Assad regime offers to arm Palestinians in Yarmouk while dropping dozens of barrel bombs

Newsweek reports: The Assad regime has offered to arm Palestinians within the embattled Yarmouk refugee camp with weapons to beat back ISIS from the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to Palestinian officials.

The camp, where the Syrian and Palestinian population has shrunk from 150,000 to approximately 16,000 during the four-year-long Syrian civil war, was last week overrun by ISIS who took “large part” of the encampment, amid clashes with a Palestinian militia loyal to Hamas, Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, met with a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation in the capital on Tuesday to extend the offer of assistance to the Palestinians fighting the radical Islamists.

Al Jazeera reports: the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees planned to undertake an “urgent mission” to Damascus on Saturday amid concerns over the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, most of which has been captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].

Pierre Krahenbuhl, who heads the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, will discuss the situation in Yarmouk and meet with displaced refugees.

The visit is “prompted by UNRWA’s deepening concerns for the safety and protection of some 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children” who remain in the Yarmouk camp, the agency said in a statement.

“Yarmouk remains under the control of armed groups, and civilian lives continue to be threatened by the effects of the armed conflict in the area,” it said.

On April 1, ISIL launched an assault on the Palestinian armed group Bait al-Maqdis, which is one of numerous factions that share control of the district.

After the government claimed that ISIL took over most of the camp – which has been denied by local activists – regime forces stepped up their shelling of the district, further worsening the area’s humanitarian crisis.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported on Thursday that since April 4, government helicopters have dropped 36 barrel bombs, which are highly indiscrimate and destructive explosives, on Yarmouk.

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Why Palestine joining the International Criminal Court could be a total game changer

By Kurt Mills, University of Glasgow

After more than five years and much diplomatic wrangling, Palestine has joined the International Criminal Court (ICC). Now, the prospect of Israel being held accountable for war crimes has greatly increased, and that will have significant repercussions for the peace process and for Palestinian statehood.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation on January 16. This can investigate everything that has happened in Palestinian territories since June 13 2014 – the date that Palestine formally accepted ICC jurisdiction. This is also the date when Israel broke a ceasefire with Hamas leading to Operation Protective Edge, which raged throughout the summer of 2014, leading to the deaths of at least 1,473 civilians in Gaza and bringing widespread international condemnation against Israeli actions.

The story dates back to 2009, when the Palestinian Authority requested that the ICC investigate Israel over Operation Cast Lead, but was rejected for not being a state. It was rejected for full membership in the United Nations in 2011, but was granted the status of non-member observer state the following year.

Palestine then joined numerous international organisations, such as UNESCO, and while the question of its statehood remains controversial, it has now been allowed to join the ICC. In the interim it has periodically indicated it would refer Israel to the ICC, but was held back by pressure from the US, the UK and France – and because using the threat suited Palestinian political interests.

Avenues of enquiry

The prosecutor could investigate the civilian casualties in Operation Protective Edge. She could also investigate whether the Israelis carried out the war crime known as collective punishment. This includes demolishing the homes of suspected Hamas militants, thus rendering their families homeless, as well as killing civilians in these buildings. During Operation Protective Edge alone, Amnesty International reported that “more than 18,000 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair”.



Israeli tanks in action during Operation Protective Edge
EPA

The prosecutor would also be likely to investigate Palestinians over the hundreds of rockets Hamas fired indiscriminately into Israel from Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of at least six civilians.

Most substantially, Bensouda could look at the continued occupation of Palestinian territory, including both the West Bank and Gaza. Specifically this might look at Israel’s settlement policy, which appears to contravene Article 8 of the ICC’s founding Rome Statute.

[Read more…]

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Palestine formally joins International Criminal Court

Al Jazeera reports: Palestine has formally attained membership of the International Criminal Court, a move that could open the door to possible war crime indictments against Israeli officials despite uncertainty over its wider ramifications.

The accession on Wednesday is another landmark in the Palestinian diplomatic and legal international campaign, which gained steam in 2014.

