Palestinians need high calibre leaders – urgently

By Stuart Littlewood

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in London recently.

Did anyone know? Did western media care?

No. Not until reports appeared that Jewish community leaders cancelled a meeting with him after intervention by Israeli PM Netanyahu’s office and Israel’s embassy in London, and Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi condemned the move as “seeking to suppress and manipulate Jewish public opinion”.

It was also typical of Netanyahu’s “persistent efforts” to prevent dialogue, she said, according to Ma’an News.

Even then, western media were much interested.

I put it to the Palestinian ambassador in London, Prof Manuel Hassassian, that such a blunder by Israel was a gift to any alert PR/Public Affairs team. Why didn’t the Palestinian Authority seize it?

Hassassian denied the Palestinians asked to meet with the Jewish community.

It seems odd that Ashrawi, a shrewd, well respected politician and close colleague of prime minister Salam Fayyad, could have got it wrong. Or indeed the normally reliable Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which reported that Hassassian himself, together with British diplomats, had pushed for Jewish leaders to meet with Abbas http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/british-jews-cancel-meeting-with-abbas-in-wake-of-pressure-from-netanyahu-1.408688.

Confused? Me too. Whatever the truth, the Palestinian administration is in the habit of missing open goals. It has dumbed right down. The London embassy’s smart new palestinianmissionuk.com website carries a selection of items from news agencies but nothing journalists can get their teeth into. It doesn’t introduce us to Palestinian chiefs and their ‘team’. It offers no strategic briefing material on current events. And, crucially, there is no attempt to set the news agenda.

Information the embassy sends direct to people like me is mostly notification of social events and similar ‘froth’.

After all these years, and with momentous opportunities and threats looming, Ramallah still fails to give a good account of itself. Is that by accident or design?

If it was never Abbas’s intention to meet Jewish community leaders, what exactly did he come to the UK for?

 

What passes for ‘success’

The embassy says his “successful visit” included meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister. President Abbas also met with opposition leader Ed Miliband and other parliamentarians. In addition, he met the Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders to brief them on the ongoing violations of places of worship and the Judaization taking place in East Jerusalem.

Cameron told him: “Obviously, as a friend of Israel and a friend of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, we want to see a strong, democratic, peaceful Israel alongside a strong, democratic and peaceful Palestine. We believe that is achievable, but we can’t achieve it without the two parties coming together and talking and discussing. In the end, this two-state solution can only come about from the two parties talking to each other. We cannot want it more than you want it.

“So, we wish you well… and we say that as a friend of Israel but also a very strong friend of the Palestinian people…”

To which I understand Abbas replied: “Of course, nothing can be achieved without negotiations… we hope that there will be something tangible as a result of these negotiations.

“Of course, time is of the essence; there must be speed, we must be fast in achieving those things because the settlements and the whole thing will go on – seeing the settlements going on, is going to help everything; it’s what stands in the face of everything at the same time. So, settlements have to stop. Settlements have to stop in order for us to be able to continue our negotiations; to come to some sort of solution and a solution which will encompass the vision of the Palestinian state to come in the future.

“I personally know very well that you have a very balanced relationship, be that towards Israel or the Palestinian Authority. This at the same time is of great importance because you could play a political role, so to speak, so that we can find the balance that we all want to seek. We always need your help, sir.”

Good grief, is that the best Ramallah’s speech-writers can do? And what was that about Britain’s Israel-firster government having “a very balanced relationship”…?

Where was Abbas’s concern for Gaza, or isn’t Gaza part of Palestine any more? Doesn’t the blockade of Gaza have to end before Palestinians even think about getting once again embroiled in futile negotiations?

The idea, voiced by Zionist Cameron and repeated by Abbas, that nothing can be achieved without negotiation is of course utterly false. There’s no mention – on either side – of international law enforcement and the essential role it must play before any negotiations can be considered fair or honourable.

Hague said after his meeting with Abbas: “I stressed the importance Britain attaches to a secure and universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, based on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem the future capital of both states, and a fair settlement for refugees.”

Only weeks earlier Hague, a fanatical Israel flag-waver, was preparing to betray the Palestinians by abstaining if their quest for statehood was pushed to a vote at the UN.

More pretty words devoid of meaning were paraded in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s press release: “We continue to share the hopes of the Palestinian leadership for a lasting and just peace in the Holy Land, and we pray for the courage on all sides to break the current deadlock. Young people in Israel and in the Palestinian territories long for justice and stability and they must not be let down. We were deeply grateful to President Abbas for taking time to share with us his concerns and aspirations.”

