Trump team begins drafting Middle East peace plan

The New York Times reports: President Trump and his advisers have begun developing their own concrete blueprint to end the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a plan intended to go beyond previous frameworks offered by the American government in pursuit of what the president calls “the ultimate deal.”

After 10 months of educating themselves on the complexities of the world’s most intractable dispute, White House officials said, Mr. Trump’s team of relative newcomers to Middle East peacemaking has moved into a new phase of its venture in hopes of transforming what it has learned into tangible steps to end a stalemate that has frustrated even presidents with more experience in the region.

The prospects for peace are caught up in a web of other issues consuming the region, as demonstrated in recent days by Saudi Arabia’s growing confrontation with Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is likewise worried about Hezbollah as well as efforts by Iran to establish a land corridor across southern Syria. If a war with Hezbollah broke out, it could scuttle any initiative with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump’s team has collected “non-papers” exploring various issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and officials said they expected to address such perennial dividing points as the status of Jerusalem and settlements in the occupied West Bank. Although Mr. Trump has not committed to a Palestinian state, analysts said they anticipated that the plan will have to be built around the so-called two-state solution that has been the core of peacemaking efforts for years. [Continue reading…]

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The 100-year-old letter that still divides the Middle East

Ishaan Tharoor writes: In a year brimming with profoundly symbolic centennials, Thursday marks perhaps the most politically fraught one. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will appear in London alongside his British counterpart, Theresa May, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a 67-word missive from Britain’s then-foreign secretary expressing his government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The Nov. 2, 1917, public letter was written by Lord Arthur Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild, the head of the British wing of the influential European Jewish banking family. Balfour articulated the British desire for the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” and promised that his government would “facilitate the achievement of this object.” It would take three further decades — and a great deal more politicking and bloodshed — before Israel declared independence in 1948.

But the Balfour Declaration is held up as a seminal event, the first formal utterance of the modern Israeli state’s right to exist (though some historians quibble that a “national home” is not the same thing as a state). For that reason, it is also bitterly regarded by many Palestinians as the first instrument of their dispossession. In 1917, Jews made up less than 10 percent of Palestine’s population — a century later, they are now the majority, while millions of Palestinians live in exile or in refugee camps. Protests are planned in the Palestinian territories to mark the centennial. [Continue reading…]

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Israel approves plans for thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank

The Washington Post reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved building plans for 3,736 new units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, in what activists say is part of a new wave of construction spurred by the Trump admin­istration’s more accommodating stance.

The units will be built in numerous settlements, including in Hebron and other contentious areas, said an Israeli official who discussed the announcement on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Some of the units, which include homes, communal buildings and institutions, are slated for isolated communities that sit deep inside the territory Palestinians want for a future state. [Continue reading…]

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Why a leading Palestinian activist isn’t fixated on a Palestinian state

Ishaan Tharoor writes: In Washington, a generation of diplomats, politicos and wonks see the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians entirely in the context of the “two-state solution,” a scenario in which an independent Palestinian state emerges alongside Israel. It has been an article of faith for successive American administrations, even the current one. But on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories, the two-state solution is a mirage.

The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu includes a number of politicians who emphatically reject the notion of an independent Palestine. Israeli settlers continue to expand across the West Bank, no matter the timid censure of the international community. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finds himself tethered to a process that has no real future, while his support dwindles among the Palestinian public.

“We are not in the time to talk about solutions,” said Issa Amro, a leading Palestinian activist who spoke to Today’s WorldView while on a visit to Washington this week. “We are in the time to protect ourselves from settlements, from settler violence, from attacks on our cities and villages.”

Amro, 38, has risen to prominence as a nonviolent dissident. Amro’s organization, Youth Against Settlements, stages civil disobedience actions and monitors human rights violations in the West Bank. He comes from a generation of Palestinians who have grown up in the era that followed the 1993 Oslo peace accords and yet see no end to the military occupation that has defined their lives. That’s perhaps especially true in the West Bank city of Hebron, Amro’s hometown, where civic life is dominated by Israeli settlements.

