Israeli troops kill Palestinian murder suspects accused of slaying teens

“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange” — is this how Israelis attempt to arrest criminal suspects? By first shooting at them?

Reuters reports: Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday and the military said they were members of Hamas responsible for the killing of three Israeli youths in June, an attack that led to the Gaza war.

Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, both in their 30s, were shot dead during a gun battle after Israeli troops surrounded a house in the city before dawn, the army and residents said. Israel had been hunting the men for three months.

Kawasme and Abu Aysha were suspected of carrying out the kidnapping and killing of the three teenage seminary students, who were abducted while hitchhiking at night near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on June 12.

The military said army and police forces were trying to arrest the two suspects when a firefight erupted.

“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

The Times of Israel reports: Palestinian security cooperation with Israel enabled Israel to target and kill two Hamas operatives suspected of kidnapping and killing three Israeli teenagers in June, a Hamas official in Gaza charged on Tuesday.

Salah Bardawil said in a statement published on Hamas’s official website that “the success of the Israeli occupation in assassinating the perpetrators of the Hebron operation [sic] early Tuesday morning was due to the security cooperation in the occupied West Bank.”

By killing Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha rather than arresting them, Israel has avoided the politically risky process of putting them on trial — a trial which might have highlighted that the two men were not following directions from Hamas and thus Netanyahu’s pretext for the most recent war on Gaza was baseless.

That the killings happened at the very same time that the international media is firmly focused on U.S. airstrikes in Syria must surely just be a coincidence. Right?

facebooktwittermail

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

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

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

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

facebooktwittermail

Failure in Gaza

Assaf Sharon writes: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long ago become a shouting match over moral superiority. With seventy Israelis and more than two thousand Palestinians, most of them civilians, dead, the latest round of violence in Gaza, too, is being analyzed and discussed mostly on ethical grounds. But as fighting goes on, moral condemnation will likely do little to prevent the next round. Understanding how we got to this point — and, more importantly, how we can move beyond it — calls for an examination of the political events that led up to the operation and the political context in which it took place.

In Israel, endless controversy over Gaza has overlooked one question: How did we get here in the first place? Why, after a considerable period of relative calm, did Hamas resume rocket fire into Israel?

Before the current operation began, Hamas was at one of the lowest points in its history. Its alliance with Syria and Iran, its two main sources of support, had grown weak. Hamas’s ideological and political affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood turned from an asset into a burden, with the downfall of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the rise of its fierce opponent, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi. Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing and the tunnels on its border with Gaza undermined Hamas’s economic infrastructure. In these circumstances, Hamas agreed last April to reconciliation with its political rival Fatah, based on Fatah’s terms. For example, the agreement called for a government of technocrats largely under the control of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas.

But Benjamin Netanyahu viewed the reconciliation as a threat rather than an opportunity. While the separation of Gaza from the West Bank may not serve Israel’s interest (namely, effective government in the Palestinian Territories), it benefits Netanyahu’s policy of rejecting solutions that would lead to a separate Palestinian state. The reconciliation agreement robbed him of the claim that in the absence of effective rule over Gaza, there is no point in striking a deal with Abbas. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Abbas may push for deadline to end occupation

The New York Times reports: President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority may use the global stage of the annual General Assembly here in a few weeks to publicly demand a deadline for ending Israel’s occupation, according to his ambassador, while expecting that the Israelis — and almost certainly their American allies — will oppose that demand.

“He wants the international community to agree on a date,” the ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, said. Mr. Mansour called the demand part of what he described as a new strategy by Mr. Abbas to unilaterally advance the goal of Palestinian independence and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a litany of frustrations, notably the collapse of American-brokered talks with Israel this year.

Mr. Abbas also is apparently hoping that the Palestinian Authority’s role in helping to halt the 50-day war in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants, achieved last Tuesday with an Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement, has infused his position with new vitality and leverage.

