Posts Tagged ‘Mahmoud Abbas’

Middle East: Rivals step up as doubts grow over ailing Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

April 6, 2018

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Above, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas speaks at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, February 20. Abbas called for the convening of an international conference by mid-2018 to pave the way for recognition of Palestinian statehood as part of a wider Middle East peace process. (AFP)

By Daoud Kuttab

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AMMAN: After Mahmoud Abbas took over the Palestinian presidency on Jan. 15, 2005, journalists in Ramallah noticed something different. The new resident of the presidential compound, known as Al-Muqata, followed normal business hours. He would arrive in the morning, go home for lunch and leave at 5 p.m.

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The business-like atmosphere indicated a new kind of leader. Gone was Yasser Arafat, the revolutionary who dressed in fatigues and often worked through the night before his death in 2004. Here was a suit-and-tie leader who wanted to show he was a civilian leader ready for negotiations, not a Che Guevara-style guerrilla.

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But Abbas, who turned 83 recently, has little to show for his efforts, with peace talks moribund and US President Donald Trump’s administration taking a hard line on issues such as Jerusalem, which Washington has recognized as the Israeli capital.

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Abbas has been outraged by the change in American policy, railing against the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv. But while his angry words have garnered sympathy from sections of the international community, he has failed to gather support for a new strategy that rejects Washington as the main broker in peace talks.

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A series of health scares has further focused minds on who might succeed Abbas and the future priorities of the Fatah party that he leads.

Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, told Arab News that the need for political direction was more important than any change in personnel.

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“We need to have a clear strategy that can help us deal with the huge challenges ahead,” said Fayyad, now a visiting professor at the Woodrow Wilson School for public and international affairs at Princeton University.

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“The number one priority must be to find ways to unify the splintering Palestinian population and leadership.

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A recent opinion poll found that 68 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, while just 33 percent said they were satisfied with his performance, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

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Fatah candidates tipped to succeed Abbas include Jibril Rajoub, a former security chief, and Mahmoud Aloul, a veteran party leader, both members of the decision-making central committee. Analysts see these men as the main contenders.

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Image result for Mahmoud Aloul, photos

Mahmoud Aloul

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Majed Farraj, Abbas’ security chief, is another possibility. Marwan Barghouti, a former leader of the second intifada or uprising, is still popular among Palestinians, but is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison.

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Meanwhile, Mohammed Dahlan, who lives in exile in the UAE, has the support of Gulf countries, but is bitterly opposed by the local leadership in Ramallah.

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Concern over Abbas’s future has led to the Israeli authorities preparing for the possibility of a prolonged succession struggle that could threaten the relative calm in the West Bank, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

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Fatah is the dominant party in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and leads the Palestinian National Authority, controlling its budget and security forces. The party remains in bitter dispute with Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 after winning the last legislative elections for the PNA in 2006 when Abbas won the presidency.

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The Palestine National Council (PNC), the main legislative body of the PLO, is set to elect a new executive committee at a meeting likely to take place in Ramallah on April 30. The PNC includes Palestinians from the diaspora, but does not include Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

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Hani Almasri, general manager of Masarat, a Palestinian think tank in Ramallah, told Arab News he would like to see the PNC unify the Palestinians. “What we badly need at the PNC meeting is a meeting of minds so that we can all agree on the new direction of the Palestinian national movement.”

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The presidency is decided by a national vote, which should take place after a 60-day period following the death or resignation of the previous incumbent. Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza aged over 18 can vote, but not Palestinians outside those areas.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1279806/middle-east

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Palestinians are angry at both Israel and their own leaders and believe they have nothing to lose

April 4, 2018
Bloomberg
Nothing left to lose.

 Photographer: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

The violence last Friday in Gaza, in which 18 Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli troops near the border, was the worst since the war of 2014. But everything is in place for a significant escalation in coming weeks, particularly in mid-May.

A series of major tripwires are clustered tightly together: commemorations of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding on May 14-15; mourning by Palestinians who regard the same event as their “catastrophe” and observe May 15 as “Nakba Day”; and the scheduled opening of a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, courtesy of the administration of President Donald Trump.

Things are likely to get worse because Palestinians increasingly feel they have nothing left to lose. The “March of Return” last week drew unprecedented crowds of up to 30,000 Palestinians from all parts of Gaza society. In a festive and surreal atmosphere, vendors sold ice cream to picnicking families as young men risked their lives by approaching the border.

