Posts Tagged ‘West Bank’

Israel plans to expand West Bank settlements with 2,500 new homes

May 24, 2018

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday he would request approval from a planning committee for the building of 2,500 new homes in 30 settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“The 2,500 new units we’ll approve in the planning committee next week are for immediate construction in 2018,” Lieberman said in a statement, adding he would also seek the committee’s approval for a further 1,400 settlement units for later construction.

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A view of the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit on February 14, 2018. (AFP Photo)

“We will promote building in all of Judea and Samaria, from the north to south, in small communities and in large ones,” Lieberman wrote, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

“In the coming months we will bring forward thousands more units for approval.”

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials, who have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous country.

In a Tuesday appeal to the International Criminal Court, the Palestinian foreign ministry called Israeli settlements “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods”.

While Israel would expect to retain certain settlements in any two-state peace deal, longstanding international consensus has been that their status must be negotiated.

Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider settlements that Israel has built in territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war to be illegal.

Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.

https://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2018/05/24/israel-plans-to-expand-illegal-west-bank-settlements-with-2500-new-homes

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Ahead of planned mass riots, Israel warns Gazans: ‘Don’t be Hamas’s puppets’

May 14, 2018

IDF drops leaflets telling Palestinians the terror group is endangering their lives, stealing their money; army ignites tire piles along border to prevent their use by protesters

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Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City on May 11, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City on May 11, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli military aircraft dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip early Monday morning warning Palestinians to keep away from the fence separating the coastal enclave from Israel, the IDF said, ahead of mass demonstrations slated for later in the day.

“A few minutes ago, IDF jets once again distributed leaflets warning against approaching the security fence, attempting to sabotage it or to carry out terror attacks,” the army’s spokesperson office tweeted.

The Arabic leaflets also told residents of the coastal enclave that the Hamas terror group which rules the strip was endangering their lives.

“Hamas is trying to hide its many failures by endangering your lives,” the leaflets said. “At the same time, Hamas is stealing your money and using it to dig tunnels at your expense.”

View image on Twitter

IDF

@IDFSpokesperson

A few minutes ago, IDF jets once again distributed leaflets warning against approaching the security fence, attempting to sabotage it or to carry out terror attacks

One leaflet urged residents, “Don’t be puppets in the hands of Hamas.”

The message from Israel was that the people of Gaza deserve better.

“You deserve a better government and a better future,” the leaflets read. “The IDF is warning you against approaching the security fence.”

The last line was a strong warning to keep away from the border. “Do not approach the security fence and do not participate in Hamas’s life-threatening farce,” the army said.

Meanwhile the army fired at and ignited piles of tires prepared by demonstrators neat the border, Hadashot news reported, in order to burn them prematurely and prevent demonstrators from using them later to create a smokescreen.

The IDF is gearing up for fierce “March of Return” protests along the Gaza security fence, with more than 100,000 Palestinians expected to take part, and potentially as many as 200,000, something that would indicate a major victory for the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza and has co-opted for its own ends what were originally slated to be weeks of nonviolent protests.

IDF

@IDFSpokesperson

A few minutes ago, IDF jets once again distributed leaflets warning against approaching the security fence, attempting to sabotage it or to carry out terror attacks pic.twitter.com/dJcBcUYiiz

IDF

@IDFSpokesperson

This is what is written on the leaflets pic.twitter.com/s88z1P83QM

View image on Twitter

The protests are set for Monday to coincide with the move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The army’s primary fear during the expected riots is that dozens or hundreds of Palestinians, including Hamas members, will manage to break through the Gaza security fence and wreak havoc in one of the Israeli communities on the other side, attacking residents, starting fires, and destroying buildings.

The military believes Hamas will focus its energies on this style of mass, chaotic attack, but the IDF is also preparing for more direct armed combat, including attacks on troops along the border, or kidnappings of IDF soldiers, as has happened along the Gaza border in years past.

On Sunday, the military released video footage showing Hamas removing its positions along the border, which the army believes is meant to signal that the rioters will not be restrained by the ruling terror group.

https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GJuhhbgo-U4CTA3JQ.html

It also warned Hamas seeks to destroy homes, torch farmland and massacre “innocent men, women, and children.”

The past seven Fridays have seen thousands of Gazans taking part in the “March of Return” rallies.

During these violent protests, Palestinians hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails at IDF troops, roll burning tires at the security fence or try to pull it down with chains. Bombs have been detonated against troops as well. Increasingly, demonstrators have been flying kites laden with containers of burning fuel to start fires in Israel.

Israel’s Channel 10 news showed clips Sunday from what it said were new Hamas videos in which young Gazans were urged into battle against Israel: “Youngsters of the Palestinian revolt… Jerusalem is waiting for your revolution. So show it your firm determination in battle,” one clip urged.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh traveled to Cairo ahead of the protests to meet with Egyptian intelligence officers, who were expected to call on him to keep the demonstrations from getting out of control.

The IDF, however, is not relying on Egypt’s persuasive powers and has dispatched two additional brigades to take positions along the Gaza border ahead of the anticipated riots. A third brigade was also deployed to the West Bank, the army said.

“The IDF’s preparation includes the additional deployment of a number of combat battalions to the Gaza border, special forces, intelligence collection units, and snipers. In addition, the Central Command will also receive additional combat battalions and intelligence collection teams as reinforcement,” the army said on Sunday.

Additional soldiers have also been deployed to provide extra security to Israeli communities near the Gaza border.

Military Intelligence does not believe that Hamas is currently interested in war, but expects that the coming days may see significant violence at the Gaza border.

According to Israeli military assessments, Hamas is in dire straits, facing the most significant pressure since seizing control of Gaza over a decade ago. The terror organization sees the “March of Return” riots as a way to buy time.

The “March of Return” gets its name from the “right of return” demanded by millions of Palestinians to go back to their ancestral villages, something no Israeli government would accept, as it would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

According to the Hamas health ministry, around 50 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30, and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained from acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.

Initially, the IDF believed that these protests would reach their peak with Nakba Day on May 15, but Military Intelligence assessments now indicate that Hamas will seek to “piggyback” on the spectacle of Monday’s US Embassy move in order to draw international attention to their cause.

The officer from the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories unit said Sunday that Hamas has recently taken steps to increase the stress on Gaza residents, most recently by barring Gaza fisherman from working beginning on Monday.

But more dramatically, during the latest border protests on Friday, the COGAT officer said Hamas members directed rioters to destroy and set fire to key parts of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the main, often sole, passage for commercial goods and humanitarian aid into and out of the Gaza Strip. Gas lines were trashed and tens of millions of shekels of damage was caused.

 

An Islamist terror group, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand since it would spell the end of Israel’s Jewish majority.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/ahead-of-planned-mass-riots-israel-warns-gazans-dont-be-hamass-puppets/

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Israel to boost Gaza border, West Bank forces for US embassy move

May 13, 2018

The Israeli army said it would almost double the number of troops surrounding the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank to tackle Palestinian protests against Monday’s controversial opening of a US embassy in Jerusalem.

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AFP

Three additional infantry brigades will be deployed next week, two around the Gaza Strip and one in the West Bank, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters on Saturday.

The move nearly doubles the number of fighting units currently serving, he said, without giving specific figures on troops to be deployed.

The announcement does not concern Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where responding to protests is the responsibility of the police.

US President Donald Trump will not attend the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, but his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner will.

A signature campaign promise, Trump’s December announcement of the embassy move led to major protests in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinians consider the eastern part of the city as their capital.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to protest along the Gaza border Monday, with the strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas voicing support in recent days for attempts to breach the fence into Israel.

“What’s the problem with hundreds of thousands breaking through a fence that is not a border?” the organisation’s Gaza head Yahya Sinwar said, arguing Israel has never defined its borders.

Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting for seven weeks to be able to return to their historic homes they fled in 1948 and which later became part of Israel.

A 15-year-old teenager who was shot in the head Friday succumbed to his wounds on Saturday evening, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said.

The death brought to 54 the number of Palestinians killed since clashes began on March 30, with hundreds of others injured.

No Israelis have been injured.

Israel has vowed to use the necessary force to prevent any breach on Monday and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a pretext to carry out attacks.

On Saturday Conricus said the rules of engagement had not been changed.

The United Nations and the European Union have called for an independent investigation into the deaths, but the Jewish state has rebuffed them.

The United States has defended its ally and accused Hamas of using Palestinians, including children, as human shields by encouraging them to protest along the border.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Separately Saturday Israeli aircraft carried out a number of strikes against what the army said was a Hamas attack tunnel near the Gaza border.

AFP

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Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas re-elected as chairman of PLO executive committee — Despite heat over anti-Semitic remarks

May 4, 2018

Abbas is thought to have achieved most of his goals at the meeting. Palestinians show no sign of wanting genuine peace accord with Isreal. Hamas, Hezbollah still considered terrorist groups by many…

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Reuters)
  • Hamas, dismissed the four-day session as a ‘clapping party’ for Abbas

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Executive Committee on Friday, as the veteran leader sought to renew his legitimacy while installing loyalists who he hopes will eventually continue his legacy.

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The expected reappointment came at the end of a four-day meeting by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. The PNC chose a new Executive Committee, the most senior body of the PLO.

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“Members of the PLO Executive Committee consulted among themselves and decided to elect brother Abu Mazen (Abbas) as the chairman of the Executive Committee,” said Azzam Al-Ahmad, a staunch ally of Abbas who was among nine new people elected to the 15-member committee.

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The PNC was convened by Abbas in part to forge a strategy in response to US President Donald Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the US embassy to the city.

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The first PNC meeting in 22 years was overshadowed by criticism of Abbas’s opening speech on Monday, which drew accusations of anti-Semitism.

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The new Executive Committee was not elected but were chosen by consultation with the PLO factions who took part.

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Abbas, 82, is thought to have achieved most of his goals at the meeting, including the removal from the committee of some of his rivals, including Yasser Abed Rabbo and former Palestinian Authority prime minister and negotiator Ahmed Qurei.

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Abbas left the door open for other factions who boycotted the session, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to win one of three seats that have yet to be filled.

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He also said that a rival Islamist group such as Hamas was welcome to come on board “if it accepted the national unity and if it accepted the PLO.”

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Hamas and Islamic Jihad boycotted the meeting, along with some PLO factions.

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Some did not want to attend an event held in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and others wanted the meeting postponed to allow for greater consultation and more time for reconciliation between the two main rival factions, Hamas and Fatah.

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The leader of Abbas’s most powerful rival, Hamas, dismissed the four-day session as a “clapping party” for Abbas.

Reuters

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Israel arrests Hamas agents for smuggling cash into the West Bank for terror activity, support suicide attacks

May 3, 2018

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency on Thursday announced the arrest of two Hamas activists in the West Bank on suspicion of receiving thousands of Euros of funding for the terrorist organization.

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
 MAY 3, 2018 12:43

 950 Hezbollah operatives, 300 Hamas members in Germany – intelligence report

 Three Hamas men from Jerusalem indicted for planning shooting attack

Bir Zeit

Palestinian students supporting Hamas stand next to mock Hamas rockets during a rally celebrating their winning of the student council election at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 23, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency on Thursday announced the arrest of two Hamas activists in the West Bank on suspicion of receiving thousands of Euros of funding for the terrorist organization.

According to a statement by the security agency, 24-year-old Hamas operative Omar Kiswani from the West Bank village of Beit Iksa was arrested in a joint undercover operation by the Shin Bet, the Israel Police and the IDF on March 7, and brought in for questioning by security authorities.

