Gazans being held hostage by Israeli, PA gamesmanship

Orly Noy writes: Who says there is no coordination between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority? On Sunday evening, Israel gladly accepted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas request to cut the already-dilapidated electricity supply to Gaza, in order to make life for its residents that much more difficult. Think about the significance of cutting electricity by 40 percent in the middle of a blazing summer. The government and the IDF are both well aware of the current humanitarian crisis in the Strip. They are also well aware of the potential for an escalation should Israel continue to intensify the crisis. But the decision is to accede to Abbas’ request in his war against Hamas — all on the backs of the people who live there. Why? Because it serves Mahmoud Abbas’ political interests.

Palestinians in Gaza are afforded between four and eight hours of electricity on an average day, and this is without even taking into account problems that arise in Gaza’s power plant or in power lines from Egypt or Gaza. Most of the supply comes from Israel, a smaller portion from Egypt, and in the past around 25 percent from the local power plant. Israel supplies 120 megawatts in 10 high voltage lines — an amount that hasn’t changed for the past 10 years, despite the fact that Gaza’s population, and its needs, have grown dramatically in this time. Overall, the electricity that reaches Gaza on a daily basis covers just over half of what is needed. And this is when things are “normal.”

Since mid-April, Gaza’s sole power station has been out of commission, after a deal by Turkey and Qatar to supply the it with fuel came to an end. The situation has created an energy crisis in the Strip — and the consequences are dire. Hospitals, for example, have ceased providing necessary treatments and are relying exclusively on ramshackle generators. This means that water purification systems aren’t functioning, while untreated sewage finds its way to the sea in enormous quantities. Water filters cannot be used, and it is nearly impossible to rely on pumps to clear the sewage from the neighborhoods. All these create real life-threatening situations. The humanitarian disaster we keep hearing about has already taken its toll on Gaza. Even the Israeli army understands this. [Continue reading…]

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At the Palestinian Authority’s request, Israel cuts electricity to Gaza

Times of Israel reports: Israel has reportedly decided to heed a Palestinian Authority request to cut electricity supply to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after the PA announced it would not continue to pay the bill as it stepped up pressure on its main rival.

An Israeli official told the daily Haaretz newspaper on Sunday that the security cabinet earlier in the day had accepted the recommendation of the Israeli military to cut the supply at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas whose confrontation with Hamas has escalated in recent months.

The PA has been paying 40 million shekels ($11.3 million) a month for 125 megawatts, but recently said it was now only prepared to pay for 20-25 million shekels ($7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.

The hours of electricity supply in Gaza will now likely be reduced from six hours per day to between two and four hours a day.

Israel has been concerned that further cutting electricity would further destabilize Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas leader plays final hand

The New York Times reports: In the violent flux of the Middle East, Khaled Meshal is one of the great survivors. Down the years other senior figures in Hamas, the Islamist militant group that resists Israel, have died in hotel rooms at the hands of Israeli assassins or been crushed by laser-guided missiles during the wars in Gaza.

Mr. Meshal, who spent his career shifting from one Arab capital to another, had his own close scrape: In 1997, a year after he became the leader of Hamas, Israeli spies sprayed poison into his ear on a street in Jordan, sending Mr. Meshal into a coma and setting off an angry diplomatic showdown between Jordan and Israel that ended with the delivery of a lifesaving antidote.

Now Mr. Meshal is stepping down as the senior leader, ending a 21-year reign during which Hamas grew into a formidable military force and also joined politics to rule Gaza for the past decade. Yet it has become an international pariah for its attacks on civilians.

Mr. Meshal’s parting shot is a new political document, released at a luxury hotel in Doha on Monday, that he is pitching as an attempt to pull Hamas from its isolation by presenting a friendlier face to the world.

A big part of that is its watering down of the anti-Semitic language of the original Hamas charter in 1988, with its talk of war between Arabs and Jews. “We are making it clear that ours is a liberation project — not about religion or the Jews,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview on Tuesday in Doha, his latest home.

His offer found few takers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel immediately rejected the overture as an exercise in insincerity. “Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” his spokesman said Monday. Hamas is loathed in Israel for bombings and rockets launched indiscriminately into civilian areas, and critics say the group spends too much money preparing for war and not enough on Gaza’s besieged residents.

