Three Israeli settlers in the West Bank murdered, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza punished

The Guardian reports: Israeli jets and helicopters launched dozens of air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight on Monday, just hours after the bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a shallow grave near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The air strikes, ostensibly in response to an ongoing barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, came after the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, vowed the militant Islamist group Hamas, blamed by Israel for the kidnapping, would “pay a heavy price”.

The United Nations human rights office urged on Tuesday all Israelis and Palestinians to exercise “maximum restraint” as the tension across Israel and occupied Palestinian territory escalated.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, who also had US citizenship, went missing while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in settlements on the West Bank on 12 June.

Their bodies were found by soldiers and volunteers in a valley covered with stones and brush on Monday afternoon.

The air strikes, which struck 34 locations in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip that Israel says were associated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, came as troops on the West Bank killed an 18 year-old Palestinian during a raid in Jenin. Israeli authorities claim the teenager was a Hamas member who threw an explosive device at Israeli soldiers.

In Hebron, meanwhile, it was reported that the Israeli military had blown up the houses of two Hamas members named by Israel as suspects in the abduction Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh – the first punitive house demolitions since Israel halted the practice in 2005. The two men disappeared from their homes shortly after the abduction and have not been arrested.

Sheera Frenkel reports: Israeli intelligence officials… remained divided over whether Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha…had direct ties to Hamas. The Qawasmeh family, one of the better-known families in Hebron, had recently distanced itself from Hamas.

“What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation,” one Israeli officer, based in the West Bank, told BuzzFeed earlier this month.

In Hebron, local residents who knew the families of the suspects expressed doubt that Hamas was responsible, especially after the Hamas’ senior leadership distanced itself from the kidnapping.

“That family, the Qawasmehs, often acted without the knowledge or signing-off of the senior Hamas leadership,” said Mahmoud Zabir, a Palestinian resident of Hebron who knows the family well. “They were considered troublemakers, even by Hamas.”

Shlomi Eldar adds: Each time Hamas had reached an understanding with Israel about a cease-fire or tahadiyeh (period of calm), at least one member of the family has been responsible for planning or initiating a suicide attack, and any understandings with Israel, achieved after considerable effort, were suddenly laid waste. If there is a single family throughout the PA territories whose actions can be blamed for Israel’s assassination of the political leadership of Hamas, it is the Qawasmeh family of Hebron.

As Alex Kane notes, while Isreal conducted its #BringBackOurBoys campaign, it already had strong evidence that the teens were already dead but through a media gag order, kept that information secret.

It was a bid to exploit the uncertainty about the youths and strike a blow against Hamas and the unity deal the Islamist movement struck with Fatah. In the process of the Israeli operation across the occupied West Bank, hundreds were arrested, at least five Palestinians were killed and the economy — especially Hebron’s — took a big hit.

Ma’an reports: Hamas is not interested in any confrontation with Israel, but if a confrontation is imposed, the movement is ready, says a spokesman of the Islamist movement.

Sami Abu Zuhri told Ma’an that “Hamas isn’t a superpower (ready) to fight a war against Israel, harming our people.”

Asked about the disappearance and killing of three Israeli teenagers, Abu Zuhri said there was only an Israeli version of the story which the occupation is trying to employ against Hamas and the Palestinian people.

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Palestinians remain shackled by U.S. aid

Nathan Thrall writes: For a moment in early June, it seemed to many Palestinians that their political leadership was on the verge of making a historic shift. On June 2, seven years of political division—between the unelected government in the West Bank dominated by Fatah, and the elected government in Gaza controlled by the Islamist party Hamas—formally came to an end. Hamas ministers in Gaza resigned, surrendering their authority to a new government of national consensus that would rule over both Gaza and the West Bank. More important, the new government pledged to adhere to the three principles long demanded by the US and its European allies as conditions for receiving vital Western aid: non-violence; adherence to past agreements; and recognition of Israel.

But on June 12, the new Palestinian arrangement was thrown into question by the abduction of three Israeli teenagers studying at yeshivas in the West Bank. The Israeli government is holding Hamas accountable for the kidnapping, and US Secretary of State John Kerry has also accused the group, though Hamas has not claimed responsibility and so far no evidence has been provided. The resulting crackdown on Hamas by Israeli forces working in coordination with Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, meanwhile, has renewed doubts that President Mahmoud Abbas can advance Palestinians toward unity. Before the abductions, Israeli, American, and European opposition to real power-sharing between Fatah and Hamas was too great to allow meaningful Palestinian reconciliation, even if the two parties wanted it; today national unity seems more distant still.

Yet it is not obvious that this should be so. Although the US did not change its policy toward Hamas after June 2, it did give formal recognition to the new government. The reason for this recognition was not because Hamas was no longer perceived to be a terrorist organization; it was because, with the Islamist movement’s own acquiescence, the new government excluded Hamas, was stacked with ministers committed to opposing Hamas’s program, and offered Fatah a foothold in Gaza for the first time in seven years. In Gaza and the West Bank, the new government is understood by all factions to belong to Ramallah. That is no less true today than before the kidnapping. The new government contains not a single Hamas-affiliated minister and strongly resembles the previous Fatah-led government in Ramallah, retaining the same prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister, and foreign minister. It also pledged to pursue the political program of Fatah leader, PLO Chairman, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and, most importantly, to meet the three abovementioned conditions for Western aid. [Continue reading...]

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Are these the first blooms of a ‘Palestinian summer’?

Ahmad Samih Khalidi writes: The new Palestinian “reconciliation” government is first and foremost a response to an overwhelming popular desire to end the seven-year-old rift between Fatah and Hamas – a split that has inflicted deep scars on the Palestinian polity and threatened to leave Gaza in permanent secession from the West Bank.

But it also reflects a new independent-mindedness on the part of the Palestinian Authority’s leadership, and a readiness to give precedence to the Palestinian national interest above other considerations. It is of course no coincidence that the realisation of this aim has followed the collapse of the last round of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel. Long accused of passivity, and an inability to take the initiative, the Palestinians appear to have finally decided to act in their own interest without seeking prior permission from friend or foe.

This new move chimes with other “unilateral” moves designed to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN. This will change little on the ground, but the leadership believes it may slowly build up sufficient political and diplomatic momentum to help define a final resolution based on the two-state solution, otherwise unobtainable via the current negotiations. The appeal to the UN is not intended as a substitute for negotiations, but as a parallel track that involves neither threats nor force. It is also a path that Israel itself trod as a means to its own independence in 1947. [Continue reading...]

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Israel pushes West Bank toward economic disaster

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that the highest levels of anti-Semitism in the Middle East exist in the West Bank and Gaza.

These are some of the views cited as evidence of anti-Semitism among Palestinians:

Jews have too much power in the business world.
Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind.
Jews think they are better than other people.
People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.

If you’re living in territory that is held under military control by Jews, and you’re frequently abused by Jews operating military checkpoints, and your economy is being strangled by a Jewish-controlled government, is it anti-Semitic to fail to recognize that the Israelis you encounter every day and who are the representatives of the Jewish state, happen not to be representative of the Jewish people as a whole?

If the ADL or anyone else really wants to effectively combat anti-Semitism, they should perhaps pay less attention to the prejudices of non-Jews and focus more on what has become the engine fueling contemporary anti-Semitism: the actions and policies of the State of Israel.

Akiva Eldar writes: One should not put too much diplomatic stock into the threats of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sever ties with the Palestinian Authority (PA), in reaction to the inclusion of Hamas in the new Palestinian government. Even when Hamas was a pariah in Ramallah, the nine months of negotiations did not generate anything near a permanent arrangement.

The diplomatic damage will be nothing compared to the economic implications of severing contact with the PA. Turning the West Bank into an economic twin of the Gaza Strip will result in a similar situation in terms of security, as well. Initial signs of this are already evident in a new-old phenomenon of attacking Israeli journalists covering the occupied territories.

To enable Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take part in the “process,” taxpayers in the donor countries Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) have transferred some $2 billion of their finest money into the PA’s coffers. Absent even a semblance of negotiations on a solution of the conflict, the management of the conflict will become a mission impossible.

The Republican majority in the US Congress will take advantage of the alliance with Hamas to reduce or even completely void the line item of aid to the PA, which in any case is not a particular favorite with the conservatives. The heads of the EU states will have a hard time justifying to their voters continued support for the defunct peace process.

