The Guardian reports: Senior Palestinian officials have warned that the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s recognition of Israel – one of the key pillars of the moribund Oslo peace agreements – is in danger of being revoked if Donald Trump moves the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian leadership is also calling for protests in mosques and churches on Friday and Sunday to object to the move, calling for opposition to the plan “from Pakistan to Tehran, from Lebanon to Oman”.
Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is highly contentious as it would recognise Israel’s exclusive claim to the city, most of which was annexed illegally after the 1967 war. The Palestinians also see it as their future capital. [Continue reading…]
Newsweek reports: The Assad regime has offered to arm Palestinians within the embattled Yarmouk refugee camp with weapons to beat back ISIS from the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to Palestinian officials.
The camp, where the Syrian and Palestinian population has shrunk from 150,000 to approximately 16,000 during the four-year-long Syrian civil war, was last week overrun by ISIS who took “large part” of the encampment, amid clashes with a Palestinian militia loyal to Hamas, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.
The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, met with a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation in the capital on Tuesday to extend the offer of assistance to the Palestinians fighting the radical Islamists.
Al Jazeera reports: the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees planned to undertake an “urgent mission” to Damascus on Saturday amid concerns over the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, most of which has been captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].
Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, will discuss the situation in Yarmouk and meet with displaced refugees.
The visit is “prompted by UNRWA’s deepening concerns for the safety and protection of some 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children” who remain in the Yarmouk camp, the agency said in a statement.
“Yarmouk remains under the control of armed groups, and civilian lives continue to be threatened by the effects of the armed conflict in the area,” it said.
On April 1, ISIL launched an assault on the Palestinian armed group Bait al-Maqdis, which is one of numerous factions that share control of the district.
After the government claimed that ISIL took over most of the camp – which has been denied by local activists – regime forces stepped up their shelling of the district, further worsening the area’s humanitarian crisis.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported on Thursday that since April 4, government helicopters have dropped 36 barrel bombs, which are highly indiscrimate and destructive explosives, on Yarmouk.
After more than five years and much diplomatic wrangling, Palestine has joined the International Criminal Court (ICC). Now, the prospect of Israel being held accountable for war crimes has greatly increased, and that will have significant repercussions for the peace process and for Palestinian statehood.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation on January 16. This can investigate everything that has happened in Palestinian territories since June 13 2014 – the date that Palestine formally accepted ICC jurisdiction. This is also the date when Israel broke a ceasefire with Hamas leading to Operation Protective Edge, which raged throughout the summer of 2014, leading to the deaths of at least 1,473 civilians in Gaza and bringing widespread international condemnation against Israeli actions.
The story dates back to 2009, when the Palestinian Authority requested that the ICC investigate Israel over Operation Cast Lead, but was rejected for not being a state. It was rejected for full membership in the United Nations in 2011, but was granted the status of non-member observer state the following year.
Palestine then joined numerous international organisations, such as UNESCO, and while the question of its statehood remains controversial, it has now been allowed to join the ICC. In the interim it has periodically indicated it would refer Israel to the ICC, but was held back by pressure from the US, the UK and France – and because using the threat suited Palestinian political interests.
Avenues of enquiry
The prosecutor could investigate the civilian casualties in Operation Protective Edge. She could also investigate whether the Israelis carried out the war crime known as collective punishment. This includes demolishing the homes of suspected Hamas militants, thus rendering their families homeless, as well as killing civilians in these buildings. During Operation Protective Edge alone, Amnesty International reported that “more than 18,000 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair”.
The prosecutor would also be likely to investigate Palestinians over the hundreds of rockets Hamas fired indiscriminately into Israel from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of at least six civilians.
Most substantially, Bensouda could look at the continued occupation of Palestinian territory, including both the West Bank and Gaza. Specifically this might look at Israel’s settlement policy, which appears to contravene Article 8 of the ICC’s founding Rome Statute.
Al Jazeera reports: Palestine has formally attained membership of the International Criminal Court, a move that could open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials despite uncertainty over its wider ramifications.
The accession on Wednesday is another landmark in the Palestinian diplomatic and legal international campaign, which gained steam in 2014.
The Palestinians moved to join The Hague-based court on January 2, in a process that was finalised on Wednesday, setting the scene for potential legal action.
“Palestine has and will continue to use all legitimate tools within its means in order to defend itself against Israeli colonisation and other violations of international law,” said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat. [Continue reading…]
Paul Pillar writes: The Israeli prime minister says Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Actually, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made clear a much different posture, one that involves indefinite peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they officially term it only a hudna or truce. It would be more accurate to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas, an objective that Israel has demonstrated with not just its words but its deeds, including prolonged collective punishment of the population of the Gaza Strip in an effort to strangle the group. Such efforts have included large-scale violence that—although carried out overtly by military forces and thus not termed terrorism—has been every bit as lethal to innocent civilians. In such circumstances, why should Hamas be expected to be the first to go beyond the vocabulary of hudna and mouth some alternative words about the status of its adversary?
The Israeli and U.S. reactions do not seem to take account of the fact that the terms of the announced Hamas-PLO reconciliation are undetermined and still under negotiation. The agreement can involve Hamas moving much more toward the posture of Abbas and the PLO than the other way around. Palestinian Authority representatives already have indicated that there will not be a change in its fundamental stance of recognizing Israel and seeking to resolve the conflict with it peacefully through negotiations. Hamas representatives have pointed out that support for a governing coalition with an established set of policies does not require each party that is part of that government to express identical policies on its own behalf. In fact, that is true of coalition governments everywhere. The coalition government in Britain does things that you won’t find in the Liberal Democrats’ platform. [Continue reading…]
Osamah Khalil writes: At its height, the PLO was successful in keeping the Palestinian struggle alive and in the world’s view. In 1974, both the United Nations and the Arab League recognized the organization as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” However, as Palestinians prepare to observe the 65th anniversary of the Nakba and the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the failure of the Palestinian national movement to achieve its goals has never been clearer. Which raises the question: who represents the Palestinian people today?
The question of representation is particularly pressing due to several recent trends and initiatives. First, are the Arab revolutions and counterrevolutions, which have led to the overthrow of several of the region’s long-standing dictatorships. Meanwhile, Palestinians have largely been on the sidelines of the “Arab Spring.” Second, is the recent vote by the United Nations to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. This decision has uncertain implications for the standing of the PLO and Palestinians living outside the borders of the “State of Palestine.” Third, are the continuing negotiations between Fatah and Hamas and the elusive promise of national unity. Fourth, is a recent initiative calling for direct elections to the Palestinian National Council (PNC), following implementation of a unity agreement. Finally, the terminal state of the “peace process,” which will be further highlighted by President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the region this month without a proposal to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Since 1974, the PLO’s leadership has fiercely defended the organization’s designation as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Indeed, the phrase was used as a shield and a cudgel against internal and external foes and competitors (real and perceived). As a national liberation movement, the PLO claimed that it was essential to speak with one voice. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords and creation of the PA, this was transformed into the imperative that there could only be “one authority” in the West Bank and Gaza.
Attempts to critique the leadership of the PLO or the PA invariably led to the accusatory question: “Who are you?” Who are you, the leadership would declare, to speak, to question, to criticize? The purpose was clear: To silence, intimidate, and limit the parameters of permissible discussion and dissent. By defining and shaping who and what represented the Palestinians, the PLO’s leadership deliberately limited their accountability to their people. The leadership’s autocratic behavior reflected the PLO’s origins and would be reproduced in its institutional structures. [Continue reading…]