conditioned their hypothetical backing for Palestinian statehood on an entrenchment of Palestine’s partition in the form of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Thereafter, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the equivocal stance taken by the PLO leadership angered the Gulf States, which starved the PLO of financial resources and political support.

The political, economic, and diplomatic pressure to do a deal was very strong. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the decision to enter into the Oslo Accords was not taken by consensus of the whole leadership. Today, the PLO is hollowed out by the creation of the PA, which itself is facing the axe of further fragmentation and Israeli annexation. The question now is how long the PA can continue to function with its present structure and leadership – a leadership that is not recognized by the Palestinian people but tolerated by the international system because of its need for an interlocutor, and so dependent on international support that it continues to perform security functions for the occupying power.

The PLO leadership chalked up many successes in the 1960s and 1970s. It functioned in a very threatening environment, though it had friends in every corner of the globe. As the PA reaches the end of the road, can the Palestinian people find ways to revive and reclaim a democratically structured PLO and its narrative of liberation, drawing on what was once its capacity for learning, strategic thinking, and alliance building in the Arab world and beyond?  

Notes:

  1. This piece is part of Al-Shabaka’s Policy Circle on Palestinian Leadership and Accountability. An Al-Shabaka policy circle is a specific methodology to engage a group of analysts in longer-term study and reflection on an issue of key importance to the Palestinian people.
  2. The unified leadership brought together the leaders of political groups including those representing semi-feudal and traditional religious leaders. See Jamil Hilal, The Formation of the Palestinian Elite: From the Emergence of the Palestinian National Movement until after the Establishment the Palestinian Authority (in Arabic), Muwatin, 2002.
  3. For a vivid and compelling account of Palestinian life and society before 1948 see Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876-1948, Institute for Palestine Studies, 1985.
  4. Reconstruction of Palestine, published by the Palestine Anti-Zionism Society, The Syrian American Press, New York City, 1919.
  5. The faction called itself Fatah al-Intifada and was supported by the Syrian and Libyan regimes at the time.

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Israeli Annexation: Precedents, Ramifications, and Resistance

Netanyahu has pledged to begin annexing parts of the West Bank as soon as next month. What are the implications of such a move, and what can be learned from Israel’s previous annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights?

In this policy lab, Yara Hawari and Rania Muhareb join host Nur Arafeh to weigh in on what annexation means, its significance within Zionist thought and Israeli history, and potential avenues to push back against future land grabs.

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“What is a State without the People?”: Statehood Obsession and Denial of Rights in Palestine

The Palestinian politcal leadership’s obsession with the idea of statehood as a means to realize self-determination and freedom has proved to be detrimental to the struggle of decolonizing Palestine. In a recent article, Alaa Tartir argued that by prioritizing ‘statehood under colonialism’ instead of focusing on decolonizing Palestine first and then engaging in state formation, the Palestinian leadership – under pressure from regional and international actors – disempowered the people and empowered security structures which ultimately serve the colonial condition.

In this webinar, part of the Chatham House project on the future of the state in the Middle East and North Africa, Alaa Tartir will discuss the article’s main arguments through the prism of recent developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations, namely, Israel’s new government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

 

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How Europe could rethink its economic ties with Israel

If there were hopes that Wednesday’s visit to Jerusalem by Heiko Maas, Germany’s Foreign Minister, would help to dissuade Israel from its plans to formally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, they were quickly dashed.

Meeting with Israeli officials, Maas expressed Germany’s “serious and honest concern” about the threat of annexation to the two-state solution, warning that some states were pressing to impose sanctions on Israel or recognize Palestine as a state. However, Maas emphasized that Germany would not discuss a “price tag” for Israel’s policy, but was simply seeking dialogue on the matter.

Despite his warning, Maas’ remarks have largely reaffirmed the conventional wisdom that the European Union — a major political and economic player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which Germany is a powerful member — is unlikely to act in any meaningful way to prevent annexation. In spite of repeated statements opposing such a move, the EU’s foreign policy arm is riven with internal disagreements over how to proceed, immobilized by the need to procure full consensus among its 27 members.

This “wisdom,” however, may be downplaying a significant policy option that the EU could utilize to translate its enormous economic power into political clout, two EU diplomatic sources told +972. The only problem is that the EU is choosing not to.

For the European giant to speak on the world stage, it must do so with a united voice; a single objection from any of its members is enough to prevent foreign policy statements or actions. This requirement has been a key stumbling block in developing an effective EU policy on Israel-Palestine. While one faction of EU members has tried to move the bloc toward a critical position against Israeli government practices, another faction has routinely pushed in the opposite direction.

Allies cultivated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Visegrad Group — namely Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia — have declined to publicly criticize Israel, which they view as a kindred spirit. This does not mean that they are entirely comfortable with the notion that states can annex territory obtained through warfare. After all, just three decades ago, they were all ruled by Moscow as part of the Soviet Union. The EU’s precedent with Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 (and to which the EU responded with sanctions on Moscow), also weighs on their minds.

The EU’s main divergence, then, is less about their stance against annexation as it is about how best to ensure its prohibition.

One diplomatic source, who requested anonymity as they were not permitted to speak publicly on the matter, told +972 that the disagreement is more about tactics than substance; in particular, whether Israel would respond better to public condemnations or private urgings.

One camp, explained the diplomat, argues that Israel has made its annexationist intentions clear and should be immediately deterred from pursuing them; the other camp argues that it is still too soon to act.

Both diplomats who spoke to +972 say it is not just the usual critical voices — France, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, and Luxembourg — that are backing the “deterrence camp,” but as many as half of the EU member states. But despite some murmurings in the Israeli press — and Maas’s latest warning — economic sanctions do not appear high on the table, as members are almost certain that a consensus cannot be won for it.

The new Horizon

This does not mean that the EU is without options to dissuade Israel from annexation.

The EU’s “Horizon 2020” is a seven-year, €80 billion fund that provides financial support for research, technological development, and innovation. The program expires this year and is set to be replaced with a new seven-year program, “Horizon Europe,” in 2021.

