Palestinians clash with Israeli troops ahead of ‘day of rage’ at Trump’s Jerusalem move

The Washington Post reports: Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers clashed Thursday in Jerusalem, Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with some demonstrators burning American flags and posters of President Trump a day after he sided with Israel by announcing U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

But at nightfall, after the skirmishes died down, the region was bracing for worse.

More than 100 people were injured Thursday, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, despite the deployment of several extra battalions of Israeli troops. The critical test comes Friday, when larger demonstrations are expected as crowds leave mosques after the weekly noon prayers.

In Gaza, the Islamist Hamas movement urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel. The Palestinian Authority called for a general strike. Shops were shuttered in Jerusalem’s Old City. [Continue reading…]

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Tony Blair: ‘We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win’

The Observer reports: Tony Blair has said for the first time that he and other world leaders were wrong to yield to Israeli pressure to impose an immediate boycott of Hamas after the Islamic faction won Palestinian elections in 2006.

As prime minister at the time, Blair offered strong support for the decision – driven by the George W Bush White House – to halt aid to, and cut off relations with, the newly elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority unless it agreed to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements between its Fatah predecessors and Israel. The ultimatum was rejected by Hamas. The elections were judged free and fair by international monitors.

Blair, who became envoy of the Middle East quartet – composed of the US, EU, UN and Russia – after leaving Downing Street, now says the international community should have tried to “pull Hamas into a dialogue”. The boycott and Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza, which began the following year, are still in force today. A UN report two years ago said the combined effects of the blockade and the three military offensives conducted in Gaza by Israel since 2009 could make the territory “uninhabitable” by 2020. Humanitarian conditions have worsened markedly since the report was written.

Interviewed for a new book Gaza: Preparing for Dawn, out later this month, Blair said: “In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue and shifted their positions. I think that’s where I would be in retrospect.

“But obviously it was very difficult, the Israelis were very opposed to it. But you know we could have probably worked out a way whereby we did – which in fact we ended up doing anyway, informally.”

Blair did not elaborate on subsequent “informal” dealings with Hamas but he appears to be referring to clandestine contacts between MI6 and Hamas representatives during and possibly after the kidnap of BBC journalist Alan Johnston by an extreme fundamentalist group in 2007. The kidnappers eventually released Johnston after heavy pressure from the Hamas de facto government. [Continue reading…]

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Landmark talks between Palestinian Authority and Hamas stall

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday convened its first cabinet meeting in the Gaza Strip in three years, but talks between the internationally recognized Palestinian governing body and Hamas hit a stumbling block over the latter’s refusal to disarm.

Landmark talks to end a decadelong rift between the two Palestinian factions and return control of the Hamas-ruled enclave to the authority hinge partly on the political and militant group agreeing to completely disarm. The authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has warned he won’t allow Hamas to maintain its armed wing as part of a unity government.

“For sure Hamas will never accept this…dismantling al-Qassam,” said Hazem Qassem, spokesman for Hamas, referencing the armed wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades.

The cabinet meeting was convened by the authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, before authority ministers then visited the Gaza outposts of their respective departments. The cabinet last convened in Gaza in 2014, during the last round of reconciliation talks between Hamas and the authority.

The question of al-Qassam’s fate overshadowed the two-day visit to Gaza, which began Monday, by a delegation of high-ranking authority officials, including Mr. Hamdallah. Negotiations over the issue are likely to continue next week in Cairo. Egyptian intelligence officials also helped broker the talks in Gaza.

Mr. Abbas said late Monday he wouldn’t allow a situation in the Palestinian territories such as that in Lebanon, where the militant and political group Hezbollah maintains a de facto army alongside Lebanese national forces.

“I will not accept or copy or reproduce the Hezbollah example in Lebanon,” he said, according to comments carried by official Palestinian Authority media. “Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.”

Hamas and the authority, which is dominated by Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party, are working to dispel years of mutual distrust and create a united national movement that can negotiate peace with Israel.

The U.S. and United Nations support the talks between the two parties, while Israel is watching them warily for a gauge on the future policy of the Palestinian national movement. [Continue reading…]

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How blood money, diplomacy and desperation are reuniting Palestine

Reuters reports: A decade on, Rawda al-Zaanoun is at last willing to forgive the gunmen who killed her son during the civil war that split Palestine. It has been painful, but she says it is time.

“He was hit with a bullet in the back. He was a martyr,” the 54-year-old said at an event in Gaza city to mark the public reconciliation of families of people killed in the war. “The decision was not easy because the blood of our son is precious. But we have given amnesty.”

Her son Ala, a married father of two and an officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces, was killed in June 2007 after he rushed out of his house in Gaza City, having heard that his uncle was injured in clashes between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

Since that war a decade ago, Fatah, led by the secular heirs of Yassir Arafat, has run the West Bank, headed the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and been responsible for all negotiations with Israel.

Its rivals, the Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, drove Fatah out of Gaza and has run the tiny coastal strip that is home to 2 million people, nearly half of the population of the Palestinian territories.

The schism is set to end on Monday, when Hamas hands over control of Gaza to a unity government. Although it agreed to the arrangement three years ago, the decision to implement it now marks a striking reversal for Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and most of the most powerful Arab countries.