“It’s every day — house demolitions, land confiscation, building more and more settlements,” he said. “If you tell a Palestinian, ‘two-state’ or ‘one-state,’ he’ll say ‘What are you talking about? They are burning my house, they are arresting my children.'” [Continue reading…]

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Bernie Sanders calls for rethink on U.S. aid to Israel, Iran policy

Times of Israel reports: US senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called for Washington to adopt a friendlier approach to Iran, and said he would consider supporting slashing US aid to Israel over the Jewish state’s policies towards the Palestinians.

In an interview Thursday with The Intercept, the Jewish senator said the US was “complicit” in what he termed Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, but was not the only guilty party, and urged Washington to play a more fair role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Certainly the United States is complicit, but it’s not to say… that Israel is the only party at fault,” he said.

“In terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the United States has got to play a much more even-handed role. Clearly that is not the case right now,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s wasted generation has nowhere else to go

The Washington Post reports: They are the Hamas generation, raised under the firm hand of an Islamist militant movement. They are the survivors of three wars with Israel and a siege who find themselves as young adults going absolutely nowhere.

In many circles in Gaza, it is hard to find anyone in their 20s with real employment, with a monthly salary.

They call themselves a wasted generation.

Ten years after Hamas seized control of Gaza, the economy in the seaside strip of 2 million has been strangled by incompetence, war and blockade.

Gaza today lives off its wits and the recycled scraps donated by foreign governments. Seven in 10 people rely on humanitarian aid.

Young people say they are bored out of their minds.

They worry that too many of their friends are gobbling drugs, not drugs to experience ecstasy but pills used to tranquilize animals, smuggled across Sinai. They dose on Tramadol and smoke hashish. They numb.

Hamas has recently stepped up executions of drug traffickers.

Freedoms to express oneself are circumscribed. But the young people speak, a little bit. They say their leaders have failed them — and that the Israelis and Egyptians are crushing them.

Why not revolt? They laugh. It is very hard to vote the current government out — there are no elections.

“To be honest with you, we do nothing,” said Bilal Abusalah, 24, who trained to be a nurse but sometimes sells women’s clothing.

He has cool jeans, a Facebook page, a mobile phone and no money. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner on Middle East: ‘What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know.’

Wired reports: On Monday, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke to a group of congressional interns as part of an ongoing, off-the-record summer lecture series. During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Kushner may have inadvertently offered some insight into the negotiating tactics he is using in the Middle East.

Prior to Kushner’s talk, Katie Patru, the deputy staff director for member services, outreach, and communications, told the assembled interns, “To record today’s session would be such a breach of trust, from my opinion. This town is full of leakers, and everyone knows who they are, and no one trusts them. In this business your reputation is everything. I’ve been on the Hill for 15 years. I’ve sat in countless meetings with members of congress where important decisions were being made. During all those years in all those meetings, I never once leaked to a reporter … If someone in your office has asked you to break our protocol and give you a recording so they can leak it, as a manager, that bothers me at my core.”

WIRED has obtained a recording of Kushner’s talk, which lasted for just under an hour in total.

The speech—which was peppered with self-deprecating jokes, as reported by Foreign Policy—offered a rare insight into the man President Trump has tasked with criminal justice reform, managing the opioid crisis, updating the government’s technological systems, and creating peace in the Middle East, among other tasks. It’s the latter, though, that’s both the most deeply personal for Kushner (a staunch supporter of Israel) and that prompted him to embark on his longest, most rambling answer during yesterday’s question-and-answer session.

While the recording doesn’t catch the entirety of the question, it appears to have centered on how Kushner plans to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as why he believes he’ll be successful where every other administration has failed. He doesn’t directly answer either question, but he does reveal that, in his extensive research, he’s learned that “not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years.” He also notes that he’s spoken to “a lot of people,” which has taught him that “this is a very emotionally charged situation.”

