Palestinian Nakba grows darker each year despite Trump’s 'deal of the century' promise

Palestinians hold up paper cutouts of keys as they take part in a rally marking the 71st anniversary of the Nakba on May 15, 2019 in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 15 May 2019
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Palestinian Nakba grows darker each year despite Trump’s 'deal of the century' promise

  • Nearly every peace attempt since 1949 has failed and ended up adding to the suffering of Palestinians
  • There is no reason to believe Trump’s “deal of the century” will be any different from the previous failed plans

This week, Palestinians commemorate the 71st anniversary of The Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948. The long night is getting darker and darker, with not a sliver of light in sight.

Many peace plans have been proposed since then, but they have all failed to bring about an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no reason to believe President Donald Trump’s much-talked-about “deal of the century” will be any different.

Palestinian leaders are reluctant to accept a compromise that does not include the sharing of Jerusalem and a full and complete return to the “The Green Line,” the 1949 armistice borders that defined Israel until 1967.

For its part, Israel has been reluctant to accept a sovereign, independent Palestine state in the occupied territories and has continued to expand its confiscation of Palestinian-owned lands to build settlements exclusively for Jewish settlers, who are armed and violent.

The issue of Palestinian statehood came up peripherally when Egypt’s Anwar Sadat made his dramatic gesture in 1977 to recognize Israel in exchange for peace, and in 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader, and Yasir Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman, signed the Oslo Accords.

Barring those two moments, nearly every peace effort has failed and ended up adding to the suffering of Palestinians. The Nakba has only worsened, becoming an “Akbar Nakba” (Greater Catastrophe) that Palestinians have become used to.

In 1949, Israel and the Arab states reached an armistice, which is basically a suspension of conflict. Although Israel defined its borders (the Green Line) on its own, the armistice never recognized final borders.

In 1967, when the Arab bluff was called by an Israel invasion of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Sinai, and Syria’s Golan Heights, the UN stepped in. It approved Security Council Resolution 242, which called for recognition of all the countries of the region (including Israel) and, as an afterthought, urged “a just resolution of the refugee problem.”

UN Resolution 242 became the basis for peace talks between Israel, Egypt and Jordan, but not between Israelis and Palestinians, who were compelled to take matters into their own hands by setting up the PLO and launching a revolution to free their occupied homeland.

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Even the meaning of Resolution 242 was distorted to exclude Palestinian statehood. Palestinians were relegated to the status of “a refugee problem,” their claims and rights countered by Israeli assertions that Jews who immigrated to Israel - and were living in former Arab homes and on Arab-owned lands - were refugees too.

Resolution 242 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council and embraced by Egypt and Jordan, but the larger UN General Assembly never had a direct say in its adoption. After the Six Day War of 1967, General Yigal Allon, Israel’s labor minister, floated a bold peace plan, but it was rejected by everyone.

After 1977, Sadat was feted as a “peacemaker” by the West for his to visit Jerusalem and address the Knesset. The following year he signed a peace accord with Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister who began his career as a leader of the violent Jewish underground organization Irgun Zvai Leumi.

Sadat believed the Camp David agreement would serve as a framework for peace with Jordan, Syria and the Palestinians. However, Begin never entered into serious negotiations with the Palestinians.

In December 1987, Palestinians rebelled against Israel’s occupation when an Israeli jeep ran over four Palestinian civilians and a teenager was killed during a subsequent protest. It was the first Intifada (uprising).

As the civilian population revolted against Israel’s military, the two rival Palestinian factions - the Gaza Strip’s Islamic Association, led by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, and the exiled PLO leadership in Tunis - saw the situation as a zero-sum game. The Islamic Association launched a military force called Hamas, which was described in a BBC interview as “a paramilitary wing” of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, the PLO had launched an initiative to win international backing for its leadership as the “sole representatives of the Palestinian people.” Soon, it had opened dialogue through intermediaries with Israel.

In 1988, US President Ronald Reagan issued a presidential waiver to allow the opening of formal discussions with PLO officials. Israel, which designated the PLO as a “terrorist organization,” dropped the designation following the Madrid Conference in 1991.

That led Arafat to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” and open the first substantive peace talks to create a Palestine state with Rabin. However, Rabin was assassinated at the conclusion of a rally in Tel Aviv in November 1995 by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist.

As part of the Oslo process, Jordan’s King Hussein signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979, leaving Palestine’s destiny in the hands of Arafat and the Palestine National Authority, which  tried to set up a base in Gaza to counter the rising political presence of Hamas.

Meanwhile, pro-peace activists in Israel tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process after Rabin was murdered. US President Bill Clinton, who got Rabin and Arafat to shake hands on the White House lawn in September 1993, was desperate to achieve any kind of peace. He had arranged for negotiations between Arafat and Israeli’s new prime minister, Ehud Barak, through Dennis Ross, a US diplomat.

In the 1999 vote Barak had trounced Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who had prevailed over Shimon Peres, the veteran Labor politician, in elections three years earlier. Barak, with Clinton’s help, tried to restore the peace process. However, Arafat balked at a final agreement on one issue: the demand that Palestinians abandon the “Right of Return.”

As luck would have it, Barak lost the February 2001 election to Ariel Sharon, the Likud politician who stirred up a storm by entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in September 2000 accompanied by thousands of Israeli security personnel.

In 2002, European leaders and Israel’s leftist opposition appealed for a “road map to peace”, but Sharon and Netanyahu refused to deal with Arafat, choosing to keep the veteran Palestinian leader under siege until his death on November 11, 2004.

Between December 2006 and September 2008, Ehud Olmert, the new Israeli prime minister, held talks with Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas, but the duo failed to achieve a breakthrough despite the support of US President Barack Obama. The dialogue came to an end when Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 2009.

Netanyahu opposes the idea of a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state. But the process that could have led to such an outcome is all but dead. These days Netanyahu seeks to achieve peace with the Arab world but not with Palestinians.


Former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir laid to rest

Updated 16 May 2019
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Former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir laid to rest

  • Lebanese flags were lowered at the Presidential Palace and government institutions in mourning and respect for the late Patriarch
  • he Muslim-majority northern city of Tripoli raised pictures of Sfeir in its streets

BEIRUT: Lebanon bid farewell to the former Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir on Thursday, who died at the age of 99.

“He loved Lebanon and did all he could for his war-torn country. He wanted peace and reconciliation to prevail, not just for Christians but Muslims as well. He prayed for Lebanon to remain a country of dialogue and convergence, as Pope Francis said,” noted Papal envoy Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Lebanese flags were lowered at the Presidential Palace and government institutions in mourning and respect for the late Patriarch. The ancient fortress of Baalbek closed its doors in compliance with a memorandum issued by the Minister of Culture Mohammad Daoud.

Thousands of people from all over Lebanon came to Bkerki, where Sfeir’s body lay since Wednesday, to see him for the last time.

The Muslim-majority northern city of Tripoli raised pictures of Sfeir in its streets. A large Druze delegation also came to Bkerki at the request of the president of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, to pay tribute to Sfeir and his role in patronizing the Jabal reconciliation after a bloody war between the Druze and Christians in the 1980s.

While Hezbollah was absent from the funeral, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, attended with a large delegation from the Amal Movement. The Lebanese Forces also participated in the funeral of the man they consider “the first resistant against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.”

Sfeir was elected as the 76th Patriarch of the Maronite Church in 1986 and resigned in 2011 to be succeeded by Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi. Born in 1920, he witnessed the birth of Lebanon and countless historical events. He provided the Christian cover to the Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war despite the objections of President Michel Aoun, the leader of an opposition movement at the time. 

Sfeir was known for resisting all the temptations and pressures exerted to force him to visit Syria.

The Future Movement called for a broad participation in paying tribute to the person who “devoted his life to protect the people’s rights, freedoms and dignity.” 

Equally, the Free Patriotic Movement described Sfeir as “a great spiritual leader that marked an important period of the country’s history.”

As well as the president, prime minister, countless Lebanese politicians, and representatives from Jordan, Qatar, the Vatican and Cyprus, the French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also attended on behalf of President Emmanuel Macron.

The French Embassy, in a statement, described the late patriarch as “one of the great peace and reconciliation makers in Lebanon. He was a friend of France and a great patriot, who passionately defended Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty.”

The US State Department said: “Sfeir was a courageous leader in the face of tyranny and oppression. He was a champion of Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty. The US will continue to stand by Lebanon to support such role models that Cardinal Sfeir embodied.”

The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Al-Bukhari also participated in the funeral. He conveyed the condolences of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Al-Rahi, saying: “Sfeir was one of the pillars of peace and coexistence in Lebanon and the World.”

The funeral was accompanied by strict security measures. 

The Lebanese Army had banned “the flying of remote-controlled planes above the area where the funeral is taking place until the end of the burial.”