U.S. sends ‘message’ to Abbas with $80 million aid cut

Al-Monitor reports: The Obama administration is cutting aid to the Palestinians by $80 million in what congressional sources describe as a “message” to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The State Department notified lawmakers on Sept. 25 of its intention to reduce economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip from $370 million to $290 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Al-Monitor has learned. The news of the 22% cut from the department’s initial request follows mounting criticism from Congress about Palestinian “incitement” in the rash of stabbing attacks that have left at least 10 Israeli civilians dead over the past three weeks.

“We need to dial up pressure on Palestinian officials to repudiate this violence,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. [Continue reading…]


The end of the Abbas era

Nathan Thrall writes: The stabbings, shootings, protests and clashes now spreading across Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel present one of the greatest challenges yet posed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his strategy of bilateral negotiations, diplomacy and security co-operation with Israel. The unrest – its proximate cause was increased restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa Mosque – reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end.

Abbas came to power with a limited window to achieve political results. More a drab functionary than a charismatic revolutionary leader like Yasser Arafat, he was seen as a bridge to recovery from the ruinous years of the Second Intifada. At the time of his election, in January 2005, Palestinians were battered, exhausted and in need of an internationally accepted, violence-abhorring figure who could secure the political and financial support necessary to rebuild a shattered society. The Fatah movement was divided and discredited by the failure of Oslo, corruption scandals and the abandonment of its liberation strategy before independence had been achieved. Abbas, who had led outreach to the Israelis since the 1970s, seemed a sufficiently unthreatening transitional figure. He had few serious challengers: Hamas abstained from the presidential election; Fatah’s founding leaders had been assassinated many years earlier; Marwan Barghouti, in Israeli prison since 2002, withdrew from the race. And the Bush administration, newly re-elected, favoured Abbas.

No one expected these conditions to last. Palestinian fatigue from fighting Israel would wear off. The West Bank and Gaza would be rebuilt. Hamas wouldn’t stay out of politics forever. Continuing occupation would foment resistance. Leaders who suppressed that resistance would be discredited. And a new generation of Palestinians would grow up with no memory of the costs of intifada and no understanding of why their parents had agreed not only to refrain from fighting the Israeli army but to co-operate with it, under agreements that Abbas had negotiated. [Continue reading…]


Israel still holds all the cards

Noam Sheizaf writes: Over the past decade the Palestinian Authority took upon itself the role of Israel’s operations contractor of the occupation, with an understanding that quiet in the West Bank would create the requisite conditions for progress in peace talks with Israel. That’s what the Palestinians have always been promised, at least — if the violence stops, we’ll talk and you’ll get your state.

But it’s now clear that the dynamic is the exact opposite. The calm on the ground made Israelis believe that they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation. The tragic paradox is that it was the intifadas that led to Israeli concessions (Oslo, the Gaza Disengagement), while the peaceful years resulted in more hardline Israeli positions and the expansion of settlements. In weeks like this one, it is sad to recall the commotion Netanyahu raised with his demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” and not just as “The State of Israel,” as if Israel needs Abbas to define its identity. Be sure that if Abbas had recognized Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu would have invented something new to demand. Anything in order to not reach an agreement.

When the PLO leadership understood that it wasn’t going to get anywhere with Israel, it took a gamble by seeking international pressure — first from the United states and then from Europe. The thing is, Washington will never seriously pressure Israel. If one compares America’s commitment to the Iran deal to its flaccid approach to the Palestinian issue, things come into focus rather quickly. The Iran deal was a matter of American interests for the Obama administration. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was little more than an irritation.

Dramatic developments in the Arab world, particularly in Syria, are the final nails in the coffin of Palestine’s international strategy. Syria has gone from an Iranian-Turkish-Saudi proxy war to an American-Russian one, with massive consequences for the entire region and beyond — and as if that weren’t enough, the Americans are now worried about the stability of Jordan. Under these conditions, Israel’s strategy of strengthening and maintaining the status quo in the occupied territories suddenly seams reasonable to the United States. [Continue reading…]


Palestinians ‘more isolated than at any point since 1948’

Mouin Rabbani writes: the organisational infrastructure required to mobilise and sustain a widespread rebellion has been systematically dismantled over the past decade, primarily by the Palestinian Authority. It remains committed to security collaboration with Israel, which its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has described as “sacred”.

The chances that Israeli actions will push Abbas over the precipice are nil. Indeed, when he again cried wolf at the UN last month the sheep died of laughter. Because Abbas has systematically foreclosed upon all other options, he will remain more exercised by threats to Israeli security than the security of his own people for the remainder of his tenure. For its part, the Islamist movement Hamas remains committed to the survival of its rule in the Gaza Strip above all else.

