Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

PLO recognition threat on Israel: Posturing or hardline diplomacy?

January 17, 2018

The Palestinian Liberation Organization and its head, Mahmoud Abbas, have threatened to no longer recognize Israel. How do Israeli and Palestinian officials view the move and what are the consequences for Abbas himself?

Mahmoud Abbas (picture alliance/AP Photo/R.Adayleh)

President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas this week called the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital the “slap of the century.” His remarks came at the beginning of a two-day conference in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

The Palestinian Central Council, the second-highest decision making body of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), backed a draft measure during the conference to revoke its recognition of Israel if Israel doesn’t recognize a Palestinian state. The PLO is the representative of the Palestinian people as designated by the United Nations.

Abbas the risk-taker

“Yekhreb beitak!” Abbas cursed Trump in his speech. The phrase means literally in Palestinian Arabic, “May your house be demolished.” He also chastised other Trump administration officials, including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and declared, “We will not accept a deal America dictates.”

“The decisions by Abbas or at least his declarations have come from a place of genuine despair,” Yossi Mekelberg, a professor at of international relations at Regent’s University London and an associate fellow at the UK think tank Chatham House, told DW. “There is no peace process, the occupation continues, the settlements expand.”

Abbas, in Mekelberg’s view, is an “experienced” leader who wants to break the stalemate between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“The question is how far is he willing to go?” Mekelberg asked. “Will he bring it to the ultimate conclusion if there is no political movement, if there is a collapse of the PA, and step down because it doesn’t function and doesn’t achieve what Palestinians like to achieve, which is self-determination? Or he practices brinkmanship and withdraws from the brink just before the collapse.”

A possible withdrawal by Palestinian leaders from the US-brokered Oslo Accords, which were established in the 1990s and led to the creation of the PA, could mean the collapse of the PA and the end of Abbas’ career.

Protest in Nablus (Reuters/M. Torokman)Palestinians erupted in protest in December after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

The situation became even more dire on Tuesday, when the Trump administration made due on a promise to withhold funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). A US official told Reuters news agency that the administration will give $60 million (€49 million) in aid for Palestinians but hold back $65 million. The agency is responsible for shelter, food and other basic living needs for 5 million Palestinian refugees between Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank.

‘Childish’ move or necessary pressure?

Amos Gilead, a retired general and formerly the director of policy and political-military affairs at the Israeli Ministry of Defense told the Jerusalem Post that due to Abbas’ decision, “Israel should reconsider its positions and try to find way to forge a peace agreement with him.” Otherwise, he went on, “it may need to abandon the process entirely” and “it is bad news that it appears as though he will be leaving no options for peace.” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted as saying the decision was “childish.”

Palestinian politician Moustapha al-Barghouti told DW he supported the move. “The two-state solution must be imposed on Israel and Israel should be pressured to stop settlement expansion, recognize the independent state of Palestine and show readiness to end the occupation,” he said. “The Palestinians on the street are in favor of the decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership, but want them to be firmer and clearer. They must have effective and concrete implementation mechanisms.”

No end in sight?

Trump’s latest actions, which emboldened Israeli hardliners and the PLO’s response in regard to the issue, mean both sides are more polarized than ever. “There is no peace process on the horizon and something has to happen, whether it be regarding the blockade of Gaza, the settlements in the West Bank, as well as the Palestinian millions of refugees in other parts of the Middle East,” Mekelberg said.

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UN Palestinian agency sees ‘most severe’ crisis ever after US freeze

January 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which runs hospitals, schools and summer camps like this one of a beach in Gaza City, says it faces its worst funding crisis ever after the United States froze tens of millions of dollars in contributions
RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – 

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces its worst funding crisis ever after the United States froze tens of millions of dollars in contributions, its spokesman said on Wednesday.

“The US has announced it will contribute $60 million to the programme budget. There is for the moment no other indication of possible funding,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told AFP.

“This dramatically reduced contribution results in the most severe funding crisis in the history of the agency.”?

The United States held back $65 million that had been destined for UNRWA on Tuesday, two weeks after President Donald Trump threatened future payments.

The State Department said $60 million of what had been a planned $125 million package would go through to keep the agency running, but the rest will be withheld for now.

UNRWA said the $60 million would keep schools and hospitals open for the time being, but noted that it was dramatically less than the $350 million Washington paid during 2017.

State Department officials insisted the decision was taken not to pressure Palestinian leaders but to encourage other countries to help pay for and reform UNRWA.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for UNRWA to be shut down althogether.

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Photo: Mahmoud Abbas. Credit Mohamad Torokman-Reuters

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U.S. Freezes More Than Half of Aid Funds to UN Palestinian Refugee Agency

January 16, 2018

‘There is a need to undertake a fundamental reexamination of UNRWA, both in the way it operates and the way it is funded,’ U.S. official says

Haaretz
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A Palestinian man rides his horse past the UNRWA relief and social program office in Gaza City on January 8, 2018.
A Palestinian man rides his horse past the UNRWA relief and social program office in Gaza City on January 8, 2018.MOHAMMED ABED/AFP
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The United States will withhold $65 million from a payment it was scheduled to send this month to the UN agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees and their descendents in the Middle East. The U.S. will provide $60 million in aid, amounting to roughly half the planned sum of $125 million.

