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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Landmark talks between Palestinian Authority and Hamas stall

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday convened its first cabinet meeting in the Gaza Strip in three years, but talks between the internationally recognized Palestinian governing body and Hamas hit a stumbling block over the latter’s refusal to disarm.

Landmark talks to end a decadelong rift between the two Palestinian factions and return control of the Hamas-ruled enclave to the authority hinge partly on the political and militant group agreeing to completely disarm. The authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has warned he won’t allow Hamas to maintain its armed wing as part of a unity government.

“For sure Hamas will never accept this…dismantling al-Qassam,” said Hazem Qassem, spokesman for Hamas, referencing the armed wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades.

The cabinet meeting was convened by the authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, before authority ministers then visited the Gaza outposts of their respective departments. The cabinet last convened in Gaza in 2014, during the last round of reconciliation talks between Hamas and the authority.

The question of al-Qassam’s fate overshadowed the two-day visit to Gaza, which began Monday, by a delegation of high-ranking authority officials, including Mr. Hamdallah. Negotiations over the issue are likely to continue next week in Cairo. Egyptian intelligence officials also helped broker the talks in Gaza.

Mr. Abbas said late Monday he wouldn’t allow a situation in the Palestinian territories such as that in Lebanon, where the militant and political group Hezbollah maintains a de facto army alongside Lebanese national forces.

“I will not accept or copy or reproduce the Hezbollah example in Lebanon,” he said, according to comments carried by official Palestinian Authority media. “Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.”

Hamas and the authority, which is dominated by Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party, are working to dispel years of mutual distrust and create a united national movement that can negotiate peace with Israel.

The U.S. and United Nations support the talks between the two parties, while Israel is watching them warily for a gauge on the future policy of the Palestinian national movement. [Continue reading…]

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How blood money, diplomacy and desperation are reuniting Palestine

Reuters reports: A decade on, Rawda al-Zaanoun is at last willing to forgive the gunmen who killed her son during the civil war that split Palestine. It has been painful, but she says it is time.

“He was hit with a bullet in the back. He was a martyr,” the 54-year-old said at an event in Gaza city to mark the public reconciliation of families of people killed in the war. “The decision was not easy because the blood of our son is precious. But we have given amnesty.”

Her son Ala, a married father of two and an officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces, was killed in June 2007 after he rushed out of his house in Gaza City, having heard that his uncle was injured in clashes between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

Since that war a decade ago, Fatah, led by the secular heirs of Yassir Arafat, has run the West Bank, headed the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and been responsible for all negotiations with Israel.

Its rivals, the Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, drove Fatah out of Gaza and has run the tiny coastal strip that is home to 2 million people, nearly half of the population of the Palestinian territories.

The schism is set to end on Monday, when Hamas hands over control of Gaza to a unity government. Although it agreed to the arrangement three years ago, the decision to implement it now marks a striking reversal for Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and most of the most powerful Arab countries.

“Hamas has made big concessions, and every coming concession will be stunning and surprisingly bigger than the one that passed, so that we can conclude reconciliation and this division must end,” the chief of Hamas in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, said during a meeting this week with social media activists.

If Hamas has swallowed a bitter pill by ending the feud, perhaps bitterest of all is the role played by exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, once Hamas’s fiercest foe who is now a leading player in regional efforts to pull Gaza back into the Palestinian mainstream.

Officials on both sides of the Palestinian divide and in other Arab countries say Dahlan, based since 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, is behind an influx of cash to prop up Gaza, and a detente between Hamas and Arab states including Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas accepts Fatah demands but reconciliation remains doubtful

The National reports: Hamas said on Sunday it had dissolved its de facto government in the Gaza Strip and met other demands of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to pave the way for a reconciliation with his Fatah movement which runs West Bank self-rule enclaves.

Such a rapprochement would heal a decade-old divide in Palestinian politics that has greatly set back statehood aspirations. But analysts cautioned that many complex issues would still have to be resolved and recalled that earlier reconciliation efforts had foundered, with each side unwilling to give up the monopoly of power in its territory.

In a statement issued overnight after eight days of meetings with Egyptian mediators, Hamas said it had dismantled the administrative committee it formed six months ago to rule Gaza, a move that triggered punishing sanctions by Mr Abbas aimed at toppling the Islamist movement. The sanctions included cutting off funding for Gaza’s electricity, cutting salary payments and even refusing medical referrals from the Strip.

