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.

facebooktwittermail

ISIS, Israel and a nuclear threat

​While no one knows yet how far ISIS’s dominion will extend or the true magnitude of the threat it poses across the Middle East, one of the wildest recent reports comes from a former Bush administration official and current staff writer for WorldNetDaily, Michael Maloof.

The former defense department employee who has a history of promoting bogus intelligence, has an “exclusive” headlined: “Iraq invaders threaten nuke attack on Israel.”

The well-organized army of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claims it has access to nuclear weapons and a will to use them to “liberate” Palestine from Israel as part of its “Islamic Spring,” according to a WND source in the region.

Wow! One minute we see ISIS proudly driving around in American-made Humvees and the next they are threatening a nuclear strike on Israel?

Who is Maloof’s “source in the region” making this extraordinary claim?

It turns out it’s Franklin Lamb, an American political activist and retired law professor based in Beirut whose reporting/commentary appears regularly at Counterpunch and PressTV, among other places.

The WND source said ISIS appears “eager” to fight Israeli armed forces “in the near future despite expectation that the regime will use nuclear weapons.”

“Do you think that we do not have access to nuclear devices?” Lamb quoted the ISIS member as saying. “The Zionists know that we do, and if we ever believe they are about to use theirs, we will not hesitate. After the Zionists are gone, Palestine will have to be decontaminated and rebuilt just like areas where there has been radiation released.”

Neither Lamb, his ISIS source, nor Maloof address the fact that in this nuclear scenario, the Palestinians could hardly avoiding meeting the same fate as the Israelis. Neither does Maloof report the fact that Lamb was talking to his source inside a Palestinian refugee camp. Go figure.

Although Maloof’s report, which was posted on the WND website on June 23 is billed as an “exclusive,” every single quote from Lamb can be found in a report Lamb himself posted at Counterpunch on June 20. Indeed every single quote appears in the original in the same order as Maloof used them as he presumably pasted together his “exclusive.”

Having gleaned the raw material for his piece from Lamb — who knows whether the two men have ever been in direct communication — Maloof then goes on to embellish the story with his own unsourced claims, such as that the Saudis have “provided billions of dollars to ISIS” along with speculation that Saudi Arabia already possesses Pakistani-made nuclear weapons. (Anyone who like Maloof believes that ISIS depends on Saudi funding or any other major source of foreign financing should read yesterday’s McClatchy report on the group’s self-funded business structure.)

Alarm bells must be ringing in Israel in the face of this new existential threat — but apparently not.

On the contrary, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is quite content to see the region go up in flames.

Echoing calls from many quarters in the United States, the Israeli leader wants the U.S. to remain on the sidelines.

Threatening a borderless conflict between “extremist Shi’ites,” funded by leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and equally extreme Sunnis — a soft “alliance” between ISIS and al Qaeda — the Israeli prime minister suggested the United States should largely stay out of the fight, and instead allow the parties to weaken one another.

“Don’t strengthen either of them. Weaken both,” Netanyahu said.

This argument is a reprise of a similar view in Washington that was being applied to Syria a year ago by some of those who then opposed military intervention after the August chemical attacks. At that time, the military strategist, Edward Luttwak, wrote:

There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw.

The risk Israel faces of being destroyed in a nuclear strike from ISIS might be minimal, but what should concern everyone at this moment are the repercussions from a propaganda war that ISIS is already winning.

Eight years ago after surviving the extensive bombing of Southern Beirut, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah was being celebrated across the Arab world by Shia and Sunnis alike as the great champion of Resistance.

A war that left hundreds of Lebanese civilians dead and many thousands homeless was nevertheless hailed (at least by Hezbollah’s leadership) as a “divine victory.”

The success of ISIS has gone far beyond that kind of symbolic victory and there must be many young radicals across the region who view old guard resistance movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas as spent forces — organizations whose principal accomplishment across the decades has been self-preservation.