Later in the clip, Kushner expresses frustration at others’ attempts to teach him about the delicate situation he’s been inserted into, saying, “Everyone finds an issue, that ‘You have to understand what they did then’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’ But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on, How do you come up with a conclusion to the situation?” He then goes on to lament the press’s treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a family friend who he’s known since childhood. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians met with tear gas upon return to al-Aqsa

Al Jazeera reports: More than 100 Palestinians have been injured as Israeli forces fired tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs at worshippers who returned to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the first time in nearly two weeks.

As the call to prayer sounded from al-Aqsa Mosque again, thousands of men, women and children made their way to the compound on Thursday, after Israel removed surveillance equipment and other obstacles from the gates leading to the holy site.

On Thursday night, dozens of Palestinians who have taken shelter inside the al-Qibli Mosque were surrounded by Israeli forces who cut off electricity in an attempt to force them outside of the compound.

Earlier in the day, the scenes of eupohria and celebrations inside the compound were cut short by Israeli forces who stormed in at the heels of the crowds that had entered the al-Aqsa Mosque complex.

Raed Saleh, a resident of occupied East Jerusalem, said that re-entering the compound on their own conditions was a victory for Palestinians.

“We never saw this kind of win for our people,” he told Al Jazeera. “People are coming from everywhere just to support us in this occasion.

“The Israeli government will now understand that Palestinians from Jerusalem will not accept everything they [Israelis] will tell them. We control ourselves. No one is controlling us.” [Continue reading…]

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Palestine envoy to UN: Al-Aqsa crisis at tipping point

Al Jazeera reports: The Palestinian envoy to the UN has told the Security Council that al-Aqsa Mosque compound crisis in East Jerusalem is at a tipping point, urging the council members to help protect Palestinians and their holy sites from Israel’s “reckless and destructive agenda”.

Riyad Mansour warned in his speech to the Council on Tuesday that “the stoking of a religious conflict is rapidly unfolding as Israel persists its illegal actions in occupied East Jerusalem”.

He accused Israel of “aggressive behaviour and provocative violation” of the historic status quo at the Muslim-administered al-Aqsa Mosque compound, referring to a brief closure of the holy site after a deadly shooting there that was followed by installation of CCTV cameras and metal detectors.

“We are clearly at the tipping point,” he said. “We must therefore again warn against the dangers of such provocations and incitement, and fuelling of yet another cycle of violence which will surely have far-reaching consequences.” [Continue reading…]

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This piece of pro-Israel legislation is a serious threat to free speech

David Cole and Faiz Shakir write: The right to boycott has a long history in the United States, from the American Revolution to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Montgomery bus boycott to the campaign for divestment from businesses serving apartheid South Africa. Nowadays we celebrate those efforts. But precisely because boycotts are such a powerful form of expression, governments have long sought to interfere with them — from King George III to the police in Alabama, and now to the U.S. Congress.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation introduced in the Senate by Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and in the House by Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.), would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or its businesses called by the United Nations, the European Union or any other “international governmental organization.” Violations would be punishable by civil and criminal penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison. The American Civil Liberties Union, where we both work, takes no position for or against campaigns to boycott Israel or any other foreign country. But since our organization’s founding in 1920, the ACLU has defended the right to collective action. This bill threatens that right.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is designed to stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The bill’s particular target is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. [Continue reading…]

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ACLU urges senators to oppose bill targeting Israel boycotts

JTA reports: The American Civil Liberties Union called on U.S. senators to oppose a measure targeting boycotts of Israel and its settlements.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced in March by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would expand 1970s-era laws that make illegal compliance with boycotts of Israel sponsored by governments — laws inspired at the time by the Arab League boycott of Israel — to include boycotts backed by international organizations. Those adhering to boycotts would be the subject of fines.

While the measure is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it also targets efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those manufactured in West Bank settlements.

In a letter Monday, the ACLU urged senators not to co-sponsor the measure and to oppose its passage.

“We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter,” wrote Faiz Shakir, ACLU’s national political director. “However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.”