Hamas also invited Mr Abbas’s government to return to Gaza, 10 years after Fatah security forces were routed in a brief civil war. And the movement said it was ready to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections, which are about a decade overdue because of the rift.

“This puts Abu Mazen and Fatah to the real test,” Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum wrote on the movement’s website, in what amounted to a call to lift the sanctions. “Our people is looking for a practical and actual response in order to achieve its ambitions of national unity and real partnership.”

Fatah central committee member Mahmoud Al Aloul welcomed the Hamas announcement but was also cautious. “We want to see that happening on the ground before we move to the next step,” he said.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al Azhar University, said: “This is a very significant moment that Hamas agreed to dissolve the administrative committee and allowed the Egyptians to get more involved.”

But, “the devil is in the details and there are tons of details that need to be worked out”.

He said these include determining the future of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam brigades, and of armed resistance against Israel – things that were not mentioned in the Hamas statement. A key question that needs to be answered is who will be in charge of security? [Continue reading…]

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Palestine: Dangerous escalation in attacks on freedom of expression

Amnesty International reports: The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and their rivals, the de-facto Hamas administration in Gaza, have both tightened the noose on freedom of expression in recent months, launching a repressive clampdown on dissent that has seen journalists from opposition media outlets interrogated and detained in a bid to exert pressure on their political opponents, said Amnesty International.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have arrested six journalists in August so far, shut down 29 websites and introduced a controversial Electronic Crimes Law imposing tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces have arrested at least two journalists since June and hampered others from freely carrying out their work. At least 12 Palestinians, including activists, were also detained by Hamas for critical comments posted on Facebook.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent. This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“By rounding up journalists and shutting down opposition websites the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip appear to be using police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information.” [Continue reading…]

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Gaza: The curse of Mohammed Dahlan

Ramzy Baroud writes: “We have made mutual efforts with our brothers in Hamas to restore hope for Gaza’s heroic people,” Mohammed Dahlan told Palestinian legislators gathering in Gaza on Thursday, July 27. He spoke via satellite from his current exile in the United Arab Emirates.

The audience clapped. True, Gaza has been pushed to the brink of humiliation so that its truly heroic people may lose hope. But the fact that it was Dahlan that uttered these words appeared odd. More bizarre is the fact that his audience included top members of Hamas.

Dahlan, who had once been praised by George W Bush and was chosen by neoconservatives to lead a coup against the elected Hamas government in Gaza in 2007, seems to have finally managed to sneak his way back to Palestinian politics. Outrageously, however, Dahlan’s ominous return is facilitated by no other group than his archenemy, Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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Gazans being held hostage by Israeli, PA gamesmanship

Orly Noy writes: Who says there is no coordination between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority? On Sunday evening, Israel gladly accepted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas request to cut the already-dilapidated electricity supply to Gaza, in order to make life for its residents that much more difficult. Think about the significance of cutting electricity by 40 percent in the middle of a blazing summer. The government and the IDF are both well aware of the current humanitarian crisis in the Strip. They are also well aware of the potential for an escalation should Israel continue to intensify the crisis. But the decision is to accede to Abbas’ request in his war against Hamas — all on the backs of the people who live there. Why? Because it serves Mahmoud Abbas’ political interests.

Palestinians in Gaza are afforded between four and eight hours of electricity on an average day, and this is without even taking into account problems that arise in Gaza’s power plant or in power lines from Egypt or Gaza. Most of the supply comes from Israel, a smaller portion from Egypt, and in the past around 25 percent from the local power plant. Israel supplies 120 megawatts in 10 high voltage lines — an amount that hasn’t changed for the past 10 years, despite the fact that Gaza’s population, and its needs, have grown dramatically in this time. Overall, the electricity that reaches Gaza on a daily basis covers just over half of what is needed. And this is when things are “normal.”

Since mid-April, Gaza’s sole power station has been out of commission, after a deal by Turkey and Qatar to supply the it with fuel came to an end. The situation has created an energy crisis in the Strip — and the consequences are dire. Hospitals, for example, have ceased providing necessary treatments and are relying exclusively on ramshackle generators. This means that water purification systems aren’t functioning, while untreated sewage finds its way to the sea in enormous quantities. Water filters cannot be used, and it is nearly impossible to rely on pumps to clear the sewage from the neighborhoods. All these create real life-threatening situations. The humanitarian disaster we keep hearing about has already taken its toll on Gaza. Even the Israeli army understands this. [Continue reading…]

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At the Palestinian Authority’s request, Israel cuts electricity to Gaza

Times of Israel reports: Israel has reportedly decided to heed a Palestinian Authority request to cut electricity supply to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after the PA announced it would not continue to pay the bill as it stepped up pressure on its main rival.