In Lamb’s article, which is based on interviews with ISIS members and sympathizers in Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (where ISIS is referred to by the acronym derived from its Arabic name, DAASH) he writes:

Several reasons were given as to why Palestinians should hold out hope for ISIS succeeding in their cause when all other Arab, Muslim, and Western claimed Resistance supporters have been abject failures and invariably end up benefiting the Zionist occupation regime terrorizing Palestine. “All countries in this region are playing the sectarian card just as they have long played the Palestinian card but the difference with ISIS is that we are serious about Palestine and they are not. Tel Aviv will fall as fast as Mosul when the time is right”, a DAASH ally explained.

When asked about Hezbollah’s 22 day war with the Zionists in South Lebanon in July of 2006 and its sacrifices in terms of lives which is to this day widely believed to be a victory for the “Resistance” and a blow to the Zionist occupation. An angry middle aged Iraqi Baathist, now a ISIS heavy weapons trainer, interrupted, “The difference between DAASH and Hezbollah is that we would have fought our way to Al Quds [Jerusalem] in 2006 and established a permanent organization. Hezbollah quit too soon and they will only fight if and when Iran tells them to.” He added, “What has the Hezbollah Resistance ever done for the Palestinians in Lebanon except resist their civil rights in Lebanon. Should Palestinians believe them?” Another gentleman insisted, “DAASH will fight where no one else is willing.”

A report in the Assad/Hezbollah-friendly Al-Akhbar from the north Lebanon city of Tripoli attempts to downplay the level of local support for ISIS, yet those who might not choose to fight in its ranks may at some point nevertheless form a significant welcoming party.

Upon sitting with vendors selling vegetables near the Abu Ali Roundabout in Tripoli, one comes out with the impression that ISIS is participating in the World Cup. In between every few cars covered with the Brazilian and German flags, one will spot a car displaying ISIS’ black banner. And just like many like to emulate their favorite football players in their hairstyles, tattoos, and so on, some youths in the city like to emulate ISIS fighters, in their hairstyle, loose beards, and miserly look.

News of ISIS’ victories overshadow the news about its fatwas, the consequences of its excommunication of its opponents, and the nebulous nature of its religious authority. Vendors asking their customers, “Who are you with?” – referring to the World Cup – often hear back, “with ISIS.”

As ISIS advances on the ground wiping away the boundary between Syria and Iraq, it is simultaneously crossing more distant borders, gaining a foothold in the imagination of those who dream of a caliphate and of capturing Jerusalem.

While opposition to U.S. intervention in a crisis that was itself in part triggered by an earlier American intervention comes frequently through expressions of opposition to war, paradoxically, those who insist we started this are also now saying, it’s not our problem.

Providing further evidence that this has indeed become a borderless conflict, there are reports today that Syria has conducted air strikes against ISIS positions in Iraq.

Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Nasrallah, Nouri al-Maliki, Muqtada al-Sadr, Ali Khamenei, Qasem Soleimani — are these the men who are going to bring stability to the Middle East and pacify the threat from ISIS? I think not.

Francesca Borri, an independent journalist covering the war in Syria, recently spoke on Skype to M., an ISIS fighter in Al-Bab, north east of Allepo:

I asked M. if his movement was bent on redrawing the map of the Middle East, to which he replied, “There is no map. … Where you see borders, we see only your interests.”

M., embodying the ISIS ideology, railed against the aspirations for democracy in the Arab world.

“Look at Egypt. Look at the way it ended for Muslims who cast their vote for [deposed President] Mohammed Morsi and believed in your democracy, in your lies. Democracy doesn’t exist. Do you think you are free? The West is ruled by banks, not by parliaments, and you know that. You know that you’re just a pawn, except you have no courage. You think of yourself, your job, your house … because you know you have no power. But fortunately, the jihad has started. Islam will get to you and bring you freedom.”

