Posts Tagged ‘West Bank’

Israel’s Security Situation Has Never Been Worse

January 23, 2018

The problem is that today’s Israel is focusing on solving a challenge that has no military solution

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Oct. 9, 2016 photo, Hezbollah fighters stand atop a car mounted with a mock rocket in Lebanon
Oct. 9, 2016 photo, Hezbollah fighters stand atop a car mounted with a mock rocket in LebanonMohammed Zaatari / AP

The discovery and destruction this month of the Hamas tunnel from the Gaza Strip into Israel, the largest and most complex engineering project of the tunnel venture, reinforced the sense that a solution has been found to what was until recently described as the main strategic threat to Israel from the Strip.

The fact that this demolition was preceded by three similar operations, Hamas’ measured response to the systematic destruction of its most important weapon and the promises that the tunnel threat will disappear within a year only heightened the feeling that we are on the right path. The statement to Arab media outlets by the coordinator of government activities in the territories that “Israeli genius and the Jewish brain have found a solution to the terror tunnels” gave Israelis the good feeling that we are indeed “all that.”

The combination of military achievements in Gaza with the routine damage to Iranian and Hezbollah military assets in Syria, also to little real response, makes us feel our security situation has never been better. Add to this the most supportive U.S. administration in Israeli history, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ words of desperation and frustration, and there’s cause for celebration. In September 2016 Haaretz then-analyst Ari Shavit wrote that our security situation was never better, and since then it’s only improved.

But this optimistic feeling ignores an important element. Hezbollah’s enormous rocket stores pose an unprecedented threat to Israel. Defense officials judge that in the first days of the next confrontation with Hezbollah, 3,000 to 4,000 rockets will be fired into Israel, some of them highly precise and with high payloads.

If the threat is realized, there be hundreds or thousands of casualties and significant damage to infrastructure: airports, seaports, power stations, desalination plants, transportation hubs and the like. Hezbollah’s missiles are capable of hitting not only has enough rockets to hit not only the Kirya military center in Tel Aviv but also the upscale neighborhoods around it. The military response to the threat is only partial, and it cannot prevent most of the damage.

In other words, our security situation has never been worse. In 1948, when Egyptian planes bombed Tel Aviv, killing dozens, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion believed the public would stand it. It’s hard to imagine today’s spoiled, hedonist Tel Avivians withstanding a much heavier assault. In 1948 we knew why we were fighting; today the issues are much less clear. It could spark Israel’s worst crisis ever, surpassing even the one following the Yom Kippur War.

This situation is not divinely ordained. The secret of Zionism’s success for most of its history was its ability to solve challenges that seemed intractable. The problem is that today’s Israel is focusing on solving a challenge that has no military solution. Not even additional missile interception methods can prevent massive destruction deep inside Israeli territory.

Similarly technological solutions to the tunnel threat do not solve the challenge posed by the presence of two million Gazans who are driven to further despair with each demolished tunnel. Every additional bombing in Syria or destruction of a tunnel in Gaza increases the pressure to retaliate on the other side, to a point where it might explode. Without Hezbollah’s ballistic capabilities such an explosion may not have been so terrible, but given their presence the consequences could be unimaginably difficult.

The solution to the growing dangers has long been on our doorstep, but our leaders will not even consider it. On December 13 the president of Iran, the state behind the ballistic threat to Israel, signed a document stating “we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 4 June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Ash-Sharif as its capital. We support peace based on a two-state solution. The borders of Jerusalem will be determined in negotiations. … we support, as a strategic choice, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which was adopted in 2005 by an extraordinary Islamic summit conference.”

President Hassan Rohani signed this document at a session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul. Apart from one analysis by Akiva Eldar on the Al-Monitor website, there was no reference in the Israeli media to this change in Iran’s position. Iran had never before expressed support for the Arab Peace Initiative. This pivot is a game-changer, and also a reflection of slogans heard in the recent wave of demonstrations in Iran, calling on the state’s leaders to spend less on Hezbollah, Syria and the Gaza Strip and more on domestic needs.

Again, in the absence of the stick wielded by Hezbollah it wouldn’t be so terrible for Israel to ignore the new Iranian carrot, but the existence of this stick makes ignoring the Arab Peace Initiative irresponsible.