The document was also greeted with silence by Western countries, a reflection of the fact that Hamas failed to bend on any of the factors that have caused it to be branded a terrorist organization — and has not even formally repudiated the 1988 charter, with its talk of “obliterating” Israel and creating an Islamic State on “every inch” of historic Palestine.

The failure to achieve even that cosmetic gesture offers a telling indication of how Hamas is hamstrung by its own deep-seated ambivalence toward reform, said Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who is based in Jerusalem, who noted that the original charter has long been a source of quiet embarrassment among more reform-minded Hamas leaders.

“On one hand, they are attempting to appeal to hard-liners by not giving up their core principles,’’ said Mr. Thrall, the author of a forthcoming book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “The Only Language They Understand.’’

“On the other, people like Meshal were hoping the document could lead to openings with Sunni Arab states and the West. It attempts to please everyone, and in so doing pleases no one.” [Continue reading…]

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New Hamas charter would name ‘occupiers,’ not ‘Jews,’ as the enemy

The New York Times reports: Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that has governed the Gaza Strip for a decade, is drafting a new platform to present a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world, Hamas officials confirmed on Thursday.

The document would represent a departure from the group’s contentious 1988 charter, in which it promised to “obliterate” Israel and characterized its struggle as specifically against Jews. The new document defines Hamas’s enemies as “occupiers.”

“It means that we don’t fight Jews because they are Jews,” said Taher el-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. “Our struggle is only against those who occupied our lands.”

The new document would accept borders of the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war as the basis for a Palestinian state. It would not recognize Israel, however, nor would it give up future claims to all of what Hamas considers Palestinian lands.

Mr. Nounou said the document, the result of four years of work, is not yet final and has not yet been approved by Hamas’s governing bodies. Nor are its contents wholly new, even though they seem now to carry both practical and symbolic weight, particularly in Hamas’s relations with Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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How Russia is filling the vacuum left by the United States in the Middle East

Akiva Eldar writes: Seeing the smiling face of Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, sitting comfortably in Moscow on Jan. 17 alongside senior Fatah official Azam al-Ahmed, it was hard not to recall the famous interview by Avigdor Liberman in April before his appointment as defense minister. In that interview, Liberman promised that if appointed, he would give Hamas 48 hours to hand over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The Yisrael Beitenu chairman threatened that if Hamas failed to acquiesce to his demand, he would recommend to Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, that he book himself a plot at a nearby cemetery. As far as anyone can tell, Haniyeh is doing well after Liberman’s first eight months in office. On the other hand, the romance between Israel and Russia, which the Moldova-born politician did everything in his power to broker, is in very bad shape.

The photo of the two senior Palestinian leaders, which did not get the coverage by Israeli media that it merited, was taken at a news conference held after three days of talks among representatives of Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other factions under the auspices of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. One can understand Israeli editors’ decision to play down the final communique from the Moscow talks announcing agreement on forming a Palestinian government of national unity and setting a date for elections in the Israeli-occupied territories. There are not enough fingers to count the number of similar announcements that ended in nothing being done. One usually says of such contacts that their importance lies in the fact that they took place. In this case, the importance of the meeting is in its venue and timing.

The official invitation to Hamas representatives to visit Moscow and prior to that Russia’s support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted unanimously Dec. 23 and affirming the illegality of Israel’s West Bank settlements, constitute failures of Israeli foreign policy. One can add to these the delivery of Russian S-300 missiles to Iran, despite efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thwart the deal. Russia supported the 2015 nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran and opposes Israel’s nuclear policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in September 2013 that Syria’s chemical weapons had been built in response to Israel’s nuclear weapons, and that given its technological superiority, Israel does not need to maintain nuclear weapons. Zvi Magen, former Israeli ambassador to Russia, even said that year that Russia is “dragging the Israeli nuclear issue into the Mideast negotiations” and that this could signal a “change in the Russian attitude to Israel.” [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas agree to form unity government

Middle East Eye reports: The main Palestinian parties on Tuesday announced a deal to form a national unity government prior to the holding of elections, after three days of reconciliation talks in Moscow involving rival groups Fatah and Hamas.