Kiswani’s arrest was caught on camera and widely shared on social networks. The video showed men in civilian clothes carrying pistols wrestling Kiswani to the ground, one kicking him as he was on the ground. The men are also seen pointing their pistols toward onlookers and shots are heard towards the end of the clip.

The Shin Bet investigation showed that Kiswani made contact with Hamas activist Yassin Rabi’a, who had been expelled to the Gaza Strip as part of the Schalit deal, as well as with Hamas operatives in Turkey in order to ask for funds to promote Hamas activity at Birzeit University.

Yassin transferred a total sum of €150,000, which had been hidden in a number of locations throughout the West Bank, to Kiswani, who collected the money along with his friend and fellow Hamas activist, 20-year-old Yahya Alawi.

The two are suspected of using the funds to promote Hamas activity. The investigation by the Shin Bet security agency found a “deep involvement of Hamas operatives in Turkey and the Gaza Strip” who were working on attempts to promote Hamas activity in the West Bank.

“This is another expression of the efforts of the Hamas headquarters in Turkey and the Gaza Strip to accelerate activity in the West Bank. They launder funds and hide them in many locations throughout the West Bank,” read the statement, adding that the exposure and arrest of the two men who studied at Birzeit University “once again points to the great importance that the Hamas headquarters attaches to student activity. Actions within the university’s walls serve as a main tool for recruiting and training Hamas operatives in the West Bank.”

In 2017, a Hamas cell, led by members located in the Gaza Strip, recruited students at Birzeit university to carry out suicide attacks.

Following Kiswani’s arrest, Birzeit Univesity released a statement saying that the arrest was a violation of international humanitarian law.

“This is not the first violent intrusion by Israeli army forces, who systematically invade the university’s campus – even though it is specifically protected under international humanitarian law,” it said.

“The kidnappers, carrying firearms in their backpacks, entered the campus during working hours and attacked the student in front of the Student Council Building, located at the center of the campus. The operatives forced and pinned the student to the ground while firing their weapons, endangering lives.”

https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Israel-arrests-Hamas-agents-smuggling-cash-for-university-terror-activity-553379

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Palestinian Liberation Organization Convenes National Council

April 30, 2018

Palestinian National Council has not held a regular session since 1996. A special session was held in 2009. President Mahmoud Abbas, elected to a four-year term in 2005, is seen to be seeking to further centralize power within the institutions he controls

Image result for Mahmoud Abbas, photos

RAMALLAH: The Parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) convenes for the first time in decades on Monday.

The three-day meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in the West Bank city of Ramallah is unlikely to produce major policy shifts, but it will elect the 18 members of the PLO’s executive committee that effectively forms President Mahmoud Abbas’ Cabinet, analysts said.

More than 100 of the 740-member body will be absent, including dozens allied to Hamas — the largest Palestinian party behind Abbas’s Fatah — who have signed a letter opposing the meeting.

On Saturday, Hamas called on Abbas to postpone the assembly until unity was reached between rival factions.

The meeting comes as relations between Abbas and US President Donald Trump’s administration have broken down ahead of the controversial relocation of the US Embassy, which is set to open in the divided holy city of Jerusalem on May 14.

In Hamas-run Gaza, more than 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 30.

The PNC has not held a regular session since 1996. A special session was held in 2009.

The session is expected to begin on Monday night with a lengthy speech from Abbas in which the 82-year-old is likely to address the embassy move, among other topics.

His rhetoric has become more agitated as relations with the US have worsened since Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That move broke with a decades-old international consensus that the holy city’s status should only be determined in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians see annexed east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

In March, Abbas called US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a Trump appointee and long-time supporter of Israeli settlements.

His position is weakened by the ongoing split with Hamas, which rules Gaza, after a reconciliation deal collapsed.

Analysts say Abbas, elected to a four-year term in 2005, is seeking to further centralize power within the institutions he controls.

Hugh Lovatt, a regional expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said he expected the meeting to “mark a further milestone in Abbas’s consolidation of power and marginalization of political rivals.”

The names selected for the executive committee will be seen as a key indicator of who is in favor in moderate Palestinian politics, Lovatt added, and even “provide an indicator of frontrunners in the race to succeed Abbas.”

Abbas will be one of three representatives of Fatah, along with long-time chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Azzam Al-Ahmed, negotiator of the failed reconciliation agreement with Hamas.

Seven smaller parties, excluding Hamas, will each nominate a candidate, while eight independents will also be selected.

At least 10 of the current 18 committee members are expected to be replaced.

The split with Hamas has made elections impossible, so he has remained in power without a mandate.

AFP

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1293831/middle-east

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Palestinian National Council Starts Monday: Proposes a chance to forge a united front against Israel and the United States — But Abbas’ opposition isn’t happy

April 29, 2018

Political rivals accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday of pushing ahead with a rare and disputed national decision-making meeting to tighten his grip on power and sideline them.

Abbas has billed Monday’s convening of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), a 700-member assembly within the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organisation, as a chance to forge a united front against Israel and the United States.

Reuters

Image result for Mahmoud Abbas, photos

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

But the event in Ramallah, the Palestinian hub in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has revived old feuds between Abbas’s Fatah party and rivals from Islamist and other factions, many of whose members cannot attend due to Israeli restrictions.

Last week, 109 PNC members urged Abbas to postpone the meeting to allow greater participation. The call went unheeded, and on Sunday, censure of the president became more pointed.

“The PNC meeting that will be held in Ramallah is not legitimate, is factional, and does not represent all of the Palestinians,” Mushir Al-Masri, a lawmaker with the Islamist group Hamas, told reporters at a meeting of PNC critics in Gaza.

Image result for Palestinian National Council, photos

The Gaza Strip, under de facto Hamas control since 2007, has been a focus of Palestinian infighting. Though Hamas formally resubmitted to Abbas’s authority last year, their reconciliation has been held up by disputes over power-sharing.

“We stress the need to regain Palestinian unity and end the policy of exclusion and unilateralism by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and its hijacking of Palestinian institutions,” said Masri.

Khader Habib of Islamic Jihad, a Hamas political ally, accused Abbas of “holding the PNC meeting to stress his exclusion of all those who oppose him”.

 Image result for Palestinian National Council, photos

“The president is keen for the conference to bring about only decisions that suit his own project,” Habib told Reuters.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad oppose Abbas’ strategy of peace talks with Israel. However, diplomacy has been on hold since 2014 and many Palestinians’ views have hardened over U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition late last year of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The PNC last met in extraordinary session in 2009 to replace several members of the PLO’s Executive Committee. It last held a regular session in 1996.

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

Earlier on Sunday dozens of masked youths gathered on the Palestinian side of the Gaza Strip’s main crossing with Israel, threatening to block any PNC official from leaving for the West Bank to attend Monday’s session.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israel says 15 Hamas operatives arrested in West Bank raid

April 22, 2018

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JERUSALEM: The Israeli military says it has arrested 15 Hamas operatives in an overnight West Bank raid.

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The military says Sunday those captured are suspected of collaborating with a well-known Hamas operative from Gaza to spread its activities to the West Bank, which is governed by the rival Fatah movement. The raid comes after Hamas accused Israel of assassinating one of its men in Malaysia and amid a wave of mass protests along the Gaza border that have turned violent.

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In three weeks of protests, Israeli troops have killed 32 Palestinians and wounded some 1,600. Hamas says the protests are against a decade-long blockade of the isolated strip. Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and only targeting instigators. It says Hamas uses the protests as cover for attacks.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1289226/middle-east

The Associated Press

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Peace and Freedom Comment: Should  Israel be forced into a greater conflict with Iran, it doesn’t want an active Hamas on its border. It would prefer Fatah ran the show of the Palestinians. Whether this can be achieved is unknown.