On the eve of the Yom Kippur War we believed our situation had never been so good. This is what we believe now. We know how it ended then. This time it may end up much worse.

Uri Bar-Joseph is a professor in the international relations department of the University of Haifa.

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Hamas MP rearrested by Israel

January 22, 2018

An Israeli soldier fires teargas toward Palestinians during clashes following a demonstration in support of Palestinian prisoners in Nabi Saleh near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP)
RAMALLAH: Israel rearrested a Palestinian parliamentarian from the Islamist movement Hamas on Monday, the Palestinian Prisoners Club said.
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Omar Abdul Razek, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was arrested by Israeli forces in the town of Salfit in the northern occupied West Bank overnight, the prisoners club said in a statement.
He was only released in November, it added.
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Image result for Omar Abdul Razek, photos, Israel, Hamas
Omar Abdul Razek
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There was no immediate confirmation from Israeli officials, with the Shin Bet security agency denying they had made arrests overnight. The army declined to comment on specific cases.
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The Palestinian Legislative Council last held elections in 2006 and has not met fully since 2007 due to internal political disputes.
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Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is considered a terrorist organization by the Jewish state, the United States and others.
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In total 12 members of the 132-member council are currently jailed by Israel, the Prisoners Club said.
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Israel Frets Over Hamas’ New Front – Hamas and Hezbollah working in unison

January 21, 2018

The ‘sudden friendship’ between a senior Hamas official and Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has Israel’s defense chief on his toes

Haaretz
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Hamas militants attend a funeral in the Gaza Strip, January 12, 2018.
Hamas militants attend a funeral in the Gaza Strip, January 12, 2018.\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

A week ago, a Hamas operative, Mohammed Hamdan, was injured in an explosion while he was getting into his car in Sidon in southern Lebanon. Lebanese media outlets accused Israel of an assassination attempt. Israel, as usual, refrained from commenting, except for a wisecrack by Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz, who said in a radio interview that if this had been an Israeli operation, the man would not have come out alive.

But meanwhile, it is Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has been alluding to events in Lebanon in statements he’s made over the past few days. Lieberman did not specifically mention the assassination attempt. But while visiting a soldier injured in a clash in Jenin, Lieberman said on Friday that Hamas, “which is finding it difficult to launch operations from the Gaza Strip, is in a very tough spot. It is therefore trying to open new fronts…first and foremost in southern Lebanon.”

Lieberman added: “What should be worrisome is their attempt to develop terror infrastructure in southern Lebanon and also trying from there to threaten Israelall this sudden friendship between the senior Hamas representative, Salah Arouri, and [HezbollahSecretary General Hassan] Nasrallah, is something we’re watching carefully and any developments there will be met with an appropriate response.”

Image result for Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivers a speech. (photo credit REUTERS), photos

Hassan Nasrallah

Arouri, who according to Israel is Hamas’ coordinator of terror attacks abroad, and is also in charge of deploying Hamas terror squads in the West Bank from the outside, has for the past year been shuttling between Qatar and Turkey. He left the West Bank in 2010 after he was released from lengthy administrative detention. The Shin Bet security service consented to his release on condition that he leave the territories. Since then he’s been moving between various countries in the region – Jordan, Syria and Turkey, settling eventually in Qatar. After Israeli complaints and American pressure on Qatar, Arouri moved to Lebanon, although he sometimes stays in Qatar.

Already as early as 2014 Hamas was reportedly interested in using the refugee camps in southern Lebanon to create another front from which to threaten Israel in a confrontation. During the conflict between Israel and Gaza in the summer of that year, a few rockets were indeed fired at the Galilee from southern Lebanon.

Nasrallah also addressed the car bomb incident in a speech on Friday. “All signs indicate that Israel is responsible for the explosion in Sidon,” Nasrallah said, adding: “There must be no compromise about this and Israel must not be allowed to play freely in the Lebanese court. The incident marks a dangerous beginning on the security level in Lebanon.”

The Lebanese press reported over the weekend that the country’s intelligence services identified the suspects in the action – including a Lebanese citizen who lives in the Netherlands and had already fled Lebanon – and that they found two vehicles that allegedly belong to the assassins. In November, the Lebanese media also reported the arrest of a Lebanese citizen in the south, on suspicion of spying for Israel.