If Mr. Abbas is denied an occupation end date, Mr. Mansour said, he will use the Palestine observer state status at the United Nations, an upgrade won nearly two years ago over Israeli and American objections, to make the occupied territories even more like the independent state he has sought.

The most coercive measure available to him is to make Palestine a member of the International Criminal Court, opening the way for possible prosecutions of Israeli actions as an occupying power. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Is this Gaza-Israel ceasefire different?

facebooktwittermail

#Hamas pushes Abbas to join #ICC

David Hearst reports: Hamas has decided to demand that President Mahmoud Abbas sign the Rome Statute which will allow Palestine to join the International Criminal Court as a full member, even though the militant movement itself could be subject to prosecution, sources told the Middle East Eye.

Hamas’s deputy chairman and chief negotiator in Cairo, Moussa Abu Marzouk has been instructed to sign the document supporting the State of Palestine as a member of the ICC in The Hague, the MEE has learned. The decision comes after a top level meeting between the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas.

The document already contains the signatures of the PLO executive committee, Fatah Central Committee and other PLO organisations such as the Popular Front and the Democratic Front. But Abbas himself is resisting, as a result of the forceful opposition of the United States and the European Union.

A tape in which Erekat criticised Abbas’s refusal to join the ICC was leaked recently. In it, Erekat is alleged to have criticised Abbas for stalling on the question of the ICC. Since then, Erekat has been at the forefront of a campaign to force Abbas’ hand. The PLO held a meeting recently in which all Palestinian factions put their name to joining the ICC. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Palestinian Authority tries to prevent uprising in West Bank

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

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

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

facebooktwittermail

Is another Intifada possible in the West Bank?

Ahmad Kittaneh was shot by Israeli soldiers on Thursday night during the largest protest in the West Bank since the Second Intifada. He and almost died. From his hospital bed he told Dalia Hatuqa, protest “is a national duty for every one of us.”

In the last two weeks, three separate attacks on Israelis took place in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and two Palestinian men participating in separate protests in villages near Tulkarem and Ramallah were shot dead. These skirmishes, coupled with the massive protests that Kittaneh took part in, have left many wondering if they were witnessing the beginning of a formal Intifada — or if the uprising would just patter out over time.

“What I saw the other day were people finally rising up,” Kittaneh insisted. “The numbers were huge. I don’t think we can go back from this.”

While the immediate motivation for these flare-ups may be the Gaza bombardment, it’s undeniable that a change in West Bank dynamics has also played a major role. With the temporary trappings of a quasi state-let slipping away — the peace process at a standstill, economic stagnation setting in — the only part of the window dressing that remains are the PA’s security forces whose main job, as far as regular Palestinians are concerned, is to protect Israel. This harsh reality is now in stark relief since Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left office roughly a year ago.

“People are coming to the conclusion that maybe what was taken by force cannot be returned except by force,” said Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem-based activist and university professor. “There has been significant upheaval and anger. It’s hard to determine the future, but the Palestinian psyche is changing, and we may be closer to a revolution against the PA, which is needed as well.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Israel and its allies need to recognize that Hamas has political legitimacy

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson write: Unity between Fatah and Hamas is currently stronger than it has been for many years. As Elders, we believe this is one of the most encouraging developments in recent years and welcome it warmly. This presents an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to reassume control over Gaza — an essential first step towards Israel and Egypt lifting the blockade.

The Palestinian Authority cannot manage the task of administering Gaza on its own. It will need the prompt return of the EU Border Assistance Mission, an international effort to help monitor border crossings that was launched in 2005 and suspended in 2007. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has already offered to reinstate the program, covering not only Rafah but all of Gaza’s crossings. Egypt and Israel would, in turn, cooperate with international monitors to be deployed in Gaza and along its borders, backed by a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilian populations. A valuable precedent for trust-building between Egypt and Israel is the international peacekeeping force operating in the Sinai, mandated by the peace treaty signed by the two countries in 1979.

