Russia says Palestinian, Israeli leaders agree to meet

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow in what Russia hopes will relaunch Middle East peace talks after more than two years’ break, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

While it is not clear when the meeting will take place, Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said on Thursday Moscow had heard from the offices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the two agreed to meet in the Russian capital.

“The leaders of Palestine and Israel have given their general consent to meet in Russia,” Zakharova told reporters.

“The most important thing is to pick the right timing,” she added. “Intensive contacts on this are ongoing.”

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Jamjoom, reporting from Moscow, said the Russian statement “hardly sounded like a sure thing at this point”, highlighting a comment by a Kremlin spokesperson on Wednesday saying that a meeting between the two sides was “not on the schedule and not on the agenda”.

Earlier this week, Abbas said a scheduled meeting in Moscow had been postponed at Israel’s request.

Abbas has said that he would only meet Netanyahu if Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied lands and carries out a previously agreed-on release of Palestinian prisoners. [Continue reading…]

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Soviet document suggests Mahmoud Abbas was a KGB spy in the 1980s

The New York Times reports: Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may have more in common than an interest in Middle East peace talks. According to a newly discovered Soviet document, Mr. Abbas may have once worked for the K.G.B., too.

The possibility, trumpeted by the Israeli media on Wednesday night and just as quickly dismissed by Palestinian officials, emerged from a document in a British archive listing Soviet agents from 1983. A reference to Mr. Abbas is tantalizing but cryptic, just two lines identifying him by the code name “Mole.” At the end of his entry are two words: “K.G.B. agent.”

The suggestion that Mr. Abbas may have been on Moscow’s roster more than three decades ago might have been just a historical curiosity but for the fact that it comes at the same time that Mr. Putin has been trying to organize new talks between Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. A Russian envoy was in Jerusalem this week to meet with Mr. Netanyahu, but the Israeli and Palestinian leaders remain at odds and no direct talks appear imminent.

“We thought it was important now in the context of the Russian attempt to arrange a summit between Abbas and Netanyahu, particularly because of Abbas’s joint K.G.B. past with Putin,” said Gideon Remez, one of two researchers at the Truman Institute at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who found and disclosed the Soviet document to Israel’s Channel 1. (At the end of the Soviet era, Mr. Putin was a K.G.B. lieutenant colonel.)

Mr. Remez’ research partner, Isabella Ginor, said Mr. Abbas’s past was relevant because of Russia’s possible continuing influence on him. “We don’t know what happened later on and if Abu Mazen went on with his service or work for the Soviets,” she said, using another name for Mr. Abbas. “But now that he is head of the Palestinian Authority, this can be a lever on him.” [Continue reading…]

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Israeli president says Palestinian peace deal won’t happen any time soon

The Wall Street Journal reports: Israel’s president warned that there was no prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future and urged the European Union to show patience and put its weight behind measures to facilitate future negotiations.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Reuven Rivlin criticized France’s peace-conference initiative, launched earlier this month, which he said amounted to “negotiations for negotiations’ sake” and would only deepen divisions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Later in the day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was also visiting Brussels, called the French peace push a “vital conference for our region and the whole world.”

U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fell apart in 2014 over disagreements on land swaps and prisoner exchanges. The White House has been working on options for reviving negotiations before President Barack Obama leaves office, although it isn’t clear whether the administration will launch new talks before January.

EU officials said Wednesday they were hoping that Mr. Abbas and Mr. Rivlin would meet and talk in Brussels. That would be the highest level meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership since the 2014 talks. No meeting had taken place by Wednesday evening, though Israeli officials said Mr. Rivlin was ready to meet Mr. Abbas “anytime, anywhere.” [Continue reading…]

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Marwan Barghouti’s plan for Palestinian independence

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinians pop up in Panama Papers

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Adnan Abu Amer writes: Ever since the inception of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, local and international organizations have repeatedly issued reports on the rampant corruption plaguing its ministries and departments. The problem is not limited to administrative and financial excesses committed by irresponsible individuals for personal motives, but rather is seems entrenched in the PA’s structure.

The most recent corruption case was revealed by the so-called “Panama Papers,” which were published April 4. The Panama Papers exposed the involvement of international figures in tax evasion and money laundering.

Tareq Abbas, the son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was among the Palestinian names contained in the papers. According to these documents, Abbas secretly owns, in partnership with the PA, a holding company worth more than $1 million in the British Virgin Islands. [Continue reading…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tony Blair’s blunder on Middle East peace

Ahmad Melhem writes: Tony Blair has kicked off his personal campaign of seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but Palestinian Authority members and others have bluntly expressed their distrust of the former British prime minister and former envoy of the Middle East Quartet.

Palestinian leaders are clear about their resentment of Blair. During a Nov. 9 meeting with a group of Egyptian journalists in Cairo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attacked Blair and called him a “spy” for Israel because of his attempts to conclude an appeasement agreement between Hamas and Israel, while ignoring the PA.

“Abbas has been refusing to meet with Blair for two years because of his pro-Israeli negative role,” political sources in the PA told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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