Over 90 percent of Gaza’s almost 2 million people are refugees from what is now southern Israel. Unlike most other Palestinians, they are still geographically close to the towns and villages from which they were displaced in 1947-48. Since its founding, Israel has had one primary response to Palestinians, armed or not, attempting to go home without permission. The Israeli military reiterated that anyone approaching within 300 meters of the border would face a shoot-to-kill policy.

But things are so bad in the wretched open-air prison of Gaza that the only surprise is that the death toll wasn’t even higher.

One of the most densely populated places on earth, Gaza is now barely habitable. Hunger is rampant. Water is undrinkable. Unemployment is close to 50 percent. Health-care is scanty at best. Electricity is available just two to four hours per day. The once-beautiful seacoast is now a giant sewer. And there’s virtually no way in or out of the territory which, since a violent takeover in 2007 by the Islamist faction Hamas, has been under a lockdown by Israel and Egypt.

For more than 10 years, the people of Gaza have been subjected to the misrule of Hamas, the heavily armed Muslim Brotherhood faction that exploits and intensifies their misery. Last summer, Hamas attempted to use a fictional “reconciliation” agreement with its Fatah rivals, who control the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, to get out of this stranglehold. Hamas sought to get the Palestinian Authority to take up the burden of administration in Gaza, secure badly needed aid and reconstruction money, and, most importantly, win themselves a new foothold in the West Bank, where they have been frozen out since the Palestinian factions split in 2007.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made reconciliation contingent on Hamas disarming, which the militant group won’t consider. Hamas was left virtually without options.

QuickTakeTwo-State Solution

Abbas, too, is badly adrift. He staked his entire career on negotiations with Israel, brokered by the U.S. But that “peace process” has been frozen since the first term of President Barack Obama, and Israel is moving closer to annexing large chunks of the West Bank. Virtually no Palestinians believe anymore that Israel will ever agree to end the occupation and allow them to create their own state.

The Trump administration has reinforced this conviction by abandoning Washington’s long-standing commitment to a two-state outcome, and has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Abbas’s diplomatic strategy therefore now looks like the ultimate fiasco.

The last straw for Abbas came in March, when Hamas tried to assassinate his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah.

Enraged, Abbas has lashed out at all his antagonists in a recent series of unhinged speeches. He bitterly denounced Israel and castigated the Trump administration, describing its peace efforts as “the slap of the century” and calling the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a “son of a dog.” He excoriated Hamas followers as terrorist “thugs and hooligans,” and said the only reason their operatives weren’t being killed all over the world in revenge is that he won’t sink to their murderous level.

Abbas announced a new series of harsh sanctions against Hamas and Gaza, and has been prodding Hamas and Israel toward another conflict, hoping to be the prime beneficiary as his two adversaries scorch each other while Washington scrambles to douse the flames.

With Hamas’s militancy and Abbas’s diplomacy both thoroughly discredited, Palestinian civilians are desperate for a new political dynamic. The recent “March of Return” protests originally promised that, but Hamas has thus far managed to hijack them. Yet if the protest movement leads to another war with Israel, the result could prove catastrophic for Hamas’s political viability. And if widespread unrest spreads to the West Bank, that could fatally undermine the Palestinian Authority.

Both Palestinian Islamists and nationalists are out of options, out of ideas, and out of luck. The Palestinian public is out of patience and nearly out of hope. That’s a combustible formula.

A series of demonstrations in the coming weeks has already been scheduled in Gaza, beginning next Friday. But the mid-May commemorations, set against this backdrop of frustration and despair, look incredibly dangerous.

When an entire people, at almost every level of society and across the political and religious spectrum, seem to have concluded they have nothing to hope for and nothing to lose — that all their dreams will remain deferred for the foreseeable future — an explosion may be inevitable.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Hussein Ibish at hussein.ibish@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-04-04/israel-palestine-gaza-violence-is-about-to-get-worse

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Arab League to hold emergency meeting over Israel’s shooting protesters at Gaza border