The international community’s initial goal should be the full restoration of the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza through Israel, Egypt, and the sea. Concurrently, the United States and EU should recognize that Hamas is not just a military but also a political force. Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor — one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people — can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

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

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

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

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

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

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

facebooktwittermail

After #Gaza, #Palestine’s uprising will spread to the West Bank

Khaled Elgindy writes: Given the intensity of the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, it is easy to forget that the current crisis began in a different part of Palestine. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank led to a severe Israeli crackdown on Hamas, which responded with a barrage of rocket fire at Israel from Gaza. Meanwhile, the murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists sparked several days of violent protests by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere. The shift in venue served Israel’s interests, diverting the conflict away from sensitive and strategically vulnerable areas. For Israeli policymakers, another concentrated war against Gaza was preferable to the possibility of another West Bank uprising against Israel, akin to the so-called intifadas that occurred in the late 1980s and the early 2000s. Contrary to what Israelis may have hoped, however, the present war has made a third intifada more, not less, likely.

For most of the past decade, Israel’s de facto policy has been to deepen Palestinian geographic and political division by maintaining the schism between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Although the current Israeli government has made no secret of its opposition to any Palestinian government that includes or is even accepted by Hamas, which it views as a vicious terrorist organization that is beyond the political pale, Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza from the West Bank began before Hamas’ rise to power. In fact, it was the closure of Gaza’s borders in late 2005 shortly after Israel unilaterally removed its settlers and soldiers from Gaza that helped pave the way for Hamas’ election and created the conditions for the endless cycle of violence in Gaza that we see today. As Dov Weissglas, chief of staff to Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, put it at the time, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza would serve as “formaldehyde … so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” By cutting Gaza loose, along with its 1.5 million Palestinians, Israel could then focus on consolidating its control over and colonization of the West Bank.

Since then Israel, with U.S. and international backing, has treated Palestine as two separate conflicts, rather than one. By maintaining security cooperation and a diplomatic relationship with Fatah in the West Bank, Israel hoped to maintain calm in areas adjacent to its main population centers as well the settlement project itself. At the same time, by treating Hamas-controlled Gaza as a perpetual “enemy entity,” subject to air, land, and sea blockades, Israel reserved the right to periodically go to war against Gaza, a process that Israeli military officials refer to as “mowing the grass.” In this way, Israel would free itself from having to deal with the underlying causes of the conflict, most notably its 46-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This has produced the worst of all possible outcomes, simultaneously increasing the likelihood of violent confrontations with Hamas while decreasing the likelihood of resolving the conflict with Abbas’ PA. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

How to end the Gaza war

Emile Nakhleh writes: As the killing and destruction rages on in Gaza, and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership exchange recriminations and threats, key regional and world players must accept a central truism: No peace can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians without including Hamas. The quicker they internalize this fact, the faster the cycle of violence can be broken.

The Gaza wars have failed to liquidate Hamas; on the contrary, Hamas has emerged stronger and better equipped despite the pummeling it frequently receives from Israel.

At the same time, Israel’s assault on Gaza reflects Tel Aviv’s concern about the region as a whole, not just about Hamas. Such concerns are driven by the rise of Islamic radicalism in Gaza and across the region, the growing influence of right-wing radical Jewish groups and political movements in Israel, the brutal civil war in Syria, the collapsing state structures in Libya and Yemen, a failing state in Iraq, the marginalization of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership in Ramallah, and the fragile political systems in Lebanon and Jordan.

