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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New Hamas charter would name ‘occupiers,’ not ‘Jews,’ as the enemy

The New York Times reports: Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that has governed the Gaza Strip for a decade, is drafting a new platform to present a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world, Hamas officials confirmed on Thursday.

The document would represent a departure from the group’s contentious 1988 charter, in which it promised to “obliterate” Israel and characterized its struggle as specifically against Jews. The new document defines Hamas’s enemies as “occupiers.”

“It means that we don’t fight Jews because they are Jews,” said Taher el-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. “Our struggle is only against those who occupied our lands.”

The new document would accept borders of the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war as the basis for a Palestinian state. It would not recognize Israel, however, nor would it give up future claims to all of what Hamas considers Palestinian lands.

Mr. Nounou said the document, the result of four years of work, is not yet final and has not yet been approved by Hamas’s governing bodies. Nor are its contents wholly new, even though they seem now to carry both practical and symbolic weight, particularly in Hamas’s relations with Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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Israel bulldozes democracy

Ayman Odeh writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is expected to visit Washington this week to meet with President Trump, presumably to discuss the political philosophy they share: power through hate and fear. A government that bars refugees and Muslims from entering the United States has much in common with one that permits Israeli settlers to steal land from Palestinians, as a new law that Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition pushed through Parliament last week did.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government’s racist, unjust land use and housing policies.

Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, yet only 2.5 percent of the state’s land is under Arab jurisdiction. And since the founding of the state, more than 700 new towns and cities have been built for Jews, while no new cities have been built for Arabs.

In Arab towns, the government has made building permits so difficult to obtain, and grants them so rarely, that many inhabitants have resorted to constructing new housing units on their properties without permits just to keep up with growing families that have nowhere else to go. As a result, Arab communities have become more and more densely populated, turning pastoral villages into concrete jungles. [Continue reading…]

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Salam Fayyad, Washington and Tel Aviv’s favorite Palestinian, does not meet Trump’s approval

Roger Cohen called him, “The most progressive and innovative Palestinian thinker on a Middle East peace settlement,” and Tom Friedman described him as belonging to “a new generation of decent Arab leaders whose primary focus would be the human development of their own people, not the enrichment of their family, tribe, sect or party,” but in the eyes of the Trump administration, Salam Fayyad is less noteworthy for the details of his résumé or the praise he has so often received across the Western political establishment than he is for the mere fact that he is a Palestinian.

It’s easy to imagine Trump’s response when he was informed that the UN is considering appointing Fayyad to head its mission in Libya. “A Palestinian? Not good.” And thus the dimwit sitting in the Oval Office directed his emissary at the UN to craft a statement voicing his displeasure.

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Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas agree to form unity government

Middle East Eye reports: The main Palestinian parties on Tuesday announced a deal to form a national unity government prior to the holding of elections, after three days of reconciliation talks in Moscow involving rival groups Fatah and Hamas.

“We have reached agreement under which, within 48 hours, we will call on (Palestinian leader) Mahmoud Abbas to launch consultations on the creation of a government” of national unity, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad told a press conference, speaking in Arabic.

Ater the government is formed, the Palestinians would set up a national council, which would include Palestinians in exile, and hold elections.

“Today the conditions for (such an initiative) are better than ever,” said Ahmad.

The non-official talks in Moscow began on Sunday under Russian auspices with the goal of restoring “the unity of the Palestinian people.” Representatives came from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions. [Continue reading…]

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The smearing of Keith Ellison reveals the warped priorities of the Israel lobby

Michelle Goldberg writes: The first time I visited Shuhada Street in Hebron, a city of 200,000 in Israel’s West Bank, I felt as if I’d stepped through a looking glass. For most of the past 12 years, the once-bustling market street has been under lockdown to protect 800 militant Jewish settlers who’ve seized part of the old city. Aside from soldiers and a few orthodox Jewish women pushing baby carriages, Shuhada Street is empty and silent; in the parlance of the Israel Defense Forces, it is “completely sterilized,” which means that Palestinians aren’t allowed to set foot on it. Most of the Arabs who once lived in the area have left, but the few who remain are virtual prisoners in their apartments, where cages protect windows and balconies from settlers’ stones. Palestinians who live on Shuhada Street aren’t allowed to walk out their front doors; if they must go out, they have to climb onto the roof and down a fire escape into a back alley. My tour guide, an orthodox Jewish IDF veteran who’d become a fierce critic of the occupation, described what happens if the Palestinians get sick. “The Jewish subset of the Red Cross doesn’t treat Palestinians here,” he told me. “What you see a lot of times is Palestinians carrying people by foot to an area with an ambulance.”