The Palestinians moved to join The Hague-based court on January 2, in a process that was finalised on Wednesday, setting the scene for potential legal action.

“Palestine has and will continue to use all legitimate tools within its means in order to defend itself against Israeli colonisation and other violations of international law,” said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine

Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, recently wrote an op-ed in Arabic appearing on Arabic websites and which has now been translated into English and published with his permission by the Times of Israel: I was very hesitant before I wrote this “harsh” title. I erased it time after time and rewrote it. But every time I reread the article, the title jumps to my mind and drags me towards it.

The title hit me while I was attending a meeting of some political powers. I was listening to them talk for more than three hours and it seemed futile, lost, insipid.

It was not the first meeting I left feeling aggravated. I had previously taken part in discussions, be it bilateral between Hamas and Fatah or “national” dialogue that brings everyone together. I attended tens of conferences, seminars and workshops for “brainstorming.” But this time a profound sadness overcame me and feelings began to consume me. What are they saying? What are they doing? What time are they wasting? What world are they living in? Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind, unbidden: Now do you understand why Palestine is lost?

It was dangerous, frightening and scary. I no longer have any doubt that these sterile seminars and workshops that were repeated a thousand times, were nothing but blabbering, rumination of the past and fleeing from facing the facts.

I recalled many of these summits, agreements and understandings that have been signed since 1993 until the Shati Agreement in 2014… they passed in a moment and disappeared.

It seemed to me that we had lost dozens of years in haggling, disagreements and differences over texts that did not bring us anything but more resentment and fragmented, failed solutions. And because of the devolvement of these issues, I look at where we have arrived after a twenty year political process of failure and searching for success on paper, and I look at the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in terms of its weakness and attenuation, and I look at the political and societal division and how our divisions have sharpened until it became an indispensable tradition?

What calamity did the Palestinians create by themselves for themselves?

We have always held the Arab regimes responsible for the loss of Palestine, which is an indisputable matter, and have equally faulted the Western regimes for their collusion and unlimited support for Israel… But what is our share in bearing responsibility? [Continue reading…]

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#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…]

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Hamas and the tyranny of labels

Paul Pillar writes: The Israeli prime minister says Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Actually, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made clear a much different posture, one that involves indefinite peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they officially term it only a hudna or truce. It would be more accurate to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas, an objective that Israel has demonstrated with not just its words but its deeds, including prolonged collective punishment of the population of the Gaza Strip in an effort to strangle the group. Such efforts have included large-scale violence that—although carried out overtly by military forces and thus not termed terrorism—has been every bit as lethal to innocent civilians. In such circumstances, why should Hamas be expected to be the first to go beyond the vocabulary of hudna and mouth some alternative words about the status of its adversary?

The Israeli and U.S. reactions do not seem to take account of the fact that the terms of the announced Hamas-PLO reconciliation are undetermined and still under negotiation. The agreement can involve Hamas moving much more toward the posture of Abbas and the PLO than the other way around. Palestinian Authority representatives already have indicated that there will not be a change in its fundamental stance of recognizing Israel and seeking to resolve the conflict with it peacefully through negotiations. Hamas representatives have pointed out that support for a governing coalition with an established set of policies does not require each party that is part of that government to express identical policies on its own behalf. In fact, that is true of coalition governments everywhere. The coalition government in Britain does things that you won’t find in the Liberal Democrats’ platform. [Continue reading…]

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Holocaust ‘most heinous crime’ of modern history, says Mahmoud Abbas

The Associated Press reports: The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” of modern history and expressed his sympathy for the victims – a rare acknowledgment by an Arab leader of Jewish suffering during the Nazi genocide.

Abbas’s comments appeared, in part, aimed at reaching out to Israeli public opinion at a time of deep crisis in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. The remarks were published by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA hours before the start of Israel’s annual Holocaust commemoration.

The decades-old conflict has been accompanied by mutual mistrust among Israelis and Palestinians. Many Israelis fear that Palestinians are not truly ready to accept a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and that widespread ignorance or even denial of the Holocaust among Palestinians is an expression of that attitude.

