Palestinian split widens as unity government quits

AFP reports: The Palestinian unity government formed last year in a bid to heal rifts between Hamas and president Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party resigned on Wednesday, an official said.

An aide to president Mahmoud Abbas said that prime minister Rami Hamdallah “handed his resignation to Abbas and Abbas ordered him to form a new government.”

Discussions to form a new government would include consultations with the various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, he said.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, however, told the official PA news agency WAFA that Hamdallah had not handed in his resignation.

Officials have said the planned dissolution of the government, made up of technocrats, had been under discussion for several months because of the cabinet’s inability to operate in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have condemned the unilateral dissolution of the government, a decision they say they were not consulted over. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza: Palestinians tortured, summarily killed by Hamas forces during 2014 conflict

Amnesty International: Hamas forces carried out a brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of “collaborating” with Israel and others during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza in July and August 2014, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

‘Strangling Necks’: Abduction, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict highlights a series of abuses, such as the extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others, including members and supporters of Hamas’s political rivals, Fatah.

“It is absolutely appalling that, while Israeli forces were inflicting massive death and destruction upon the people in Gaza, Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

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In sign of Palestinians’ mood, Hamas wins vote at a West Bank university

The New York Times reports: Lina Halsa certainly made a splash at the student rally for the Islamist Hamas movement here at Birzeit University last month. Wearing a sleeveless top, tight jeans, and with her hair in a ponytail, Ms. Halsa’s attire was revealing even by the standards of this liberal, secular campus. But it was downright scandalous according to Hamas norms.

Yet, Ms. Halsa was the very image of Hamas success on the campus, where the Islamist party beat out the more moderate Fatah faction in student elections. A photograph of her waving the faction’s signature green banner rocketed around social media, followed by a video in which she explained that she voted Hamas in part because her clothing “shows how much they are able to embrace other people.”

A headline in the Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat trumpeted: “A Blonde Turns Birzeit Green.”

The April 22 election was about far more than clothing, of course. Student elections are seen as an important benchmark of the Palestinian political mood, particularly since there has been no national balloting since Hamas won the legislative contests in 2006, and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is starting the 11th year of what was to be a five-year term. The nod to Hamas was broadly interpreted as another indication of just how unpopular President Abbas and his government have become. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas cracks down on Salafists in Gaza Strip

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: The confrontation between the Salafist jihadist movement and Hamas-led security services in the Gaza Strip has returned to the surface following a two-year truce between the two sides.

Strong tensions returned after security services arrested Salafist Sheikh Adnan Mayt, a prominent Salafist jihadist activist, April 6. This was followed by the arrest of other Salafists and raids of their homes, an April 29 statement by Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya (Arabic for “supporters of the Islamic State”) said.

The arrests increased following the two roadside bomb blasts that detonated in the Gaza Strip on April 18, which the Interior Ministry described as “primitive.” One of the blasts exploded near the outer wall of the UNRWA headquarters, and the other went off near the UNRWA general prosecutor’s office. A third explosion took place a day earlier near the Abu Mazen roundabout in western Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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In Gaza, rubble lies on top of rubble

Matthew Duss writes: Two weeks ago saw the latest blow to the on-again-but-mostly-off-again reconciliation between the two leading Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah. A Fatah delegation from the West Bank entered Gaza for what was planned as a weeklong visit to address the sticky issue of payment to some 40,000 Hamas government employees, which was one of the main drivers of Hamas’ decision to accept a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, largely on Fatah’s terms. Instead, the Fatah delegation stayed only one day, departing after claiming that Hamas had prohibited it from traveling from their beachfront hotel to their offices. Hamas, for its part, responded that the makeup of the delegation had not been appropriately cleared in advance.

A few days later, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, the first rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in four months. An Israeli tank barrage into Gaza followed shortly after.

It was not the first rocket launched since the August cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014’s hugely destructive Israeli assault on Gaza that lasted 52 days. Back in February, Hamas lobbed two rockets into the Mediterranean, ostensibly to test their launch system and intimidate Israel. Omar Shaban, a Palestinian analyst who runs the small think tank, PalThink, in Gaza, had a different interpretation. “They’re sending you a message,” he told me. “You should be wise enough to hear it.”