“We have reached agreement under which, within 48 hours, we will call on (Palestinian leader) Mahmoud Abbas to launch consultations on the creation of a government” of national unity, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad told a press conference, speaking in Arabic.

Ater the government is formed, the Palestinians would set up a national council, which would include Palestinians in exile, and hold elections.

“Today the conditions for (such an initiative) are better than ever,” said Ahmad.

The non-official talks in Moscow began on Sunday under Russian auspices with the goal of restoring “the unity of the Palestinian people.” Representatives came from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions. [Continue reading…]

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Fatah and Hamas leaders agree to agree, but not on the details

The Fatah–Hamas Mecca Agreement was signed on 8 February 2007

The Fatah–Hamas Mecca Agreement was signed on 8 February 2007

The New York Times reports: The leaders of the two main Palestinian factions met on Thursday in the latest attempt to reconcile after a nine-year schism that has divided their people and complicated efforts to negotiate peace with Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, run by the Fatah faction, met in Qatar with Khaled Meshal, the political chief of Hamas, and Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza. A photograph of the three men smiling was posted online.

The meeting was the first between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Meshal in two years. Fatah operates primarily in the West Bank under Israeli occupation while Hamas controls Gaza, which is partly cordoned off from the outside world by Israel. Repeated efforts to bridge the divide between the factions have collapsed.

The rival leaders agreed that it was time to repair the rift, establish a national unity government and prepare for elections, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. But it was not clear whether the meeting would lead to an actual agreement, or that such an agreement, even if reached, would prove any more enduring than at least five others sealed over the years. [Continue reading…]

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The use of violence in pursuit of a hopeless cause

In a review of Does Terrorism Work? A History by Richard English, Thomas Nagel writes: Three of the four (not al-Qaida) are nationalist organisations – Irish, Palestinian, Basque – aiming to overthrow the rule of another nation: Britain, Israel, Spain. The IRA wants British withdrawal from Ulster and a united Ireland, Hamas wants the elimination of the state of Israel and the establishment of a strict Islamic regime over the entire territory of Mandate Palestine, and ETA wants a Basque state independent of Spain. All three were founded in competition with more moderate nationalist movements pursuing related but less radical aims by non-violent means: the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and the Partido Nacionalista Vasco. Rivalry with these moderate nationalists has been a very important part of the drama. The terrorism of the IRA and ETA never had more than minority support among the populations they purported to represent, and they officially renounced violence in 2005 and 2011, respectively. Hamas, on the other hand, won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, but was prevented from taking power except in Gaza, and continues to employ violent means. Al-Qaida is not a nationalist but what English calls a ‘religio-political’ movement, with global ambitions, dedicated to the expulsion of the US military from the Middle East, the overthrow of what it regards as apostate Muslim regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and the eventual restoration of the Caliphate, a Salafist theocracy governing the Muslim world under sharia law. But again, these aims are not shared by most Muslims.

English makes it clear that one of the things these four groups share is hatred and the desire for revenge, which comes out in personal testimony if not always in their official statements of aims. He quotes Osama bin Laden: ‘Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates Christians.’ Revenge for perceived injuries and humiliations is a powerful motive for violence, and if it is counted as a secondary aim of these movements, it defines a sense in which terrorism automatically ‘works’ whenever it kills or maims members of the target group. In that sense the destruction of the World Trade Center and Mountbatten’s assassination were sterling examples of terrorism working. But even though English includes revenge in his accounting, this is not what would ordinarily be meant by the question, ‘Does terrorism work?’ What we really want to know about are the political effects.

And here the record is dismal. What struck me on reading this book is how delusional these movements are, how little understanding they have of the balance of forces, the motives of their opponents and the political context in which they are operating. In this respect, it is excessively charitable to describe them as rational agents. True, they are employing violent means which they believe will induce their opponents to give up, but that belief is plainly irrational, and in any event false, as shown by the results. [Continue reading…]

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Israel launches up to 50 strikes on Gaza after rocket attack on Sderot

The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has launched dozens of strikes on Gaza in an unusually strong response to a rocket fired from Gaza that landed between two houses in the Israeli community of Sderot.

Responsibility for the rocket attack on Sunday was initially claimed by Ahfad al-Sahaba, one of the small Salafi groups – ultra-conservative Sunnis – that have recently become more active in Gaza, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It prompted a wave of up to 50 retaliatory attacks, according to Israeli military sources, hitting several of Gaza’s armed Palestinian factions.

A security source said raids targeted Hamas’s Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades and the PFLP. Artillery shells also hit the area of al-Bureij in central Gaza and Beit Hanoun in the north. Several Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded.

The raids broke the pattern of limited Israeli retaliation during periods of relative quiet, leading the Islamist group Hamas to accuse Israel of escalating tensions. According to reports, the Israeli response came in two waves, the first immediately after the rocket attack, the second during the night, involving three Israeli jets and tank fire. [Continue reading…]

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Marwan Barghouti’s plan for Palestinian independence

After outlining the contenders’ claims to become a replacement for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Menachem Klein writes: [Mohammed] Dahlan and [Majd] Farj’s weak spots are precisely where jailed popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has an advantage. He enjoys widespread support among both Fatah members and the Palestinian public, and his status as a prisoner only adds to his image. As opposed to his opponents, who mostly market their personalities and ties with foreign groups, Barghouti turns inward to the Palestinian public, and offers a fundamentally different strategy.

As the Palestinian public reels from a feeling of crisis, despair, and dead end, as well as a deep suspicion vis-à-vis the interests driving those fighting over Abbas’ succession, Barghouti has the ability to win support, as he is paving a new path and believes in the populace’s power to take control. A document published by one of the heads of the Barghouti camp, which I recently obtained, reveals more than what I have published on these issues in the past.

Barghouti’s goal is no different from that of Abbas or even the Arab Peace Initiative: a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and implementing UN Resolution 194 regarding Palestinian refugees and their right of return. The difference is in the way Barghouti proposes to achieve these goals.

As opposed to Abbas and his competitors, Barghouti’s supporters believe that the key to liberation is not on the international stage but in the Palestinian arena. Abbas’ insistence on using exclusively international channels is, to their mind, the problem and not the solution. It allows Israel to continue with its colonial project. The alternative is recruiting the masses to a determined, lasting, popular nonviolent struggle. The change must first come from below, only later can it be translated into political maneuvering. The struggle will end only after independence is achieved. There is no agreeing to stop the struggle as a condition to hold negotiations with Israel, according to the document.

As opposed to Abbas’s other opponents, as well as Abbas himself, Barghouti is close to high-ranking Hamas members, and in the past met with Hamas members in prison to discuss national reconciliation efforts. It is likely that his plans are accepted by Hamas officials both inside and outside prison. The first step Barghouti proposes is national reconciliation and holding elections within PLO and PA institutions, which will include Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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Is another Gaza war imminent?

Shane Harris writes: Israel ended its last military operation in Gaza almost two years ago. But among some Israeli military officials, national security experts, and activists here, there is a palpable sense that another war is imminent, and that soon Hamas rockets will again be raining down on Israeli cities, prompting a crushing military response on the beleaguered, 25-mile long strip.

The signs, to hear these people tell it, are plain to see: Despite Israeli efforts to increase the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, its economic health remains desperate. Hamas militants also may be under pressure to move now to strike Israeli neighborhoods along the Gaza border before a network of tunnels that gave them free entry into Israel is sealed up. Recent Israeli intelligence suggests that Hamas fighters have closely studied Israeli tactics from the last war, possibly in preparation for another conflict. And Israel’s new defense minister, sworn in this week, has threatened to assassinate the leader of Hamas, in turn prompting him to dare Israel to enter Gaza again.

“The feeling is now we’re on a countdown. There’s going to be another war,” said Sharon Stav, with the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, an activist group whose members live in neighborhoods along the Gaza border and have been pressuring the Israeli government to find some diplomatic or humanitarian solution to the conflict with Hamas — anything short of another war. Stav and a colleague met with a delegation of U.S. and European visitors, which I joined, in the town of Netiv HaAsara, which came under daily rocket fire during the 2014 Gaza operations. The house where we met sits just feet from a guarded security barrier — a combination of concrete barricades and barbed wire fences — that seals Gaza off from Israel, at least above ground. [Continue reading…]

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Should Israel negotiate with Hamas?