“Hamas has made big concessions, and every coming concession will be stunning and surprisingly bigger than the one that passed, so that we can conclude reconciliation and this division must end,” the chief of Hamas in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, said during a meeting this week with social media activists.

If Hamas has swallowed a bitter pill by ending the feud, perhaps bitterest of all is the role played by exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, once Hamas’s fiercest foe who is now a leading player in regional efforts to pull Gaza back into the Palestinian mainstream.

Officials on both sides of the Palestinian divide and in other Arab countries say Dahlan, based since 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, is behind an influx of cash to prop up Gaza, and a detente between Hamas and Arab states including Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas accepts Fatah demands but reconciliation remains doubtful

The National reports: Hamas said on Sunday it had dissolved its de facto government in the Gaza Strip and met other demands of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to pave the way for a reconciliation with his Fatah movement which runs West Bank self-rule enclaves.

Such a rapprochement would heal a decade-old divide in Palestinian politics that has greatly set back statehood aspirations. But analysts cautioned that many complex issues would still have to be resolved and recalled that earlier reconciliation efforts had foundered, with each side unwilling to give up the monopoly of power in its territory.

In a statement issued overnight after eight days of meetings with Egyptian mediators, Hamas said it had dismantled the administrative committee it formed six months ago to rule Gaza, a move that triggered punishing sanctions by Mr Abbas aimed at toppling the Islamist movement. The sanctions included cutting off funding for Gaza’s electricity, cutting salary payments and even refusing medical referrals from the Strip.

Hamas also invited Mr Abbas’s government to return to Gaza, 10 years after Fatah security forces were routed in a brief civil war. And the movement said it was ready to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections, which are about a decade overdue because of the rift.

“This puts Abu Mazen and Fatah to the real test,” Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum wrote on the movement’s website, in what amounted to a call to lift the sanctions. “Our people is looking for a practical and actual response in order to achieve its ambitions of national unity and real partnership.”

Fatah central committee member Mahmoud Al Aloul welcomed the Hamas announcement but was also cautious. “We want to see that happening on the ground before we move to the next step,” he said.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al Azhar University, said: “This is a very significant moment that Hamas agreed to dissolve the administrative committee and allowed the Egyptians to get more involved.”

But, “the devil is in the details and there are tons of details that need to be worked out”.

He said these include determining the future of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam brigades, and of armed resistance against Israel – things that were not mentioned in the Hamas statement. A key question that needs to be answered is who will be in charge of security? [Continue reading…]

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Palestine: Dangerous escalation in attacks on freedom of expression

Amnesty International reports: The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and their rivals, the de-facto Hamas administration in Gaza, have both tightened the noose on freedom of expression in recent months, launching a repressive clampdown on dissent that has seen journalists from opposition media outlets interrogated and detained in a bid to exert pressure on their political opponents, said Amnesty International.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have arrested six journalists in August so far, shut down 29 websites and introduced a controversial Electronic Crimes Law imposing tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces have arrested at least two journalists since June and hampered others from freely carrying out their work. At least 12 Palestinians, including activists, were also detained by Hamas for critical comments posted on Facebook.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent. This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“By rounding up journalists and shutting down opposition websites the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip appear to be using police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s wasted generation has nowhere else to go

The Washington Post reports: They are the Hamas generation, raised under the firm hand of an Islamist militant movement. They are the survivors of three wars with Israel and a siege who find themselves as young adults going absolutely nowhere.

In many circles in Gaza, it is hard to find anyone in their 20s with real employment, with a monthly salary.

They call themselves a wasted generation.

Ten years after Hamas seized control of Gaza, the economy in the seaside strip of 2 million has been strangled by incompetence, war and blockade.

Gaza today lives off its wits and the recycled scraps donated by foreign governments. Seven in 10 people rely on humanitarian aid.

Young people say they are bored out of their minds.

They worry that too many of their friends are gobbling drugs, not drugs to experience ecstasy but pills used to tranquilize animals, smuggled across Sinai. They dose on Tramadol and smoke hashish. They numb.

Hamas has recently stepped up executions of drug traffickers.

Freedoms to express oneself are circumscribed. But the young people speak, a little bit. They say their leaders have failed them — and that the Israelis and Egyptians are crushing them.

Why not revolt? They laugh. It is very hard to vote the current government out — there are no elections.

“To be honest with you, we do nothing,” said Bilal Abusalah, 24, who trained to be a nurse but sometimes sells women’s clothing.

He has cool jeans, a Facebook page, a mobile phone and no money. [Continue reading…]

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The next war in Gaza is brewing. Here’s how to stop it

Nathan Thrall and Robert Blecher write: When violence erupts in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is usually not long before the Gaza Strip follows. At Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, a Palestinian teenager was killed while protesting in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem. Several days earlier, two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the next day Israeli tanks destroyed a Hamas position.

It’s an all-too-familiar echo of the events that preceded the Gaza conflict of 2014: widespread Palestinian protests in Jerusalem, Israelis murdered in the occupied territories, a sharp rise in Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, mass arrests of Hamas officials in the West Bank, and a steadily tightening noose around Gaza.