In the middle of the last decade, a series of assassinations of Palestinian terrorists took place in Lebanon that were attributed to Israel. It was claimed at the time that the perpetrators were Lebanese locals deployed by Israeli intelligence. In 2008, the Lebanese authorities uncovered a large network of Lebanese citizens arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel for years.

West Bank coordination

Lieberman also said on Friday that Hamas was seeking alternative fronts to the Gaza Strip, where Israel believes that the organization’s leadership does not want a direct military confrontation at this time. Efforts are still underway in the West Bank to apprehend one of the suspected members of the terror squad that murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach of the Havat Gilad outpost earlier this month. One of the members of the squad was killed in the clash in Jenin and two other suspects were arrested. The Shin Bet security service said it believes the fourth suspect managed to elude them.

Image may contain: 3 people

Mahmoud Abbas

The squad, whose members come from Jenin, was established by members of various organizations and included a Hamas man. It seems that the organizations’ commands outside the West Bank are allowing their operatives to collaborate in an effort to increase terror attacks in the area, in places under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. Despite PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ belligerent speeches in recent weeks, security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian organizations that answer to Abbas is continuing.

Attempted Car-ramming Attack in West Bank Leaves One Israeli Soldier Wounded

January 19, 2018

This is a breaking news story

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An attempt car-ramming attack in the West Bank has left on Israeli soldier lightly wounded on Friday.

According to initial reports from the army, a Palestinian car approached the baptism site in Qasr el Yahud, a popular tourist destination in the Jordan Valley. After being refused entry, the Palestinians ran into the soldiers, hurting one. The forces arrested the driver and he is now in interrogation.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/attempted-car-ramming-attack-in-west-bank-wounds-idf-soldier-1.5746950?utm_source=Push_Notification&utm_medium=web_push&utm_campaign=General

Image result for baptism site , Qasr el Yahud, photos

Jesus Baptismal Site, River Jordan

Israel: Annexation of the West Bank Would Lead to Endless Civil War

January 18, 2018

Israel’s right, which prides itself on its realism regarding the peace process, has become surprisingly optimistic about the possibility of coexistence

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Israeli soldiers deploy following a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as lsrael's capital, Hebron, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.
Israeli soldiers deploy following a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as lsrael’s capital, Hebron, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP

For years the left, myself included, claimed that there would be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in the very near future. And then, if we surrendered to the dream of a Greater Israel, Israel would not be able to remain Jewish and democratic. Without a Jewish majority we would have to choose between two non-Zionist options: Jewish apartheid or a non-Jewish democracy.

This argument is somewhat formalistic; reality is less geometric. It’s not clear when the decisive moment of formal annexation would arrive, and when exactly we would be forced to make this clear choice between apartheid and a non-Jewish democracy. It may be possible to continue living in uncertainty for a long time, with a military regime in the territories that would always be considered temporary. We would probably not be able to do it forever, but it could conceivably last decades.

And of course the option of a non-Jewish democracy is purely theoretical. If there is an Arab majority here, there will be an Arab government here, which according to a relatively optimistic forecast would resemble the corrupt dictatorship of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But it’s certainly probable that it would be much worse, something like the Hamas regime in Gaza.

But despite the formalistic nature of the demographic argument, it held much sway, even on the right – until it turned out that the forecast was mistaken. First, we removed Gaza from the story already in 2005. Second, it turns out that the entire argument is based on inflated numbers supplied by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and on significant research errors.

It turns out that the gloomy forecasts about a loss of the Jewish majority have been refuted time after time. In a January 6, 2015 article on Mida, an Israeli current affairs and opinion website, demographer Yaakov Feitelson counted nine times in which the prophecy of the loss of the Jewish majority had to be put off.

In addition, as analyst Yoram Ettinger notes, Arab birth rates are declining and Jewish birth rates are increasing. According to Ettinger, the number of Arabs in Judea and Samaria is not 3 million, as the Palestinians claim, but 1.8 million, almost exactly the same as the number of Arab citizens of Israel (according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics in September 2017).

Ettinger’s optimistic forecasts are disputed by the army, among others, but they were enthusiastically adopted by the right, parts of which were happy to declare that there is no demographic problem. This kind of optimism had become a tailwind for settlements entitled to prevent any future separation between the two peoples.

But suppose we accept Ettinger’s numbers as facts, do they mean that Israel could safely annex Judea and Samaria?