The message is that Gaza is creeping toward another explosion. It’s a depressingly similar pattern. Just like after previous conflicts, Israel’s cease-fire demands have been met. Hamas has prevented rocket fire, while the group’s demand for an end to the blockade that has suffocated Gaza for nearly a decade has not. Last month I visited the coastal strip to view the damage from the summer’s war, assess the state of reconstruction, and explore the possibilities of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

I’d last been to Gaza in February 2012. There have been two wars since then, in addition to a number of smaller incursions and exchanges of fire. In February 2012, much of Gaza City remained in rubble from December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. This time, there was rubble lying atop the rubble.

Shaban pulled up next to a huge pile of broken cinder block and twisted metal. “Here’s the Finance Ministry.”

Despite Hamas’ role in the escalation that led to the war, however, polls have shown that the group retains a significant measure of public support. One poll taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge found, for the first time since 2006, Hamas would best its rival Fatah in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of this has to do with Hamas being seen, unlike Fatah, as a party willing to fight the status quo. Part of it has to do with Hamas’ strategic distribution of resources to activists and supporters. But it’s also related to the fact that their civil servants are actually respected for the work that they continue to do in hugely difficult circumstances. [Continue reading…]

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The parallels between Zionist and Palestinian militancy

The Times of Israel interviews Bruce Hoffman, author of Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle For Israel 1917-1947: Former Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell negotiated with the IRA for nearly a decade under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and peace to Northern Ireland. Hoffman cites Powell’s book, “Talking To Terrorists,” three times in his new work.

In conversation a year ago, Powell admitted that powerful Western governments throughout the 20th century — particularly the British — operated with appalling hypocrisy by initially claiming that men like Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness, and Menachem Begin were terrorists, then, in the blink of an eye, portraying these men as honorable statesmen and forgetting about past atrocities.

Crucially, Powell admitted, states use the word “terrorist” as a form of insult and to help hold the balance of power when certain dissident actors threaten their legitimacy. And if so-called terrorists are using violence for purposes governments like, well, they tend to skip over that, Powell said.

In recalling this conversation to Hoffman, he nods his head in agreement.

“Look, that is absolutely right,” he says. “Terrorism is resorted to for practical reasons because there is no other tool available. And those who use terrorism, and then subsequently become the targets of terrorism, understand its power and how difficult it is to counter it. Not just militarily. But especially in terms of international perception. And that’s where Begin really was a master strategist.”

Hoffman, like Powell, says he is not championing terrorism. But as a realist, he claims the point of his book is not to get bound up by moral judgments when speaking about the subject.

Given that Israeli politicians fundamentally understand how Jewish terrorism played such an effective role in helping bring about the State of Israel, is it naïve to think they might have more of a sympathetic understanding of why Palestinians currently use terrorism to try to achieve their political objectives?

“Well it’s far more simple than that,” Hoffman replies. “No country that is created where terrorism has played some role wants to admit it, for fear of that weapon being used against them. And that’s what is really at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [Continue reading…]

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In the rubble of Gaza, militias prepare for inevitable war with Israel

Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.

“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”

“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.

Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza suffers in growing isolation

Zvi Bar’el reports: “What do they give us here? Three pitas and a little food; it’s not enough even for a small child,” Alaa Kullab complained to the Palestinian news agency Safa. He said his eight-person family, which has been living in a school in Rafah ever since this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, received only five beds.

“We have no heaters, and we’re forbidden to use hotplates,” added Kullab, who began a hunger strike along with another resident of the school a few days ago.

More than 20,000 of the 450,000 people displaced by the war still live in schools or other shelters arranged by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Last month, UNRWA announced that it would no longer pay displaced families’ rent or fund reconstruction of their houses, because it was out of money, having received only $135 million of the $725 million it needs.

“People come to our offices crying and threatening, but we have no way to help them,” an UNRWA employee told Haaretz. “Children are freezing cold, they suffer from malnutrition and even the little food they get is unsuitable.”

Next week, cleaning workers at Gaza’s hospitals are expected to strike again, since the Palestinian government hasn’t produced the back pay it promised to persuade them to end the last 16-day strike. Some 45,000 government employees in Gaza have yet to receive their January salaries, and they may get only 60 percent, as they did last month, because Israel has frozen tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The PA says the transfers amount to over half the costs of these salaries.

In October, a donor conference netted pledges of $5.4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, but only about 2 percent of this amount has arrived. Both the reconstruction and the reopening of the border crossings, especially with Egypt, depend on implementing a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, but due to disputes between the rival organizations, this still has not happened. [Continue reading…]

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Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: How loud is the voice you hear when you sit down to write a press report? How small is the prison cell you imagine yourself ending up in once you publish your article? The man you imagine pointing a gun at your head, is he wearing a mask? These are thoughts that lead one to delete the most important and powerful piece of information from an article. Some thoughts even lead you to delete the article entirely.