Shakir added that “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.” [Continue reading…]

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Life in Gaza has gone from unbearable and insufferable to its absolute worst

Muhammad Shehada writes: I talked to my family in Gaza earlier this week and asked them: “How do you sleep at night when you don’t have electricity?” The temperature at night there doesn’t go below 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity is high. My 12-year-old sister answered: “We don’t.”

She explained that even if they try to sleep, open all the windows, drink a lot of water – still, they can’t breathe. If they lie down, they spend hours sweating profusely while listening to the Israeli drones’ intimidating noise outside, with nowhere to go. They prefer to stay awake at night until they can’t resist their eyes closing. Even then, they’re troubled by insomnia, and nightmares. They wake up to find themselves drowned in sweat.

By the morning, the flaming sun limits their options. One option is to spend the day in the Capital Mall, the only mall in Gaza equipped with internet, air conditioners, private electrical generators and a place to sit down. Or they could go and visit a relative who has a big enough battery to operate a small fan while they speak. They can no longer go and sit by the sea, when the risk of catching diseases from the contaminated water is so high, though others have stopped really caring about getting sick or not. As a friend of mine told me: “The sea is 99% polluted, we swim in the 1% that’s left.”

Their electricity, however, suddenly comes back on for two to three random hours at most each day, and that’s the only time you can turn on the pumps to store a little bit of undrinkable water in the tanks that will run out as soon as you take a shower. It becomes a kind of rush hour, when everyone is desperately running around, trying to cool some purchased mineral water in the freezer, recharge cellphone batteries and radios and flashlights, and sit behind a computer screen to read the news, whose headlines are repetitive and hollow. As soon as the electricity goes out, the people are back to the streets, sitting in the shade on the pavements.

For most of my friends in Gaza, all the days of the week are routinely identical, and most of the young people are depressingly “unemployable” due to the blockade that has killed the economy, so there’s no actual difference between  weekdays and the weekend. What’s different is the incremental accrual of age that accumulates more rage inside you and reminds you that you haven’t had much in life, and probably won’t have much more in the future. And with each year, another cohort of graduates is exposed to the dead job market, with no prospects for making a livelihood. [Continue reading…]

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Revitalizing Palestinian nationalism: Options versus realities

Perry Cammack, Nathan Brown, and Marwan Muasher write: A half century after Israel’s astonishing 1967 victory established control over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, the Palestinian national project still faces considerable barriers to statehood. The Palestinian Authority (PA)—created in 1994 as a way station to full sovereignty—has been split in two since Hamas’ 2007 takeover of Gaza.1 The pace of Israeli construction in the West Bank has increased more during the PA’s twenty-three-year lifespan than in the first twenty-seven years of Israeli occupation, with the number of West Bank settlers rising from 116,300 in 1993 to 382,900 in 2015.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accord, most Palestinian institutions have evolved upon the premise that a sovereign state is achievable through a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But since 2000, successive efforts to negotiate a final status agreement have failed. With the pathways to statehood increasingly in doubt, the end goal no longer seems to guide political calculations. As a result, Palestinian political legitimacy continues to erode, and Palestinians increasingly view their national leadership as incapable of articulating a coherent strategic vision.

Hence, Palestinian nationalism seems to be at a critical juncture, with no clear way forward. The current trajectory likely leads to continued occupation, settlement expansion, social division, and institutional decay. And while grassroots discussions of new approaches have begun to percolate, no consensus has emerged. These approaches, which mostly involve increased confrontation with Israel, would likely bring socioeconomic turbulence and the possible unraveling of some of the organizational, moral, and diplomatic achievements of Palestinian nationalism to date—and with no certainty of success. Based in part on an informal survey of fifty-eight Palestinian leaders in various fields and featuring a collection of commentaries on subjects including civil society engagement, youth political participation, reconciliation, and international law and Palestinian rights, this report attempts to explore the prospects for national renewal. [Continue reading…]

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‘Last secret’ of 1967 war: Israel’s plan to use nuclear weapons

The New York Times reports: On the eve of the Arab-Israeli war, 50 years ago this week, Israeli officials raced to assemble an atomic device and developed a plan to detonate it atop a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula as a warning to Egyptian and other Arab forces, according to an interview with a key organizer of the effort that will be published Monday.