The disorientation of Shuhada Street comes not just from the moral horror, but from the near-impossibility of conveying that horror to most Americans without sounding like a crank. Before that first visit, I was someone who rolled my eyes when left-wingers described the occupation of Palestine as apartheid, a term that seemed shrill and reductive and heedless of a thousand complexities. Afterward, I realized how hard it is, within the cramped, taboo-ridden strictures that govern mainstream discussion of Israel, to talk about what’s happening in Hebron. If I’d never been there and someone had described it to me, I wouldn’t have fully believed her.

Keith Ellison, the Democratic congressman from Minnesota and candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman, was also stunned by what he saw in Hebron; I spoke to him about it after his first trip there. This summer, he tweeted a photo of one of the city’s caged apartment windows, where someone had put a sign saying, “Caution: This was taken by Israel. You are entering Apartheid.” Now that tweet is being used to smear Ellison as an anti-Semite and derail his candidacy for DNC chairman. The anti-Ellison campaign, coming at a time when Donald Trump’s election has emboldened genuine anti-Semites to a degree unprecedented in living memory, is evidence of warped priorities among a good part of the American Jewish community. The need to defend the indefensible in Israel is leading to the demonization of an ally of Jews in America. [Continue reading…]

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A two-state solution looks more distant than ever

Roger Cohen writes: There is agreement on very little in the fractious Holy Land, but on one issue there is near unanimity these days: A two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more distant than ever, so unimaginable that it appears little more than an illusion sustained by lazy thinking, interest in the status quo or plain exhaustion.

From Tel Aviv to Ramallah in the West Bank, from the largely Arab city of Nazareth to Jerusalem, I found virtually nobody on either side prepared to offer anything but a negative assessment of the two-state idea. Diagnoses ranged from moribund to clinically dead. Next year it will be a half-century since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began. More than 370,000 settlers now live there, excluding in East Jerusalem, up from about 249,000 in 2005. The incorporation of all the biblical Land of Israel has advanced too far, for too long, to be reversed now.

Greater Israel is what Israelis know; the smaller Israel west of the Green Line that emerged from the 1947-49 war of independence is a fading memory. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with its contempt for Palestinians and dissenting voices in general, prefers things that way, as the steady expansion of settlements demonstrates. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, has lost the legitimacy, the cohesion and the will to do much about it. The cancellation of municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza that had been set for this month was another sign of paralyzing Palestinian infighting. [Continue reading…]

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Pattern of unlawful killings by Israeli forces reveals shocking disregard for human life

Amnesty International: Nearly a year on from a bloody spike in violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) Israeli forces continue to display an appalling disregard for human life by using reckless and unlawful lethal force against Palestinians, Amnesty International said today.

In a memorandum sent to the Israeli authorities on 14 September, the organization has detailed 20 cases of apparently unlawful killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces seeking clarification about the status of investigations. In at least 15 of the cases, Palestinians were deliberately shot dead, despite posing no imminent threat to life, in what appear to be extrajudicial executions. The Israeli authorities have not responded to Amnesty International’s concerns.

“Since the escalation of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories last year, there has been a worrying rise in unlawful killings by Israeli forces, fostered by a culture of impunity,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

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Shimon Peres obituary: Peacemaker or war criminal?

Jonathan Cook writes: Famously in the late 1990s, [Shimon] Peres [the last major figure in Israel’s founding generation, who died today, age 93] made the mistake of asking a Labour party convention whether he was a “loser”. The delegates roared back: “Yes”.

Over two decades, Peres lost five elections in which he stood for prime minister.

Although he served in the top job on two occasions, he never won a popular mandate.

He briefly took over from Rabin after the latter was felled in 1995 by an assassin’s bullet. He was also prime minister in an unusual rotation agreement with his Likud rival Yitzhak Shamir after neither secured a parliamentary majority in the 1984 election.

Unlike Rabin and Ariel Sharon, two figures of his generation who enjoyed greater political acclaim, Peres suffered in part because he had not first made a name for himself in the Israeli army, Ezrahi observed.

He was seen as more uninspiring technocrat than earthy warrior.

Even on Israel’s left, said Roni Ben Efrat, an Israeli political analyst and editor of the website Challenge, he was viewed as an opportunist.

“His real obsession was with his own celebrity and prestige,” she said. “What he lacked was political principle. There was an air about him of plotting behind everyone’s backs. He was certainly no Nelson Mandela.”

Rabin, who tussled regularly with Peres for leadership of the Labour party, called him an “inveterate schemer”.

With Rabin’s victory in 1992, Peres was appointed number two and returned to what he did best: backroom deals, in this case a peace track in Norway that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

When Rabin was assassinated two years later, it was assumed that Peres would romp home in the general election a short time later, riding a wave of sympathy over Rabin’s death.