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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White House Officials Tell Haaretz Peace Plan Still on the Agenda – and Could Surprise Skeptics

April 2, 2018

Haaretz

The Trump administration thought recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would ultimately push the process forward

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President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, March 5, 2018
President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, March 5, 2018Evan Vucci/AP

Last December, in the days before President Donald Trump’s speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the two White House officials in charge of his Middle East peace plan – Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt – were busy working the phones. They put out calls to foreign diplomats, senior journalists and influential policy experts in Washington, signaling one clear message: The Jerusalem move isn’t going to harm the administration’s peace plan. To the contrary, they argued: Time will prove that the historic and controversial move only strengthened it.

Kushner and Greenblatt were aware of the anger the speech was going to create on the Palestinian side. They braced themselves for what the administration defined as a “cooling off period” with the Palestinians. But they rejected any notion of a crisis in their peace efforts, and insisted that after emotions calm down, negotiations will remain the best route for all the parties involved in the conflict.

“They had it all figured out – they could clearly draw a scenario of how this decision would cause some obstacles in the near future, but make things easier down the line,” said a person who received a call from the White House before the Jerusalem announcement, and asked not to be named.

Another person briefed by the administration less than 24 hours before Trump’s speech told Haaretz, “They didn’t outright say it, but you could read between their sentences that they believed this would make Israeli concessions more likely in the future. I believe them that they truly thought this would turn out to be a positive thing for the peace process.”

Today, almost four months after the speech, resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations doesn’t look any more likely than it did before Trump’s Jerusalem announcement. The Palestinian leadership, which expressed some hope about the peace process in the first months of the Trump presidency, has been boycotting the administration ever since December. Israeli and Palestinian officials who spoke with Haaretz described the Jerusalem speech as a point that changed the trajectory of the peace talks, causing the Palestinians to swap cautious optimism for disappointment and despair.

Despite these circumstances, however, the small team within the administration that is responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian file isn’t showing any signs of giving up on the goal set forward by Trump last year: reaching “the ultimate deal,” an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. They insist a peace plan is still on the agenda – and claim it could surprise skeptics.

Last week, Kushner spent two evenings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the two spoke at length about the administration’s peace plan. A week earlier, Kushner and Greenblatt hosted representatives from 20 different countries, including Israel and many of its Arab neighbors, for an international summit focused on finding solutions for the economic and security situation in Gaza. Absent from that meeting was the Palestinian Authority, which received an invitation, but chose not to attend.

“We’re realistic. We never said this was going to be an easy lift,” one senior White House official told Haaretz last week. The same official added that the administration was continuing to work on the peace plan. In recent weeks, it has been reported that the plan is close to being finalized, yet the White House still hasn’t set a date for releasing it.

Among the issues that will determine when the plan sees the light of day are the political situation in Israel, the security situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and the fallout from the administration’s decision on whether or not to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. The administration is still hoping to see the Palestinians become part of the process, but is not ruling out publishing the plan even if the PA continues its current boycott.

The Palestinians have been stating for months that the administration is going to fully adopt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions, and release a peace plan that will be unacceptable to any Palestinian leader who wishes to survive. The senior White House official who spoke with Haaretz said these claims are false.

“We said from the beginning, we’re not going to impose a deal. We’re looking for a realistic deal that will be sellable on both sides,” the official explained, adding, “If it’s only sellable on one side, what’s the point of all the effort?”

By “sellable,” the senior official meant a deal that an Israeli and a Palestinian leader could each present to their publics and convince a significant portion that it is worth pursuing. “It needs to be something that both sides can say, ‘There are some things I don’t like about this, but it’s a realistic path.’ As the president has said, both sides are going to have to make hard compromises,” the official added.

Another White House official involved in the process said, “If we were not serious about advancing a realistic plan, we wouldn’t have invested the time and effort we did. There is no point to such investment for something that has zero chances at succeeding.”

Israeli officials who are in regular communication with the American peace team told Haaretz about two key potential obstacles to the Palestinians’ acceptance of the impending plan. One is the general skepticism on the American side about the possibility of evacuating settlements in the West Bank in the near future, a view expressed by Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a meeting he had with American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem last month. The second is the possibility that the administration will accept Netanyahu’s demand to give Israel overriding security responsibility over the entire area west of the Jordan river.