Hardly. Doubling the number of Arab citizens in Israel would decisively tip the balance and make Israel a binational rather than a nation-state. The full political weight of this minority, if it organized effectively, could reach 48 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Does anyone seriously imagine that the Jewish state would continue to be Jewish with an Arab Joint List that would eclipse in size any Zionist party?

Moreover, the population added to the existing minority is one that has undergone anti-Semitic brainwashing for generations, and we can assume that compared to the new representatives who would emerge from it, the controversial Arab MK Haneen Zoabi would seem like an advocate of peace and coexistence. And I still haven’t mentioned what all this would do to Israel’s economy.

It’s amazing how the right, which prides itself on its (justified) realism when it comes to the Palestinians’ malicious intentions regarding the peace process, has suddenly become so optimistic about the possibility of coexistence when it sees the possibility of annexation. This optimism has no basis in reality. Over the long term annexation means a Bosnian situation. We will then not be debating the virtues of a non-Jewsh democracy versus a Jewish apartheid. We will be too busy fighting an endless civil war.

Murderer of West Bank Rabbi Killed in Overnight Raid by Israeli Special Forces

January 18, 2018

The Palestinian Health Ministry confirms man killed is Ahmed Nasser Jarrar, allegedly involved in last week’s drive-by shooting near Havat Gilad

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An amalgamation of Israeli forces raid the house of Ahmed Jarrar in Jenin on January 17, 2018.
An amalgamation of Israeli forces raid the house of Ahmed Jarrar in Jenin on January 17, 2018.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Israeli security forces raided a house in the Jenin refugee camp Wednesday night and killed Ahmed Nasser Jarrar, one of those involved in last week’s drive-by shooting that killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach near the Havat Gilad outpost in the West Bank.

According to Palestinian sources, two other people who may have helped Jarrar during, prior to, or after the attack have been killed. However, their level of involvement is unclear. Two Israeli officers were injured in the midst of fighting, one severely and one moderately. Both were taken to the hospital and the critically wounded soldier has stabilized.

During the raid, in which the intention was to arrest suspects, Palestinian eyewitnesses say the IDF destroyed Jarrar’s home where suspects were barricading themselves. Several suspects were arrested, and hundreds of Palestinians clashed with security forces in the area following the raid.

Ahmed Nasser Jarrar, the Palestinian killed in a gunfight at Jenin.
Khamed Nasser Jarrar, the Palestinian killed in a gunfight at Jenin.

In recent days, Israeli security forces have made significant headway in the investigation into last week’s attack and were able to trace the attackers’ escape route from the outpost to the building in which the suspects were hiding. A firefight ensued when security forces arrived at the scene.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, a Jenin hospital is treating four people injured in the clashes, three moderately by live fire and one with light wounds.

Palestinians clash with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin on January 18, 2018.
Palestinians clash with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin on January 18, 2018.Majdi Mohammed/AP

A father of six, Shevach, 35, was killed by shots fired from a car traveling along the West Bank‘s main highway last Wednesday. The Israeli military said that Shevach was driving on Route 60, the main highway in the West Bank, when his vehicle was targeted by gunmen in a passing car.

The health ministry also confirmed the Palestinian killed in Jenin was Ahmed Jarrar. His father, Nasser Jarrar, was active in the Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, and was killed in 2002 during the second intifada.

People look through the rubble of the house of Palestinian gunman Ahmed Jarrar following Israeli military operations in the West Bank city of Jenin on January 18, 2018.
People look through the rubble of the house of Palestinian gunman Ahmed Jarrar following Israeli military operations in the West Bank city of Jenin on January 18, 2018.Majdi Mohammed/AP

Hamas said in an official statement that “the heroes in Jenin broke the equation of surrender that Israel has tried to impose on the Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the news of the gunman’s death Thursday morning, saying “We will reach anyone who tries to harm Israeli citizens in the State of Israel.”

FILE PHOTO: Security forces in the West Bank in 2016.
FILE PHOTO: Security forces in the West Bank in 2016.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded as well, saying: “Last night security forces launched a complex and successful operation to capture the murderers of Rabbi Rziel Shevach. I congratulate the fighters for their courage and wish the wounded a recovery. The terrorists cannot hide; we will capture terrorists everywhere.”

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.

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 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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