The secret contingency plan, called a “doomsday operation” by Itzhak Yaakov, the retired brigadier general who described it in the interview, would have been invoked if Israel feared it was going to lose the 1967 conflict. The demonstration blast, Israeli officials believed, would intimidate Egypt and surrounding Arab states — Syria, Iraq and Jordan — into backing off.

Israel won the war so quickly that the atomic device was never moved to Sinai. But Mr. Yaakov’s account, which sheds new light on a clash that shaped the contours of the modern Middle East conflict, reveals Israel’s early consideration of how it might use its nuclear arsenal to preserve itself.

“It’s the last secret of the 1967 war,” said Avner Cohen, a leading scholar of Israel’s nuclear history who conducted many interviews with the retired general.

Mr. Yaakov, who oversaw weapons development for the Israeli military, detailed the plan to Dr. Cohen in 1999 and 2000, years before he died in 2013 at age 87.

“Look, it was so natural,” said Mr. Yaakov, according to a transcription of a taped interview. “You’ve got an enemy, and he says he’s going to throw you to the sea. You believe him.”

“How can you stop him?” he asked. “You scare him. If you’ve got something you can scare him with, you scare him.”

Israel has never acknowledged the existence of its nuclear arsenal, in an effort to preserve “nuclear ambiguity” and forestall periodic calls for a nuclear-free Middle East. In 2001, Mr. Yaakov was arrested, at age 75, on charges that he had imperiled the country’s security by talking about the nuclear program to an Israeli reporter, Ronen Bergman, whose work was censored. At various moments, American officials, including former President Jimmy Carter long after he left office, have acknowledged the existence of the Israeli program, though they have never given details. [Continue reading…]

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The past 50 years of Israeli occupation. And the next

Nathan Thrall writes: Three months after the 1967 war, Israel’s ruling Mapai Party held a discussion on the future of the newly conquered territories. Golda Meir, who would become Israel’s leader a year and a half later, asked Prime Minister Levi Eshkol what he planned to do with the more than one million Arabs now living under Israeli rule.

“I get it,” Mr. Eshkol jokingly replied. “You want the dowry, but you don’t like the bride!” Mrs. Meir responded, “My soul yearns for the dowry, and to let someone else take the bride.”

On this 50th anniversary of the war, it is clear that over the half-century that followed, Israel managed to fulfill Mrs. Meir’s wish, keeping control of the land indefinitely without wedding itself to the inhabitants. This resilient and eminently sustainable arrangement, so often mischaracterized as a state of limbo assumed to be temporary, has stood on three main pillars: American backing, Palestinian weakness and Israeli indifference. Together, the three ensure that for the Israeli government, continuing its occupation is far less costly than the concessions required to end it. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians for Trump: ‘He might be the one’

Politico reports: The Qalandia checkpoint, the main border crossing separating this Palestinian city from East Jerusalem, is not a great place for anyone in a hurry.

On a recent hot afternoon, all passage was halted without explanation as hundreds of Palestinians with permits to work, study or seek medical treatment in Israel—or who actually live there—were packed into a maze of thick iron cages surrounded by barbed wire and monitored by guard towers waiting to be searched, interrogated and, for many, once again humiliated.

After a lengthy delay, small groups were permitted through the turnstiles into the screening areas—some only after being among the unlucky temporarily locked between the heavy revolving bars by an unseen Israeli soldier in an armored guard station with tiny blast-resistant windows.

Though as an accredited American journalist I could have used a speedier route for my return to Jerusalem, I opted to pass through the checkpoint to experience it for myself. Countless Palestinians use the border crossing each day—a procedure Israeli officials say is necessary, like the physical barrier that cuts off much of the West Bank, to prevent terrorism. (The next day, a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli soldier at the same checkpoint, one in a recent spate of lone-wolf attacks.)