Denials of or attempts to minimise the scale of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed during the second world war, are widespread in the Arab world.

Many Palestinians fear that if they acknowledge the Holocaust they will diminish their own claims based on years of suffering, including their uprooting during Israel’s creation in 1948 and decades under Israeli occupation.

Abbas’s office said he discussed the Holocaust in a meeting with an American rabbi, Marc Schneier, who visited Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah last week. [Continue reading…]

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Observations about the Hamas-Fatah accord

Middle East Research and Information Project interviewed Mouin Rabbani: Hamas and Fatah have made efforts at reconciliation before, to no avail. Is this time for real?

It will be real if and when, and only if and when, it is implemented. The number of things that can go wrong, and developments that can lead one or both parties to reconsider their commitments, are numerous. It bears mention that many sober analysts and observers, and proponents of reconciliation, were at best conflicted about the meetings that produced this agreement because they were absolutely convinced the negotiations were either not serious or would fail, and would therefore deepen the schism.

That said, there are also reasons to consider this agreement more serious, or at least more conducive to implementation, than its predecessors. These include:

The agreement was signed with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip rather than the external leadership. Previously, and particularly after the Doha agreement signed by Mahmoud ‘Abbas and Khalid Mish‘al, opposition to reconciliation arrangements within Hamas has been led by powerful elements in the Gaza leadership, in part in keeping with their struggle to gain the upper hand within the Islamist movement, and in part because as the actual rulers of the Gaza Strip they have the most to lose in terms of power, governance and interests. This time most of the key players, including Isma‘il Haniya and Mahmoud Zahhar, personally signed the agreement. The Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip increasingly holds the balance of power within the movement and has the capacity to thwart reconciliation. The exile leadership has much less leverage these days on such matters and is in any case more open to such agreements.

Second, each of the rival parties is experiencing a serious crisis. For Hamas, the problem consists primarily of the military overthrow of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, the loss of its base in Damascus and consequent reduction of Iranian support, and pressure on the Brothers throughout the region. According to some reports, the pressure might culminate in loss of Qatari sponsorship. Egypt’s unprecedented hostility to Hamas has furthermore led to a virtual shutdown of the border crossing into Gaza Strip — particularly below ground. The government in Gaza is facing growing difficulty running the economy and, more important, experiencing budgetary problems as well.

For Fatah, the latest round of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel have produced new lows as Kerry has aligned the American position closer to the Israeli than any of his predecessors. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal

Israel’s divide-and-rule strategy is collapsing and the failure of John Kerry’s Middle East diplomacy may turn out to have been one of the Obama administration’s few successes.

BBC News reports: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have announced a reconciliation deal, saying they will seek to form a unity government in the coming weeks.

It comes as the peace talks between President Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel near collapse.

Hamas and Fatah split violently in 2007. Previous reconciliation agreements have never been implemented.

Israel’s prime minister said Mr Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

“You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so,” warned Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian officials responded by saying reconciliation is an internal matter and uniting Palestinian people would reinforce peace. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians defy their neocolonial overlords by pursuing international rights

New York Times reporters sounding more like editorialists, write:

Defying the United States and Israel, the Palestinian leadership formally submitted applications on Wednesday to join 15 international agencies, leaving the troubled Middle East talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry on the verge of breakdown.

Who could have expected the downtrodden Palestinians to be so disobedient and engage in such a troubling act of defiance?

Reuters offers a less biased account:

A surprise decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to sign more than a dozen international conventions giving Palestinians greater leverage against Israel left the United States struggling on Wednesday to put peace talks back on track.

The documents Abbas signed, officials said, included the Geneva Conventions – the key text of international law on the conduct of war and occupation.

Palestinians hope it will give them a stronger basis to appeal to the International Criminal Court and eventually lodge formal complaints against Israel for its continued occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war that they want for their state.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been piecing together a complex three-way deal to push the faltering negotiations into 2015, cancelled a visit to the de facto Palestinian capital, Ramallah, planned for Wednesday after Abbas’s dramatic move late on Tuesday.