The current crisis may yet prove a catalyst for the hard work of reviving a unified, coherent and dynamic Palestinian national movement capable of conducting the struggle for Palestinian self-determination. The hard reality is that, until Palestinians overcome the domestic obstacles to their ability to rebel, they will remain incapable of successfully challenging Israel or effectively taking on those who support its policies. [Continue reading…]


Abbas says he’s no longer bound by Oslo Accords

The New York Times reports: Demonstrating a new level of tension with Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared Wednesday that it was no longer bound by the Oslo Accords that formed the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his annual General Assembly speech, Mr. Abbas accused Israel of having violated the accords and subsequent agreements. He asserted that there was no reason the Palestinians should remain faithful to them as long as the Israelis were not.

“We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power,” Mr. Abbas said.

There had been speculation fed by Mr. Abbas’s aides that he would drop a “bombshell” announcement during his speech. While the announcement sounded serious, the practical effects were not immediately clear. [Continue reading…]


Gaza, Gulag on the Mediterranean

Mohammed Omer writes: At this time last year, as the missiles and bombs rained down in Israel’s lopsided seven-week war against Gaza, I wrote about our struggle to survive during the holy month of Ramadan. This year, another Ramadan has passed, Eid al-Fitr is over and the reality on the ground has changed very little.

The same dreadful conditions are creating desperation among Gaza’s inhabitants, whose lives are terrorized by war and stunted by the long blockade of this spit of land, 25 miles long and six miles wide. The only difference now is the absence of the smell of gunfire and explosives, and of the smoke trails from missiles fired by Israeli F-16s crashing down among civilian homes.

I recently visited some of the most heavily damaged areas of Gaza, starting with eastern Rafah, where massive destruction is still visible and bullet holes spatter the walls of houses. Up the road, in the half-ruined village of Khuzaa, the legacy of physical and emotional trauma has yet to be addressed. [Continue reading…]


Palestinians giving up on statehood, Israeli ex-security chief says

The Times of Israel reports: The death of the two-state solution among the Palestinians is no secret to the Israelis, nor is it mourned by government officials. To the political echelon, the threat of a binational state is not sufficiently tangible, and the possibility that radical Islam will take over the West Bank if there should be a peace agreement seems more real.

But things sound different in the defense establishment, and particularly among those who have left it. Quite a few former generals, Shin Bet directors and Mossad chiefs have warned any number of times that maintaining the status quo in the territories, which has become a kind of strategy in Netanyahu’s era, could change the face of the State of Israel.

“I’m hearing from various Palestinian officials with whom I am in contact that they have given up on the two-state solution as an option for resolving the conflict,” says former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, 59, who now owns a hi-tech firm in Herzliya. [Continue reading…]


Palestinian split widens as unity government quits

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

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

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

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

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

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


Palestinian discontent with Abbas is growing

The New York Times reports from the al-Amari refugee camp in the West Bank: Residents of this cinder-block ghetto, a few miles from the headquarters of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, recently removed his portrait from the camp’s entrance.

Then they sought to embarrass Mr. Abbas by roundly rejecting his son’s bid to lead a local sports club. And in case the message was not clear enough, after the vote, men paraded through the streets chanting, “Tell your father that Amari camp doesn’t like you!”

Much attention has focused recently on the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent disavowal of a two-state solution and his shattered relationship with the Obama administration.

But of perhaps equal importance is a growing discontent in Palestinian ranks, much of it focused on Mr. Abbas. While the United States and Europe seem ever more ready to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, some Palestinians are questioning whether their leader, who celebrated his 80th birthday last week, will be able to seize the opportunity. [Continue reading…]


Netanyahu’s ‘no-Palestinian-state’ vow raises questions about security coordination

McClatchy reports: Khawla Zeitawi is pregnant with twins, and her husband is not at her side.

Instead, her husband, Jasser Abu Omar, is in an Israeli prison, accused of being part of a terrorist cell that crafted explosives in a Nablus apartment. Zeitawi asserts that her husband is innocent, jailed on bad information from Palestinian law enforcement as part of ongoing security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Security coordination is treason,” Zeitawi said in her home in Jamain, a village near Nablus in the West Bank. “The Palestinian Authority is giving Israel a service for free.”

Since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, its security organizations have worked closely with Israel to share intelligence, arrest suspected militants and limit demonstrations in the West Bank. That cooperation was suspended during a Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada, but has been a robust part of life in the West Bank since 2007 – and a lightning rod for complaints among the Palestinian public for almost as long.

Earlier this month, the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council voted to suspend security coordination. That vote was to protest Israel’s withholding of tax revenues, an action Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered earlier this year to punish the Palestinians for applying for membership in the International Criminal Court.