Israeli worries also stem from a resurgent Iran, a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, and the perceived diminishing influence of the United States across the region. Unable to influence these “seismic shifts” in the region, Israel has resisted any long-term workable accommodation with the Palestinians as well as ending its occupation of Arab lands. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Why John Kerry’s Israel-Palestine peace plan failed

The New Republic reports: The depth of Palestinian alienation became clear to Kerry and his team only on February 19, when the two sides met for dinner at Le Maurice Hotel in Paris — the kickoff to a three-day parley. As the Palestinians walked in the door, each American was struck with the same thought: These guys do not look like they’re in a good mood. Following dinner, Kerry met alone with Abbas while [the Palestinians' chief negotiator Saeb] Erekat and [Kerry’s envoy to the talks, Martin] Indyk spoke in a separate room. Afterward, Kerry and Indyk got in the car that would take them to their rooms at the Grande Hotel. The secretary turned to his envoy: “That was really negative.” At around the same time, Abbas, who was nursing a terrible cold, saw Erekat in the hall and told him that he was going straight to sleep. “It was a difficult meeting,” he said. “I’ll brief you tomorrow.”

The next morning, at around 7:30, Indyk called Erekat. “The secretary wants to see you,” he said. Erekat was surprised at the early time of the summons. This must be important. He put on a suit and took a cab to the Grande. When he and Indyk got to Kerry’s Louis XIII-style suite, the secretary answered the door. He was dressed casually: hotel slippers, no jacket or tie. He looked concerned. After a moment of silence, the first words came out of Kerry’s mouth. “Why is Abu Mazen so angry with me?”

Erekat responded that he hadn’t yet been briefed on the meeting, so Kerry offered to get his notes. “I barely said a word, and he started saying, ‘I cannot accept this,’” Kerry grumbled, going through some of Abbas’s red lines.

“What do you want?” Erekat said. “These are his positions. We are sick and tired of Bibi the Great. He’s taking you for a ride.”

“No one takes me for a ride!”

“He is refusing to negotiate on a map or even say 1967.”

“I’ve moved him,” Kerry said, “I’ve moved him.”

“Where?” Erekat said, raising his voice. “Show me! This is just the impression he’s giving you.”

The next month, Abbas led a Palestinian delegation to Washington. At a March 16 lunch at Kerry’s Georgetown home, the secretary asked Abbas if he’d accept delaying the fourth prisoner release by a few days. Kerry was worried that the Israelis were wavering. “No,” Abbas said. “I cannot do this.” Abbas would later describe that moment as a turning point. If the Americans can’t convince Israel to give me 26 prisoners, he thought then, how will they ever get them to give me East Jerusalem? At the meal, Erekat noticed Abbas displaying some of his telltale signs of discomfort. He was crossing his legs, looking over at him every two minutes. The index cards on which he normally took notes had been placed back in his suit pocket. Abbas was no longer interested in what was being said.

The next day at the White House, Obama tried his luck with the Palestinian leader. He reviewed the latest American proposals, some of which had been tilted in Abbas’s direction. (The document would now state categorically that there would be a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.) “Don’t quibble with this detail or that detail,” Obama said. “The occupation will end. You will get a Palestinian state. You will never have an administration as committed to that as this one.” Abbas and Erekat were not impressed.

After the meeting, the Palestinian negotiator saw Susan Rice — Abbas’s favorite member of the Obama administration — in the hall. “Susan,” he said, “I see we’ve yet to succeed in making it clear to you that we Palestinians aren’t stupid.” Rice couldn’t believe it. “You Palestinians,” she told him, “can never see the fucking big picture.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

The architects of the latest war on Gaza

Nathan Thrall explains why Israel’s opposition to a Palestinian “national consensus” government in which Hamas does not have a single member — and the Obama administration’s acquiescence to that position — paved the way to the current war on Gaza.

Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government… and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel’s security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.

Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.

But the key issues of paying Gaza’s civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government’s ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.

Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.

Qatar had offered to pay Gaza’s 43,000 civil servants, and America and Europe could have helped facilitate that. But Washington warned that American law prohibited any entity delivering payment to even one of those employees — many thousands of whom are not members of Hamas but all of whom are considered by American law to have received material support from a terrorist organization.