“We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them,” Kerry told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a ministerial meeting of NATO.

Palestinian officials signaled the new crisis could be short-lived if Israel made good on its pledge to release more than two dozen long-serving Palestinian prisoners. Israel has said it first wants the Palestinians to agree to extend the talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

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Ariel Sharon’s many attempts to assassinate Yasser Arafat

The Washington Post reports: On the evening of Oct. 12, 2004, Yasser Arafat, the flamboyant, autocratic and inscrutable chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, sat down for dinner at his besieged compound in Ramallah in the West Bank. And so began one of the great medical mysteries in the modern Middle East.

A month later, Arafat was dead in a French hospital.

By natural causes? Or was it a murder most foul? Theories have swirled in the past nine years that Arafat was assassinated, perhaps poisoned — by rivals, by his inner circle, by Israeli agents.

On Wednesday, a final 108-page report by a team of Swiss experts revealed that tests on Arafat’s exhumed remains and possessions — a shaft of his hair, a urine stain on his underwear, a woolen cap — “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-­210,” a highly radioactive substance 250,000 times as toxic as cyanide.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” Arafat’s widow, Suha, told the Reuters news agency. “It is scientifically proved that he didn’t die a natural death, and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

Suha Arafat, speaking in Paris, called her husband’s death “a real crime, a political assassination.”

She did not name any suspects, but if her husband truly was killed, there would be many. He had myriad enemies — not least the Israeli government.

Jeffrey Goldberg, responding to Israel’s swift denial that it was responsible for Arafat’s death, writes: [T]he Israeli government should remember that it was the official policy of several past Israeli leaders to try to kill Arafat, who was the head of a terrorist organization that had murdered many Israeli civilians. I had several conversations on the subject of assassinating Arafat with his principal Israeli nemesis, Ariel Sharon, and today’s report sent me back to a profile I wrote of Sharon that appeared 12 years ago in the New Yorker. The profile was published just as Sharon was running, successfully, for prime minister. Here’s what I wrote directly on the subject of assassination:

Sharon was blunt on the subject of Arafat. “He’s a murderer and a liar,” he said. “He’s an enemy. He’s a bitter enemy.” Sharon has devoted a great deal of time and energy to Arafat. By Arafat’s own count, Sharon has tried to have him killed thirteen times. Sharon wouldn’t fix on a number, but he said the opportunity had arisen repeatedly. “All the governments of Israel for many years, Labor, Likud, all of them, made an effort — and I want to use a subtle word for the American reader — to remove him from our society. We never succeeded.”

In other conversations with me in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sharon, who has been in a stroke-induced coma for more than seven years, did not resort to euphemism. Once, he described to me how Israel would have been better off had Arafat been killed by the Israeli army in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an invasion that Sharon led. It was, he said, “a missed opportunity.”

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Who represents the Palestinian people?

Osamah Khalil writes: At its height, the PLO was successful in keeping the Palestinian struggle alive and in the world’s view. In 1974, both the United Nations and the Arab League recognized the organization as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” However, as Palestinians prepare to observe the 65th anniversary of the Nakba and the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the failure of the Palestinian national movement to achieve its goals has never been clearer. Which raises the question: who represents the Palestinian people today?

The question of representation is particularly pressing due to several recent trends and initiatives. First, are the Arab revolutions and counterrevolutions, which have led to the overthrow of several of the region’s long-standing dictatorships. Meanwhile, Palestinians have largely been on the sidelines of the “Arab Spring.” Second, is the recent vote by the United Nations to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. This decision has uncertain implications for the standing of the PLO and Palestinians living outside the borders of the “State of Palestine.” Third, are the continuing negotiations between Fatah and Hamas and the elusive promise of national unity. Fourth, is a recent initiative calling for direct elections to the Palestinian National Council (PNC), following implementation of a unity agreement. Finally, the terminal state of the “peace process,” which will be further highlighted by President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the region this month without a proposal to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Since 1974, the PLO’s leadership has fiercely defended the organization’s designation as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Indeed, the phrase was used as a shield and a cudgel against internal and external foes and competitors (real and perceived). As a national liberation movement, the PLO claimed that it was essential to speak with one voice. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords and creation of the PA, this was transformed into the imperative that there could only be “one authority” in the West Bank and Gaza.

