A post–peace process security crisis on the West Bank?

Tony Karon writes: “We have to fight terror as if there were no peace talks,” former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously said in the early ’90s, “and we have to pursue peace as if there were no terror.” That statement may have defined the relationship between Israel and the then-nascent Palestinian Authority, established in 1994 as an interim administrative arrangement to prepare the way for Palestinian statehood. But events of the past few weeks have served up a morbid reminder that 20 years after the Oslo Accord, the peace process remains in long-term paralysis while a new wave of violence threatens to spiral out of control. Moreover, Rabin’s premise that Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the same goal has become difficult for either side to sustain.

Israeli outrage over the killing of three teenage settlers abducted near Hebron has translated into a wave of citizen attacks on Palestinians on the back of a widespread Israeli crackdown, and the discovery of the body of a Palestinian teenager said to have been abducted in Jerusalem on Tuesday prompted fresh clashes as Palestinian protesters blamed Israeli settlers for the death.

Today, of course, there are no peace talks, nor is their absence temporary: Israel and the Palestinian leadership failed to agree on terms for a political solution to their conflict at the Camp David talks in 2000, and since then — periodic attempts to revive the conversation notwithstanding — if anything, the gulf between them has widened. Israel’s political median has moved steadily to the right since Rabin signed the Oslo Accord, while the political standing of PLO chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas has steadily diminished in the face of challenges from Hamas and from the fact that settlements have continued to grow despite his peace efforts. [Continue reading...]

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Palestinian teen’s death sparks clashes in Jerusalem

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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.

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Tony Blair should be fired as Middle East envoy, say former ambassadors

The Guardian reports: A group of former British ambassadors have joined a campaign calling for Tony Blair to be removed from his role as Middle East envoy after his recent attempt to “absolve himself” of responsibility for the crisis in Iraq.

The letter, organised by the makers of George Galloway’s film The Killing of Tony Blair, says the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to blame for the rise of “fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously”.

The signatories, led by Blair’s former ambassador to Iran Sir Richard Dalton, describe the former prime minister’s achievements as Middle East envoy as “negligible”.

Other former diplomats to sign the letter are Oliver Miles, who was ambassador to Libya when diplomatic relations were severed in 1984 after the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, and Christopher Long, ambassador to Egypt between 1992-95. [Continue reading...]

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BDS: Pressuring Israel, Presbyterian church divests from firms tied to occupation of Palestinian land

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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...]

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Israelis can try, but they can’t ignore the occupation

Gideon Levy writes: The abduction of three yeshiva students in the West Bank last Thursday was ordered in advance – by Israel. At the time of writing, Saturday, their fate was unknown and concern for their welfare outweighed all other issues connected to their disappearance. But no matter what happens in the end, whether they return home safely or not, God forbid, whether the responsible party turns out to be global jihad or the local kind, the context of the action cannot be ignored.

Perhaps the operation took Israel’s oh-so-sophisticated espionage agencies by surprise, but it could not have been a real surprise to anyone.

Those who stubbornly refuse to release Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been incarcerated for decades, from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and some of whom Israel has promised to set free; those who imprison detainees without trial for years; those who ignore the hunger strike by 125 “administrative” detainees, some of whom are dying in hospitals; those who intend to feed them using force, and those who planned to pass sweeping laws to prohibit their release – these people cannot pretend to be surprised or shocked by the abductions. They arranged for them in advance.

Israel, which is so worried about the welfare of every one of its citizens, has for years arrogantly ignored the Palestinian concern for the welfare of their prisoners.

Israel holds the copyright to concern for its people, as it does for the worship of the heroes of the national struggle. Meir Har-Zion [a founding member of Unit 101, who in 1953 led a retaliatory raid against a Bedouin tribe after his sister and others were killed while making an illegal trip to Petra] was a national hero; Ahmad Sa’adat [the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] is a base murderer.

Gilad Shalit was all ours, but the fate of Walid Daka, who has been imprisoned in Israel for more than 30 years, for the crime of membership in a militant cell that killed an Israeli soldier – without a single furlough or conjugal visit – is of no interest to anyone here.

No one here cares about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners. Last week, Israelis were much more interested in Meir Sheetrit’s housekeeper than in 125 hunger strikers who have been slowly starving to death for 53 days now.

Among the thousands of Palestinian prisoners are some base murderers, but also many political prisoners – and all of them are seen as heroes of the Palestinian national struggle. It’s the same in every national struggle. Behind them stands an entire society, which is no less worried about their fate than Israelis are for that of their loved ones. [Continue reading...]

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Methodists to sell shares as a protest over Israeli occupation

The New York Times reports: The pension board of the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, has decided to divest its shares in a British company that supplies security equipment to Israel for use in prisons and in the occupied West Bank.