It is to be expected that an ISIS fighter would pour scorn on democracy, yet these days democracy’s genuine defenders seem increasingly hard to find.

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

The U.S. has been speaking to Hamas through back channels for more than six months

Sheera Frenkel reports: United States officials have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months to discuss their role in the newly formed unity government, according to two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks.

The meetings were held between U.S. intermediaries and Hamas’ leadership, which lives outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan. Topics included the ceasefire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.

During the talks, Hamas gave assurances that allowed the U.S. to support the unity government, despite heavy pressure by the Israeli government for them to condemn it, the diplomatic officials — one American and one Palestinian — said. They said those assurances including a commitment to maintaining a ceasefire with Israel.

“Our administration needed to hear from them that this unity government would move toward democratic elections, and toward a more peaceful resolution with the entire region,” said one U.S. official familiar with the talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity, as the U.S, government’s official stance is that it has not, and will not, talk to Hamas until certain preconditions are met. “It was important to have that line of communication,” the U.S. official said. [Continue reading...]

BBC News reports: US Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected Israeli criticism of his recognition of the new Palestinian government formed by Fatah and Hamas.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.

But during a visit to Lebanon, Mr Kerry noted the ministers were independent technocrats and insisted that they would be watched “very closely”.

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

Doubts surface on Gaza destination of rockets seized by Israel

n13-iconReuters reports: Some U.S. intelligence analysts and Middle East security officials believe that a rocket shipment seized by the Israeli navy in the Red Sea this month was destined for the Egyptian Sinai and not for the Gaza Strip, as Israel says.

A U.S. official and two non-Israeli regional sources said Israel appeared to be insisting on the Gaza destination in order to spare the military-backed interim Egyptian administration embarrassment as it struggles to impose order in the Sinai.

Israel has little compunction about drawing scrutiny to the rocket arsenals of Gaza’s governing Hamas Islamists and other armed Palestinian factions, with whom it has regularly clashed.

“Were the Israelis to say the rockets were going to Sinai, then they would also have had to say who in Sinai was going to receive the rockets,” one source told Reuters, adding that such a statement would draw attention to the insurgents resisting Egypt’s security sweeps in northern Sinai. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

Hamas’ ‘unfortunate’ disagreement on Syria is on the road to being resolved

n13-icon“I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,” head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, told worshippers at a mosque in Cairo on February 24, 2012.

Two days later Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ deputy political leader, told the Associated Press: “Our position on Syria is that we are not with the regime in its security solution, and we respect the will of the people.”

In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News in May 2013, the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said: “After the start of the crisis I said to all Syrian political, security and military leaders in very clear words, the demands of your people for freedom, democracy and reform are legitimate. The military approach is wrong. It makes the crisis worse.”

Ali Hashem, a columnist for Al-Monitor, now writes that Hamas appears ready to patch up its differences with the Assad regime, and Meshaal will soon be visiting Syria’s closest ally, Iran.

A senior Hamas official who met with Al-Monitor in Tehran last week confirmed that the visit is indeed on the agenda. He asserted, “Our relationship with Iran is back as it was, and maybe better. Enemies who are betting on the end of the resistance bloc should know that this bloc is getting bigger and stronger, from North Africa to Tehran.”

Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ international relations officer, explained that the “unfortunate” disagreement on Syria is on the road to being resolved and that positive options are on the table with respect to his organization’s relations with Damascus. Hamdan added that ties with Hezbollah are good and that he continues to carry out his work from his office in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold.

facebooktwittermail

Court bans activities of Hamas in Egypt

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court on Tuesday banned all Hamas activities in Egypt in another sign that the military-backed government aims to squeeze the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist group and which they have repressed systematically since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Mursi, from the presidency in July.