Attempts to critique the leadership of the PLO or the PA invariably led to the accusatory question: “Who are you?” Who are you, the leadership would declare, to speak, to question, to criticize? The purpose was clear: To silence, intimidate, and limit the parameters of permissible discussion and dissent. By defining and shaping who and what represented the Palestinians, the PLO’s leadership deliberately limited their accountability to their people. The leadership’s autocratic behavior reflected the PLO’s origins and would be reproduced in its institutional structures. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas forces ordered to cease attacks on Israeli targets, Palestinian sources say

Haaretz reports: Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has instructed the group’s military wing to cease attacks on Israeli targets, senior sources in Fatah say.

The sources say Meshal issued the order based on understandings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Meshal during their recent talks in Cairo.

Israeli defense sources say they are unaware of such an order.

According to the sources in Fatah, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Meshal ordered a de facto cease-fire with Israel not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank. Hamas had already refrained from launching rockets from Gaza.

The sources say Meshal issued the order in late November, after the first round of reconciliation talks in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah.

After that meeting, it emerged that the two organizations agreed also to focus on a popular struggle along the lines of the Arab Spring.

Israeli defense sources say they were unaware that Meshal had issued a direct instruction to activists in the West Bank and Gaza. They add that there has been no strategic or ideological change in Hamas’ policy.

Rather, Hamas realizes that this is a bad time for terror attacks, both because of Palestinian public opinion and a fear of an Israeli reprisal that would compromise Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip.

But if the group’s terror networks in the West Bank spot an opportunity to carry out a significant attack, they are expected to take advantage of the chance, as they have done in the past.

Hamas’ leadership in Gaza said it was surprised by Meshal’s statement and that “the only way to liberate the occupied lands is through the armed struggle.” The Hamas interior minister in Gaza, Fathi Hamad, added that the group’s “internal leadership” does not necessarily intend to abide by Meshal’s policy.

Meshal reiterated late last week that popular protest had “the power of a tsunami” and has already proved itself in the Arab world. But he added that the organization would not give up the use of violence against Israel.

“We and Fatah now have a common basis that we can work on, and that is popular protest, which expresses the power of the people,” Meshal said.

The Hamas leader also expressed his support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. “Fatah and we have political differences, but the common ground is agreement on a state within the 1967 borders,” he said.

Meshal said the decision to focus on the popular struggle was made by the Hamas advisory body, the Shura Council. This means all senior members of the organization were on board.

The Fatah sources said Hamas does not intend to officially recognize Israel or accept peace agreements with it. Rather, the focus is simply popular protest and consent to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The sources say Hamas does not plan to stop arming itself, and will respond if attacked by Israel.

The Fatah sources say the statements by the Hamas officials in Gaza show that some leaders in the enclave might seek to undermine the move by Meshal, and that they might also launch attacks on Israel, mainly to prove their political power in the internal struggle in Hamas.

But the sources added that Meshal clearly seems interested in unity and in bringing Hamas into the PLO.

Militants from other factions in the Gaza Strip are still launching attacks, like the group that was hit Tuesday by the Israel Air Force. Islamic Jihad, one of these factions, is not expected to join Meshal’s move.

The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinians had not proposed to renew negotiations based on a prisoner release.

Erekat said that stopping the settlements, negotiations based on the 1967 borders, and the release of prisoners are not preconditions but rather Israeli obligations. Without them, the Palestinians don’t see a renewal of talks with Israel, he said.

Meanwhile, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duwaik, a Hamas member, said yesterday that parliament would convene a joint session in both Gaza and the West Bank as early as the beginning of February.