The move comes as Israel has been trying to fend off resolutions by academic institutions, businesses and church groups to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The Methodist Church’s investment in the company, G4S, involves only about $110,000 worth of stock holdings, said David Wildman, executive secretary for human rights and racial justice for the church’s General Board of Global Ministries. But the action is intended to have a larger symbolic impact, adding to the pressure on Israel to stop building settlements and end the occupation. [Continue reading...]

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Poll: Palestinians prefer suing Israel at the ICC rather than starting third intifada

The Jerusalem Post reports: Palestinians want to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court more than they want to fight them in the streets in an armed third intifada, according to a poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Palestinians continue to support a two-state solution and do not believe that the newly unified Fatah-Hamas government is an obstacle to renewed negotiations, according to Shikaki’s data, which he presented at the 2014 Herzliya Conference on Tuesday.

Israelis also believe it is possible to negotiate with the new Palestinian government, according to pollster Mina Tzemach, who spoke on the same panel as Shikaki. [Continue reading...]

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Will Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlin, promote democracy?

Reuven Rivlin was elected in the Knesset today as Israel’s 10th president, replacing outgoing President Shimon Peres.

On Sunday, Dimi Reider wrote:

As speaker, Rivlin’s commitment to parliamentary democracy (and democracy in general) saw him turn time and again against his own party and its allies, stalling most of the anti-democratic legislation pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Liberman’s Israel Beitenu, while at the same time trying to instruct his fellow right-wing legislators about the dangers of nationalist populism.

As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky – and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.

Rivlin is certainly no left-winger – he hasn’t opposed any Israeli military operation and as communication minister in Sharon’s first cabinet, he presided over a major privatization drive. Still, Rivlin’s tenure as Knesset speaker earned him praise in liberal circles (including the soubriquet of “a bulwark” for democracy from The Economist), and the lasting ire of both Netanyahu and Liberman. Netanyahu, in a lamentable display of panic amplified by a petty squabble with Rivlin over some comments the latter made about Netanyahu’s wife, tried preventing Rivlin’s candidacy by canceling the presidential post at a few week’s notice, and trying to recruit American author Eli Weisel (who is not even an Israeli citizen) to stand in Rivlin’s place. Only when Weisel refused did the prime minister yield and offered Rivlin his sour-faced support. Even if Netanyahu is getting behind Rivlin only so he can eventually stab him in the back (to borrow a Yes, Prime Minister line), he apparently failed to warn Liberman of this decision, prompting the latter to denounce and renounce Rivlin and to hint he himself might support Dalia Itzik.

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How J Street ended up supporting the occupation

Larry Derfner writes: What is J Street doing? Why is it acting in concert with right-wing Zionist organizations like AIPAC and StandWithUs in fighting against boycott, sanctions and divestment, while offering no alternative of its own for ending the occupation?

Because the truth is that J Street offers no alternative anymore; now that the Kerry talks have failed, and all the secretary of state has to show for them is a footprint on his pants seat courtesy of the Netanyahu government, America is through trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And everybody seems to acknowledge this except J Street. Which is not a surprise, because without America in the peace process, J Street’s reason for being is gone.

That’s tough; the organization is going to have to change or close shop. And I hope it does change successfully by finding a new way to advance the two-state solution. Moreover, I hope it finds a less antagonistic way than BDS to accomplish this. And if it does find such a way, I will join J Street in a minute, because as an Israeli I don’t particularly enjoy supporting the boycott of Israel – but I do it because I see no other way anymore to end the occupation and allow the two-state solution to come into being. And nobody else has come up with another way, either. So as far as anyone can see, it’s either BDS or occupation forever.

Yet J Street, by default, has thrown in on the side of occupation forever. With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, it’s fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right. [Continue reading..]

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Prayer meeting shows Pope’s larger vision

The New York Times reports: From the earliest days of his papacy, when he walked slowly into a grand reception hall in the Apostolic Palace for his first meeting with a curious diplomatic corps, Pope Francis has promoted a fairly conventional foreign policy agenda: fight poverty, pursue peace, bridge ecumenical or interreligious divisions and protect the environment.

What has been unconventional is how Francis has elevated that agenda through adroitly timed gestures and initiatives — none more unexpected than the prayer summit meeting that he is holding on Sunday with the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He has placed himself in perhaps the world’s most complex diplomatic dispute — at a moment when American-led negotiations have collapsed — by arguing that dialogue and prayer can help.

If few analysts expect any major breakthroughs, Francis’s summit meeting shows how he is trying to pursue his goals by positioning the Vatican as an independent, global diplomatic player. Analysts also note that Francis’s status as the first Latin American pope has given him credibility in the non-Western world and is helping the Vatican have influence on a broader array of issues and disputes.