Cutting off diplomatic ties, which will damage and perhaps put an end to the security coordination, is expected to deter the handful of foreign businessmen who are considering investments in research and development in the West Bank.

An official death certificate of the September 1993 diplomatic agreement known as the “Oslo Accord” will also ring the death knell, in theory and in practice, for its economic appendix known as the Paris Protocol, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary these days. The agreement included joint taxation by Israel and the PA; its legal significance is a lack of economic boundaries between the two partners, whereas its practical significance is continued dependence of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli one. The agreement also anchored the total Palestinian dependence on Israel in everything relating to trade with the world. Implementing the “closure and blockade” method that Israel applies against the Hamas Gaza government, also on the Fatah-Hamas government in the West Bank, will turn all of the occupied territories into one big slum.

Nothing symbolizes this dependence and the implications of severing ties more than the danger of cutting off electricity. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas and the tyranny of labels

Paul Pillar writes: The Israeli prime minister says Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Actually, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made clear a much different posture, one that involves indefinite peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they officially term it only a hudna or truce. It would be more accurate to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas, an objective that Israel has demonstrated with not just its words but its deeds, including prolonged collective punishment of the population of the Gaza Strip in an effort to strangle the group. Such efforts have included large-scale violence that—although carried out overtly by military forces and thus not termed terrorism—has been every bit as lethal to innocent civilians. In such circumstances, why should Hamas be expected to be the first to go beyond the vocabulary of hudna and mouth some alternative words about the status of its adversary?

The Israeli and U.S. reactions do not seem to take account of the fact that the terms of the announced Hamas-PLO reconciliation are undetermined and still under negotiation. The agreement can involve Hamas moving much more toward the posture of Abbas and the PLO than the other way around. Palestinian Authority representatives already have indicated that there will not be a change in its fundamental stance of recognizing Israel and seeking to resolve the conflict with it peacefully through negotiations. Hamas representatives have pointed out that support for a governing coalition with an established set of policies does not require each party that is part of that government to express identical policies on its own behalf. In fact, that is true of coalition governments everywhere. The coalition government in Britain does things that you won’t find in the Liberal Democrats’ platform. [Continue reading...]

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Holocaust ‘most heinous crime’ of modern history, says Mahmoud Abbas

The Associated Press reports: The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” of modern history and expressed his sympathy for the victims – a rare acknowledgment by an Arab leader of Jewish suffering during the Nazi genocide.

Abbas’s comments appeared, in part, aimed at reaching out to Israeli public opinion at a time of deep crisis in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. The remarks were published by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA hours before the start of Israel’s annual Holocaust commemoration.

The decades-old conflict has been accompanied by mutual mistrust among Israelis and Palestinians. Many Israelis fear that Palestinians are not truly ready to accept a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and that widespread ignorance or even denial of the Holocaust among Palestinians is an expression of that attitude.

Denials of or attempts to minimise the scale of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed during the second world war, are widespread in the Arab world.

Many Palestinians fear that if they acknowledge the Holocaust they will diminish their own claims based on years of suffering, including their uprooting during Israel’s creation in 1948 and decades under Israeli occupation.

Abbas’s office said he discussed the Holocaust in a meeting with an American rabbi, Marc Schneier, who visited Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah last week. [Continue reading...]

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Observations about the Hamas-Fatah accord

Middle East Research and Information Project interviewed Mouin Rabbani: Hamas and Fatah have made efforts at reconciliation before, to no avail. Is this time for real?

It will be real if and when, and only if and when, it is implemented. The number of things that can go wrong, and developments that can lead one or both parties to reconsider their commitments, are numerous. It bears mention that many sober analysts and observers, and proponents of reconciliation, were at best conflicted about the meetings that produced this agreement because they were absolutely convinced the negotiations were either not serious or would fail, and would therefore deepen the schism.

That said, there are also reasons to consider this agreement more serious, or at least more conducive to implementation, than its predecessors. These include:

The agreement was signed with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip rather than the external leadership. Previously, and particularly after the Doha agreement signed by Mahmoud ‘Abbas and Khalid Mish‘al, opposition to reconciliation arrangements within Hamas has been led by powerful elements in the Gaza leadership, in part in keeping with their struggle to gain the upper hand within the Islamist movement, and in part because as the actual rulers of the Gaza Strip they have the most to lose in terms of power, governance and interests. This time most of the key players, including Isma‘il Haniya and Mahmoud Zahhar, personally signed the agreement. The Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip increasingly holds the balance of power within the movement and has the capacity to thwart reconciliation. The exile leadership has much less leverage these days on such matters and is in any case more open to such agreements.

Second, each of the rival parties is experiencing a serious crisis. For Hamas, the problem consists primarily of the military overthrow of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, the loss of its base in Damascus and consequent reduction of Iranian support, and pressure on the Brothers throughout the region. According to some reports, the pressure might culminate in loss of Qatari sponsorship. Egypt’s unprecedented hostility to Hamas has furthermore led to a virtual shutdown of the border crossing into Gaza Strip — particularly below ground. The government in Gaza is facing growing difficulty running the economy and, more important, experiencing budgetary problems as well.

For Fatah, the latest round of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel have produced new lows as Kerry has aligned the American position closer to the Israeli than any of his predecessors. [Continue reading...]

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Gaza wants back in from the darkness as Hamas feels the isolation

The Guardian reports: In his haberdashery, Saleem Salouha tracks the ups and downs of his business against events beyond his control.

The good times for his shop in Gaza City were when Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in power in Egypt. The bolts of cloth stacked behind Salouha came via the network of smuggling tunnels under the border at Rafah. Gazans had money too to buy his goods in the middle of a mini-economic boom.

All that, however, ended last July when Morsi was deposed in a military coup and the new regime deemed the Brotherhood as “terrorist” organisation.

Egypt accused Hamas, the Brotherhood’s sister group that rules Gaza, of contributing to the security crisis in northern Sinai and closed down the smuggling tunnels.

Now Salouha orders the same goods, but they are brought through an Israeli crossing, pushing up prices by 30%, even as half his customers have withered away.

“It is a double blockade,” Salouha says, referring to the long-term Israeli policy of limiting goods to Gaza since Hamas assumed control in 2007. He adds bitterly: “Israel and the Egyptians are competing with each other.”

The story of the Salouha shop, in business since 1962, offers a microcosm of what has happened to Gaza and Hamas since Morsi was ousted. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal

Israel’s divide-and-rule strategy is collapsing and the failure of John Kerry’s Middle East diplomacy may turn out to have been one of the Obama administration’s few successes.

BBC News reports: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have announced a reconciliation deal, saying they will seek to form a unity government in the coming weeks.

It comes as the peace talks between President Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel near collapse.

Hamas and Fatah split violently in 2007. Previous reconciliation agreements have never been implemented.

Israel’s prime minister said Mr Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

“You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so,” warned Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian officials responded by saying reconciliation is an internal matter and uniting Palestinian people would reinforce peace. [Continue reading...]

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How long before Palestinian nationalism gives way to the pursuit of equal rights inside a single state?

A Palestinian nationalist movement that has endured decades of failure is probably not about to expire. Indeed, the one thing that can be reliably inferred about the lesson of continuing failure is that failure, far from necessitating change, seems to inspire persistence.

If we have failed for this long, that’s no reason to give up now, since last year, the year before that, and the year before that, and on and on, dedication to this heroic fight has meant the willingness to enjoy no rewards.

Some might call that resistance; others might see it as an exercise in futility.

It’s perhaps worth remembering Thomas Kuhn’s succinct analysis (reiterating Max Planck) of the most common cause of a paradigm shift: the proponents of the old paradigm drop dead.

[A] new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

The New York Times reports: When President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority visited the White House this week, he again heard dire warnings that the current moment could be the last chance for a two-state solution through negotiations with Israel.

Back home in Ramallah, Mr. Abbas’s own son has been telling him that last chance is already long gone, the negotiations futile. The son, Tareq Abbas, a businessman who has long shied away from politics and spotlights, is part of a swelling cadre of prominent Palestinians advocating instead the creation of a single state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in which Jews and Arabs would all be citizens with equal rights.

“If you don’t want to give me independence, at least give me civil rights,” Mr. Abbas, 48, said in a rare interview at his well-appointed apartment here as his father headed to Washington. “That’s an easier way, peaceful way. I don’t want to throw anything, I don’t want to hate anybody, I don’t want to shoot anybody. I want to be under the law.”

President Abbas, in a separate interview last month, said Israel’s continued construction in West Bank settlements made it impossible to convince Tareq that the two-state solution was still viable.

“I said, ‘Look, my son, we are looking for two-state solution and this is the only one.’ He said, ‘Oh, my father, where is your state? I wander everywhere and I see blocks everywhere, I see houses everywhere,’ ” the elder Mr. Abbas, 78, recalled. “I say, ‘Please, my son, this is our position, we will not go for one state.’ He says, ‘This is your right to say this, and this is my right to say that.’ Because he is desperate. He doesn’t find any sign for the future that we will get a two-state solution, because on the ground he doesn’t see any different.”

Such intergenerational arguments have become commonplace in the salons of Palestinian civil society and at kitchen tables across the West Bank as the children and grandchildren of the founders of the Palestinian national movement increasingly question its goals and tactics. [Continue reading...]

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Abbas accuses Dahlan of involvement in six murders

n13-iconReuters reports: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused one of his main rivals, Mohammed Dahlan, of involvement in six murders, hinting that he might also be behind the death of former leader Yasser Arafat.

Dahlan, who lives in exile in the Gulf, denied the allegations of his arch foe Abbas, their bitter row now playing out publicly across the Palestinian media and on social media.

Once a prominent official in Abbas’s Western-backed Fatah movement, Dahlan was ousted from the group in 2011 following accusations of corruption. He denied the charges and remains a powerful figure on the sidelines, forging ties with numerous Arab leaders and maintaining links with the splintered Fatah.

Abbas lashed out at Dahlan, who is regularly cited as a possible future president, during a Fatah meeting earlier this week, with his comments later released to the press. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s military rulers plot to provoke uprising in Gaza

Reuters reports: After crushing the Muslim Brotherhood at home, Egypt’s military rulers plan to undermine the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which runs the neighboring Gaza Strip, senior Egyptian security officials told Reuters.

The aim, which the officials say could take years to pull off, includes working with Hamas’s political rivals Fatah and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza, four security and diplomatic officials said.

Since it seized power in Egypt last summer, Egypt’s military has squeezed Gaza’s economy by destroying most of the 1,200 tunnels used to smuggle food, cars and weapons to the coastal enclave, which is under an Israeli blockade.

Now Cairo is becoming even more ambitious in its drive to eradicate what it says are militant organizations that threaten its national security.

Intelligence operatives, with help from Hamas’s political rivals and activists, plan to undermine the credibility of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 after a brief civil war against the Fatah movement led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the Egyptian officials, Hamas will face growing resistance by activists who will launch protests similar to those in Egypt that have led to the downfall of two presidents since the Arab Spring in 2011. Cairo plans to support such protests in an effort to cripple Hamas.

“Gaza is next,” said one senior security official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We cannot get liberated from the terrorism of the Brotherhood in Egypt without ending it in Gaza, which lies on our borders.” [Continue reading...]

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Human tragedy unfolds as Gaza runs on empty

The Telegraph reports: The horrific scars disfigure Mona Abu Mraleel’s otherwise strikingly beautiful face. Swathes of bandages cover the injuries the 17-year-old sustained to her arms and legs in a blaze from which she narrowly escaped with her life.

Still racked by pain from burns to 40 per cent of her body, she goes to hospital on a daily basis to have her dressings changed. Specialist doctors are preparing to carry out a delicate skin graft operation in the coming days.

Yet the hospital on which her recovery depends is woefully ill-fitted to the task – riddled by equipment failures, power cuts and shortages in a mounting crisis that doctors fear is leading to a “health catastrophe”.

Mona lives in Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave where chronic fuel shortages have led to electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day and reduced ordinary life and public services to a standstill.

She is just one of many Gazans suffering in a rapidly worsening economic climate that this week prompted the British Foreign Office minister, Hugh Robertson, to demand urgent action to restore an adequate fuel supply to the territory. [Continue reading...]

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With Gulf support, Palestinian strongman attempts to reclaim power

Paul Mutter wrotes: Youth organizer turned leg-breaker, charity worker turned embezzler, and nationalist propagandist turned bargaining chip for foreign aid donors.

All three of these descriptions fit just one person: Mohammad Dahlan.