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Alleged bomber of Jerusalem bus came from a well-to-do Palestinian family

The Washington Post reports: The young man accused of being the first suicide bomber in Jerusalem in a decade doesn’t fit the profile of a desperate Hamas operative — and that worries the Israelis.

His uncles are prosperous merchants. He did not grow up in a refugee camp. He went on shopping trips to Jordan.

But the cover photo on his Facebook page includes the image of Yahya Ayyash, a.k.a. “The Engineer,” the chief bombmaker for Hamas, who likely was killed by an exploding mobile phone planted by Israeli agents in 1996.

On Monday afternoon, 19-year-old Abdel Hamid Abu Srour boarded the Egged No. 12 bus and placed a package between his legs. His uncles think that it might have been his first visit to Jerusalem.

His seat was above the vehicle’s gas tanks, according to Israeli news media. His relatives scoffed at the idea that Abu Srour would know how to make a bomb himself.

His high school grades were poor enough that he wanted to retake subjects and redo his exams.

Who gave him the bomb and how it was detonated is the object of a fast-moving investigation.

Hamas claimed that Abu Srour was a member of the Islamist militant movement, although the Gaza-based terrorist group did not assert direct responsibility for the bombing.

Israeli police announced Thursday that they had arrested several members of a Hamas cell in Bethlehem tied to the case. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas linked to Jerusalem bus bombing

The Times of Israel reports: One mystery is solved. The identity of a man severely wounded in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem — suspected of having planted the bomb that exploded on the Number 12 bus — was discovered last night, shortly after the hospital announced he had succumbed to his wounds.

But the Hamas announcement that Abdel al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from the al-Ayda refugee camp in the Bethlehem area, was “one of ours” fell short of a full claim of responsibility for the attack, which injured 20 other people.

The Gaza-based terror group released a photo of Abu Srour wearing a Hamas scarf, and another photo that was decorated with emblems of the Second Intifada. But the announcement on the organization’s official website opened with a quote from a “Zionist” Facebook page providing the initial information that it was Abu Srour who had carried out the attack. [Continue reading…]

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From Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti initiates ‘nonviolent’ bid to ‘free Palestine’

The Times of Israel reports: A group of people close to leading Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, jailed in Israel for murder, have reached an understanding with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships overseas on a comprehensive plan to jointly campaign against the Israeli occupation until it is brought to an end, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The plan includes unprecedented steps within the framework of what is dubbed “nonviolent resistance” which, the sources predicted, could prove immensely problematic for Israel. The goal is to force Israel out of all areas beyond the pre-1967 lines via a nonviolent intifada coordinated by a unified Palestinian leadership under Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002 after being sentenced to five life sentences for involvement in murder.

The contacts were managed secretly in meetings that took place over recent months by four senior Fatah officials: Barghouti, Qadura Fares, Sarhan Davikat, and Mohammed Horani. All of them were considered senior members of the Palestinian Tanzim organization during the 90s and the latter three are known to be personal friends of Barghouti. Bargouti also intends to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the next elections, and even has Hamas support for the move, the sources said.

The four met with all of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, who is based in Doha, Qatar. Afterwards, they continued with meetings in Istanbul with the participation of Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk, Salah al-Aruri – considered to be behind many terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and in Israel – Osama Hamdan, Husam Badran and others. [Continue reading…]

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Is Mohammed Dahlan likely to replace Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader?

Adnan Abu Amer writes: The most important world capitals that provided Dahlan with this regional and international network are Cairo and Abu Dhabi, where Dahlan enjoys undeniable influence since he is considered the security adviser of UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This position has provided Dahlan with influence that many UAE officials may not enjoy within the state.

Dahlan also enjoys considerable influence in Egypt through his direct ties with Sisi, which allows him to influence Egyptian media. In addition, he has been deploying efforts to buy some news websites in Jordan.

Ahmed Youssef, former political adviser to former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, told Al-Monitor, “Dahlan is welcomed on the regional and international levels. As long as elections are not the only criterion on the Palestinian scene — in light of regional and international pressure to export this leader and sideline others — Dahlan may have better chances at accessing high Palestinian positions than others. This is considering Israel’s [relative] satisfaction with him and his special ties with the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Syrian opposition. The international relations that a Palestinian official has may allow him to climb to rungs of the leadership ladder.” [Continue reading…]

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