“The court has ordered the banning of Hamas’s work and activities in Egypt,” the judge, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

During his year in power, Mursi gave red-carpet treatment to Hamas, angering many secular and liberal Egyptians who saw this as part of a creeping Islamist takeover following the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The military-buttressed authorities now classify Hamas as a significant security risk, accusing it of supporting an Islamist insurgency that has spread quickly since Mursi’s fall, allegations the Palestinian group denies. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Canada denies secretly giving Israeli assassin a new identity after he helped kill Hamas leader

n13-iconNational Post reports: A week after a Montreal businessman claimed Canada had provided a new identity and passport to an Israeli Mossad agent involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, the government denied the sensational story on Friday.

While Ottawa is usually reluctant to comment on national security matters, the allegation of Canadian involvement in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was apparently considered so damaging it required a response.

“There is no truth to these allegations that the government of Canada provided support to protect those wanted in the 2010 death of a Hamas leader,” said a government official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The charge that the government had secretly resettled a member of the hit squad that drugged and suffocated Mr. Al-Mabhouh in a five star hotel room was made last weekend by Arian Azarbar, an Iranian-Canadian businessman.

He told the Ottawa Sun he learned about it from a Passport Canada employee with whom he had an affair. The passport officer, a member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, had been investigating Mr. Azarbar and has since been suspended. [Continue reading...]

A non-denial denial? It depends on whether the individual in question had been identified as one those “those wanted.”

The Montreal Gazette adds: [A] Montreal police detective was reportedly reassigned in January after allegations surfaced that he, too, leaked information to Azarbar. The businessman is identified in Montreal police documents of being a possible Iranian spy, according to Montreal media reports.

Azarbar said Tuesday he has known the police officer for years, but said he had nothing to do with the officer’s reassignment. He also categorically denied any involvement with his native Iran. He said he has lived in Montreal’s West Island community since the age of five.

“I’ve been to Iran once in my whole life for two weeks,” he said.

He said his troubles began when he received a government letter asking him to meet with federal agents.

There followed one or two initial meetings with Kennedy and a man he believes was from the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said they were most interested in learning about his business trips to Venezuela, where he sells housing construction products.

He said he also had spent time around Hugo Chavez, the country’s fiery socialist leader who died last year.

“Did I work for the Iranian government? No, never. Did I like Chavez? Absolutely. I thought he was one of the greatest men in the world.”

Azarbar blamed much of his situation on a federal customs official in Toronto. Azarbar believes the man was jealous of his relationship with Kennedy, who has been separated from her husband, he said.

“When he found out about my relationship with Trina, he went berserk. It’s him that made this whole story.”

facebooktwittermail

Leaving Gaza

FeatureAfter her final visit to Gaza before returning to London, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, writes: Hazem Balousha was uncharacteristically despondent when he greeted me recently at the end of my long walk through the open-air caged passageway that separates the modern hi-tech state of Israel from the tiny, impoverished, overcrowded Gaza Strip.

Hazem has been a colleague and a friend for three and a half years, a relationship built over more than 20 visits I’ve made to Gaza. He arranges interviews and provides translation; but most importantly he helps me understand the people, the politics and the daily struggle of life in Gaza. We have talked for hours in his car, over coffee, at his home. He has accompanied me to grim refugee camps and upmarket restaurants; to the tunnels in the south and farms in the north; to schools and hospitals; to bomb sites and food markets; to the odd wedding party and rather more funerals. In the face of Gaza’s pressure-cooker atmosphere and bleak prospects, he – like so many I’ve met here – has always been remarkably good-humoured.

But not this time. As we waited for Hamas officials sporting black beards and bomber jackets to check my entry permit, I asked Hazem: “How’s it going?” He shrugged, and began to tell me about the many phone calls he’d had to make to find a replacement cooking gas canister recently, and how his small sons whine when the electricity cuts out for hours each day, depriving them of their favourite TV shows.

“This is what we have come to. We wake up in the night worrying about small things: cooking gas, the next power cut, how to find fuel for the car,” he said dejectedly. “We no longer care about the big things, the important things, the future – we just try to get through each day.”

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure. Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail