Palestine Central Council meeting faces tough choices

A Palestinian man holds a bunch of keys during a protest against the US’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Tuesday north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018

Palestine Central Council meeting faces tough choices

AMMAN: Eighty members of the Palestine Central Council (PCC) will meet on Sunday in the temporary Palestinian political capital of Ramallah to review and recommend the direction of the Palestinian struggle.
The PCC, a medium body between the Palestine National Council (PNC, Palestine’s Parliament in exile) and the PLO Executive Committee, last met in March 2015.
Its meeting is taking place five weeks after the US president, according to his own words, “took Jerusalem off the negotiating table.” Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and began steps to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Arab News sources have indicated that the PCC will take some tough decisions, including declaring Palestine a state under occupation, suing Israel in the International Criminal Court, suspending the recognition of Israel, escalating peaceful resistance and calling on Europe and other countries to recognize the state of Palestine (see recommendations to the PCC in separate story).
Anees Sweidan, director of external relations for the PLO, told Arab News that the PCC meeting will be facing some difficult choices. “Tough decisions are needed to be taken as a result of the US pronouncement on Jerusalem.” Sweidan also noted that a total review of the Oslo Accords is needed, especially concerning relations with Israel.
“It has become clear that what is needed is a total review of Oslo. There is no Israel partner for peace at the present time and we can’t keep hiding our heads in the sand. This means we need to revisit both security and economic agreements with Israel,” he said.
Najeeb Qaddoumi, a member of the PNC and PCC, told Arab News that the US could not continue to monopolize the peace process. “They have disqualified themselves as an honest broker when they sided with one part on the crucial issue of Jerusalem,” he said.
Qaddoumi believes that the time has come for genuine national unity. “We can’t really do any serious restructuring and reinvigoration of the PLO unless we are totally and honestly united.”
For PLO executive committee member Tayseer Khaled, the point of departure for the meeting on Sunday must be in honoring previous resolutions. In the 2015 meeting, Khaled told Arab News on Dec. 26: “It was decided to end our connection with the Oslo Accords and the security coordination with Israel but this has not happened.”
Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, Fatah spokesman for international affairs, told Al-Monitor: “In the beginning of the PCC meeting, it is expected that members will discuss the matter of withdrawing recognition of Israel as a reaction to the US decision on Jerusalem.”
In 1993, the PLO and Israel agreed to mutual recognition. The move gave Israel legitimacy, but members of PLO factions remained in jail for membership of a “terrorist organization,” and in March this year Israel declared the Amman-based Palestinian National Fund, essentially the PLO’s treasury, a terrorist organization.
While suspending security coordination and the recognition of Israel might be among the toughest decisions that will be discussed in Ramallah, it is clear that some are worried about the potential Israeli reaction.
Nabil Amer, a respected Fatah leader, believes that such escalation is a mistake. Speaking to the Raya FM radio in Ramallah, Amer said that any escalation will be painful to the Palestinian people. “I don’t add my voice to the calls for escalation. Any such escalation will be costly. We have boycotted meetings with the US; that was a good decision and that is enough.”
Even the left-wing Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was critical of the voices of escalation. Iyad Joudeh, writing in the DFLP’s flagship publication al-Houria on Jan. 3, rejected the idea of dissolving the Palestinian Authority.
“It is illogical to dissolve the Palestinian Authority because Israel has been doing its utmost to weaken the Palestinian Authority because it knows that the PA is the nucleus of the Palestinian state,” he said. “We should think logically and retain our national accomplishments.”
Palestinian leaders are caught in a bind. On the one hand they needs to show unity and resilience, yet at the same time they must be careful not to burn all their bridges.
Because the choices that the council members make are likely to have a major effect on the trajectory of the Palestinian struggle, it is likely that the most radical decisions will be postponed for the consideration of the highest PLO body, the Palestine National Council.

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”