This payment is the first in a number of sums the U.S. is expected to give United Nations Relief and Works Agency in 2018.

A U.S. Official told Haaretz that, “Without the funds we are providing today, UNRWA operations were at risk of running out of funds and closing down. The funds provided by the United States will prevent that from happening for the immediate future.”

The $65 million held by the United States awaits “future consideration” by the administration, the official added. “There is a need to undertake a fundamental reexamination of UNRWA, both in the way it operates and the way it is funded,” he explained.

Earlier this month, President Trump said the U.S. may withhold future aid payments to the agency over what he called the Palestinians’ unwillingness to talk peace with Israel.

The U.S. pledged $370 million to the agency in 2016, a third of the agency’s budget, according to UNRWA’s website.

“The United States has been UNRWA’s single largest donor for decades. In years past, we contributed some thirty percent of UNRWA’s total income,” the official noted. “It is time for a change.”

“The United States remains committed to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, as it is demonstrating today by assuring that funds are available to keep schools and health systems operating,” he said. “If there are additional urgent needs, we call on others to also do their part and respond as needed – not only the more than 50 countries that have contributed in the past, but also those other countries that have the means but have not yet lent their support.”

The decision was made following a lengthy internal debate within the Trump administration. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley pushed for a complete freeze of funding to UNRWA, unless the Palestinians commit to U.S.-mediated peace talks with Israel, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other State Department officials warned that such a move would create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Jordan and the West Bank.

A senior Israeli official said earlier this month that Netanyahu supports a gradual cutback of American funding to UNRWA.

The Palestinians claim that the administration is biased toward Israel’s positions and has therefore refused to accept it as a mediator, calling instead for the international community to lead renewed negotiations.

Trump’s Catch-22 With Iran and the Palestinians Could Blow Up at Israel

January 16, 2018

Like his threats to cut Palestinian funding, the U.S. presidents new demands for the Iran nuclear agreement suffer from inconsistencies that cannot be resolved

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TOPSHOT - Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABEDMOHAMMED ABED/AFP
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Lately, U.S. President Donald Trump is looking like a suicide bomber loaded with explosive devices that he’s releasing in different corners of the world. Fortunately, in most cases we’ve only had threats, finger wagging, shocking tweets and fake bombs, but there is no guarantee that the next one won’t be real.

At least two of these bombs could blow up in Israel’s face. Trump’s threat to significantly cut the funds the administration provides to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and the aid it gives the Palestinian Authority in order to force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to launch negotiations with Israel is already shaking up refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, making the Jordanian kingdom tremble and sending Lebanon into a panic.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018. Evan Vucci/AP

In 2016 the administration gave UNRWA $355 million, a third of the agency’s budget. The expected cut is $65 million, around half of the first contribution that had been scheduled for 2018. Add to this the cuts to the PA funding, which amounted to $357 million last year and whose extent for this year isn’t clear. The significance is that the PA, Jordan – home to more than two million Palestinian refugees – and the government of Lebanon, where 175,000 refugees live according to a recent survey (previous UNRWA estimates put the number between 400,000 and 500,000), will have to finance the education, health and welfare services that will be affected by the cuts.

Jordan and Lebanon already bear the heavy burden of aiding Syrian refugees, which is only partially funded by the United Nations and donor states and which isn’t enough to assure them a reasonable quality of life. The Gaza Strip, where most of the Palestinian refugees are concentrated, has been in crisis mode for some time, and the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service believe the economic stress could lead to its total collapse. Rich Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are helping the PA, but it’s doubtful they will step in to fill the gap created by the American cutbacks, especially since they are coordinating their positions with the U.S. administration on the peace process.

It isn’t clear how Trump’s sanctions strategy against the PA will lead to a change in the Palestinian stance. Abbas has made it clear that he no longer considers the United States a fair broker and that economic pressure won’t make him adopt any program Trump presents.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

There is a paradox here: The IDF is asking – or even demanding – that the Israeli government consider steps to alleviate the dangerous economic pressure on Gaza’s two million residents, and announced that it intends to approve a few thousand more permits for Palestinians to work in Israel. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is adopting a policy aimed at curbing the threat of a violent outburst that could lead to a war with Israel, which undermines this demand.

The second potentially explosive charge, the sanctions on Iran, is no less worrisome. This week Trump gave the world powers four months to change the nuclear agreement that was signed with the Islamic Republic in 2015. Among other things, the new deal must include a ban on developing ballistic missiles, a halt in support for terror groups and a clause that keeps these restrictions in place forever in order for the United States to remain party to it. The U.S. president made it clear that if there was no progress in talks with his European partners, Russia and China, to fix the agreement, he would withdraw from it even sooner.