A late 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.

Journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh, who conducted the survey, “The Official Media and Freedom of Expression,” told Al-Monitor that attacks and harassment, and thus fear of them, are the main causes leading journalists to censor themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine

Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, recently wrote an op-ed in Arabic appearing on Arabic websites and which has now been translated into English and published with his permission by the Times of Israel: I was very hesitant before I wrote this “harsh” title. I erased it time after time and rewrote it. But every time I reread the article, the title jumps to my mind and drags me towards it.

The title hit me while I was attending a meeting of some political powers. I was listening to them talk for more than three hours and it seemed futile, lost, insipid.

It was not the first meeting I left feeling aggravated. I had previously taken part in discussions, be it bilateral between Hamas and Fatah or “national” dialogue that brings everyone together. I attended tens of conferences, seminars and workshops for “brainstorming.” But this time a profound sadness overcame me and feelings began to consume me. What are they saying? What are they doing? What time are they wasting? What world are they living in? Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind, unbidden: Now do you understand why Palestine is lost?

It was dangerous, frightening and scary. I no longer have any doubt that these sterile seminars and workshops that were repeated a thousand times, were nothing but blabbering, rumination of the past and fleeing from facing the facts.

I recalled many of these summits, agreements and understandings that have been signed since 1993 until the Shati Agreement in 2014… they passed in a moment and disappeared.

It seemed to me that we had lost dozens of years in haggling, disagreements and differences over texts that did not bring us anything but more resentment and fragmented, failed solutions. And because of the devolvement of these issues, I look at where we have arrived after a twenty year political process of failure and searching for success on paper, and I look at the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in terms of its weakness and attenuation, and I look at the political and societal division and how our divisions have sharpened until it became an indispensable tradition?

What calamity did the Palestinians create by themselves for themselves?

We have always held the Arab regimes responsible for the loss of Palestine, which is an indisputable matter, and have equally faulted the Western regimes for their collusion and unlimited support for Israel… But what is our share in bearing responsibility? [Continue reading…]

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Subcontracting repression in the West Bank and Gaza

Sabrien Amrov and Alaa Tartir write: Jerusalem is aflame with what the Israeli writer Uri Avnery has called an “intifada of individuals,” as outbreaks of deadly violence have followed what began with Palestinian protests over fears of encroachment by Jewish extremists on the site in the Old City known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Five Israelis were killed last week in an attack on a synagogue. Palestinian citizens of Israel, meanwhile, are in turmoil over the Nov. 8 police shooting in northern Israel of a 22-year-old protester, which was caught on videotape.

Yet the occupied West Bank shows no signs of an uprising, and the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that there will be no third intifada. Under Mr. Abbas’s increasingly authoritarian rule, this guarantee is based largely on the authority’s close security collaboration with Israel.

The Palestinian security forces were created under the Oslo Accords, ostensibly to support the Palestinian state-building project. Initially, those forces were understood by the population to exist for its defense. During the second intifada in 2002, Palestinian security forces confronted the Israeli Army using their light weapons. Israel responded by largely destroying the Palestinian Authority’s security infrastructure. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian rift reopens as Abbas blames Hamas for bombings

Reuters reports: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday accused his Islamist Hamas rivals of carrying out a series of bombings against officials loyal to him in Gaza last week, in a move sure to harm already floundering unity efforts.

A series of small explosions targeted the homes and vehicles of officials from Abbas’s Fatah movement on Friday, causing minor damage but no injuries.

A bomb also demolished a stage erected to commemorate the 10th anniversary of former president and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat’s death, leading to the event being canceled.

“Who committed this crime? The leadership of the Hamas movement did, and it’s responsible!” Abbas roared to applause at a Fatah rally for Arafat in Ramallah, his seat of government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. [Continue reading…]

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From Syria to Gaza: The search for a better life

Linah Alsaafin reports: Mohammad Farid Yousef’s family has been detained at Cairo airport for almost a month. They left the Gaza strip in the aftermath of Israel’s recent 51-day invasion this past summer, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians and injured 11,000 more, creating widespread destruction.

Since the uprising in Syria began in March 2011, an estimated 191,000 people have been killed, including over 2,000 Palestinian refugees. Three million have been displaced, with refugee camps sprouting in the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. A further 6.5 million are internally displaced, meaning that half of the Syrian population in total have fled their homes.

Prior to the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohammad Al-Morsi, Syrians and Palestinian Syrians could obtain a visa from the airport in Egypt, which encouraged a number to set up life there, until Syria was safe enough to go back to. Yet the 30 June military coup, the rising xenophobia and hateful media incitement endangered the lives of Syrians and Palestinians living there, forcing many of them to flee elsewhere.

Mohammad and his family fled the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in 2013. They arrived in Gaza through the Rafah border crossing in April of the same year after a brief stop in Egypt, deciding that they could at the very least lead a dignified life in the coastal enclave.

“We had nowhere to go,” Mohammad, 29, told the Middle East Monitor. “I came to Egypt during Morsi’s reign with relative ease, but the negative attitude of the Egyptian people towards us and their exploitation made my family rethink our options. We found we had nowhere to go except Gaza, especially since travelling by boats from Egypt to seek asylum in Europe had not started then. It began in May, a month after we had already left to Gaza.”

The Palestinian refugee population in Syria had numbered around 600,000. Now, almost half have escaped the fighting in search of security and stability, but face heavy restrictions by various Arab governments, such as Lebanon, which has announced it will not grant entry to Palestinian Syrians. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas agrees to relinquish control of Gaza

The Guardian reports: The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have reached a “comprehensive” agreement that would turn over the civil administration of Gaza immediately to officials of a Palestinian unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

The agreement, negotiated in Cairo, is designed to ease the long blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt and open the way to reconstruction of the war-ravaged coastal entity. A recent Palestinian Authority study estimated the cost of reconstruction in Gaza following this summer’s 50-day conflict with Israel at $7.8bn (£4.8bn).

Palestinian officials said the agreement would allow the Palestinian Authority to take control over the border crossings of the Gaza Strip, including the crucial Rafah crossing into Egypt – a key demand of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

According to sources in Egypt close to the talks, Palestinian Authority security forces would also control the Philadelphia corridor, a key strip adjoining the border with Egypt.

Officials from the rival factions began meeting in Cairo on Wednesday to try to overcome their differences and strengthen their hand for talks with Israel slated for late next month.

The breakthrough deal would formally bring an end to Hamas’s seven-year long rule of Gaza, during which time it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas asserted its control over the Gaza Strip in 2007 after winning Palestinian legislative elections the year before.

“Fatah and Hamas have reached a comprehensive agreement for the unity government to return to the Gaza Strip,” said Jibril Rajoub, a senior official in Fatah.

Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk and Fatah’s head of delegation, Azam al-Ahmad, later confirmed a deal had been reached, the details of which are expected to be formally announced later on Thursday. [Continue reading…]

Middle East Eye adds: Thursday’s announcement is the second such agreement on a unity government to be reached in under a year, and there are already signs of disunity within the warring camps.

Less than an hour after publicly celebrating the deal, Hamas spokesperson Izzat al-Risheq shared the doubts of Palestinians regarding the agreement and its implementation.

“We want action not words”, he wrote on his Facebook page. “This is the most frequent comment I have heard after the agreement between Hamas and Fatah. These people are right: they have already seen so many agreements, and not a thing has changed.”

Chris Doyle [director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding] told MEE that there are also divisions within Fatah.

“Even if there is agreement at leadership level, there remain plenty of other parties within Hamas and Fatah, as well as the Israeli authorities, who will oppose this.

“It’s one thing to sign up to a deal and for leaders to say that this will happen. It’s quite another to implement it on the ground. There is still precious little trust between [Fatah and Hamas].”

Sam Bahour, a West Bank-based businessman and political analyst, agrees, citing the weakness of both Fatah and Hamas.

“In any real political system both of these failed parties would be laughed out of office.”

While Doyle warns that the deal will be “tough to implement” on the ground, he says that unity is essential after the 51-day war that caused huge loss of life and damage to basic infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

“There is really only one way forward for Palestinians to try to resolve the crisis in Gaza. The level of destruction that was meted out over that 51-day Israeli operation means that they need to engage in a very serious reconstruction programme. They need to get this unity agreement in place so they can open up the borders and get building materials in. The domestic pressure within Gaza is utterly huge; people are desperate. Ultimately, there is no other option than a unified approach.” [Continue reading…]

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Hamas weighs alternatives to Palestinian unity government

Adnan Abu Amer reports: As Cairo’s indirect negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians started on Sept. 23 toward a cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian negotiations between Fatah and Hamas also kicked off on files related to the reconciliation reached in April.