Instead he lost to Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who profited from the right’s campaign to discredit the peace process and its architects as “Oslo criminals”.

Peres would see out much of his remaining time in frontline politics providing a veneer of international respectability to right-wing Sharon governments through the second Intifada as they crushed the Palestinian leadership and built a steel and concrete barrier through the West Bank. [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: Perhaps the final irony of Shimon Peres’ life was that his last act in the service of peace, remains secret and undocumented. As an octogenarian president, he observed the conventions of the ceremonial office and refrained from openly intervening in politics. That didn’t stop the commanders of the army and chiefs of the intelligence services turning to him for advice when they felt their political masters were dangerously wrong. Towards the end of his seven-year term, he was the secret leader of the faction within the defence establishment that successfully worked to block the plans of Netanyahu, the prime minister and the defence minister Ehud Barak to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, before it could build an atomic bomb.

Ultimately he had to rely on the generals and spy chiefs to avert war. He never convinced ordinary Israelis to make the same leap of faith he had. [Continue reading…]

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Rights groups say Israel behind death threats campaign

Al Jazeera reports: The threats have come via emails, phone calls, and once with flowers delivered directly to the front door.

Amid months of sustained intimidation, harassment and threats, Palestinian human rights defenders are coming forward to denounce a campaign that they say aims to “plant fear” into their efforts to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations.

“This is a very organised and advanced campaign,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a prominent Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organisation.

“The goal is to stop us [from] dealing actively with the [International Criminal Court], cooperating actively with the ICC,” Jabarin told Al Jazeera. “They want to plant fear on our side … when it comes to accountability [and] when it comes to our advocacy work.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinian children decried

Al Jazeera reports: Human rights groups have condemned Israel’s approval of a new law allowing the imprisonment of children as young as 12 for “terrorist offences”, and which is expected to apply mostly to Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem.

The “Youth Bill” allows authorities to imprison minors convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder or manslaughter, even if he or she is under the age of 14, the Israeli government said in a statement on Wednesday.

Attacks in recent months “demands a more aggressive approach, including toward minors”, the government said in the statement.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem criticised the law and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian youth in general.

“Rather than sending them to prison, Israel would be better off sending them to school where they could grow up in dignity and freedom, not under occupation,” the group said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish aid flows into besieged Gaza Strip

Al Jazeera reports: The night before Eid, Basem Abu Attia received a call from a local official with some good news: His food package was ready for pick-up.

“I was very surprised,” Abu Attia told Al Jazeera. “I wasn’t expecting anything … I had nothing to give my family, so when the aid came I was overjoyed.”

More aid from Turkey has started flowing into Gaza this week under the terms of the recent Turkey-Israel deal, after the Social Affairs Ministry spent weeks organising the material. Distribution to about 75,000 families dependent on government subsidies began on Tuesday, although delivery was previously expedited to some of the neediest families, including Abu Attia’s.

The aid package included rice, oil, olives, dates and flour – basic items that Abu Attia, who lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp, cannot afford himself. His 10 children, the youngest of whom is three, were elated, he said – “especially with the chocolates”. He hopes that later deliveries will include toys for his children.

Just a week into receiving the package, however, all that remained was a bag of rice and a can of olives.

“We need a long-term programme, and we’re hoping the Turks will help us with this,” said Talla Abu Jomaa, the Social Affairs Ministry representative in Nuseirat camp, who delivered the aid package to Abu Attia.

Uncertainty was cast over the Turkey-Israel deal after a failed coup attempt by members of the Turkish military last week. But as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged in control, Turkish officials confirmed that the agreement remains on course. [Continue reading…]

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Tel Aviv mayor says the occupation is a cause of Palestinian terror

Edo Konrad writes: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai shocked many Israelis Thursday morning when he cited Israel’s occupation as one factor that leads Palestinians to turn to terrorism. Speaking on Army Radio about Wednesday’s deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv and reported celebrations of it in the West Bank and Gaza, Huldai argued that Israelis should focus instead on the fact that Israel is “perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.”

“On the one hand the occupation has lasted 49 years, and I took part in it,” Huldai told veteran journalist Ilana Dayan, “I recognize the reality and know that leaders with courage must look to take action and not just talk. The fact that we are suffering does not lead to a change in understanding of what must be done… There is no courage to do what needs to be done in order to reach a [peace] agreement.”

“There is no way to hold people in a situation of occupation and think that they will reach the conclusion that everything is okay and they will continue to live like that,” Huldai added. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli minister wants to annex half of West Bank and kick out the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.

While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.

“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”

According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs. [Continue reading…]

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Marwan Barghouti’s plan for Palestinian independence

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

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

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

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

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

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Should Israel negotiate with Hamas?

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