When a United Nations envoy offered to resolve this crisis by delivering the salaries through the United Nations, so as to exclude all parties from legal liability, the Obama administration did not assist. Instead, it stood by as Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the envoy’s expulsion on the grounds that he was “trying to funnel money” to Hamas.

Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn’t obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn’t reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.

For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Palestinians denounce West Bank leadership

Al Jazeera reports: Like every night since the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdair, a group of young Palestinian men in Bethlehem covered their faces with t-shirts and kuffiyehs (checkered scarves), and headed to their usual positions near the Israeli army post next to Rachel’s Tomb.

Palestinian Authority (PA) forces surveyed the scene from behind the youth, who threw stones and dodged volleys of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition fired by Israeli soldiers from their watchtower.

For many, this non-interference on the part of the PA is a major source of anger, as protests continue to spread across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and in Palestinian communities in Israel over the military offensive under way in the Gaza Strip.

“The Palestinian police is mercenary of the Israeli occupation; they just watch and do nothing,” said Majdi, a 28-year-old from Deheisheh refugee camp and one of the usual protesters. His friend, Dia, added that: “It’s worse than that,” alleging that Palestinian police document the people who throw stones and pass the information on to Israeli soldiers. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

How Kerry streamlined Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — by leaving out the Palestinians

Barak Ravid has a detailed report on the nine months of so-called Israeli-Palestinian talks on a final-status agreement initiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in July 2013.

Warning lights began to go on among the Israeli team at a quite early stage of the negotiations. It wasn’t clear to Netanyahu and his aides what exactly the Palestinians thought about each of the clauses in the draft framework document that were hammering out with the Americans. “At one point we discovered that throughout the entire period, the Americans didn’t actually talk to the Palestinians, only to us,” a senior Israeli official said.

A senior American official who took part in the talks admits that the bulk of the work on the document was done with the Israelis. He explained that this was due to the fact that because the Americans viewed themselves as being closer to the Palestinian approach on a large number of the issues, their major effort had to be invested in trying to get Netanyahu to soften his positions. Fearing that the Palestinians would lock themselves into a rejectionist posture, the Americans decided not to present any proposal to them until they felt their contacts with Israel had reached a sufficiently serious outcome.

However, the Americans’ comportment brought about exactly the result they had feared. On February 19, 2014, when Kerry met with Abbas in Paris and apprised him orally of the main points of the emerging framework document, the secretary of state was stunned at the reaction.

The Palestinian leader, who was unwell and in a foul mood when he arrived for the meeting, had the feeling that the Americans had pulled “a Dennis Ross” on him – referring to the veteran American diplomat who was known throughout all the years of the negotiations for his practice of first striking a deal with the Israelis and then selling it to the Palestinians as an American proposal. Abbas thought Kerry was presenting him with a done deal and trying to stuff it down his throat.

The Kerry-Abbas meeting in Paris was a total bust. Senior American and Palestinian officials maintain that Abbas has been unbudgeable since that day. He refused to hold talks on the framework document, insisting first on getting a promise that Israel would release all the prisoners it had undertaken to free at the start of the negotiations.

Throughout the whole succeeding month, the Americans tried to extract from Abbas a response or a comment on the framework document, but to no avail. Abbas viewed the document as part of a plot against him. Things came to a head on March 17, when Abbas met with President Obama at the Oval Office for more than two hours and declined to give Obama anything other than a vague promise that he would get back to him in a few days about the framework document. Which he never did.

Both Abbas and chief negotiator Erekat say rightly that the Americans never gave them a copy of the framework document, but only presented ideas orally. They could thus not peruse the paper thoroughly and formulate an opinion. At this time, drafts of the document were being exchanged between Washington and Jerusalem on a daily basis. The Palestinians’ response, when they grasped what was going on, was that they were being duped. So great was their suspiciousness and so intense their frustration with the Americans that they lost interest in the process completely.

facebooktwittermail

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

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