Like the threat to the Palestinians, this demand suffers from an inconsistency that cannot be resolved. The requirement to eliminate the nuclear deal’s time frame testifies to the faith the U.S. administration has in the Iranian leaderships desire and ability to uphold its terms, even as the administration itself (not just the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency) admits that it hasn’t violated it to date. In other words, the deal may not be perfect, but according to Trump himself, the Iranian partner is a rational and responsible entity, to which one could make the demand that it sign to an eternal agreement – otherwise, what’s the point of making such a condition? In fact, what’s the point in signing any agreement with Iran at all?

Under the agreement, Iran is not required to subject its ballistic missile program or its military bases to international inspection. It announced this week that it does not plan to respond to the American demand to begin talks on changing the deal’s terms.

Meanwhile, Congress has so far refused to take up the gauntlet, passed to it by the president in October, to begin legislating new sanctions on Iran; the EU fears the new initiative, which could create a rift between Europe and the United States and freeze the huge ongoing European investment in Iran. Russia termed Trumps decision extremely negative, and China, Iran’s largest oil customer, is concerned about factors liable to complicate the agreement, as the Chinese foreign minister told his Iranian counterpart. It’s therefore doubtful that Trump will find partners among the agreement’s signatories to realize his latest demand.

In the worst-case scenario, Iran revives its nuclear program if the United States imposes new sanctions on Tehran or pulls out of the agreement. Under the more comfortable scenario, Europe, Russia and China continue to do business with Iran and thus push Washington into an isolated corner internationally. In such a case Trump could respond by punishing the states and international corporations that don’t uphold the American sanctions, but that would turn the U.S. into a Western country hostile to the West.

Israel’s great interest is for Iran to abide by the nuclear deal and not risk it being voided by its most important ally. The real concern regarding Iran’s ballistic missiles must lead to the opening of a parallel negotiations channel with Iran, but not by holding the nuclear agreement hostage.

Israel achieved one of the most important strategic achievements in its history when it succeeded in mobilizing a strong international coalition against the Iranian nuclear threat. Trump might now crush that achievement and sabotage any chance of reaching any kind of agreement with Iran on its nuclear program or its ballistic missiles in the future. In the cases of both Iran and the Palestinian Authority, where Trump treads, Israels toes get broken.

Palestinians see Gaza peace dividend pass them by

January 16, 2018

GAZA (Reuters) – Life began to look up for Gaza’s Palestinians when reconciliation between its Hamas Islamist rulers and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in October brought a drop in crippling prices.

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A Palestinian man carries food supplies at a United Nations food distribution center in Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City January 15, 2018. Picture taken January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Three months on, discount stickers still adorn goods from clothes to cars but few of the two million people in the enclave blockaded by Israel are buying.

Although Hamas handed administrative control to the Western-backed PA, which lifted tax surcharges Hamas had imposed on businesses, making room for the price cuts, the rival leaderships are still arguing.

The result is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the PA, has not reversed a 30 percent wage cut he imposed in April on 60,000 civil servants who stayed on the PA’s payroll when the authority lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.

Many of those employees are now mired in debt to banks for loans they took out to get by.

The salary reductions “deprived the Gaza market of $160 million in the past eight months”, said Maher al-Tabbaa, an official with the Chamber of Commerce.

For individuals, the consequences are stark. In a Gaza pharmacy this week, Umm Ahmed considered which medicines on the prescription she had been given for her son she could afford.

“Even in my dreams I never thought we would live through such misery,” she said as she chose two painkillers and left more expensive antibiotics in the drug store.

Tabbaa said any economic improvement in Gaza was largely dependent on Israel lifting the tight border restrictions it imposed after Hamas took power, a view that echoes World Bank reports over the years.

Israel cites security concerns for the measures, which include a naval blockade, an almost blanket ban on exports from the territory and restrictions on the import of items such as steel in case militants use them to make arms or fortifications.

Battling an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai desert that borders Gaza, Egypt, the main mediator of inter-Palestinian reconciliation, also invokes security considerations in keeping its border with the enclave largely closed.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

Many countries, concerned over deepening economic hardship in Gaza, have urged more open borders.

The World Bank said in September alleviating restrictions on the movement of goods and people would allow critical trade to rebuild infrastructure and economy, both hit hard by a seven-week war between Israel and Gaza militants in 2014.

Some 550 Gaza traders had permission to enter Israel as of December 2017, a drop of 85 percent since late 2015, according to a Palestinian committee that transfers entry requests to Israeli authorities.

Israel has said some permits were used to arrange smuggling of material, weapons or money to militants.

Image result for A Palestinian man shops at a supermarket in Gaza City January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem, photos

A Palestinian man shops at a supermarket in Gaza City January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The World Bank projected real GDP growth of 4.0 percent in Gaza for 2017, not enough to prevent a near stagnation in real per capita income and an increase in unemployment.

Tabbaa put current unemployment in Gaza at 46 percent.

WEAK SALES

“Metro” the second largest supermarket in Gaza, said sales had dropped to their lowest point since the business opened several years ago.

“People are only buying the very basic things, the most important of the important stuff,” Khalil al-Yazji, one of the owners, said. “We are unable to cover operating costs.”

The supermarket has dropped some staff and cut back on imports, fearing new stocks would only expire on the shelves.

In Gaza’s once bustling Old Market, spice store owner Mamdouh Zeineldeen said he might have to close his business.

“Markets are collapsing, just like reconciliation,” he said.

The effects of armed conflict and economic woes in Gaza are also evident at Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing between Israel and the territory.

Some 800 to 1,000 truckloads of goods for Gaza pass through Kerem Shalom every day, but Tabbaa said that number dropped to 400 in recent weeks after merchants cut imports due to weak consumer demand.

Tensions have also risen since President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Sixteen Palestinian protesters have been killed in clashes with police and Gaza militants have launched 18 cross-border rockets or mortar bombs into Israel, which has responded with air strikes. The exchange of fire has largely avoided casualties, but two Palestinian gunmen were killed in one retaliatory strike. [nL8N1P433C]

Israel closed Kerem Shalom on Saturday, a day before it destroyed what it said was a Hamas attack tunnel running underneath the facility.

The crossing reopened on Tuesday but further easing looks unlikely.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are still divided over the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees hired by Hamas since its 2007 takeover of Gaza. Security is another key sticking point, with Hamas still running the police and internal security in Gaza after handing administrative control to the PA.

Peace talks between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority collapsed in 2014 and Palestinian unity was supposed to strengthen Abbas’s hand in his bid to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza.

But Israel has balked at the reconciliation efforts, saying it would not negotiate with a Palestinian government dependent on support by Hamas, a group that advocates its destruction.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Philippa Fletcher

Palestinians threaten major step but will they act on it? — Palestinian leaders long known for inablility to take care of the suffering of their own people…

January 16, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Joe Dyke and Hossam Ezzedine | A recommendation by Palestinian leaders to suspend recognition of Israel could have major implications but analysts question whether the move announced by senior official Salim Zaanoun on January 16, 2018 will be implemented soon

RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – A call by Palestinian leaders to suspend recognition of Israel in response to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have major implications but is unlikely to be implemented for now, analysts said.The vote late on Monday could be another devastating blow to the so-called peace process — long on life support — although the Palestinians argue US President Donald Trump and Israel have already effectively ended it.

Still, the risk of international criticism and practical concerns means the Palestinians are unlikely to follow through on the call to suspend recognition soon, analysts said.

“If we stop recognising them, we should stop dealing with them in all aspects, security and civilian,” Ghassan Khatib, an analyst and former Palestinian minister, told AFP.

“That is not practically possible given the extensive interaction and dependency, so I don’t think there is going to be an implementation to this.”

The vote was by the Palestinian Central Council, one of the key institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in a meeting on Sunday and Monday called to discuss Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The vote ordered the PLO Executive Committee to suspend recognition of Israel until it recognises the state of Palestine and reverses its building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The PLO is considered the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the international community and formalised its recognition of Israel in 1993.

– Oslo ‘finished’? –

The council meeting was the latest attempt by the Palestinian leadership to formulate a response to Trump’s policies following his December 6 Jerusalem declaration.

The council also backed president Mahmud Abbas’s comments that the Oslo agreements of the 1990s, the basis of Palestinian relations with Israel, were “finished”.

Abbas said on Sunday that Israel had ended the accords through its actions, referring to activities seen as eroding the possibility of a two-state solution such as persistent settlement expansion.

He also called Trump’s peace efforts the “slap of the century.”

Eighty-seven of the council’s 109 members attended for the vote, with the vast majority, including Abbas, voting in favour of suspending recognition.

But previous decisions by the PCC have not been implemented, notably a 2015 vote calling for suspending security coordination with Israel.

There is no date set for a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee, at which the suspension could be confirmed.

Israel did not immediately respond to the vote, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Abbas had “torn off” his “mask” as a supposed moderate in his speech on Sunday.

Following Monday’s vote, Abbas set off on a trip to Jordan, Egypt and the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels in which he is expected to seek support for a change of strategy.

– ‘Not talks and words’ –

The council meeting was part of Abbas’s attempt to seek an alternative strategy to achieve an independent Palestinian state following the collapse in relations with the United States.

The longtime leader, now 82, has been through a series of failed US-brokered peace negotiations, but Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital deeply angered the Palestinians.

The Palestinians see the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state, and Abbas froze ties with Trump’s administration following the announcement.

Abbas has said the United States can no longer be the mediator in peace talks with Israel, calling instead for internationally-led negotiations. The PCC backed him in his call.

