After difficult year, Palestinians pessimistic about future prospects for peace

Updated 25 December 2018

After difficult year, Palestinians pessimistic about future prospects for peace

  • Trump’s proposal, though not yet made public, is being met with skepticism due to his pro-Israel bias
  • “There’s nothing on the horizon to suggest that next year will be any better.”

AMMAN: For many Palestinians living under occupation, 2018 was a terrible year. The US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Violent Israeli repression included the killing of more than 200 unarmed Palestinian protestors in Gaza.

Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad described 2018 as “a bad year” for his people and their national cause. 

Fayyad, now a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, told Arab News: “There’s nothing on the horizon to suggest that next year will be any better.”

He called for “a national empowerment agenda anchored on the unification of the Palestinian polity.”

Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, spokesman on international affairs for the Palestinian faction Fatah, told Arab News that 2018 “was a very difficult year because of the ongoing Israeli crimes against the Palestinian population under occupation, and US policies targeting refugees and Jerusalem.”

Mohammad Zahaika, a political analyst in Jerusalem, told Arab News: “There’s a feeling that things will worsen due in part to Israel’s extreme position, which will most likely reject even a pro-Israel deal (from the US) because the Israelis aren’t willing to give up a single inch of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.”

But “history has shown that the strong won’t stay strong forever, nor will the weak be weak forever,” he added.

US President Donald Trump, who in December 2106 said the embassy move would not affect the outcome of negotiations, later boasted that he singlehandedly “took Jerusalem off the table.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), established in 1950, was the next target for Trump, who cut all funding to the agency from the US, its biggest donor. 

But by the year’s end, the shortfall had been almost entirely filled by increased Gulf and EU contributions. 

“We are on a path to overcoming the greatest financial predicament ever in the history of this agency,” said UNRWA Commissioner Pierre Krahenbuhl.

The US ended other humanitarian support to the Palestinians, including to hospitals in Jerusalem providing cancer treatment to children. The move was seen as revenge for Palestinian officials boycotting the US government. 

Najeeb Qaddoumi, a member of the Palestinian National Council, told Arab News that the US is “an Israeli partner” and no longer “pretending to be an honest broker.” 

He added: “The Palestinians and Jordan are on the same page in terms of opposition to the (US) moves in Jerusalem, and when (Saudi) King Salman declared support for UNRWA, he dealt the American plan regarding Jerusalem and refugees a strong blow.” 

While Palestinians blame the US for their predicament, some acknowledge mistakes by their own leadership. 

“The worst thing that happened this year was that we lost the chance for unity. The situation was ripe for reconciliation, but we didn’t take up this opportunity,” Jamal Zakout, Fayyad’s media spokesman when he was prime minister, told Arab News.

“We can’t expect to have a zero-sum game in which one side is the victor and the other side is vanquished,” he added.

“Both the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and Hamas are so entrenched that there’s no way either of them will work on unity and reconciliation.”

Hamadeh Kamal, an activist who works with former prisoners in Gaza, told Arab News: “We don’t expect that next year will be either quiet or stable.”

He added: “The occupiers want to push Gaza into war because Gazan blood has become the best election campaign fodder for the Israelis. The more they kill in Gaza, the more votes they’ll get.”

Zakout said: “We need to go back to basics and ensure that Palestinian policies help people stay put and steadfast.” 

Dr. Mitri Raheb, founder and president of the Dar Al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, said today 6.5 million Palestinians live alongside an equal number of Israeli Jews, so if the Palestinian people can stay on their land no biased US plan will work.

Zakout says what is needed is a combination of steadfastness and hope, adding: “The Palestinian people have a strong will. Protests in Gaza are ongoing and continue to be unarmed despite killings by Israeli snipers. Nonviolent protests are getting more popular in the West Bank as well.”

Samia Khoury, a Jerusalem-based author, said this has been one of the worst phases that Palestine has experienced since the occupation began, but the solution might be in finding an alternative to the Trump administration’s peace proposal, which is yet to be unveiled. 

“I have hope in an international conference more than the US peace plan, because the peoples of the world are supportive irrespective of their governments, and the US plan will simply be imposed on us because we (the Palestinians) are weak,” she told Arab News. “Justice is on our side, and we shouldn’t give in to Trump and his gang.” But there is no international conference on the horizon.