The daily routine at Qalandia is also a metaphor for the fits and starts of the long struggle to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, measured by Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza, will reach the milestone next month of half a century on the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War.

But there is new glimmer of hope here that things can get moving: Donald Trump.

Trump will welcome Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Wednesday ahead of his own planned official visit to the region later this month. In my conversations here with Palestinian officials, I found them surprisingly upbeat about an American president who came to office vowing to crack down on Muslim immigration and who has backed away from longtime U.S. support for a two-state solution.

“The hints are very positive,” General Jibril Rajoub, a member of the central committee of Fatah, the moderate wing of the Palestinian leadership, told me over lunch in late April in a trendy restaurant, Caspar and Gambini’s, on Ramallah’s Al Jihad Street.

A senior Palestinian official, in one of a series of interviews with Politico Magazine, put it this way: “He might be the one to bring the political settlement.”

It is a sense of optimism that virtually no one here anticipated—and one that feels genuine, if also calculated to get into the good graces of the new American leader. Trump’s personal chemistry with hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the pro-settler views of his new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, were both seen as early omens that the new American president would have little, if any, interest in the Palestinian issue and might even encourage more Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

But Rajoub, an urbane diplomat who runs the Palestinian Football Federation and was a longtime adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said the quiet but seemingly earnest visits to Ramallah in recent months of CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Jason Greenblatt, the New York lawyer serving as a Trump envoy, were surprisingly positive. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas leader plays final hand

The New York Times reports: In the violent flux of the Middle East, Khaled Meshal is one of the great survivors. Down the years other senior figures in Hamas, the Islamist militant group that resists Israel, have died in hotel rooms at the hands of Israeli assassins or been crushed by laser-guided missiles during the wars in Gaza.

Mr. Meshal, who spent his career shifting from one Arab capital to another, had his own close scrape: In 1997, a year after he became the leader of Hamas, Israeli spies sprayed poison into his ear on a street in Jordan, sending Mr. Meshal into a coma and setting off an angry diplomatic showdown between Jordan and Israel that ended with the delivery of a lifesaving antidote.

Now Mr. Meshal is stepping down as the senior leader, ending a 21-year reign during which Hamas grew into a formidable military force and also joined politics to rule Gaza for the past decade. Yet it has become an international pariah for its attacks on civilians.

Mr. Meshal’s parting shot is a new political document, released at a luxury hotel in Doha on Monday, that he is pitching as an attempt to pull Hamas from its isolation by presenting a friendlier face to the world.

A big part of that is its watering down of the anti-Semitic language of the original Hamas charter in 1988, with its talk of war between Arabs and Jews. “We are making it clear that ours is a liberation project — not about religion or the Jews,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview on Tuesday in Doha, his latest home.

His offer found few takers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel immediately rejected the overture as an exercise in insincerity. “Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” his spokesman said Monday. Hamas is loathed in Israel for bombings and rockets launched indiscriminately into civilian areas, and critics say the group spends too much money preparing for war and not enough on Gaza’s besieged residents.

The document was also greeted with silence by Western countries, a reflection of the fact that Hamas failed to bend on any of the factors that have caused it to be branded a terrorist organization — and has not even formally repudiated the 1988 charter, with its talk of “obliterating” Israel and creating an Islamic State on “every inch” of historic Palestine.

The failure to achieve even that cosmetic gesture offers a telling indication of how Hamas is hamstrung by its own deep-seated ambivalence toward reform, said Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who is based in Jerusalem, who noted that the original charter has long been a source of quiet embarrassment among more reform-minded Hamas leaders.

“On one hand, they are attempting to appeal to hard-liners by not giving up their core principles,’’ said Mr. Thrall, the author of a forthcoming book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “The Only Language They Understand.’’

“On the other, people like Meshal were hoping the document could lead to openings with Sunni Arab states and the West. It attempts to please everyone, and in so doing pleases no one.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

BBC News reports: Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as “Geulat Zion”, near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to “hold back” on settlement construction. [Continue reading…]

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