Not even US challenge on Jerusalem is unifying Palestinians

Guatemala is reportedly inaugurating its embassy in Jerusalem two days after the United States.
Sunday 29/04/2018
The US consulate building complex in Jerusalem. (AFP)
The clock is ticking. The US consulate building complex in Jerusalem. (AFP)

LONDON - As the date of formally relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem nears, Palestinian factions are struggling to present a united front to counter Israeli-backed measures set out by the Trump administration.

More than 100 members of the 700-seat Palestinian National Council (PNC) want to delay a rare session of the Palestinians’ top decision-making body, saying they were concerned some factions would be shut out.

The PNC is to convene April 30 in Ramallah to discuss US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a policy change that outraged the Palestinians.

In a letter obtained by Reuters to PNC Speaker Saleem al-Zanoun, 109 legislators, including independents and delegates from Hamas and the mainstream Fatah faction, urged the session’s postponement.

They said that going ahead with a meeting that had only narrow factional representation due to Israeli travel restrictions on delegates from Hamas-controlled Gaza and outside the Palestinian territories, would deepen internal divisions.

“To spare our Palestinian cause imminent dangers and out of our eagerness to achieve unity and end splits and division, we urge you to delay the PNC session,” the letter said.

There was no immediate word from Zanoun about the request, which followed word from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that it would boycott the session because it wanted more factions to attend.

PNC Secretary Mohammad Sbeih declined to comment directly on the letter but told Reuters there would be no delays.

Signatories of the letter said additional time should be given for the implementation of a reconciliation deal that Fatah and Hamas signed in October. The agreement has faltered over power-sharing in the Gaza Strip, territory that Hamas seized from Fatah in 2007.

The PNC last met in extraordinary session in 2009 to replace several members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee. It last had a regular session in 1996.

Political analysts in Gaza said a PNC meeting without wide factional representation would weaken the legitimacy of any decisions made.

US shift

The embassy move marked a striking shift by the Trump administration away from a half-century of traditional US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.

“Since the beginning of this administration there has been speculation about the real intention of this administration and of the team around the president,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, told the Associated Press. “This is no longer perception, expectation, speculation. It’s reality. We are in the arena of certainty.”

Some of the shifts from previous US policy have been subtle. In its annual human rights reports, the US State Department removed the term “occupied territories” from the title of sections covering Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, which had been the standard for more than 20 years.

The 2017 report did not eliminate the term from the report but it significantly reduced its use. Compared with more than 40 references in the 2016 report, the words “occupation” or “occupied” appeared only six times in the latest version.

Removal of the phrase had been championed by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who also lobbied for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the US embassy move. He has, however, been prevented from adopting the Israeli name “Judea and Samaria” for the West Bank in his official remarks and statements, administration officials said.

Emergency food aid for approximately 1 million Palestinians in Gaza may run out from June if the UN agency for Palestinian refugees cannot raise another $200 million following a cut in US funding.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, who heads the UN Relief and Works Agency providing aid for Palestinians across the Middle East, said Trump had withheld $305 million in funding, far more than the $65 million reported in January.

“If you suddenly have no certainty about the amount of food aid coming from the United Nations for a million people… you can just imagine the kind of effects it could have,” Kraehenbuehl told Reuters.

Following US suit on Jerusalem 

Israel is expecting some 800 US dignitaries to attend the embassy opening ceremony on May 14, Israeli website reported. The delegation includes Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump’s eldest daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The US delegation could be led by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Times of Israel reported.

Guatemala is reportedly inaugurating its embassy in Jerusalem two days after the United States. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel has been talking with Romania, the Czech Republic, Honduras and three unnamed countries to follow suit.

Netanyahu thanked his visiting Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila for her government’s stand on possibly moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who oversees foreign policy, however, downplayed Dancila’s announcement.

The Czech Republic announced the reopening of its honorary consulate in Jerusalem and Czech President Milos Zeman reiterated his wish to move the Czech Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)