Webinar on Implications of COVID-19 on US Domestic Politics and Palestinian – Israeli Conflict

Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach in cooperation with Wattan News Network held a webinar on Wednesday 22 April 2020 to discuss the implications of the Coronavirus on US domestic politics and the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.

The webinar was concluded with a number of recommendations presented to the Palestinian leadership. Mr. Jake Walles, a retired veteran US political diplomat along with Dr. Nasser al Kidwa, member of the Fatah Central Committee and former PA Minister of Foreign affairs led the discussion focusing on the domestic US politics under the coronavirus. Mr. Walles noted that the coronavirus hit the US hard with more than 51, 000 cases and more than 100,000 infections mainly in the State of New York, the impact of the coronavirus on domestic US politics remains unclear at this point in time. He said however that incumbent President Trump appears in almost daily press conferences in which he appears to the savior of the American people. His political opponent Joe Biden who is widely viewed as Democratic Party runner in the upcoming presidential candidate does not appear as much on national US media. In addition, Mr. Walles said that it is premature to determine who will win in the upcoming elections, and noted that while some polls give a slight advantage to Biden over Trump, many things could still happen in the coming months that will have an impact on the presidential race in November. With respect to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Mr. Walles noted that this issue does not appear to be relevant in the current US political dynamics and assumed that it would not be a factor in the upcoming elections. He however said that the Palestinian leadership’s decision rejecting the so-called “Vision for Peace and Prosperity” is the right approach. He stressed that the Palestinian leadership ought to continue refusing to deal with this plan so long it does not meet the minimal level of the Palestinian rights, signed agreements, and obligations. However, Mr. Walles noted that any incoming US President will real political hardships to change the facts that were created on the ground by the Trump Administration. He said that this includes the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He argued that while in theory, an incumbent American President can rescind previous policies taken by the previous Administration, the political realities in the US stand in the way of making drastic changes to such issues. He finally said that the Palestinian leadership while opposing the US Trump plans and policies, ought to continue working diligently on domestic Palestinian issues i.e. reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza.

On his part, Dr. Nasser al Kidwa stressed that the political realities and a well-developed and a coherent Palestinian political strategy will dictate changes in US policies with regards to Jerusalem and the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. He stressed that while we are facing a possible Israeli annexation step in early July, the Palestinian leadership must develop a coherent strategy with several components to deal with this. He said that the Palestinian strategy need not be a repetition of old slogans but one that embraces a clear-cut political stand. He said that this strategy should be based on the premise that once / if Israel takes such a decision, this will effectively mean the end of any prospects for a negotiated solution to the Israeli – Palestine conflict. With respect to the US policies, Dr. Al Kidwa specifically noted that the US Administration while having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, can highlight the fact that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory, and reopen the US Consulate General in the eastern part of the city which served in the past as a US mission to serve the Palestinian people in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. He also noted that the US role on the international arena appears to be shaking under the global pandemic with many still moving dynamics. He concluded that this means, we cannot ascertain the change in the world order in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis because it is not over yet. However, he said that there are serious indications the US role and the entire world order may not be the same in the aftermath of the dynamics given the big implications on the political, socio – economic and other dimesons. Dr. Al Kidwa also stressed the need for the Palestinian leadership to embrace a whole new approach on the question of reconciliation, reforms and institutional building.

A number of high-level Palestinian intellectuals, Civil Society leaders and activists took part in the webinar enriching the discussions. The discussion ended up with a unanimous consensus on the need to build a new coherent political strategy that takes into account the impact of the coronavirus worldwide, and the Israeli plans of annexation. The participants stressed the need for such a strategy that would embrace a clear cut and firm political steps against the possible Israeli annexation plans, and focus on internal issues including introducing reforms, building national institutions, and ending the West Bank – Gaza strip division once and for all. The session was attended by head the Independent Human Rights Commission Dr. Ammar al Dwiek, Head of al Haq for Human Rights Shawan Jabarin, Head of al the Gaza based Mezan Center for Human Rights Issam Younis, the Executive Director of the Central Elections Committee Hisham Khail and his deputy Ashraf al Shuaibi, former head of the Bar Association Advocate Ahmad al Sayayd, al Quds University lecturer Dr. Sana Toutah, lecturer at the Arab American University Dr. Abdel Rahman al Tamimi, a leading businesswoman and activist Mrs. Sheren al Sheleh, elected member of al Bireh municipal council and activist Jafar al Tawil, and member of the Bar Association Council Advocate Amjad al Sheleh.

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