Trump has also threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to the Palestinians, including through the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Jihad Harb, a West Bank-based political analyst, said that while most Palestinians would support the central council’s recommendation “it will take a long time to implement it.”

“The people are waiting for implementation, not talks and words.”

Abbas’s term of office expired in 2009 but elections have not been held since due to Palestinian political infighting.

Polls indicate around 70 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, with criticism of his policy of negotiations with Israel rife.

Israeli analysts, too, were sceptical whether the announcement would lead to much.

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador and negotiator, said the Palestinians needed coordination with Israel for survival.

Israel occupies the West Bank and controls the borders with Jordan, making travel outside their headquarters in Ramallah near impossible for Abbas and other officials without Israeli cooperation.

“Israel or others are going to say: ‘If you no longer recognise us, it’s a mutual thing — you are no longer recognised as the leadership for the Palestinians.'”

Diana Buttu, a former aide to Abbas and now prominent critic, said few new ideas had been floated, pointing to the advanced age of the delegates as evidence of the lack of new thinking.

“You can’t lead a revolutionary movement with people at retirement age,” she said.

by Joe Dyke and Hossam Ezzedine
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Abbas’ Belligerent Speech Doesn’t Restore Confidence in the Palestinian Leadership

January 16, 2018

Despite the PA president’s declarations, some in the West Bank believe that they will remain on paper only and not much will really change. The personal rivalries that won’t go away will also apparently continue to be detrimental to the Palestinian struggle

Palestinian President Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018.
Palestinian President Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. \ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS
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M.T., from near Jenin, thinks the recent clashes with Israeli soldiers are mainly a message to the Palestinian Authority that young Palestinians are fed up. In a few months, he says, they will turn their anger on it.

His opinion is particularly interesting because in his early 20’s, he joined the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, for which he was sentenced to three years in an Israeli prison. He regrets having joined Fatah‘s armed wing. He remains a Fatah member, but he has no faith in its leadership, which is also the PA’s leadership. Its internal rivalries weary him. He repeatedly used the word “corrupt.” All the leaders “have houses in Amman. If everything collapses here, they’ll have somewhere to flee,” he said.

Then he said something contradictory, later confirming with a smile that he recognized the contradiction. “I wish the Israeli occupation would return.” And a few minutes later, “All the foreign rulers in Palestine ultimately left. So will the Zionist regime. I don’t mean the Jews; they were here and will remain.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas‘ speech to PLO’s Central Council didn’t restore M.T.s faith in his leadership or its ability and desire to adopt new political tactics. It’s reasonable to assume this was true of most Palestinians, including Fatah supporters.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported a fierce argument, at the PLO Executive Committee meeting that preceded the council meeting, between Omar Shehadeh of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Abbas, who stormed out in anger. Shehadeh asked why Abbas didn’t convene the committee immediately after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said the PFLP plans to hold Abbas to account for failing to carry out the resolutions of the last Central Council meeting. Shehadeh was quoted in Al-Hayat as asking, “Who’s responsible, the Executive Committee or the president?”

Shehadeh represents a withered organization living mainly on past glories, but many would identify with his question.

The praises of Abbas sung on Radio Palestine Monday were a reminder that he has the first and last word in Fatah and the PLO. But in interviews with the Watan news agency Monday, several prominent non-Fatah delegates stressed that Central Council decisions must be implemented.

Even those who didn’t so explicitly were referring to the decisions adopted at its March 2015 meeting, above all the decision to end security coordination with Israel. Abbas objected to this and refused to implement it. And there’s good reason to think the Central Council’s latest decisions, whatever they end up being, will prove similarly empty.

The council is expected to once again decide to halt security coordination, ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel over settlement construction and call for international sanctions on Israel. It’s also expected to urge the Executive Committee to suspend recognition of Israel. The original recommendation was to suspend recognition until Israel recognizes the State of Palestine, but that phrase was removed under Arab states’ pressure. Merely saying “suspend” leaves the decision to Abbas.

Abbas’ speech was depicted as heralding a new, difficult era in the national struggle. At such a time, public faith in the leadership is especially important, as is the ability to criticize, exchange opinions and overcome personal rivalries.

The ill wind of personal rivalry that weakened the Palestinian struggle in the past also hovers over this new, fateful stage, while lack of faith in the leadership and its abilities is stronger than ever before. No forceful speech will change that.

Israel Can Blame Hamas All It Wants – It Won’t Keep Gaza From Descending Into Collapse

January 16, 2018

Israeli defense officials are pinning the South’s security woes on Hamas- but will the international community care for their excuses when the Strip finally collapses?

By Amos Harel Jan 16, 2018 9:13 AM
Haaretz

A Palestinian woman stands outside her house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian woman stands outside her house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Braheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman were both asked about Monday’s report in Haaretz regarding warnings by senior defense officials that Gaza’s infrastructure and economy were on the verge of collapse. In response, Netanyahu, during his visit to India, and Lieberman, at a meeting of his Knesset faction, made remarkably similar comments.