Although almost any country outside the EU can apply for funding from the Horizon program, Israel is classified as an “associated country,” along with Norway, Turkey, Albania, and other EU-adjacent states. This status, which Israel obtained in 1996 as the first non-European state to do so, means that it is guaranteed access to funding on an equal basis to EU member states.

The question — as far as the conflict is concerned — is whether Israel will enjoy the same privileged status in the upcoming program as it does in the current iteration, if it proceeds with West Bank annexation.

Nili Shalev, director-general of the Israel-EU Research and Development Directorate at the Israel Innovation Authority, explains that while Israel pays for membership in the program — €1.3 billion will be paid to the EU by the end of Horizon 2020, a sum based on Israel and the EU’s respective GDPs — it has tended to gain more financially than it puts in. For example, according to Shalev, from 2014 to 2018 Israel invested €788 million and received €940 million.

Among other advantages, Shalev says that Israel benefits from Horizon through European academic grants that are more substantial than what the government provides domestically; the program also helps reduce the time-to-market (the time from production to sales) for private companies.

The EU, she continues, similarly benefits from the partnership because Israeli projects often address European priorities such as green innovation, healthcare, and cyber and online security — projects that also help to create jobs in Europe, she adds.

Recalling that Israel had to address the question of funding being used outside of Israel’s pre-1967 borders during the previous iteration of Horizon, Shalev hopes that present political differences won’t impede the ongoing collaboration. “Science is innovation for all. It brings knowledge to the whole world’s population; it doesn’t have boundaries,” she says.

Many Palestinians would disagree with this assertion. In a 2018 policy brief, Yara Hawari, a policy fellow at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, highlighted that many of the technological projects funded by Horizon are also used to maintain Israel’s occupation. For example, a “dual use” clause in Horizon’s funding guidelines effectively allow Israeli companies to “access EU funding for a ‘civilian’ project and later develop it for the military sector,” while some recipients of the funding are located in occupied East Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.

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Trump’s “Deal” for Palestinians: Repercussions and Responses

Overview

US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” stipulates that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state with all of Jerusalem as its capital, give up the right of return, accept the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the illegal settlements, and live in Bantustans. Though the deal largely does not change conditions on the ground for Palestinians, it helps legitimize the Israeli colonial project and emboldens Israel to pursue, at an ever accelerating pace, the seizure of more Palestinian land and the displacement of more Palestinian people – what Al-Shabaka Senior Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari has argued is meant to lead to “total Palestinian capitulation.” Even as the world now faces the COVID-19 pandemic, these Israeli moves continue apace. 

Al-Shabaka asked members of its network to discuss the ramifications of the deal where they live and to outline what steps are being taken – or should be taken – to counter them, with a particular focus on connections among Palestinians across the globe. 

Munir Nuseibah, Omar Shaban, and Inès Abdel Razek analyze Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, respectively, recounting Palestinian reactions to the deal (or lack thereof) and calling for a renewed and reinvigorated Palestinian leadership to take on the current challenges. Shaban also examines how the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have squandered the moment, which, he argues, if handled differently could have brought about a unified Palestinian front. 

Jaber Suleiman and Oraib Rantawi investigate the deal’s repercussions for refugees and refugee rights. While Suleiman, who considers Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, ultimately highlights some global collaborative efforts among Palestinian refugee communities to stand up to the deal, Rantawi, who assesses Jordan, laments the dearth of these connections and urges their strengthening. Randa Wahbe, writing about the Palestinian diaspora in the US, calls on Palestinian-Americans to rise up and capitalize on their strength to revitalize the demand for the right of return and freedom. She outlines steps needed to accomplish this, including demanding a voice among Palestinian society writ large, emphasizing the connections discussed by Suleiman and Rantawi. 

Jerusalem

Munir Nuseibah 

Since UN General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, which recommended partitioning Palestine into two states and keeping Jerusalem as a separate entity administered by the United Nations, the city has faced harsh Zionist colonial policies. These have included mass displacement and dispossession, restrictions on movement, and segregation of the urban space. As defined by the occupying power, Palestinians in Jerusalem have the unique civil status of “permanent residents” in Israel, a status that Israel has widely revoked and restricted. 

Donald Trump’s “deal” adds to the fears of Jerusalem’s Palestinians about the future. Israel, of course, did not wait for Trump’s intervention, and annexed West and East Jerusalem and a number of other surrounding neighborhoods after the 1948 and 1967 wars, respectively. What the Trump deal provides is an opportunity for Israel to argue that this annexation was legitimate, as it is now recognized by the world’s largest superpower. Such a position provides Israel with further cover to seize Palestinian land and dispossess Palestinians in order to create a demographic Jewish majority in the city. 

The proposed plan further separates Jerusalem from its Palestinian surroundings, making it an exclusively Israeli metropolis. Though the fate of the Palestinian communities living within the city and carrying Israeli residence permits is uncertain, it is likely that Israel will severely curtail their ability to move from one side of the wall to the other. Israel has also been increasing illegal settlement construction and development in and around Jerusalem, which has the intentional effect of further restricting Palestinian natural growth. Palestinians are also apprehensive about Jerusalem’s holy sites, most notably the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is facing continuous Israeli restrictions and attempts to change its status from an Islamic site to a Jewish one. 

Moreover, Palestinians in Jerusalem are fearful about the overall effect of the deal, as it encourages Israel to continue to prevent refugees and displaced persons from return and further divides Palestine into smaller and smaller Bantustans while advancing and developing exclusively Jewish colonies in the whole of Palestine. 

Concurrently, Palestinian Jerusalemites are experiencing a leadership crisis. While the initial reaction from Palestinian officialdom – a categorial rejection of the Trump plan – was a good start, it is not enough. Indeed, years of Israeli political repression have succeeded in limiting active official representation and there is almost no clear actor that has the agency and power to lead the population. This has kept Jerusalemites holding their breath, unsure how Israel will translate its increased impunity into further facts on the ground. 