April 2, 2018

Palestinian protester carries an injured comrade during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City on April 1, 2018. (AFP)
DUBAI: The Arab league will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday over Israeli’s crimes against Palestinians, days after IDF forces killed over a dozen near the Gaza border, Saudi state-news agency SPA reported.
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The decision comes at Palestine’s request, where permanent representatives to the Arab League will hold an urgent meeting that will touch on Israeli violations against the Palestinians during a peaceful protest on the occasion of ‘Land Day’ on March 30th.
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Assistant Arab League Secretary-General for Palestinian Affairs Saeed Abu Ali stressed that the international community should take responsibility toward putting an end to these crimes and form an investigative committee that would hold Israel accountable for its actions.
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Footage circulated the web appears to show men from a group which left the main demonstration on Friday and approached the border being shot in the back as they fled.
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Israeli forces have killed at least 17 Palestinians and injured more than 1,400 others during and following the protests last Friday.
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The demonstrations, also know as “right of return,” will come to an end on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, with the intention to march through the border fence.
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Israel has ruled out any right of return to Gaza’s two million inhabitants who are descendants of the hundreds of thousands who fled Israel in 1948.

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Israel-Palestinian Border Violence: 5 of 15 Killed Belonged to Hamas Armed Wing (Izzadin Kassam Brigades)

April 1, 2018

Jerusalem Post

“The blood of the pure martyrs will not go to waste. The enemy will pay a price at a time and place and in a way that the resistance decides.”

BY ADAM RASGON
 APRIL 1, 2018 07:43

 IDF warns of larger military response to Gaza protest

 Israel prepares for weeks of military and international tension

PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS clash with a soldier during a Land Day protest in Madama, south of Nablus.

PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS clash with a soldier during a Land Day protest in Madama, south of Nablus.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, announced that five of the Palestinians who died during a protest near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Friday were its members.

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, the IDF killed 16 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,400 others during the protest, which took place in multiple locations on the Gazan side of the border.

“Lucky Kassam fighters were among the martyrs,” the Kassam Brigades said in a statement on Saturday.

Friday’s protesters gathered at the border to demand the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel, according to a Facebook page created for the event.

However, the IDF described the protest as “a violent riot,” and reported that protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces as well as opened fire on them, attempted to infiltrate Israel’s borders and set rubber tires on fire.

Photographs and videos appear to show that some protesters took part in violent actions while others did not.

In the past week, several IDF officials called on Palestinians not to approach the border fence, warning that to do so would put them in danger.

According to organizers, Friday’s protest was the first in a series of protests that are slated to take place over the next six weeks along the border.

The Kassam Brigades vowed that armed groups in the Gaza Strip would avenge the death of the Palestinians killed during the protest.

“The blood of the pure martyrs will not go to waste. The enemy will pay a price at a time and place and in a way that the resistance decides,” they said.

Funerals were held on Saturday for the Kassam members as well as the others who were killed.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Friday evening that Saturday would be “a day of national mourning” and said that Israel bears full responsibility for the Palestinians’ deaths.

In the West Bank on Saturday, a number of Palestinian businesses were closed to protest the deaths. A video of Nablus on Saturday that was shared on Facebook showed relatively empty streets.

In a statement on its Twitter account on Saturday, Hamas called on Abbas to restore funding to Gaza that he cut last year.

“Respecting and appreciating the martyrs and wounded requires actions, the least of which is Abbas lifting the sanctions he imposed on Gaza and its people,” the statement said.

Though in recent months Abbas has restored some of the funding, he has not fully reinstated the budgets he slashed.

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Gaza Carnage Is a Victory for Hamas – and a Propaganda Nightmare for Israel — Hamas Outsmarts Israel this time…

March 31, 2018

Haaretz

Trump’s unqualified support bolsters Netanyahu but could also spark international backlash from critics of both

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Medical staff help an injured Palestinian man during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration near the border with Israel,March 31, 2018.
Medical staff help an injured Palestinian man during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration near the border with Israel,March 31, 2018.SAID KHATIB/AFP

For the first time in a long while, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took a central place over the weekend in international media news reports. Israeli spokespersons did supply evidence of Hamas militants trying to breach the border fence in Gaza under the guise of a supposedly popular protest, but Western opinion makers preferred the viral video of a Palestinian teen getting shot in the back and an overarching narrative of despondent Gazans protesting their oppression and blockade. Fifteen Palestinians were killed, hundreds were injured and the fence remained intact, but in the battlefield of propaganda, Hamas scored a victory.