On Friday, Netanyahu ordered the release of the tax revenues, which Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf at a rate of $127 million a month. But that’s unlikely to silence Palestinian doubts about the security agreement, especially after Netanyahu won reelection in part by vowing never to allow a Palestinian state to rise while he’s prime minister. [Continue reading…]


If the peace process is over, what’s Plan B for Palestine?

Israeli Settlements Timeline Chart 1966-2014 — Gaps of data in some years mean that the information is not available.

Alan Philps writes: Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election declaration that there would be no Palestinian state under his government was hardly a bombshell. Though he has on occasion declared his support for a Palestinian state, it never felt like a genuine commitment. His disavowal of Palestinian statehood has merely torn away a mask that had become transparent.

In diplomatic circles, however, Mr Netanyahu’s coming clean is a game-changer. The prospect of a Palestinian state, however distant, has been the corner stone of all Middle East peace efforts. Without some kind of agreed process, diplomats fear that Israel and Palestine are heading for a new explosion.

The peace process is what justifies the US preserving the status quo. When Washington vetoed the Palestinian Authority request for statehood at the UN Security Council in December, the justification was that it was “more likely to curtail useful negotiations than to bring them to a successful conclusion”. Without any prospect of “useful negotiations”, it is hard to see how the US could to that again.

Likewise ,it would be hard to justify the US and European Union continuing to fund the Palestinian Authority, a government in the West Bank whose popularity, such as it is, depends solely on its ability to pay 160,000 public sector salaries. If Israel wants the land, why should it not have to pay those salaries? And if there is no prospect of gaining their own state, why should Palestinians continue with the security cooperation that helps Israelis sleep at night? [Continue reading…]


Palestinian leaders see validation of their statehood effort

The New York Times reports: Under most circumstances, an Israeli leader’s frank admission that he would never agree to a Palestinian state would be a disaster for the Palestinian leadership. But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said precisely that in the heat of the recent election campaign, it seemed to have the opposite effect, validating the unilateral approach the Palestinians have decided to follow.

“We will continue a diplomatic intifada. We have no other choice,” said Assad Abdul Rahman, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council and executive committee, its top decision-making body.

With Mr. Netanyahu having dropped, for now at least, the pretense of seeking a two-state solution, the Palestinians can argue to Europe and the United States that they no longer have a negotiating partner, strengthening their case for full statehood and recognition in the United Nations, as well as membership in important international bodies. They are already members of the International Criminal Court and Unesco.

“If somebody said, ‘We are with two states, and real negotiations,’ we would return to negotiations,” said Assad Abdul Rahman. “But there is no partner for that.”

In addition to considering seeking full statehood at the United Nations, the Palestinians may now curtail security coordination with Israel, reducing Israel’s ability to seize suspected militants in the West Bank, two P.L.O. officials said.

“There is a feeling that if there really is no hope for the peace process, the best thing they can have is an Israeli government that will advance its own isolation,” said Nathan Thrall, senior analyst with the Middle East and North Africa Program of the International Crisis Group. [Continue reading…]


Gaza suffers in growing isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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


Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

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

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

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


Why the Palestinians are finally giving up on Obama and the U.S. peace process

Zack Beauchamp writes: “If you want,” PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi offered, “I can call him right now.” The “him” in question was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This was mid-November 2014; I was with a group of journalists in Ashrawi’s Ramallah office, and we were all asking her about the dramatic flameout of John Kerry’s effort to produce an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in late April. Ashrawi decided to phone a friend — President Abbas — to answer our questions. And Abbas, as it turned out, was in a talkative mood.

Abbas told a story about Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed peace talks that differed greatly from what other participants have said publicly. But what was in many ways more important than the details of his story was the attitude it conveyed toward the US: a total collapse in trust. The senior Palestinian leadership has come to believe that the United States is utterly incapable of budging Israel in negotiations and thus of bringing peace. Long-simmering Palestinian frustration with America, which Palestinians have always seen as hopelessly biased towards Israel, has finally bubbled over.

The new Palestinian approach is a sharp break with the past. For over 20 years since the historic 1993 Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians, there’s been one dominant strategy on all sides for achieving peace in the Holy Land: direct, American-mediated talks between the two sides. The US-led negotiations of 2014, known as the Kerry talks, were in part a last-ditch effort to keep that process alive. The Palestinians had already begun moving away from the old model of talking directly with the Americans and Israelis and towards a campaign to isolate and pressure Israel internationally. But it looked to many like the Palestinians were bluffing, or only hedging — trying to bring more pressure to direct peace talks, not sidestep them. [Continue reading…]