If they become part of the plan, these two positions would mean the continuation of the status quo, with all the settlements remaining in place, and the IDF continuing to be a daily presence in the lives of millions of Palestinians. There is no official indication that these ideas are indeed part of the American peace plan, and so far the administration has denied numerous reports about the plan’s contents. But if these policies are eventually adopted by the American side, the Palestinians will probably see it as a plan for maintaining the occupation, perhaps with some slight gestures to decrease its “visibility” for the average Palestinian.

The Israeli officials who spoke with Haaretz said there are indications the plan may also include things that Netanyahu won’t find easy to accept, such as a Palestinian capital in the suburbs of Jerusalem or a partial settlement freeze. The White House, it should be noted, has constantly denied reports claiming that the plan will turn Abu Dis, a town located east of Jerusalem, into the capital of a future Palestinian state. On settlements, it has stuck to one constant line – that “unrestrained” building in them is “unhelpful” to peace – and has denied reports about a more specific or nuanced policy.

In general, the White House has referred to many reports about the potential contents of the plan – including the assessments made for this report by Israeli officials – as speculation and guessing that don’t accurately reflect what they are working on.

The Israeli officials estimated that if the plan indeed includes elements that are less comfortable for Netanyahu, he will try to delay his response to it, in the hope that the Palestinians will reject it before he does, thus saving him a possible confrontation with the right-wing base of his party and coalition.

Following the Jerusalem announcement, along with Trump’s insistence that it had taken the issue of Jerusalem “off the table,” the Palestinians have expressed openness to the idea of international mediation that would include the United States, but not in a leadership position, since they no longer consider Trump an “honest broker.” Abbas outlined such a position in a speech to the United Nations last month. Palestinian and Israeli officials told Haaretz that the American team is opposing that idea, and wants to put down its plan before bringing in any potential mediation partners.

The American team was encouraged last month when King Abdullah of Jordan, one of the most outspoken Arab leaders against the Jerusalem speech, said in an interview that there was no replacement for the United States’ leading role in the peace process. Israeli officials believe, however, that overall, the Jerusalem declaration has made it more difficult for Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other countries to take a leading role in supporting the Trump peace initiative. This is something the White House strongly disputed, noting that Trump’s successful relationships with prominent leaders in the Arab world, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, are an asset for the peace team.

“The president has a very good relationship with key players in the Arab world,” the senior White House official said. “The Arabs didn’t like the Obama administration’s policies. Now, even if they didn’t like certain decisions, like the Jerusalem decision, they see that the president is a man of his word. We know that they’re essential, and that we’re not going to have a successful peace deal without their support – monetary, emotional and in other aspects.”

The administration, however, isn’t expecting the Arabs to coerce the Palestinians, and is aware of the limitations of Arab pressure in this issue. Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Haaretz last week, ahead of Trump’s meeting with Prince Mohammed, that “there is a very strong incentive for the Gulf states to get closer to Israel – mostly because of Iran – but that doesn’t mean they can force a peace plan on the Palestinians.”

The administration insists, at least publicly, that finally the decisions will have to be made by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders – and that nothing can be imposed on either side. For a Palestinian leader to accept the peace plan, however, it will have to indeed be “sellable” on the Palestinian street, as the senior White House official who spoke with Haaretz stated. “The question is, what do they define as sellable,” asked one Western diplomat who has been briefed on the administration’s efforts. “Do they realize what it would actually take for a Palestinian leader to return to negotiations with Trump after the events of the last four months?”

Netanyahu, for his part, has said on a number of occasions lately that he is not aware of any deadline for the peace plan’s publication, but that he does believe it will ultimately be released. “These are not the usual mediators,” he told some Israeli officials. “These are business people with creative ideas.” A Palestinian official seconded Netanyahu’s words, saying, “They aren’t regular negotiators – and maybe that’s the problem.”