The only genuine boost he received was a remark by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, referring to Israel’s illegal settlements: “Once you place physical facts on the ground which make it impossible to deliver what everyone has for years agreed is the ultimate destination, then you do immense damage.

“It’s an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise upon which negotiations have taken place for years and that is why we have expressed our concerns as a government in increasingly forceful terms.”

He prefaced his comments by saying there was “no stronger supporter of Israel than myself as a beacon of democracy in the region”. It’s a sad reflection on the Westminster scene when Clegg, a Liberal Democrat and supposedly possessed of certain principles, feels obliged to say such a silly thing when it’s tantamount to defending the indefensible.

Didn’t Abbas remind him about Israel’s abduction and imprisonment without trial of the 26 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council including its head, Dr Aziz Dweik? Dweik is reported to have been arrested by Israel three times since 2002 and twice held without formal charges. This wholesale kidnapping of democratically elected officials underlines yet again Israel’s disregard for international law and the absurdity of its claim to be the only beacon of democracy in the Middle East.

So, does Abbas seriously believe his visit was “successful”? This dreary ‘grey suit’ of a man might have done better to just meet ordinary people… people like the 40,000 or so displaced Palestinians living in the UK and longing to return, and the numerous activist organisations that devote much time and energy putting across the Palestinian case, slapping down Israel’s propaganda lies and generally doing the job that Abbas and his lacklustre Fatah outfit have failed to do.

That’s if he wanted their ongoing support. Maybe he’s not bothered.

 

Under orders not to rock the Israeli boat?

Some time ago Hamas complained that the Palestinian Authority was not getting its message across thanks to “poorly qualified or unqualified spokespersons with inadequate political and linguistic abilities”. Diplomacy had failed and Palestinians needed “professional spokespersons with excellent knowledge of the world and mastery of foreign languages, especially English, to tell the world in a straightforward manner that Israel is a murderer, liar and land thief…”

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, who ran rings round the Palestinians whilst ambassador in London, recently addressed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. He said: “And how many times have members of this Council – and many others – repeated: ‘settlements are the primary obstacle to peace’?… The primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. The primary obstacle to peace is the so-called ‘claim of return’. Let me repeat that: the major hurdle to peace is the Palestinian’s insistence on the so-called ‘claim of return’ [he means the ‘right of return’].”

Any press team worth its salt could make mincemeat of Prosor. A competent Palestinian administration would have had a news release in every activist’s inbox and on every mainstream editor’s desk within hours and made spokespersons (speaking perfect English) available to follow through with additional briefings and further comment. It would have gone worldwide via all embassies and missions. But Prosor broadcasts his toxic nonsense non-stop, knowing there will be no effective rebuke from the Palestinians.

It is six years since the Palestinian Authority/PLO was urged to have all their key people professionally trained in media skills. They haven’t done so. Consequently for the last six critical years the Palestinian people have continued to lose ground.

The Palestinian High Command behaves as if under strict orders not to rock the boat and not to make waves or even the slightest ripple. They continue to squander their chances and make little impact even though truth and justice are on their side. So Israel has been the undeserving winner in the propaganda war.

Will the Palestinians ever seize the opportunity and gear up properly for the communications struggle to win justice? If it’s left to the likes of Abbas the answer is no and the outcome will be disastrous.

As campaigner Robert Stiver commented a few days ago, we need “ideas and commitments on how we can finally get serious, via a mass uprising, to ‘out’ Zionism beyond the choir and bring an end to the Palestinians’ unbearable torment”.

But hopes of mobilizing the necessary numbers are thwarted by the continuing presence of Mahmoud Abbas. His presidential term ran out long ago and he’s clinging to power unlawfully. He needs to step down or be removed. Someone with unquestionable legitimacy and true leadership qualities must fill the void and deploy skilled resources.

On Abbas’s watch disunity has triumphed. He rides roughshod over the Basic Law and has a crime sheet as long as your arm. He’ll be remembered mostly for doing the Israeli Occupation Force’s dirty work.

Another problem is chief negotiator Saeb Erekat who has occupied that vitally important position for nearly 20 years and achieved… well, what? He must be the most unsuccessful negotiator on the planet. Why is he still there?

If Palestinians are to retain worldwide sympathy and support, build additional strength and galvanise the whole movement into action against the corrupt political class, they will have to find leaders of a much higher calibre. And fast.

Stuart Littlewood

2 February 2012

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk.

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