The two made three basic claims: That Hamas, by stubbornly insisting on building up its military force, bears primary responsibility for Gaza’s distress; to change the circumstances and allow Gazans to live in conditions that are more than just “keeping their heads above water,” as Lieberman put it, there must be a resolution of the issue of the missing Israelis and bodies of soldiers still held in the Strip; and in the long term, the only thing that will extract Gaza from its situation will be demilitarization in exchange for rehabilitation.

In general the question of the missing is being raised more frequently and is being given a higher priority in the statements of Israeli leaders. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, said last week at the Globes conference that the approval of large infrastructure projects in Gaza is conditioned on resolving the issue of the missing civilians and soldiers.

Netanyahu and Lieberman both stressed Hamas’ responsibility for the situation, arguing that the organization, like Iran, which is supporting it financially, prefers to divert every spare dollar to improving its terror capabilities over improving the economy and living conditions of the people. This diagnosis, although correct, only reflects the gap between the current situation and Israel’s preferred solution – rehabilitating the Strip in exchange for Hamas giving up its weapons.

In practice, Israel didn’t really try to realize that objective in the cease-fire agreement it reached at the end of Operation Protective Edge three-and-a-half years ago, and since then nothing has been done to advance this issue at all. Israel, for obvious reasons, is leveraging the exposure of the most recent tunnel Hamas dug into Israeli and Egyptian territory at Kerem Shalom.

On Monday the Israel Defense Forces conducted a tour of the crossing for foreign ambassadors and representatives of international organizations, during which it stressed the utter irresponsibility exhibited by Hamas in digging a tunnel under the crossing through which the entire supply of goods to Gaza depends, adjacent to the pipelines through which fuel is streamed to the Strip. Even if Hamas wasn’t planning to blow up the tunnel or use it to commit an attack in the near term, it was a frighteningly dangerous move against which Israel had the right to defend itself.

But Israel’s arguments against Hamas, and the continued investment in building the anti-tunnel barrier and in locating additional tunnels, cannot offset the discussion of the humanitarian disaster looming in Gaza. The answers by Netanyahu and Lieberman will not be accepted by the international community if sewage floods the refugee camps and neighborhoods this winter and if epidemics rage there, as the professionals in the defense establishment fear. Even less dramatic infrastructure problems, like additional disruptions to the electricity supply, could have bad consequences.

Infectious diseases will not stop at the Erez Crossing and no technology will identify and eliminate them before they cross at Keren Shalom and affect Israelis. Under those circumstance, the question of whether Hamas will resume using its weapons against Israel will be the least of our problems. Israel could be called on to deal with much greater and more urgent challenges, like how to prevent outbreaks of disease in the Negev, whether Israel can stand aside as the hospitals in Gaza collapse or its water system breaks down, and what should be done if masses of Palestinians press against the border fence and beg for Israeli assistance during a humanitarian crisis of a scope we’ve never dealt with before.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.835170

Netanyahu Blasts Abbas Speech: He Revealed Truth About Conflict and Did Israel a Service

January 15, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. (Reuters)

Speaking to reporters while visiting India, Netanyahu says he supports economic relief for Gaza; on Iran, the prime minister warns West: Last chance to fix nuclear deal

By Noa Landau (New Delhi) 15.01.2018 16:30 Updated: 5:51 PM
Haaretz

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018 PRAKASH SINGH/AFP
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NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments that Israel killed the Oslo accords by saying that his remarks did Israel a service. Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli journalists in his entourage during his visit to India, also said that he supports economic relief for the Gaza Strip.

However, Netanyahu added that the main problem in the enclave was “the failure of Gaza itself to take care of the basic infrastructure that people need, such as electricity, water and housing. That’s our problem. When they talk about collapse, that’s the infrastructure they mean. It is an absurd situation that the State of Israel has to handle the most basic needs of life, which are neglected by the Hamas government.”

Netanyahu’s comments follow the publication of a report in Haaretz Monday that quoted army officials as saying that the Strip is on the brink of economic collapse.

The prime minister also warned the West that it was the last chance to fix the nuclear deal with Iran.

Regarding the escalation on the border with Gaza, he said that Israel’s actions are guided by its security interests, and that Israel holds Hamas responsible for every attack. “The Israel Defense Forces does not bomb sand dunes,” he added.

Netanyahu looked tired. Aside from the hectic schedule of the official visit, he has taken part in a number of nighttime votes and debates in recent weeks. He also had to contend with negative reports about his son Yair, who was supposed to come on the trip but ultimately remained in Jerusalem.  At the start of the meeting with reporters, the premier asked for coffee, blaming jet lag.

‘What we have been saying all along’

Reacting to Abbas’ speech Sunday night, Netanyahu said that the Palestinian prime minister had exposed “what we have been saying all along, that the roots of the conflict are opposition to a Jewish state within any borders it might have. Not only the way he spoke but the things he said help us show the truth,” Netanyahu said. “I think this serves our political goals more than anything else.”

>> Abbas declares Oslo Accords dead: ‘Trump’s peace plan is a slap, we’ll slap back’ <<

Israel can now fairly make the “elementary, logical demand” that the Palestinian leader change his position, or there will be no peace, Netanyahu said. Abbas did truth a service, and Israeli diplomacy too, the prime minister added – possibly because the Palestinian president is worried that the Americans will come out with a new initiative, and would prefer that they were replaced in their role as mediators.

“But there is nobody else,” Netanyahu said: Abbas’ efforts to get them removed from that role won’t work. “For too long, the Palestinian Authority has been pampered by the international community, which didn’t dare tell them the truth – not about Jerusalem and not about recognizing Israel. That has changed. I think Abu Mazen [Abbas] was reacting to that. This is the first time somebody’s told him the truth to his face.”

‘Last chance to fix the Iran deal’

At the meeting with reporters during the second day of Netanyahu’s visit to India, he reviewed the trip so far and took questions. The prime minister began his remarks by underscoring the “vast importance” that the visit has for security.

Asked about reports that he’s trying to persuade India to reinstate a canceled sale of antitank missiles from the Israeli company Rafael, which was worth half a billion dollars, the prime minister said, “we’re working on it.” On security issues, Netanyahu said that he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the Iranian threat.

“We have spent many hours together and much of that conversation focused on Iran, the danger it poses and the aspiration for hegemony over the Muslim world and Muslims everywhere,” Netanyahu said.

Asked about the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest statement that he will quit the deal unless it is “fixed,” Netanyahu said, “I think it’s the West’s last opportunity to fix the agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Office later clarified that he meant to say “it looks like the last opportunity.”

Netanyahu said he has counseled European leaders to take Trump’s words seriously. “Some thought he would never retreat from this agreement. I told them I suggest they treat [him] with respect and seriousness. After what he said on Friday, I think people are starting to get it, perhaps belatedly, that this is how it is.”

Referring to his conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu said, “He told me, ‘I agree on the ballistic missiles, the terrorism, Iran’s aggression. But I don’t agree with you about the agreement.’ I told him, if we don’t change it, the agreement will double Iran’s aggression in the region and its ability to threaten France with missiles. They will achieve a nuclear arsenal. If the agreement isn’t changed, that’s what will be.”

“That is why Trump’s position is correct,” Netanyahu said, adding that he’s been preaching to that effect for some time. “He told me that he understand the superpowers have an opportunity here, I think the last one, to fix the agreement. I think the president is deadly serious that if the agreement isn’t changed, he will make the inescapable decision. The main thing is to make changes that prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear arsenal without hindrance. I think this is the Western countries’ last chance to fix the agreement.”

‘Tehran to Kfar Sava’

Speaking about an Iranian land corridor, Netanyahu said that nobody can stop a truck from driving from Tehran to Damascus. “My policy is to stop trucks driving from Tehran to Kfar Sava,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we’re allowing Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu continued. “They want to bring planes there, they want to bring army forces, warships and submarines. We are preventing this in practice. What’s preventing it is Israel – only Israel,” he said, adding that Iran needs to understand that if it wants to advance its ground, air and naval forces into Israel’s back yard, it will be met with opposition. “The decision whether to escalate is in the hands of the Iranians,” the prime minister said.

Asked about ties between Iran and countries like India and China, with which Netanyahu is trying to improve ties, he answered gingerly, “We have an interest in maintaining excellent relations with India and China as well. I understand the sensitivities and we are discussing that. too. Our improvement of ties is not designed against any specific country.”

Annexing the West Bank?

Netanyahu also fielded a question about the Likud Central Committee’s resolution to annex the West Bank to Israel, noting that the committee could resolve whatever it liked, and the government would also do so.

The prime minister then said, “I support wisdom and responsibility and firmness regarding our central interests,” which he said include protecting Israel’s security and settlements, as well as maneuvering vis-à-vis the international community.

Asked whether the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad would be legalized after a terror attack nearby killed 35-year-old Rabbi Raziel Shevach, he said that this option was under consideration. He noted that in the meantime, the outpost has been connected up to water and electricity.

He then asked to share something personal with the reporters: a moment from the red-carpet reception, with the Indian honor guard present. “I thought how I was representing a people that was shattered to pieces 70, 75 years ago, and now I am being received here as its prime minister, with the respect given to a nation among the nations, and more,” Netanyahu said. “It moved me very much. I think that historically, the moment reflected the Jewish people’s return to the world stage, in many ways.”

The city of New Delhi alone has three times the whole population of Israel, Netanyahu said, and “India contains a considerable proportion of the people who live on Earth. India is a world power and Modi is trying to advance it, to become even more powerful. He is going out of his way to demonstrate his friendship toward Israel and the personal friendship between us.”