“He is planning his own global role,” said Alberto Melloni, a Vatican historian. “He is showing there is a space in international relations for a different diplomacy. That is the purpose of this diplomatic action — to show they are independent and reliable for the world.” [Continue reading...]

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Are these the first blooms of a ‘Palestinian summer’?

Ahmad Samih Khalidi writes: The new Palestinian “reconciliation” government is first and foremost a response to an overwhelming popular desire to end the seven-year-old rift between Fatah and Hamas – a split that has inflicted deep scars on the Palestinian polity and threatened to leave Gaza in permanent secession from the West Bank.

But it also reflects a new independent-mindedness on the part of the Palestinian Authority’s leadership, and a readiness to give precedence to the Palestinian national interest above other considerations. It is of course no coincidence that the realisation of this aim has followed the collapse of the last round of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel. Long accused of passivity, and an inability to take the initiative, the Palestinians appear to have finally decided to act in their own interest without seeking prior permission from friend or foe.

This new move chimes with other “unilateral” moves designed to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN. This will change little on the ground, but the leadership believes it may slowly build up sufficient political and diplomatic momentum to help define a final resolution based on the two-state solution, otherwise unobtainable via the current negotiations. The appeal to the UN is not intended as a substitute for negotiations, but as a parallel track that involves neither threats nor force. It is also a path that Israel itself trod as a means to its own independence in 1947. [Continue reading...]

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The U.S. has been speaking to Hamas through back channels for more than six months

Sheera Frenkel reports: United States officials have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months to discuss their role in the newly formed unity government, according to two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks.

The meetings were held between U.S. intermediaries and Hamas’ leadership, which lives outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan. Topics included the ceasefire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.

During the talks, Hamas gave assurances that allowed the U.S. to support the unity government, despite heavy pressure by the Israeli government for them to condemn it, the diplomatic officials — one American and one Palestinian — said. They said those assurances including a commitment to maintaining a ceasefire with Israel.

“Our administration needed to hear from them that this unity government would move toward democratic elections, and toward a more peaceful resolution with the entire region,” said one U.S. official familiar with the talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity, as the U.S, government’s official stance is that it has not, and will not, talk to Hamas until certain preconditions are met. “It was important to have that line of communication,” the U.S. official said. [Continue reading...]

BBC News reports: US Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected Israeli criticism of his recognition of the new Palestinian government formed by Fatah and Hamas.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.

But during a visit to Lebanon, Mr Kerry noted the ministers were independent technocrats and insisted that they would be watched “very closely”.

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Netanyahu’s own coalition wouldn’t pass his test for Hamas

Peter Beinart writes: On the Israeli and American Jewish right, it’s common to hear Mahmoud Abbas dismissed as illegitimate: Both because he remains president of the Palestinian Authority even though his term long ago expired, and because he doesn’t oversee the Gaza Strip, which since 2007 has been under the control of Hamas.

Well, hawks, fret no more. The Palestinians have just formed a unity cabinet designed to lay the groundwork for elections in both the West Bank and Gaza. The effort may fail, but it offers the best chance in years to create what the Jewish right says it wants: A Palestinian leader with the legitimacy to make a deal.

So how are Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative American allies reacting? Not well. The Israeli government is threatening to end all contact with the Palestinian Authority and some Republicans in Congress are pushing to cut off U.S. aid. The reason: The new government has the blessing of Hamas.

And here’s where things get interesting. For years, Israel has justified its opposition to a government that includes Hamas by citing a statement by the “Quartet”– the United States, European Union, the United Nations and Russia—in 2008. That statement demands that any Palestinian government recognize Israel, adhere to previously signed treaties and renounce violence. But the new Palestinian government gets around that. Although Hamas as a party still doesn’t accept the Quartet conditions, Abbas—who will remain President—insists that the unity government does. His aides point to Lebanon, whose government includes Hezbollah, which like Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the United States. The U.S. shuns Lebanon’s Hezbollah ministers, but accepts the Lebanese government as a whole. Abbas wants his new government to get the same treatment.

For Bibi, this is unacceptable. His position, which the American Jewish establishment will doubtless endorse, is that it doesn’t matter if Abbas says his government adheres to the Quartet conditions. Any Palestinian government “supported by and dependent on” a political party that violates those conditions must be shunned by the world.

Which raises an intriguing question. Could Bibi’s own government pass the test he’s applying to Abbas’?

Not likely. [Continue reading...]

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‘Death to Arabs’ ultranationalist Jews chant in Jerusalem

Leanne Gale writes: As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.

Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.

Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better. [Continue reading...]

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