The Palestinian leadership and Palestinian civil society must rethink their whole strategy and what liberation means. Israel is continuing the classic colonial tactic of proposing agreements with indigenous inhabitants in order to buy more time to steal more land and draw new boundaries. The time has come to rethink the goals of Palestinian liberation in a way that focuses on ending the colonial regime rather than partitioning the land.

Gaza Strip

Omar Shaban 

Many residents of the Gaza Strip have expressed their rejection of the Trump administration’s “deal” despite their belief that it would have a lesser impact on Gaza than the West Bank and Jerusalem. Indeed, Palestinians in the enclave have led popular mobilization efforts rejecting the deal, with numerous mass demonstrations that brought together protestors from all walks of life confirming their condemnation of the plan. 

Palestinian political officials have also rejected the deal unequivocally, including President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas, and all political and armed groups in Gaza. Such rebuffs have remained limited to press statements and political speeches. The Palestinian Authority (PA) also addressed several international Arab and Islamic actors to affirm the Palestinian rejection of the deal. 

Some actors, such as former chief of Hamas’s Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal, have called on the PA to take bolder steps, including withdrawal from the Oslo Accords, dissolution of the PA, and enforcement of the numerous decisions taken by the PLO’s Executive Committee and the National Council to sever ties with and end obligations toward Israel, especially in regard to security coordination. Even before the deal was unveiled, others denounced the positions of some Arab regimes and politicians who called on the Palestinians to wait and think the plan through before rejecting it.


Trump’s deal could have been a blessing in disguise had the Palestinians treated it as motivation to achieve internal reconciliation
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On the other hand, some from Gaza have declared on social media that the deal could provide better solutions for the Gaza Strip in lieu of the now 14-year painful reality of blockade, poverty, unemployment, multiple wars, and hopelessness. The hardship brought by the siege and the ramifications of the division between the PA and Hamas have pushed people to consider such an unjust deal potentially less harsh than their bleak reality.

Further, despite a shared rejection of the plan, both PA and Hamas officials accused the other of being subtly complicit in “passing”  the deal or failing to take serious steps to thwart it. These actions marred the chance for Palestinian consensus. The Palestinian public had previously been somewhat optimistic regarding the consensus of otherwise divided Palestinian parties when they all rejected the deal and boycotted the Bahrain economic conference in June 2019. Nevertheless, this rejection did not translate into practical steps for unification. 

The Palestinian division emboldened the US, which assumed that the political regime’s fragmentation had weakened the support of Arab and Islamic actors. Despite recognizing the division’s catastrophic effects, the PA and Hamas have failed to take serious steps to resolve it. Although Abbas stated that he will send a PLO delegation to the Gaza Strip for unity talks, the statement was made in January and has yet to materialize.

The Trump deal necessitates the development of a Palestinian strategy that ensures an inclusive and effective unified national position and a plan of action that is neither weak nor extreme. In fact, the prejudiced deal could have been a blessing in disguise had the Palestinians treated it as motivation to achieve internal reconciliation. Instead, the drivers of the division are stronger than the drivers of the rejection. This is another chance that the entire Palestinian political regime is squandering.

West Bank 

Inès Abdel Razek 

For Palestinians in the West Bank, the “deal” put forward by the US administration is a non-starter. Rather, it came as no surprise and shed further light on a one-state apartheid reality under which Palestinians have long lived, greenlighting a de jure annexation that is already de facto in place. For decades, great powers have treated Palestinians with similar contempt, making decisions despite them or without them at the table. This plan is another humiliation in which Palestinians are told what is good for them instead of having their fundamental rights recognized. 

If anything, the Trump deal has increased Palestinians’ mistrust of Western interlocutors and partners, including European countries that have welcomed the plan as a genuine effort and have failed once again to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations. These reactions have further convinced Palestinians that they can only count on themselves and need their own plan. However, at present, the vast majority of them do not trust Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) or Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders to come up with a strategy that will defend their rights and change the current reality. 

This mistrust is particularly acute among people in the West Bank who are living in PA-administered areas. Most people’s lives are dictated by the hardship of the occupation, which has already transformed communities into fragmented Bantustans. Farmers, workers in settlements, shop owners, and PA employees provide as best they can for their families, overcoming obstacles, whether roadblocks, a lack of water, or a limited cashflow, in circumstances they know are controlled by Israel and accepted by the PA. This relentless daily existence is likely the reason why no visible outburst occurred from the Palestinian population in the West Bank after the Trump administration announced the deal.

Rather, it is settlers and the Israeli authorities who have exhibited more of a direct response. A spike in home demolitions; authorizations for new settlement construction, such as the reopening of projects in the E1 corridor and E2; and land grabs and outposts such as at Jabal Al-Arma/Beita south of Nablus have occurred since the US first announced the deal. Popular resistance committees have continued to defy these actions, experiencing daily attacks from the army and settlers. 

The Trump plan brings to an end the “two-state solution,” a hollow mantra that the US and Israel never truly pursued. While there is no consensus among Palestinians regarding whether they want to live in two states, one state, a federal state, or otherwise, all Palestinians want freedom, dignity, and justice, regardless of the administrative arrangement. Palestinian identity and the right to self-determination cannot be detached from Palestinians’ attachment to their homeland – the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – particularly its environment, heritage, history, and culture. This is what the Trump plan ignores, instead aiming to redefine freedom as the act of receiving “economic incentives,” no matter how racist and unequal the system is in which those incentives are offered.  

Lebanon

Jaber Suleiman 

The Trump plan’s chapter on Palestinian refugees reveals its goal to impose solutions on the refugee issue that disregard international law and relevant UN resolutions, principally UNGA 194, through calling for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that “provide[s] for a complete end and release of any and all claims relating to refugee or immigration status.”

To achieve this goal, Trump’s vision rejects UNRWA’s multigenerational definition of “Palestine refugee;” terminates UNRWA’s mandate; dismantles refugee camps across the region; liquidates the right of return; denies a proper and just reparation for Palestinian refugees; and aims at permanently resettling said refugees in the Arab countries where they reside. The vision describes this solution, ironically, as “just, fair and realistic.”