Parliamentary activity has been suspended since June 2007, after Hamas’ coup in the Gaza Strip. According to Duwaik, a Palestinian unity government will be established at the end of January, and it will have no political tasks other than preparing for elections.

Duwaik denied reports that he would head the unity government.

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Israel shouldn’t ignore Palestinian reconciliation deal

Zvi Bar’el writes: [T]hanks to Syria’s murderousness, along with help from Egypt and support from Jordan, Hamas is reexamining the map of the region’s political topography and changing course: no more armed struggle against Israel, but a popular struggle, meaning demonstrations and civil disobedience, as well as a willingness to drop its previous preconditions for joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, an understanding that it must recognize the agreements the PLO has signed and a return to the ballot box as the accepted method of achieving political victory.

Hamas cannot be more righteous than the Muslim Brotherhood, and if the Brotherhood in Egypt is participating in the political game – and winning it – then so can Hamas.

Six years have passed since the last election in the territories, in which Hamas won a sweeping victory. That election derived its authority from the Oslo Accords, which the PLO signed with Israel, and the U.S. administration was the driving force behind it. But since then, the administration has repeatedly rued its democratic aspirations, and together with Israel, it boycotted the electoral results. Even Hamas’ willingness to cooperate with Israel, albeit only on the administrative level, was pushed away with a 10-foot pole. “Hamas or Abbas” became the diplomatic slogan – and an excellent excuse for Israel to abandon any serious diplomatic process.

The illusion that has been peddled ever since is that it is possible to sign a separate peace with the Palestinian Authority while continuing to bomb Gaza – to allow the Palestinians to open department stores and discotheques in Ramallah while strangling 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. The split between Fatah and Hamas was seen as irreversible, something that could be relied on to perpetuate the diplomatic freeze. Fatahland and Hamastan were etched into the Israeli consciousness as two states for two peoples, the people of the West Bank and the people of Gaza, rather than as a struggle between rival political leaderships. The possibility that the Palestinians would view this split as an anomaly never even entered Israelis’ heads.

But things change. Hamas and Fatah are reconciling – not because of Israel’s beaux yeux [how it will look], but because it is in the Palestinians’ interest, and new regional circumstances laid the groundwork for this to come about. Israel can either ignore this development, wage all-out war against the reconciliation or try to correct the diplomatic error it made half a dozen years ago.

There’s no need to hold your breath. Israel has already announced its choice. But there’s no law (yet ) against playing “what if,” so it’s permissible to think about what would have happened had Israel instead announced that it welcomes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s statements, hopes Hamas will turn into a legitimate political party and agrees to negotiate with any elected Palestinian government that is willing to negotiate with it. Such a government, established on the basis of a Palestinian consensus, would in any case be acceptable to most countries in the world, making Israel’s refusal to recognize it irrelevant.

It’s also permissible to wonder: Will Israel refuse contacts with an Egyptian government established by the Muslim Brotherhood? Will it abrogate the peace treaty with Jordan should the Hashemite king grant sanctuary to Hamas’ leadership? And if not, why should it boycott the Palestinian Authority?

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Hamas’s Haniya applauds, Israel denounces PLO unity moves

AFP reports: The Hamas premier of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, praised steps toward reconciliation taken by the Islamist group and its former rival Fatah, which were angrily denounced in Israel.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal took steps in Cairo on Thursday towards reforming the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation, such that Hamas could join.

“We want to pursue positive dialogue with Fatah from this point”, Haniya told journalists.

“Practical measures must however be taken, like the liberation of political prisoners from Hamas detained by Fatah,” he said, adding that Fatah must also stop its repeated questioning of Hamas supporters during investigations.

The reconciliation moves drew an angry response from Israel, with one minister saying the Jewish state must now annex more territory to ensure the safety of its citizens in case “terrorist” Hamas gains influence in the West Bank.

“This alarming rapprochement between Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Hamas is aimed at forming a government that one can only say is aimed at bringing about a genocide,” Transport Minister Israel Katz of the right-wing Likud party said.

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