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

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.


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.

‘HEROES NEVER DIE’
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.

LEGENDARY FIGURE
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.