The plan focuses specifically on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, highlighting their socioeconomic and spatial marginalization and their ambiguous legal status that deprives them of almost all basic human rights. The vision justifies its claims for integrating Palestinian refugees into the Lebanese host community as a durable solution that can end their suffering. 

This issue of integration, or tawteen, in the plan has increased Lebanese fears of the Palestinian presence, and the Lebanese state has in turn initiated more discriminatory policies toward refugees. The Ministry of Labor’s July 2019 plan, for instance, imposed even more severe restrictions on the labor of Palestinians, who are considered foreigners in the legislation. The decision sparked widespread and unprecedented protest among the Palestinian refugee community, which rejected the plan and refuted any link between basic human rights and resettlement and declared its adherence to the right of return. In fact, rejection of tawteen has been a Lebanese-Palestinian constant. 


Countering the Trump deal requires a new Palestinian strategy that redefines the Palestinian national project and rejuvenates the Palestinian national movement
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Instead of imposing further restrictions, Lebanon should modify its policies toward Palestinian refugees to further comply with international law by granting them a broad spectrum of basic human rights without naturalizing them. This would be the most effective approach, as it would provide Lebanon’s Palestinians with temporary protection and would mitigate their everyday suffering while allowing them to struggle for their return – and as such could also calm Lebanese fears of permanent resettlement. 

The Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon, through its civil society organizations, has always been in constant coordination with its counterparts in Palestine and the diaspora with respect to the threats targeting Palestinian refugees. For example, Lebanon’s Center for Refugee Rights – Aidoun, in coordination with the Palestinian Center for Citizenship and Refugee Rights – Badil, based in Bethlehem, organizes an annual course in Beirut on Palestinian refugee status in international law that is attended by Palestinian and Lebanese human rights activists. The 2019 session focused on the implications of the Trump deal and its vision regarding refugees.

These centers and other Palestinian NGOs have also raised these issues in regional and international events in the past year, including the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD)’s workshop on Palestinian refugees, held in Amman in October 2019; the Bruno Kreisky Forum on Palestinian refugees and diaspora communities, held in Vienna in the same month; and an Academic Friends of UNRWA workshop, organized by Exeter University in February 2020. Such events demonstrate the extensive efforts of the refugee communities in Palestine and the diaspora in advocating for refugee rights, and constitute a tool to confront Trump’s vision. 

Jordan

Oraib Rantawi

Every provision and term of Trump’s “deal” directly affects the 4.4 million Palestinians of all legal statuses in Jordan who make up nearly one third of Palestinians worldwide and about two thirds of the country’s population. The deal, for instance, deprives the more than one million displaced Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip residing in Jordan of their right to return to their towns and villages and makes their movement between Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) even more contingent on Israeli approval, since the deal recognizes Israel’s security control over borders and international crossings. Such constraints would intensify should Israel act on its promise to officially annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea. Displaced Palestinians in the OPT are therefore in jeopardy of losing not only their right of return but also their right to visit relatives.

Jordan, however, is unlikely to grant Palestinians from the OPT nationality, citizenship rights, or even civil rights because of the country’s mandate to maintain its “demographic balance” and avoid indicating any willingness to accept resettlement and alternative homeland schemes. Despite this situation, owing to a deadlocked Palestinian national liberation project and the imperatives of daily existence, the past decade has seen Jordanians of Palestinian origin begin to identify more as Jordanian. 

Israel is having a moment of strategic supremacy and believes that the time has come for a decisive end to its century-long colonial project by proclaiming victory. The “Deal of the Century” is that proclamation. Meanwhile, what remains of the Palestinian national movement is on the brink of collapse, if it has not already collapsed. It is reeling from division, sluggishness, corruption, and a disconnect from its people. Countering the Trump deal therefore requires a new Palestinian strategy that redefines the Palestinian national project and rejuvenates the Palestinian national movement.

A major challenge to this need is the fact that interaction between Palestinian communities has been almost nonexistent for years. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which united those communities, has evolved into a helpless and symbolic body. Moreover, the announcement of the Trump deal coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, rendering synergies and communication among Palestinian communities even more difficult and rare. Only Hamas has been able to sustain communication channels thanks to its regional allies, Qatar and Turkey, and the far reach of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Palestinian diaspora conference in Turkey is the only open channel of communication for the different Palestinian communities, including that in Jordan. Such connections must be strengthened to confront the challenges of the current moment. 

The United States 

Randa Wahbe 

Trump’s “deal” affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Israel to liquidate all Palestinian rights to their land and sovereignty. Global political leaders have always grotesquely contested Palestinian humanity by imploring Palestinians to give up the basic tenets of their cause. Even so, Trump has ushered in a new trend in which Palestinian disenfranchisement is brought to the forefront in an unwaveringly loud and unflinching way. Watching Trump smugly announce the annexation of the Jordan Valley, land swaps, and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital overwhelmed Palestinians with a sense of defeat. 

But rather than wallow in despair, this moment calls on Palestinians, particularly Palestinian-Americans, to evoke the ever-timely statement by Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Trump’s announcement has made it crystal clear that Palestinians can no longer seek their rights and dignity within the established frameworks of international law and third-party state obligations. While Palestinians must absolutely use these tools to their advantage, they can never be a barometer of what they deserve. 

Palestinians deserve more than the scraps at the bottom of the barrel of human rights discourses or international treaties that maintain a world order that refuses to decolonize. This is a golden opportunity for the Palestinian community in the United States to rise up together, become a collective community, and capitalize on its strength to revitalize the demands for the right of return and freedom. Palestinian-Americans must destabilize the normalcy of violence against their families back home. To do so, two crucial steps must occur. 


Palestinians deserve more than the scraps at the bottom of the barrel of human rights discourses or international treaties that maintain a world order that refuses to decolonize
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First, the Palestinian diaspora in the United States must organize under a progressive agenda. It cannot see its dispossession in Palestine as separate from the oppression of Black, indigenous, queer, and undocumented communities in the United States, nor can it distance itself from the structures that continue to dominate and expel people there. As taxpayers and members of communities in the US, Palestinian-Americans cannot isolate themselves from their daily lived experiences and must work against the violence perpetrated by white supremacy. 