Khalil Jahshan, a Palestinian-American analyst and executive director of the Arab Center in Washington, told Arab News that when the US proposal is announced, “it will be stillborn.”

The prospects for Palestinian independence have dwindled due to the Trump administration, Jahshan added.

Iran promises to avenge US killing of top Iranian commander Soleimani

Updated 03 January 2020

Iran promises to avenge US killing of top Iranian commander Soleimani

  • General Soleimani was killed in a US air strike in Baghdad on Friday
  • The US embassy in Baghdad urged all American citizens to depart Iraq immediately

BAGHDAD : Iran promised harsh revenge after a US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds force and architect of its growing military influence in the Middle East.
Soleimani was a general who was regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The overnight attack, authorized by President Donald Trump, marked a dramatic escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack.

Iran has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with an attack on the US embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following a US air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.

The Pentagon said the “US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani” and that the strike was ordered by Trump to disrupt future Iranian attack plans.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Soleimani was killed in a drone strike. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said he was killed in an attack by US helicopters.

Concern about disruption to Middle East oil supplies pushed oil prices up nearly $3.

Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani. His death, though bitter, would double the motivation of the resistance against the United States and Israel, he said.

In a statement carried by state television, he called for three days of national mourning.

The US embassy in Baghdad urged all American citizens to depart Iraq immediately.

Soleimani led the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards, and had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Over two decades he had been at the forefront of projecting the Islamic Republic’s military influence across the Middle East, acquiring celebrity status at home and abroad.

Iranian state television presenters wore black and broadcast footage of Soleimani peering through binoculars across a desert and greeting a soldier, and of Muhandis speaking to followers.

President Hassan Rouhani said the assassination would make Iran more decisive in resisting the United States, while the Revolutionary Guards said anti-US forces would exact revenge across the Muslim world.

Hundreds of Iranians marched toward Khamenei’s compound in central Tehran to convey their condolences.

“I am not a pro-regime person but I liked Soleimani. He was brave and he loved Iran, I am very sorry for our loss,” said housewife Mina Khosrozadeh in Tehran.

In Soleimani’s hometown, Kerman, people wearing black gathered in front of his father’s house, crying as they listened to a recitation of verses from the Qur'an.

“Heroes never die. It cannot be true. Qassem Soleimani will always be alive,” said Mohammad Reza Seraj, a high school teacher.

Trump, who is facing impeachment charges, made no immediate comment but posted a picture of the US flag on Twitter.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and strong critic of the Republican president, said the attack was carried out without consultation with Congress and without authorization for the use of military force against Iran.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the killings as a violation of the conditions of the US military presence in Iraq and an act of aggression that breached Iraq’s sovereignty and would lead to war.
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, who portrays himself as a nationalist rejecting both Iranian and US influence, ordered his followers to be ready to defend Iraq and urged all sides to behave wisely.

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad condemned what it called criminal US aggression.

Israel has long regarded Soleimani as a major threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Greece and Israeli Army Radio said the military had gone on heightened alert.

The slain commander’s Quds Force, along with paramilitary proxies from Lebanon’s Hezbollah to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces grouping of Iran-backed militias — battle-hardened militias armed with missiles — has ample means to respond.

In September, US officials blamed Iran for a missile and drone attack on oil installations of Saudi state energy giant Saudi Aramco.

Iran, for its part, has absorbed scores of airstrikes and missile attacks mainly carried out by Israel against its fighters and proxies in Syria and Iraq.

Analysts say Iran is likely to respond forcefully to the targeting of Soleimani, who had survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.

The Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran’s borders, shored up support for Syria’s President Bashar Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.

Soleimani became head of the force in 1998, after which he quietly strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria’s government and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.

Muhandis, who was killed with Soleimani, oversaw Iraq’s PMF, an alliance of paramilitary groups mostly comprising Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraqi armed forces.

His Kataib Hezbollah militia, which received battlefield training from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has long targeted US forces and was one of the earliest groups to send fighters to Syria to support Assad.