The Palestinian dialogue comes amid tensions between Fatah and Hamas that escalated immediately after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza Aug. 26, due to disputes regarding the reconstruction of Gaza and the unpaid wages of former government employees.

Speaking at a celebration organized by the International Union of Muslim Scholars on Sept. 21, before the Cairo talks, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, said: “As soon as the Gaza war ended, the attack against Hamas started. This aims at stirring a hostile media campaign. Hamas has no time to waste on secondary battles. We have priorities, most important of which is the issue concerning the reconstruction of Gaza. We will not tolerate negligence in any issue and we will not accept the cancelation of any part stipulated in the reconciliation.” [Continue reading…]

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How the ‘peace process’ sustains the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Nathan Thrall writes: In the early days of the Gaza war that took the lives of some 2,150 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, a number of officials in Washington, Ramallah, and Jerusalem began to speak of renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States. As the fighting dragged on, this talk intensified, again showing that the “peace process” gains greatest urgency from the threat of Israeli-Palestinian violence, as well as from the U.S.’s desire to calm a roiling region, including by helping Arab allies justify pro-American stances to their publics. This was why the 1991 Madrid talks occurred during the first Palestinian intifada and immediately following Arab support of the United States in the 1991 Gulf War. It was why President George W. Bush’s 2003 Road Map for Middle East Peace was drafted during the second intifada and as the U.S. assembled a coalition for the 2003 Iraq War. And it is why the United States may soon seek to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, following sharply increased Israeli-Palestinian confrontation not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and after Israel’s actions in Gaza were given both tacit and overt support by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

There is little reason to believe that renewed talks would succeed. The obstacles that caused the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry have not disappeared. Many of them have grown larger. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his political program of nonviolence and negotiation have been weakened by Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, which impressed many Palestinians, although the costs were enormous. Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel, killing seven civilians, while Israeli air strikes and artillery killed hundreds of children, devastated large parts of Gaza, and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Reconstruction will cost many billions and take years.

Still, Hamas demonstrated that its militancy and its willingness to endure a ferocious Israeli attack could achieve more in weeks than Abbas’s talks have achieved in years. During the Gaza war, Israel did not announce a single new settlement in the West Bank. Although Israel did not agree to some of Hamas’s most important requests—for example, the opening of a seaport and the release of recently arrested prisoners—it showed eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians and willingness to make significant concessions, including the easing of some border crossings, extending fishing rights, facilitating the supply of construction materials, and offering to begin working in Gaza with the new Palestinian government formed in June. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian Authority tries to prevent uprising in West Bank

Ahmad Azem reports: It should be noted that young Palestinians have started to develop a new type of confrontation in the villages near the settlements, or at checkpoints. They are starting to cut off roads and prevent Israeli vehicles from passing while the Israeli army watches from afar. Al-Monitor has witnessed such events in the village of Al-Eizariya, near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. Yet at times, the army would directly intervene as it did in Beit Hanina and Shuafat. This raises the question: To what extent will this situation develop?

The lack of traditional confrontations with the occupation forces led to the idea of holding mass rallies outside the areas under the PA’s influence, such as the protests that took place near Ofer prison, west of Ramallah, or the Laylat al-Qadr march on July 24 at an Israeli checkpoint in Qalandiya. The protest that was known under the name of the “48,000 march” reflected the will to gather 48,000 demonstrators — which is an unprecedented number of protesters — in reference to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948.

Those who called for the march are young people affiliated with the Fatah movement, but they took action on their own without any official endorsement. This was made clear by one of the organizers in his speech at al-Manara, the main square of the city, where Al-Monitor was present a few days before the march was held. “This march has nothing to do with the leaderships,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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#Hamas has a modest demand: That #Israel honor its past agreements

Nathan Thrall writes: The current war in Gaza was not one Israel or Hamas sought. But both had no doubt that a new confrontation would come. The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented. It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea and air – including the ‘targeting of individuals’ (assassinations, typically by drone-fired missile) – and that the closure of Gaza would essentially end as a result of Israel’s ‘opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas’. An additional clause noted that ‘other matters as may be requested shall be addressed,’ a reference to private commitments by Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.

During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012. Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the quiet on Gaza’s border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza’s waters.

The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones – agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn’t enter without being fired on – were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.

Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the deal, then because Netanyahu couldn’t afford to make further concessions to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to honour it.

Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel’s satisfaction. [Continue reading…]

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