Yet fighting for a progressive agenda in the United States does not mean giving up a Palestinian identity. The second step forward is demanding a voice within Palestinian society for Palestinians living in exile and in the diaspora. Palestinian-Americans are often made to feel that their distance and inability to live on Palestinian land excludes them from shaping visions for a liberated Palestinian future. Palestinians are a globally fragmented nation and they must build a platform that gives them a voice and representation considering their dispersed condition. 

The self-anointed Palestinian Authority cannot continue to disenfranchise Palestinians in the diaspora and elide their demands because they are far away, while continuing to negotiate away the Palestinian nation’s rights. Palestinian-Americans are an integral part of Palestinian history and the Palestinian future, and now, more than ever, they must assert themselves as so. 

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Climate Change Is Going to Hit Palestine Particularly Hard

Israel just made it through a brutal, record-breaking heat wave. Temperatures hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit in Tel Aviv, 98 degrees in Jerusalem, and 113 degrees in Jericho. The government had to lift the requirement for masks and suspend many schools yet again, just after post-coronavirus reopenings. The scorching temperatures caused
record electricity usage. Wildfires broke out in the south of the country. The elderly suffered heatstroke, and three people died. This all happened in May: the fifth-hottest month of the year in Israel.

The climate crisis is coming hard and fast for the entire Middle East. Israel will see its summer extended by two months, and temperatures will reach 122 degrees. Precipitation will decrease by as much as 25 percent, a terrifying jump in water scarcity for an already arid region. And while there will be less precipitation overall, when it falls, it will come in storms, causing floods, storm surges, and heavy infrastructure damage. But in a pattern likely to play out throughout the world, these disasters will not be felt equally, across all sectors of society. Instead, by and large, Palestinians will face the worst of the region’s many coming climate disasters.

“We have quite good knowledge of how the climate will evolve in the region,” Assaf Hochman, a climate researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, told me. In coming years, Israel will see streams go dry, more forest fires, more invasive species, and an increased risk of disease outbreak, both infectious and vector-borne. The cost of agriculture will rise due to crop deterioration; increased pest spread; and damage from storms, floods, and droughts. “It’s not an exaggeration that it will be unsafe to go outside in the summer. And the political context in the region is making it difficult to adapt.”

Research by Michael Mason, the Director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, shows that Israeli and Palestinian reports on climate change have almost entirely ignored climate change’s role as a threat multiplier in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and the conflict’s role as a threat multiplier in the climate crisis. But there’s ample research showing that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will make the impacts of the climate crisis more severe. Specifically, the Israeli military occupation is already exacerbating climate-related resource shortages for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights.

“Even though climate change is indiscriminate in the way it treats territory, the human effects of policy mean that Israelis and Palestinians will experience the effects of climate change in hugely disproportionate ways,” Zena Agha, policy analyst at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, told me. “The Israeli government presides over a stratified system of rights and access.”

This stratified system plays out the most clearly in the case of water. Per the Oslo Accords, 80 percent of joint water aquifer resources in Palestine are designated for Israeli use; Israeli settlers, independent Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq estimated in a 2013 report, consume six times as much water as the West Bank’s 2.9 million Palestinian residents. Israel controls water in the West Bank through the Joint Water Committee, which Human Rights Watch says has a track record of confiscating equipment and denying permits to Palestinians who want to construct water infrastructure.

Matters are worse in the Gaza Strip, where 97 percent of water is unfit for human consumption and contaminated water is the leading cause of child deaths. The Israeli military controls what resources go in and out of the Gaza Strip—and many essential items for building water infrastructure are considered dangerous materials and prohibited. Increased water scarcity in Gaza could be fatal for many.

Water isn’t the only natural resource affected by Israeli occupation. Israel’s military prevents residents in the Gaza Strip from using the land next to Israel’s militarized fence, which makes up 20 percent of Gaza’s arable land. Explosives dropped on Gaza in 2014 damaged soil and reduced agricultural productivity. In the West Bank and Golan Heights, Israeli military and settlers have uprooted and burned 800,000 olive trees in the process of seizing land for new settlements. Israelis, too, have seen already vulnerable farmland destroyed by fire kites sent from Gaza.

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Does the militarisation of US police encourage excessive force?

Images and videos of police across the country allegedly beating and shooting demonstrators, members of the media, medics and bystanders with projectiles, tear gas and flashbangs have inflamed tensions after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last week

Many of these scenes feature police officers dressed in full body armour and carrying shields as vehicles that look more like tanks than cruisers flashing red and blue lights roll by.

The US police force is heavily militarised, thanks to the transfer of surplus military goods to law enforcement departments across the US for decades.

The scenes playing out across the US today have renewed worries that the militarisation of police has created a climate among law enforcement that encourages excessive force.

“In city after city, we are witnessing actions that could be considered unnecessary or excessive force,” said Rachel Ward, national director of research at Amnesty International USA.

“Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict are inevitable,” Ward said in a statement on Saturday.

Some protesters experience this first-hand. Haley Pilgrim, a member of Resource Generation, a “multiracial membership community” of people aged 18-35 who aim to create a world that “is racially economically just”, was present at demonstrations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Friday.

Pilgrim told Al Jazeera she saw police using batons on demonstrators and was “whipped” to the ground as she filmed the demonstration.

“Without a doubt, there was more police force. I’ve never seen up close batons being used, multiple times, being used on protesters,” said Haley, who has been active in organising for eight years.

While images of police cars burning were shared widely on social media, Pilgrim said that did not occur until law enforcement began acting forcefully with demonstrators.

“The protesters didn’t come to be violent,” she added. “We had posters and microphones … Cops came with shields and batons”.

Philadelphia police did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

The police officers with whom Pilgrim dealt directly were not wearing riot gear, but law enforcement donned the equipment as protests escalated in the city and looting began.

1033 programme

The US has transferred excess military equipment to police forces under the current system since at least 1990. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1990’s section 1208 authorised transfer of military-grade to “federal and state agencies”, according to the law. The equipment was meant to be used in police actions against drug use and sales.

But the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997 saw the expansion of the programme to include “all law enforcement agencies to acquire property for bona fide law enforcement purposes that assist in their arrest and apprehension mission”, though counter-drug operations were still given preference.

Public outcry about the programme began in earnest in 2014, following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen, in Ferguson, Missouri. As protests continued, images of police officers wearing advanced body armour and wielding hi-tech weapons were widespread.

The 1033 programme, headed by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the Department of Defense’s combat logistics support agency, has given domestic law enforcement at least five billion dollars in “surplus military defensive equipment” since 1997, Human Rights Watch wrote in 2017. This equipment included “aircraft to battering rams and riot gear”, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The programme provided these weapons, at times without cost, to roughly 8,000 police departments across the US, according to the programme’s website.

In recent years, Granite City, Illinois, with a population of roughly 30,000 people, received 25 M16 and M14 rifles, an armoured truck and a robot for “explosive ordinance disposal”, according to Forbes.

Leesburg, Florida, with roughly 22,000 residents, received a mine-resistant armoured vehicle.

Former President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2015 that limited what items could be given to police under the programme. Before that, “even bayonets and grenade launchers” were available, HRW wrote.

While Obama was lauded for this order, an investigation by left-leaning paper In These Times found that it did little to stem the flow of combat gear to police.

President Donald Trump, who has called for governors to handle the protests with more force, meanwhile, has continued to provide military equipment to police forces across the country.

‘Transnational police force’

US police forces not only receive weapons from their own military, many also receive training from Israel’s military, which has been accused of grave rights abuses against Palestinians.

Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services have provided training on crowd control, use of force and surveillance to thousands of members of US law enforcement over the years.

This training has occurred in the US, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

This training placed US law enforcement employees “in the hands of military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years”, Amnesty International wrote in 2016, citing alleged extrajudicial killing, surveillance and excessive use of force, among other violations.

Israeli authorities deny these accusations.

“Hennepin County sheriffs from Minneapolis have been trained in Israel-US police exchange programmes, as have cops in every major police force in this country,” Randa Wahbe, an analyst with al-Shabaka, a Palestinian policy think-tank, said in an email to Al Jazeera. Hennepin County sheriffs were not involved in Floyd’s death.

While the “structures of policing in the US and Israel are meant to ensure that Black and Palestinian people are never treated as fully human,” Wahbe said, the violent tactics seen today in the US extends beyond the Israel-US exchange programmes to “slave patrols in the Antebellum South, the Black Codes during Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the War on Drugs, and the Prison-Industrial Complex”.

Though policing is inherently anti-Black and in Israel, anti-Palestinian, Wahbe claimed, what is happening is not about “who teaches who the strategies of surveillance and violent policing … it’s about recognising the rise and entrenchment of a transnational police force that criminalises and violently suppresses any threat to its hierarchies of power – hierarchies that are predicated on anti-Blackness.”

She concluded: “The structures of law enforcement as we know them must be abolished.”

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Understanding Netanyahu’s Political Survival

Overview 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics for nearly 25 years, first between 1996 and 1999 and then again since 2009. Winning a total of five elections, he has become the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history and has laid the foundation of the model of one-man rule in Israel. He has consolidated his political power, dominated the Israeli media, and created an aura of invincibility, prompting his supporters to dub him the “king.” 1 

Despite recent challenges to his rule, including his right-wing bloc failing to gain enough seats in the past two elections to form a government without building a coalition, as well as corruption charges levied against him, Netanyahu has managed to remain in office. 

To understand Netanyahu’s political survival, it is necessary to map the Israeli right wing and its internal conflicts. This commentary analyzes Israel’s domestic politics, focusing on Netanyahu’s political doctrine and practice, and attempts to explain Netanyahu’s political longevity.

Establishing a One-Man Show 

Netanyahu has used two main strategies to reinforce his political power from within the Israeli government. First, he has held multiple positions at the same time: During his terms as prime minister, he also presided over various ministries, the last of which were those of communications, agriculture, and health, as well as welfare and social services. He was forced to resign from these positions in December 2019 due to the criminal charges against him. Second, he has expanded the practice of political appointments to ensure personal loyalty in various institutions and offices of government, including the judiciary.

Netanyahu has also dominated the political narrative in Israel by employing his connections in the Israeli media. According to articles of indictment in three separate corruption cases, Netanyahu has explicitly pressured Israeli media outlets to polish his image and discredit his opponents. 2 Political scientist Yascha Mounk affirms that Netanyahu has many of the characteristics of a model authoritarian populist: He suppresses dissenting views, attempts to take political control of public broadcasters, and has created a loyal propaganda outlet for himself via Israel Hayom, the free tabloid bankrolled by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Furthermore, Netanyahu often employs conspiracy theories and fearmongering to secure his political authority, claiming a monopoly on maintaining Israeli security. Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, notes that Netanyahu “seeds fears all over the place and then pops up around the corner and says, ‘I have a solution for you.’” By employing this strategy Netanyahu has successfully thwarted opposition, including grassroot movements such as the 2011 “Tents Protest,” the most significant protest movement in Israel’s history, which critiqued the government’s military and security spending. 

Moreover, Netanyahu relentlessly incites violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel, depicting them as a Trojan horse, terrorists, and a fifth column within Israeli society. He has repeatedly described Arab voters as “heading to the polling stations in droves” to persuade Jewish citizens to vote for him by presenting himself as the leader who can stop the “Arab threat.” 


Netanyahu has cultivated blind loyalty and the image of one-man leadership in the psyche of Israeli society
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Netanyahu has systematically marginalized both his internal and external opposition. 3 By eliminating any competition within his party and building an internal network of loyal followers, he has been able to project himself as the only person capable of empowering the Likud Party, arguing that a genuine right wing would cease to exist without him. Netanyahu has concurrently besieged his opponents on the Zionist left, accusing them of being traitors, feeble, and Arab-loving, and has pushed through legislation to restrict the activities of left-wing human rights organizations – the only domestic institutions challenging Israel’s most fundamental and egregious violations, most often perpetrated by Israeli settlers and the Israeli army in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

Through this combination of political tools – expanding his monopoly on right-wing power, obstructing democratic practices, and capitalizing on the existential fears of Israeli Zionists – Netanyahu has recreated the typical model of one-man rule, paralleling the rise of populist authoritarian rulers elsewhere. However, since Netanyahu relies mostly on Mizrahi Jews as supporters, his model of strongman rule shares some similarities with models developed in the Middle East. 4

In doing so Netanyahu has cultivated blind loyalty and the image of one-man leadership in the psyche of Israeli society, projecting himself as the only politician capable of protecting Israel and its interests through his far-reaching connections and charismatic personality. 

The Israeli Right and the Religious-Secular Conflict 

Netanyahu has enhanced the contradictory nature of Israel as both Jewish and democratic by favoring the Jewish over the democratic aspect of the state’s identity. His strategy culminated in the enactment of the Nation-State Law, which has contributed to the religionization of Israeli political discourse and increased the religious characteristics of the Zionist right. 

Indeed, Netanyahu projects Likud as the sole protector of Jewish interests by drawing a symmetrical alliance between the national right wing (presented historically by Likud) and the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews. In doing so, he has relied on three major forces: the Israeli nationalist right, the radical right, and what is described by Ehud Sprinzak as the “soft right.” While the first two forces have traditionally been part of Israeli politics, the soft right – the key player in Netanyahu’s political coalitions – is new and worth investigation.

The soft right is a loose coalition of ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazim, ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, and secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union. On the surface, it would seem that these groups would not even sit at the same table, and clashes do occur, particularly due to Netanyahu’s urge to appease the religious bloc. However, the coalition is driven by a mutual animosity toward Arabs and the Israeli secular left. 5 

Through this union, the right has secured legislation that achieves an even greater presence of religion in Israeli public life, including tax breaks for Haredi Jews, continuing military service exemptions for Yeshiva students, and tolerance regarding daily practices, such as closing streets and public transportation on Saturdays and empowering the mandate of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, who has authority on personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, conversions, and determining who is Jewish. These policies escalated conflicts within the soft right and led last year to the collapse of Netanyahu’s traditional coalition that had ensured that he and Likud have kept their hold on power since 2009.

In particular, in the April 2019 elections Netanyahu failed to reconcile the conflict between religious parties and Avigdor Lieberman, who, as a secular far-right leader, is positioning himself as an alternative to Netanyahu to lead the secular liberal right. At the heart of the conflict between the religious parties and Lieberman, who used to be two solid components of Netanyahu’s coalition, was the issue of mandatory military service for Haredim. Besides being an essential component of individual Israeli identity, military service in Israel is the prime signifier of membership in the Israeli civic community and a crucial determinant of the meaning of Israeli citizenship. 6 Israelis also consider military service a universal institution where political and ideological disputes are supposed to dissolve – an essential value for Israel’s continued survival, given the demographic changes on the horizon. 7

Netanyahu’s agenda has disrupted the status quo established by David Ben-Gurion in 1947, which aimed to contain the religious-secular conflict in the future state. Under this policy, Haredi Jews became exempt from military service in 1952 despite the view that military service would serve as a melting pot for all Jewish people hailing from different origins and backgrounds. Ben-Gurion also refrained from writing a constitution for the state of Israel and avoided discussions thereof. Instead, he simply referred to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, explaining that avoiding specific internal conflicts was the best way to maintain internal peace.       


Israel is witnessing an internal conflict over the right wing's political representation and the nature of the state of Israel
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Anger toward Haredi Jews, both from the secular right and left, has increased as a result of the military exemption. They are seen as a burden on the state not only because they refuse military service, but also because they receive special tax breaks while remaining disengaged from the labor market. Moreover, their strict and isolated way of life, not to mention their treatment of women, contrasts starkly with the liberal and open image of Israel exported abroad. Conversely, Haredi Jews see secular Jews as leading a decadent lifestyle in violation of Jewish laws, and whose mixing with other religions threatens the survival of Judaism itself.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has blocked all attempts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 8 He has disregarded fundamental Palestinian demands and worked to make political and geographic changes on the ground by continuing to build settlements, securing American recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and working closely with the Trump administration on its “Deal of the Century.”

This policy of managing the conflict, which includes enhancing Palestinian-Israeli security coordination, has contributed to a strong feeling of stability in Israel, especially when the daily reality of Palestinians’ lives under occupation continues to be entirely out of sight for most Israelis. As a result, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has long been absent from electoral platforms, and instead the Israeli public is concerned with the internal conflicts outlined above. 

Israel is in fact witnessing a twofold internal conflict that transcends merely securing the required number of seats to form a coalition government. It is instead a conflict over the right wing’s political representation and the nature of the state of Israel. Netanyahu succeeded in recent years in establishing his hegemony by polarizing internal conflicts within Israel’s right wing through emphasizing common enemies. But this has now reached the point of a direct clash, made clear by Lieberman’s refusal to join Netanyahu’s coalition without Netanyahu making concessions on the issue of religious military service exemptions. 

Netanyahu’s policies of restructuring the right wing, emphasizing Jewishness over democracy, and repositioning conflicts in Israel have created new dynamics, changes, and coalitions in Israeli politics. Under these circumstances, Netanyahu mastered the political game and knew how to benefit from it until the April 2019 election, when he failed to form a government. This was the point at which his marathon for political survival began.  

Netanyahu Survives Again  

Netanyahu is now waging a fierce personal war against his political opponents, deriving power from his constituency, charismatic personality, and media influence. Like a typical populist, he refuses to withdraw or believe he could lose. According to Mounk, only a minority of populists who are elected leave office through free and fair elections. They often make their countries more corrupt, rewrite the constitution to give themselves more power, and violate fundamental civil and political rights. This is what Netanyahu has been doing for years by attacking significant institutions in Israel and claiming to be a victim of a liberal media and judicial system.

Netanyahu’s survival strategy has always been about personalizing politics by emphasizing the question of the proper leader that should head Israel. If the real challenge in the first two elections lay in how to form a government by bridging the rift that Netanyahu’s policies have aggravated for years within the right bloc and persuading all parties, especially Lieberman, to come on board, in the third election, thanks to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s hesitation and COVID-19, Netanyahu managed to transfer the question from how to who should form a government under these circumstances.  

Netanyahu is doing what he does best: managing crises and portraying himself as Israel’s sole savior. Without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has played into Netanyahu’s hands. He has led the nation’s efforts to contain the virus since the beginning and has accused his opponents of hampering the cause by continuing to struggle over the formation of the government. By waving the flag of national unity and collective interest in a time of trouble, Netanyahu convinced Gantz and the Israeli public that an emergency national government is crucial for defeating the virus. In doing so, he succeeded in dismantling Blue and White and found a way to stay in office.

Netanyahu signed a power-sharing agreement that ensures his position as prime minister for a further 18 months in a national emergency government. The government agreement also gives Netanyahu – who is still facing trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes – influence over the appointments of judges and legal officials. According to the agreement, both parties approve key appointments, including the attorney general and the state prosecutor, granting Netanyahu veto power over the officials who will determine his fate in the courts. 

This conflict of interest does not seem to affect Netanyahu, who still enjoys extensive backing, to the point that his supporters staged demonstrations and accused the Israeli judiciary of corruption and deliberately targeting him. While Netanyahu’s opponents hoped that the Supreme Court would declare his mandate illegal because of his criminal indictment, this scenario did not play out as they had hoped: The court refused to bar Netanyahu from forming a government and declined to block the power-sharing agreement with Gantz


Understanding Netanyahu’s survival means exposing the internal dynamics and hidden power structures in Israeli politics
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Netanyahu’s political survival has taken a toll on Israeli democracy and its institutions. Yet the extent to which populists manage to damage democratic institutions depends on their centralization of power. It can be argued that since the Israeli prime minister is nearly always dependent on the support of coalition partners, there are hypothetically still some checks on authoritarianism in Israel not found in other states. However, recent developments challenge this assumption: The coalition of the three former Likud members who split from the party and reached the Knesset through other parties with Blue and White ensures Netanyahu a coalition of 61 members in a broader national government. This means that Netanyahu is establishing his government within the national unity government and bolstering his own supremacy in the name of consensus. Even if Gantz intends to break with the government, it would not affect its stability and status as a mechanism of governing. 

In a national unity government, Netanyahu’s challenge is not related only to remaining in power; rather, it is about remaining and dominating – and this is what he has understood from the beginning. Forming a large government requires trying to satisfy everyone by distributing portfolios. This makes for internal clashes and challenges Netanyahu’s traditional allies in their struggle to keep their power while Netanyahu attempts to also keep his opponents close.

On the surface, the fact that Netanyahu is entering his fourth consecutive term – his fifth overall – burnishes his reputation as a political wizard and unbeatable survivor. Yet  understanding his survival also means exposing the internal dynamics and hidden power structures in Israeli politics. Moreover, Netanyahu would not be able to survive without the support of many segments of Israeli society and the success of his highly curated populist image as the “father of the nation” and a “strong leader” – an identity he has propagated himself. Netanyahu has apparently won the battle, but only against Israel’s fragile democratic values and institutions. 

Notes:

  1. This piece is part of Al-Shabaka’s Policy Circle on Palestinian Leadership and Accountability. An Al-Shabaka policy circle is a specific methodology to engage a group of analysts in longer-term study and reflection on an issue of key importance to the Palestinian people.
  2. The cases include Case 4000, in which Netanyahu allegedly conducted a “give and take” agreement with the Bezeq telecommunications company and Israeli Walla website to receive favorable coverage, as well as Case 3000, in which Netanyahu allegedly attempted to control the political content of Yedioth Ahronoth, the highest selling and circulating Israeli daily newspaper with a popular website.
  3. Netanyahu accomplished this marginalization after being elected party chairman in 1992 by initiating organizational change within Likud. He altered the internal election system, introducing primaries to weaken both the Central Committee and political rivals. The Central Committee previously had elected most party positions, but under Netanyahu the party chairman nominated members to key administration roles. Netanyahu also created two new bodies within the party – the party bureau and the party management – and appointed their members as well. The Likud Party structure became more centralized under Netanyahu’s leadership from 1993 to 1996 and lost its factional nature; instead, one dominant coalition ruled.
  4. Historically, Herut (Likud today) was an anti-elitist movement directed against Mapai and its hegemonic institutions (such as the Histadrut and the Kibbutz movement) that played a key role in the marginalization of the Mizrahim, who became a solid electoral bloc for Likud. According to Nissim Mizrachi, Mizrahi Jews’ political behavior is similar to a family structure; Hisham Sharabi also explained politics in the Arab world and collective societies in this way. In Mizrachi’s words, “Data show that many of these people are confident that the person at the top of the political pyramid is working for their collective good. Maybe it’s not going well for him, but they don’t suspect him of acting out of motives that are not to their benefit.”
  5. Despite their secularism and animosity toward the ultra-Orthodox, most Russian Israelis cannot tolerate the rhetoric of the Israeli left because of their memories of the Soviet Union; meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox oppose the secularity of the Israeli left.
  6. Israel is perhaps the only country in which “citizenship” is differentiated from “nationality;” the meaning of citizenship is different than obtaining citizenship (a passport).
  7. According to the Israel Democracy Institution 2019 statistical report on ultra-Orthodox society in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel today numbers 1,125,000 – 12% of Israel’s population – and is growing at a higher rate than the rest of Israel’s population.
  8. Unwilling to allow for meaningful Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, Netanyahu follows the conflict management approach. This approach was accelerated by the Second Intifada, but is rooted in Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s “decision not to decide” in the aftermath of the 1967 war.

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