INTERVIEW: Palestinian ambassador to UK braced for Trump’s ‘deal of the century’

Husam Zomlot Ambassador, Head of Palestinian Mission to the UK. (Supplied)
Updated 03 April 2019
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INTERVIEW: Palestinian ambassador to UK braced for Trump’s ‘deal of the century’

  • Husam Zomlot tells Arab News that Trump team's plan is illegitimate because they did not consult the Palestinian people
  • Envoy says Saudi Arabia has always unconditionally supported the rights of the Palestinian people, both politically and financially

LONDON: Like many Palestinian officials, Husam Zomlot is deeply concerned.

The US is close to unveiling its new Middle East peace plan. But all the signs so far have deepened concerns that President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” will be heavily biased toward Israel and offer little to the Palestinians.

The plan is being constructed by Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to the president, Jason Greenblatt, US special representative for international negotiations, and David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel. It is expected to be announced after the April 9 Israeli elections, and Kushner said last month it would address all core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including borders.

Speaking to Sky News Arabia, Kushner added that he wanted to see a unified Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza. For Zomlot though, the Fatah member and Palestinian ambassador to the UK, there are warning signs everywhere that the deal weakens the Palestinian position.

“The plan is illegitimate,” he told Arab News, “because they did not consult the Palestinian people, the international community, or revert to international resolutions.”

In September last year, Zomlot was expelled from the US. The Trump administration shut down the Palestinian diplomatic mission to Washington, and he relocated to the UK the following month to head the mission in London.

Trump piled more pressure on the Palestinians last year by moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and by cutting aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

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BIO
BORN

Gaza Strip, 1973
EDUCATION

Doctorate in economics, University of London
CAREER

Ambassador, Head of Palestinian Mission to the UK
Former Head of PLO General Delegation to the US
Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Palestinian President
Economist at the UN and as an economic researcher with London School of Economics and the Palestine Policy Research Institute

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On Monday, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, a move condemned by Arab countries and one that raised concerns in Ramallah over the future of its own territory.

That the deal is being put together solely by lawyers adds to its illegitimacy, Zomlot suggested, adding that the approach being taken was akin to real estate lawyers driving tenants from a building.

“You apply pressure on the tenants to evict them, like cutting water, electricity, heating, parking. This is what they have been doing with us for the last two years, starting with the closing of our diplomatic mission to Washington.”

One of the biggest Palestinian complaints is that they have not been consulted during the process, yet at the same time, the US team have gone out of their way to accommodate Israel.

Saudi Arabia has always unconditionally supported the rights of the Palestinian people, both politically and financially

Husam Zomlot

“It’s only taking into consideration one side, not even that of Israel but of Netanyahu — a clear indication that the Trump administration is supporting him,” Zomlot said.

He added that the US was ignoring decades of “international resolutions, consensus and laws” in the face of growing domestic support for the Palestinian cause. “We see the growing solidarity and awareness in America, and the number of people that voice support from the youth, the Congress, the Jewish community, the media and the intelligence agencies.”

However, the 46-year-old diplomat, who was born in a Gaza refugee camp and later studied in London, appears to feel more at home in the UK, and wants it to spearhead the Middle East peace process, commending Whitehall’s recent decision to double its contribution to UNRWA. “The UK is way more equipped and familiar with the situation than the Trump administration,” he said.

In such uncertain times, though, Ramallah is looking more to its old regional allies, with Zomlot calling Saudi Arabia an “older brother” in his nation’s history.

“Saudi Arabia has always unconditionally supported the rights of the Palestinian people, both politically and financially,” he said, citing King Salman’s defiance of the US embassy move by renaming the Saudi-hosted Arab League Summit the “Jerusalem Summit” last year.

One issue most Palestinians agree on is the need for a unified position — something that came to an end when Hamas seized Gaza in 2007. The hard-line group remains in control while in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is viewed as increasingly ineffective under the leadership of the aging President Mahmoud Abbas.

Last month, Abbas named Mohammad Shtayyeh prime minister, and Zomlot claimed the veteran politician had the ability required “to form a national government backed by all parties.”

He said now, more than ever, the Palestinians required “a strong government capable of engaging with the international community and dealing with the reality of colonialism that is not interested in a two-state solution.”

In a matter of weeks, when the Trump administration reveals its “deal of the century,” Abbas, Shtayyeh, Zomlot and others will face one of their greatest tests yet.


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.