In February, Israel’s state comptroller released a report that strongly criticized the government’s failure to prevent the 2014 conflict. The report highlighted a statement made by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon days after the war began: “If Hamas’s distress had been addressed a few months ago, Hamas might have avoided the current escalation.”

The population of Gaza is now suffering far more than it was before the 2014 eruption. Once again, the three parties responsible for the blockade causing that distress — Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority — are bringing the next war closer. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza: The curse of Mohammed Dahlan

Ramzy Baroud writes: “We have made mutual efforts with our brothers in Hamas to restore hope for Gaza’s heroic people,” Mohammed Dahlan told Palestinian legislators gathering in Gaza on Thursday, July 27. He spoke via satellite from his current exile in the United Arab Emirates.

The audience clapped. True, Gaza has been pushed to the brink of humiliation so that its truly heroic people may lose hope. But the fact that it was Dahlan that uttered these words appeared odd. More bizarre is the fact that his audience included top members of Hamas.

Dahlan, who had once been praised by George W Bush and was chosen by neoconservatives to lead a coup against the elected Hamas government in Gaza in 2007, seems to have finally managed to sneak his way back to Palestinian politics. Outrageously, however, Dahlan’s ominous return is facilitated by no other group than his archenemy, Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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Life in Gaza has gone from unbearable and insufferable to its absolute worst

Muhammad Shehada writes: I talked to my family in Gaza earlier this week and asked them: “How do you sleep at night when you don’t have electricity?” The temperature at night there doesn’t go below 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity is high. My 12-year-old sister answered: “We don’t.”

She explained that even if they try to sleep, open all the windows, drink a lot of water – still, they can’t breathe. If they lie down, they spend hours sweating profusely while listening to the Israeli drones’ intimidating noise outside, with nowhere to go. They prefer to stay awake at night until they can’t resist their eyes closing. Even then, they’re troubled by insomnia, and nightmares. They wake up to find themselves drowned in sweat.

By the morning, the flaming sun limits their options. One option is to spend the day in the Capital Mall, the only mall in Gaza equipped with internet, air conditioners, private electrical generators and a place to sit down. Or they could go and visit a relative who has a big enough battery to operate a small fan while they speak. They can no longer go and sit by the sea, when the risk of catching diseases from the contaminated water is so high, though others have stopped really caring about getting sick or not. As a friend of mine told me: “The sea is 99% polluted, we swim in the 1% that’s left.”

Their electricity, however, suddenly comes back on for two to three random hours at most each day, and that’s the only time you can turn on the pumps to store a little bit of undrinkable water in the tanks that will run out as soon as you take a shower. It becomes a kind of rush hour, when everyone is desperately running around, trying to cool some purchased mineral water in the freezer, recharge cellphone batteries and radios and flashlights, and sit behind a computer screen to read the news, whose headlines are repetitive and hollow. As soon as the electricity goes out, the people are back to the streets, sitting in the shade on the pavements.

For most of my friends in Gaza, all the days of the week are routinely identical, and most of the young people are depressingly “unemployable” due to the blockade that has killed the economy, so there’s no actual difference between  weekdays and the weekend. What’s different is the incremental accrual of age that accumulates more rage inside you and reminds you that you haven’t had much in life, and probably won’t have much more in the future. And with each year, another cohort of graduates is exposed to the dead job market, with no prospects for making a livelihood. [Continue reading…]

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Revitalizing Palestinian nationalism: Options versus realities

Perry Cammack, Nathan Brown, and Marwan Muasher write: A half century after Israel’s astonishing 1967 victory established control over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, the Palestinian national project still faces considerable barriers to statehood. The Palestinian Authority (PA)—created in 1994 as a way station to full sovereignty—has been split in two since Hamas’ 2007 takeover of Gaza.1 The pace of Israeli construction in the West Bank has increased more during the PA’s twenty-three-year lifespan than in the first twenty-seven years of Israeli occupation, with the number of West Bank settlers rising from 116,300 in 1993 to 382,900 in 2015.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accord, most Palestinian institutions have evolved upon the premise that a sovereign state is achievable through a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But since 2000, successive efforts to negotiate a final status agreement have failed. With the pathways to statehood increasingly in doubt, the end goal no longer seems to guide political calculations. As a result, Palestinian political legitimacy continues to erode, and Palestinians increasingly view their national leadership as incapable of articulating a coherent strategic vision.

Hence, Palestinian nationalism seems to be at a critical juncture, with no clear way forward. The current trajectory likely leads to continued occupation, settlement expansion, social division, and institutional decay. And while grassroots discussions of new approaches have begun to percolate, no consensus has emerged. These approaches, which mostly involve increased confrontation with Israel, would likely bring socioeconomic turbulence and the possible unraveling of some of the organizational, moral, and diplomatic achievements of Palestinian nationalism to date—and with no certainty of success. Based in part on an informal survey of fifty-eight Palestinian leaders in various fields and featuring a collection of commentaries on subjects including civil society engagement, youth political participation, reconciliation, and international law and Palestinian rights, this report attempts to explore the prospects for national renewal. [Continue reading…]

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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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