Future developments are also in the hands of the Islamic organization. The more Hamas persists with the “March of the Million,” as it has been dubbed, and the more it succeeds in separating the protests from acts of violence and terror, the more it will succeed in defying and embarrassing Israel as well as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. If commanders of the Israel Defense Forces don’t find a way to repel efforts to breach the fence without causing so many casualties, Israel’s predicament will grow exponentially. Friday’s day of bloodshed may be quickly forgotten if it remains a solitary event, but if the bloodshed recurs over and over during the six-week campaign that is slated to culminate on the Palestinian Nakba Day in mid-May, the international community will be forced to refocus its attentions on the conflict. Criticism of, and pressure on, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has virtually evaporated in recent months, could return with a vengeance.

The working assumption on the Israeli side is that terror and violence are an inherent part of Hamas’ self-identity; the Islamist group is supposedly incapable of suspending its “armed struggle,” even temporarily. If this is the case, Israel’s distress will soon pass and Hamas will squander the advantages it gained in the mass skirmishes near the fence. If the Israeli conception turns out to be wrong, however, and Hamas proves itself capable of tactical discipline and restraint, it could manufacture what has always been Israel’s hasbara nightmare: Mass, nonviolent Palestinian protests that compel the IDF to kill and maim unarmed civilians. Analogies to Mahatma Gandhi, apartheid South Africa and even the struggle for civil rights in America, superficial and preposterous as they may be, will frame the next stage of the Palestinian struggle.

>> Forget rockets and tunnels – Hamas found a more effective way to agitate Israel | Analysis ■ Gaza’s refugees have always haunted Israel. Now they’re on the march | Opinion >>

The immediate support of the Trump administration, expressed in a Passover-eve tweet by special envoy Jason Greenblatt, who lambasted Hamas incitement and its “hostile march,” is ostensibly a positive development from Israel’s point of view. Contrary to Trump, Barack Obama would have been quick to criticize what is being widely described as Israel’s excessive use of force, and might have conferred with Western European countries on a proper diplomatic response. Israel welcomes and Netanyahu often extols its unparalleled coordination with the Trump administration, but it could also turn out to be a double-edged sword, which will only make things worse.

.Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh at a protest along the Israeli border with Gaza, March 30, 2018.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh at a protest along the Israeli border with Gaza, March 30, 2018.\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Trump, after all, is one of the most despised U.S. presidents in modern history, in Western public opinion in general and among American liberals in particular. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the U.S. Embassy there are widely perceived as contributing to Palestinians frustration and sense of isolation. As long as Israel maintains a low profile and doesn’t star in negative news headlines, its intimate relations with Trump cause only marginal damage; in times of crisis, however, the damage can be substantial. The criticism that would have been leveled at Israel in the wake of “Bloody Friday” in any case is fueled by widespread resentment of Trump and his policies – and by a wish to punish his favorites. The more the U.S. administration defends Israel’s unpopular actions, the more its critics, including American liberals, will treat Trump and Netanyahu as one unsavory package.

The unqualified U.S. support strengthens the resolve of Netanyahu and his ministers to stick with their do-nothing polices toward both Gaza and the peace process. Most Israelis view Hamas purely as a terror organization, and their gut reaction is that Israel can’t and shouldn’t be perceived as caving in to terror and violence. At a time when early elections seem just beyond the horizon, the last thing Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition wants to do is deviate from its established policies, which would be tantamount to admitting the error of its ways. Calls from the left to review the IDF’s conduct in Gaza and reassess Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians overall could bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the center of public discourse after an extended absence, but will also provide the prime minister with an excuse – as if he needs one – to divert attention away from the crisis in Gaza to backstabbing internal enemies from within.

The Book of Hosea, however, taught us “He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Israel’s ongoing diplomatic paralysis on the Palestinian issue and its misguided belief that the status quo can be maintained indefinitely provided the opening for Hamas’ propaganda coup: The Islamist group can suddenly see light at the end of the tunnels that the IDF is systematically destroying. Hamas may shed crocodile tears over the dead and injured, but even if their numbers are doubled and tripled over the next few days, it is a small price to pay for resuscitating its prominence and for pushing both Netanyahu and Abbas into a corner. The fact that Jerusalem maneuvered itself into a position in which a proven terrorist group that still dreams of destroying “the Zionist entity” can outmaneuver Israel in the court of public opinion and cast it as malevolent occupier with an itchy trigger finger is a monumental failure, one that can only get worse as long as Netanyahu and his government prefer to entrench themselves in their obtuse self-righteousness.

Israel threatens to escalate response if Gaza violence continues

March 31, 2018

AFP and France 24

© Jack Guez, AFP | Israeli soldiers take aim as they lie prone over an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza strip in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz on March 30, 2018, as Palestinians demonstrate on the other side commemorating Land Day.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-03-31

Israel will target “terror organisations” in Gaza if violence along the territory’s border with Israel drags on, the chief military spokesman warned Saturday, a day after thousands of Palestinians staged protests near the border fence.

The mass marches were led by Gaza’s ruling Hamas group and touted as the launch of a six-week-long protest campaign. Palestinian health officials said 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and more than 750 hit by live rounds, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas.

In Friday’s confrontations, large crowds gathered near the border fence, with smaller groups of protesters rushing forward, throwing stones and burning tires.

Israeli troops responded with live fire and rubber-coated steel pellets, while drones dropped tear gas from above. The army released video showing soldiers with rifles perched on high earthen embankments overlooking the scene.

Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, while human rights groups questioned Israel’s use of live fire.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an “independent and transparent investigation”.

Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief army spokesman, denied allegations of excessive use of force, saying those killed by Israeli troops were men between the ages of 18 and 30 who were involved in violence and belonged to militant factions.

He alleged Gaza health officials exaggerated the number of those wounded, and that several dozen at most were injured by live fire while the rest were merely shaken up by tear gas and other riot dispersal means.

Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital received 284 injured people Friday, the majority with bullet injuries, said spokesman Ayman Sahbani. He said 70 were under the age of 18 and 11 were women.

He said 40 surgeries were performed Friday and that 50 were planned Saturday. “These are all from live bullets that broke limbs or caused deep, open wounds with damage to nerves and veins,” he said.

Among those recovering from surgery was 16-year-old Marwan Yassin who had thrown stones with a slingshot at the fence Friday and was shot in both legs. One of his legs was wrapped in bandages and the other had a cast and metal fixtures.

His mother said at his bedside that she would ban him from future protests.

On Saturday, a few hundred people gathered at five tent encampments that have been set up several hundred metres from the border fence. The tents serve as the launch points for marches.

Protest organisers have said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation. Palestinians mark that date as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted during the 1948 war over Israel’s creation. The vast majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from homes in what is now Israel.

Manelis reiterated Saturday that Israel “will not allow a massive breach of the fence into Israeli territory”.

He said that Hamas and other Gaza militant groups are using protests as a cover for staging attacks. If violence continues, “we will not be able to continue limiting our activity to the fence area and will act against these terror organisations in other places too,” he said.

The border protests were seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group seized Gaza from forces loyal to its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007. The continued closure has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern.

The large turnout of marchers in the dangerous border zone also seemed to signal desperation among Gaza residents. Life in the coastal strip has deteriorated further in recent months, with rising unemployment, grinding poverty and daily blackouts that last for hours.

The protest campaign is also meant to spotlight Palestinian demands for a “right of return” to what is now Israel.

The prospect of more protests and Palestinian casualties in coming weeks could also place Israel on the defensive.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation, while Security Council members urged restraint on both sides. The council didn’t decide on any action or joint message after an emergency meeting Friday evening.

Abbas, the West Bank-based leader, renewed a call for international protection of Palestinians.

In the West Bank, shopkeepers observed a commercial strike called by political activists Saturday to protest Israel’s response to the Gaza marches.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

Israel Gears Up for Large-scale Clashes Along Gaza Border

March 25, 2018

Haaretz

Even if the army gets through Passover Seder unscathed, tension in the territories is expected to ratchet up gradually in April and May

.Palestinian demonstrators run during clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 23, 2018.
Palestinian demonstrators run during clashes with Israeli troops near the border with Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 23, 2018.\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

Israel’s defense establishment will be focused on the Gaza Strip this week, where mass protests backed by the Hamas government are planned for Friday along the border with Israel. The Palestinians are planning on establishing six to eight big tent camps, housing thousands of people, mostly women and children along the border but some 700 meters from the fence.

Friday is Land Day: The intention is for thousands of Palestinians to remain near the fence until Nakba Day, in mid-May. The overall intention is to protest nonviolently, but there are to be weekly demonstrations near the fence on Friday, culminating in a huge march on Nakba Day. Israel is preparing for large-scale protests that could turn violent, with attempts to cross the border fence and to perpetrate terror attacks (like the recent detonations of explosive devices along the fence).

Israel’s military has proved it can deal with marches and demonstrations well when it has time to prepare. Matters get out of hand — as they did on Nakba Day 2011, along the Syrian border in the Golan Heights — only when the army is surprised. This time, the army seems to be getting ready. On Thursday, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot met with top commanders for several hours at Tze’elim Base, in the Negev. The Land Day and Nakba Day protests were on the agenda. Eisenkot ordered massive troop reinforcements — of a few battalions, at least — along the Gaza border for next weekend. That means thousands of soldiers will spend the Passover Seder, on Friday night, far from home. They will be joined by snipers, Border Police units and police with riot control training and equipment. The rules of engagement will remain in force: Anyone who tries to cross the border will be subject to “suspect arrest protocol” (firing in the air and then at the legs), and anyone who tried to injure soldiers will be hit.

>> In first, Israeli drone drops tear gas to disperse Palestinian protesters ■ Brute force can’t be Israel’s only answer to Palestinian protesters | Opinion

Eisenkot has ordered commanders to try as much as possible to avoid civilian deaths, but the mission they were given is to prevent a mass crossing of the border fence, which could end with dozens, if not hundreds, of injured Palestinians. The army is also planning for the possibility of escalation this week in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, where one Israeli civilian and two soldiers were killed in the space of three days this month.

Even if the army gets through Seder night unscathed, tension in the territories is expected to ratchet up gradually in April and May, against the backdrop of local and international developments: the failure of the reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the severe infrastructure crisis in the Gaza Strip and the belligerence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas toward the United States, Israel and Hamas. Events around Iran and in the territories will come together in one week in May, in which Trump is expected to announce whether he is backing out of the Iranian nuclear accord, the U.S. Embassy plans to relocate to Jerusalem and the Gaza protests are expected to peak.

Mahmoud Abbas blames Hamas for Gaza attack on PM’s convoy

March 20, 2018

Al Jazeera

President Abbas says Hamas orchestrated attack on prime minister’s convoy, prompting Hamas to call for elections.

Mahmoud Abbas said that if the "assassination attempt" had succeeded, the attack would have opened the door for a bloody civil war [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]
Mahmoud Abbas said that if the “assassination attempt” had succeeded, the attack would have opened the door for a bloody civil war [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has accused Hamas of orchestrating the explosion that targeted the convoy of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah as he entered the Gaza Strip last week.

“We do not want them to investigate, we do not want information from them, we do not want anything from them because we know exactly that they, the Hamas movement, were the ones who committed this incident,” Abbas said at a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah late on Monday.

Hamdallah’s convoy, which included the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence chief Majed Faraj, was attacked just after the delegation crossed through the Israeli-controlled Erez checkpoint, known to Palestinians as Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza.

READ MORE

Hamas, Fatah sign reconciliation agreement in Cairo

Faraj and Hamdallah remained unharmed, while seven security guards were wounded in the blast.

Shortly after the attack, Hamas said it was launching an investigation to uncover who was behind the blast and deflected the PA’s comments blaming the Gaza-based group for the incident.

Speaking during Monday’s meeting, Abbas said that if the “assassination attempt” had succeeded, the development would have opened the door for a bloody civil war.

Call for elections

In response to Abbas’ accusations, Hamas called for elections.

“We are shocked by the tense stance that Abbas has taken. This position burns bridges and strengthens division and strikes the unity of our people,” Hamas said in a press release.

READ MORE

Hamas and Fatah: How are the two groups different?

“In light of all this, Hamas calls for general elections, including presidential, parliamentary and national council elections, so that the Palestinian people can choose their leadership.”

The attack and subsequent statements by both sides mark a serious deterioration in relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that governs the occupied West Bank.

Fatah, the ruling party within the PA, and Hamas, the party that governs the occupied Gaza Strip, signed a reconciliation agreement in October 2017, ending a decade of division that saw two parallel governments operating in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

But the deal was never fully implemented due to differences within the two political factions, which are the largest in Palestinian politics.

Analysts said the attack on Hamdallah’s convoy was intended to put a strain on reconciliation efforts.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/03/mahmoud-abbas-blames-hamas-gaza-attack-pm-convoy-180320055826397.html

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

Top Jewish advocate Ronald Lauder excoriates Israeli policies in rare criticism

March 19, 2018

Times of Israel

March 19, 2018

WJC president says West Bank occupation, Orthodox hegemony are Israel’s ‘self inflicted wounds,’ in New York Times op-ed

World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder on October 13, 2014. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder on October 13, 2014. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

WASHINGTON — Openly breaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said current Israeli government policies threaten Israel’s democratic character and even its existence.

In an op-ed on Monday in the New York Times, Lauder also pressed hard for a two-state solution, significant because the cosmetics billionaire has the ear of US President Donald Trump, who is about to unveil a Middle East peace proposal.

Trump has said he is agnostic about whether two states is the preferred outcome for Israel and the Palestinians and Netanyahu has over the last year retreated from endorsing two states.

Much of the column was an excoriation of Netanyahu’s policy in terms more commonly heard on the pro-Israel left, including the argument that Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy unless it relinquishes control of the lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank.

“The Jewish democratic state faces two grave threats that I believe could endanger its very existence,” Lauder wrote.

“The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution,” he wrote. “I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s. But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.”

Lauder alluded to his closeness to Trump and to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and implicitly chided Netanyahu for his repeated claims that the only thing obstructing peace is Palestinian recalcitrance.

“President Trump and his team are wholly committed to Middle East peace,” Lauder said. “Contrary to news media reports, senior Palestinian leaders are, they have personally told me, ready to begin direct negotiations immediately.”

Lauder also objected to the control that Orthodox in Israel have over a range of issues including marriage and organized prayer at the Western Wall.

“By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, the Jewish state is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people,” he said. “The crisis is especially pronounced among the younger generation, which is predominantly secular.”

Lauder was for decades close to Netanyahu, backing him during his first run for prime minister in 1996 and defending him in Diaspora arenas. Over the last several years, there have been signs that they have grown apart, stemming from Lauder’s refusal, seven years ago, to block a report unflattering to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, that was broadcast on an Israeli television channel in which Lauder had a part ownership stake.

Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder cosmetic empire and president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007, has also been one of the most consistent voices of support for Trump in the Jewish community, and the two have been friends since the 1980s, when they both emerged as influential moguls on the New York political and social scenes.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/top-jewish-advocate-ronald-lauder-excoriates-israeli-policies-in-rare-criticism/

Related:

Mr. Lauder’s op-ed in the New York Times)

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu both have big, big problems

March 6, 2018

CNN

Updated 8:43 PM ET, Mon March 5, 2018

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu sit with Donald and Melania Trump in the White House, March 5, 2018.

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu sit with Donald and Melania Trump in the White House, March 5, 2018.MANDEL NGAN/AFP

(CNN) — President Donald Trump has had no bigger international backer than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump’s policies, particularly where it comes to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing that city as Israel’s capital — and also where it comes to drawing a hard line on Iran’s nuclear program — are in alignment with Netanyahu’s.

But there was a pall over their meeting Monday, since both men are beset by staffing issues, criminal issues, familial scandal and a skeptical press.
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To help us break down the similarities — and differences — between Trump’s problems and Netanyahu’s problems, we have CNN’s Jerusalem correspondent Oren Liebermann, who has written extensively about the Israeli Prime Minister.
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Here’s a transcript of our exchange, edited slightly for flow.
ZW: Oren, you published a story today with the headline “Third Netanyahu confidant turns states’ witness in graft probes.” That doesn’t sound good for him. In Trump’s case there is a special counsel working with former confidants of the US President. What’s similar about Netanyahu’s legal problems and what’s different?
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OL: The biggest difference is in the substance of the investigations. They are fundamentally different types of proceedings. Mueller’s special investigation began with Russian election meddling and has proceeded along those lines; the police investigations against Netanyahu and his inner circle began as graft probes.
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The end result may also be different, though that’s unclear at this time. If convicted, Netanyahu will face a likely prison sentence, since these are criminal investigations. What happens if Mueller finds collusion between the Trump administration and Russia? What about obstruction of justice? Or perjury? We don’t know the answer to those questions yet.
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But from those initial differences, there are many similarities.
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Both leaders’ legal problems now involve members of their family and their inner circle. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is now a possible suspect in one of the corruption investigations facing the Israeli leader, just as Jared Kushner has become involved in the Russia investigation. Members of each leader’s inner circle have also become a part of the investigations — Trump’s confidants have been questioned by Mueller; Netanyahu’s confidants have been named as suspects in the probes and have even turned state’s witness.
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Netanyahu: How he rose to the top

Netanyahu: How he rose to the top 01:33
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Both leaders have responded to the probes in much the same way — blaming the opposition, blasting the media, slamming leaks and repeatedly proclaiming innocence. Even their language has matched up — both have decried the investigations as media-fueled “witch hunts.”
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There is also one other difference worth pointing out. Trump is in office until after the 2020 election. The political reality for Netanyahu is quite different. If his coalition partners turn on him, he could be out very quickly.
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ZW: A problem for Trump has been that his son-in-law apparently features in the Russia probe. And before the election, his son met with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu’s family has also been drawn into scandal. Are the circumstances similar and are they involved in the Israeli government?
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OL: Netanyahu’s family isn’t involved in politics the way Trump’s family is involved. Though Netanyahu’s wife is often by his side, she doesn’t openly figure into the day-to-day operations of the Israeli government the way Trump’s family does for the American government. Trump’s daughter and his son-in-law have prominent, public roles in either the administration or the daily life of the President; Netanyahu’s wife and children do not. Sure, Netanyahu’s family makes headlines, but not nearly as often as Trump’s family.
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That being said, just as Trump’s family has become a focus of the Mueller investigation, Netanyahu’s family has become embroiled in the graft probes.
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Sara Netanyahu is a possible suspect in one investigation, while her name features prominently in another.
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ZW: Netanyahu has long weighed in on US politics, particularly where it comes to Iran. He was a supporter of Mitt Romney in 2012 and, perhaps even more so, of Trump’s in 2016. How important is his relationship with Trump to Netanyahu in Israel?
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OL: Incredibly important, and that’s probably still an understatement.

Israeli PM and wife questioned in Case 4000

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Israeli PM and wife questioned in Case 4000 01:53
Trump gave Netanyahu a series of diplomatic and political victories, from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to protecting Israel at the United Nations. Those were enormous scores for the Israeli leader, and he has tried to return the favor by repeatedly praising Trump and hailing the strongest ever ties between Israel and the US.
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More importantly, Trump is popular with Netanyahu’s voter base and vice versa. Even if Trump was considered wild and unpredictable at first, he is firmly in the pro-Israel camp now, so it’s in Netanyahu’s interest to play up the strong ties between the two leaders.
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It’s also worth remembering that this is the first time Netanyahu has had a Republican president. Up until now, it was either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama — Netanyahu entirely missed George W. Bush’s time in office.
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ZW: How likely is it that Netanyahu survives this?
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OL: In Israeli politics, it’s never wise to bet against Netanyahu. He knows how to play the game of Israeli politics better than anyone … and it is a brutal game. He’s won four elections, and recent polling shows he would almost certainly win a fifth if elections were held today. He has the support of all of his coalition partners, which means he’s in the driver’s seat.
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And yet each successive development in the corruption investigations of the Israeli leader is another blow to Netanyahu. Even if he has refused to back down, it becomes a little more difficult for his coalition partners to support him, and it becomes a political calculation of when to pull support. The closer the attorney general gets to possibly filing charges against Netanyahu, the harder it becomes to support him.
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So why haven’t they already pulled their support?
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Because Israel’s government is an entirely right-wing government, which means all the parties are pulling from generally the same voter base (with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox parties, who have their own voters). If one of Netanyahu’s coalition partners pulls support for the Prime Minister, they may face a backlash from right-wing voters, upset that they toppled a right-wing government. That’s why everyone is still supporting Netanyahu right now — not because it’s in Netanyahu’s interest, but because it’s in their own.
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ZW: If, hypothetically, Netanyahu was forced out and his party lost power, what could it mean both for a Mideast peace process and also for the US and Iran?
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OL: Every Israeli party — left and right — would continue lobbying against Iran. Maybe not as vocally, maybe not as openly, but they’re all on the same page when it comes to viewing Iran as a threat, so that doesn’t change.
Trump threatens to cut off aid to Palestinians
Trump threatens to cut off aid to Palestinians 03:02
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On the Mideast peace process, it depends on who would step in. Because of the way Israeli politics works, it’s entirely possible that, even if Netanyahu was forced out, his own party would simply find a different leader. In this case, the peace process is probably dead on arrival, since many in Netanyahu’s own party are far more critical of a two-state solution than he is.
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If a centrist or left-wing party were able to win an election, then the peace process could still — theoretically, at least — proceed.
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But the peace process doesn’t only rely on the Israeli government. Washington would still have to find some way to coax the Palestinians back to the table, as there aren’t many (if any) Israeli politicians they believe will readily make concessions in a peace process. And Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, hasn’t shown a willingness to make his own concessions for peace.
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