Netanyahu said that this is partly due to Israel’s might – economic, technological, in security and in intelligence – but also contains a dimension of personal relations.

A number of economic agreements have been signed during this visit, Netanyahu said, and he anticipates more agreements on security and business in the months to come.

No passage to India

The biggest obstacle that the Israeli delegation would like to resolve involves red tape on imports to India. Until a comprehensive solution, such as a free trade agreement, can be found, Israel has given India a list of products it wants to be exempt from customs – chiefly, food.

The topic of upgrading direct aviation links also arose, as did the use of Israeli agricultural technology in India, which hasn’t yet adopted all the advanced technologies, Netanyahu said carefully. “When I was the ambassador to the UN, we had no relations with India,” he added. “There was structural hostility. In recent years we have changed that from top to bottom. There has been unprecedented blossoming since the moment I met Modi and we decided to upgrade relations.”

Noa Landau
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.835078

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Gaza: Economy, Infrastructure on Verge of Collapse, Israeli Security Officials Say — Do Palestinian Leaders Purposefully Neglect The People and Then Blame Israel?

January 15, 2018

Officials are worried about possible consequences of continued military pressure on the Strip, as deteriorating conditions raise the risk of an uncontrollable flare-up

By Amos Harel Jan 15, 2018 8:43 AM

Haaretz
Palestinian children walk in a street on a rainy day in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 6, 2018.

Palestinian children walk in a street on a rainy day in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 6, 2018. IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Senior defense officials one meets these days – not only members of the Government Coordinator of Activities in the Territories unit, but officers in uniform, and to some extent even the Shin Bet security service – are voicing surprisingly similar opinions about the situation in the Gaza Strip. The economy in the Strip is on the verge of total collapse, “like from zero to below zero,” as one official put it, and so is civilian infrastructure.

Hamas’ weak position, both economically and politically, makes it easier for Israel to take the necessary steps to destroy its tunnel project. As reported Saturday, Israel demolished a fourth tunnel in the Gaza Strip in less than three months (and in one incident a Hamas man was injured in Lebanon in an explosion by entities unknown). But politicians in Israel are acting as if military pressure can continue on the Strip, ignoring the worsening economic situation, and that has experts worried. In the long term, continually deteriorating infrastructure brings the risk of an uncontrollable blow-up in the Strip.

About two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that the number of trucks passing through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza has been cut in half due to the decline in purchasing power of Gaza’s people. The latest statistics say the number of trucks is down a third, to between just 300 to 400 trucks a day.

 

About 95 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable. Hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sewage flow into the Mediterranean daily, reaching Israel’s shores as well. There’s a bit more electricity available now – up to six or seven hours a day, thanks to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to go back to funding some of the power, which is purchased from Israel. Experts warn of the outbreak of infectious diseases.

Unemployment in the Gaza Strip is inching toward 50 percent and is even higher among young people. The more than two million people now living in Gaza are trapped between the harsh Hamas regime and the almost total impossibility of leaving the Strip because of the closed crossings into Israel and Egypt.

When Israel began building its anti-tunnel barrier almost a year ago, concerns were raised that Hamas might try to mount an attack through a tunnel on the Gazan border before this strategic asset, into which Hamas has sunk hundreds of millions of shekels over the past 10 years, is taken away from them.

Meanwhile, that hasn’t happened, although the bulldozers are advancing. At the same time, as reported, four tunnels have been destroyed in three months on account of intelligence and technology.

Hamas, poorer and more isolated than in the past, is in a trap. It depends on Egypt and fears angering the generals in Cairo. But it seems that the explanation for its policy of restraint is also connected to the election of Yahya Sinwar as the organization’s leader in Gaza. Sinwar controls the Strip both politically and militarily. His predecessor, Ismail Haniyeh, who is above him in the hierarchy, is a resident of Gaza, unlike Haniyeh’s predecessor, Khaled Meshal, who urged a hard line from his comfortable location in Qatar. Haniyeh and Sinwar are meanwhile taking a relatively moderate stance.

Israel is considering changes in civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip. But Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz has been unable even to advance a serious discussion on a plan for an artificial island off the Gazan coast, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman oppose. Discussion of other proposals, like bringing in thousands of laborers from the Strip to work in Israeli border communities (which involves a security risk), have dragged on for months.

The summer 2014 war in Gaza broke out for a combination of reasons. Israel increased its punitive measures against Hamas in the West Bank after three teenagers from Gush Etzion were abducted; it turned out later they’d been killed. Hamas’ economic difficulties increased due to a clash with the PA, which stopped paying salaries to government workers in the Strip. The final spark came from Kerem Shalom, when Israel suspected that Hamas was about to launch a terror attack through a tunnel.

This time, there are no clear signs that Hamas has had enough. Israel could continue touting its tactical successes, without deciding what it wants to happen in Gaza. But as in the north, the adversary’s relative restraint might mislead the Israeli leadership into a war that it says it does not want.

Amos Harel
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.834947