As we enter another round of “did they resign or didn’t they?” for the Palestinian negotiating team led by Saeb Erekat, for sheer chutzpah, this has to take the cake: Daoud Kattab reports that Dahlan, formerly Fatah’s enforcer-in-chief in Gaza (emphasis on “former” – more on that below) may yet return to the fold of the party that he was expelled from in 2010.

Reportedly, his reintegration into Fatah is being accomplished by the promise of Emirati foreign assistance to the PNA: Dahlan’s exile saw him take up an advisory position to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, and this is his vehicle for returning to political life in the Territories, not unlike how American aid was his vehicle for the abortive 2007 operation to disarm Hamas before it could consolidate military control over the strip.

Absent from this account of Dahlan’s coming in from the cold, though, is one important detail about Dahlan’s career, perhaps the most important one. In the institutionalization of internal Palestinian political violence, Dahlan has a strong claim to be first among equals for his actions in Gaza after Oslo. But he is the former enforcer-in-chief in Gaza precisely because his attempt to force a confrontation with Hamas after it won the 2006 elections there backfired. Even though his efforts were backed by the US, Fatah’s paramilitaries and party officials were unable to implement their plan properly, and Hamas took the initiative, meting out violence to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service (PSS) equal to that inflicted upon their own cadres by Dahlan’s forces. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas rejects Palestinian negotiations with Israel based on U.S. ‘blackmail’

Ma’an News Agency reports: Prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday called on Palestinians to oppose any new negotiations with Israel, arguing that they “jeopardize the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian people’s rights.”

“These negotiations mark the violation of the Palestinian national consensus as negotiations are carried out as a result of US pressure and blackmail,” he said, urging Palestinians to protect Jerusalem and never abandon any Palestinian right, especially the right of return of refugees.

Haniyeh made the comments during a speech delivered in Gaza City on the second anniversary of the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel which saw 1,027 Palestinian prisoners freed in a deal for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

In order to ensure the protection of Palestinian rights, “negotiations must stop and the Oslo approach must be ignored. Political forces must together find a new national strategy adopting diverse visions and means,” he continued.

“To confront any dangers or possible compromises emerging from negotiations,” added Haniyeh, “Palestinian factions and dignitaries should get together and build a Palestinian national strategy.”

This strategy, Haniyeh said, must include all possible options including armed resistance and popular resistance in addition to political and diplomatic means including academic and diplomatic divestment using all regional and international platforms.

Haniyeh also reiterated that his movement remained committed to reconciliation with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the basis of the agreements reached through Cairo dialogue.

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The death of Fatah and the future of Palestine

Dalia Hatuqa writes: After nearly a half-century of existence, Fatah has left many loyalists and critics alike pondering its accomplishments. On New Year’s Eve, the Palestinian political party — which has led the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for decades and currently holds the presidency of the Palestianian Authority (PA) — celebrated its 48th anniversary. In Ramallah, a few thousand mostly young men marched across the West Bank city to the Muqata’, the headquarters of the PA president and Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The streets were lined with the party’s younger supporters, some elderly veterans clad in military fatigues and several high-ranking members of the group’s leadership who are based in the West Bank.

As the marchers converged upon the headquarters — once a ravaged icon of the second Intifada, today it stands a revamped modern military compound — many started to trickle away. Addressing the enthusiastic group that remained, Abbas, looking every day of his 77 years, spoke of Palestinian leaders of years past. He started with Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian figure unrivaled in his persona, then moved on to Abu Jihad and Abu Eyad — both icons of Palestinian resistance — and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s late spiritual leader, whose group Fatah has been at loggerheads with since it wrested control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Abbas recited the litany of names as if lamenting his party’s failure to deliver a unifying leader since Arafat to guide Palestinians through exceptionally troubling times: a moribund peace process, dire economic circumstances brought about by dwindling international aid, mushrooming Israeli settlements, and a political and geographical rift with the Gaza Strip.

Besides the marching band and the rally, few people in town seemed aware, let alone interested, in the festivities. Discussion of the economy and the E1 Israeli settlement plan dominated TV and radio station talk shows and café conversations. On the domestic political front, Fatah hasn’t been faring as well as should be expected on its home turf. During last October’s municipal elections, only 54 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. Despite a Hamas boycott, Fatah was unable to present a unified front and many of its members broke with the party line by running on independent platforms. [Continue reading...]

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