An Israeli official told the daily Haaretz newspaper on Sunday that the security cabinet earlier in the day had accepted the recommendation of the Israeli military to cut the supply at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas whose confrontation with Hamas has escalated in recent months.

The PA has been paying 40 million shekels ($11.3 million) a month for 125 megawatts, but recently said it was now only prepared to pay for 20-25 million shekels ($7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.

The hours of electricity supply in Gaza will now likely be reduced from six hours per day to between two and four hours a day.

Israel has been concerned that further cutting electricity would further destabilize Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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As Trump toured the Holy Land, Palestine went on strike

Jesse Rosenfeld reports: The rocks started flying at Israeli checkpoints across the occupied West Bank soon after President Donald Trump touched down at Israel’s David Ben Gurion Airport on Monday. Shops, restaurants and cafés were shuttered, schools were closed, and government offices were empty as Palestinians responded to a call from over 1,200 hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails to greet the President with a general strike.

Although the leaders of both Saudi Arabia and Israel lavished Trump with pomp and circumstance, Palestinians turned their back on the president as he toured Israel and crosssed the Great Wall into Bethlehem, defying even their own leadership.

Business ground to a halt in Ramallah, the administrative center of the Palestinian Authority and seat of governance for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Although Abbas had traveled alongside Trump all the way from the Islamic summit in Riyadh to Ben Gurion airport, Palestinians were unimpressed. They responded by turning their communities into ghost towns. On the eerily calm streets of Ramallah, only the pharmacies stayed open while young men, teenagers, and boys made their way out of town to the Qalandia checkpoint to clash with the soldiers that symbolize 50 years occupation to them. One of them died there, shot by an Israeli soldier after allegedly trying to stab him. [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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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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‘Worst view in the world’: Banksy opens hotel overlooking Bethlehem wall

The Guardian reports: The Walled Off hotel may sound utilitarian, even bleak. Its owner says it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world”, while its 10 rooms get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day.

But, nestled against the controversial barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, the West Bank’s answer to the Waldorf offers travellers something more elusive than any luxury destination.

The lodging in Bethlehem is a hotel, museum, protest and gallery all in one, packed with the artworks and angry brilliance of its owner, British street artist Banksy. [Continue reading…]

 

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Netanyahu calls for pardon of convicted soldier Azaria

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a pardon of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier found guilty of manslaughter after he shot and killed a wounded Palestinian last year.

“This is a difficult and painful day – first and foremost for Elor, his family, Israel’s soldiers, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me … I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria,” Netanyahu said Wednesday on his Facebook page.

The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who has the authority to issue pardons, said he will wait for the legal process to run its course before making a decision.

“In the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the president in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities,” he said in presidential statement.

The remarks were made just hours after Azaria was convicted on Wednesday in the high-profile case that raised questions over rules of engagement towards perceived threats by Palestinians.

A judge read out the court’s decision for more than two hours before announcing the verdict. The 20-year-old soldier could now face a maximum 20 years in prison. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: David Enoch, a professor in the faculty of law and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that the trial and public debate surrounding it marked a “horrible deterioration in Israeli society.”

“It’s not as if racism or violence against Palestinians is new, but at least in the past there were attempts to be civilized. There was at least some sanity,” Enoch said. “Now, many of those asking for Azaria to be pardoned have not mistaken the facts of the case. They just see an Israeli Jewish soldier shooting a Palestinian terrorist, and they don’t care about anything else.”

Even before the verdict was read, some Israeli leaders, including senior government ministers, called for the soldier to be pardoned.

“He should not sit one day in jail. We expect the defense minister to stick to his promises and initiate an immediate amnesty for Azaria,” read a statement from the far-right Jewish Home party, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: An Israeli advocacy group on Tuesday criticized what it called an “exceptionally low” prosecution rate by the Israeli military in cases of violence committed by soldiers against Palestinians.

The report by Yesh Din, a human rights group that is often critical of the Israeli military, came a day before a military court’s verdict is to be delivered in a high-profile manslaughter case against a soldier.

In its annual report, Yesh Din said the army opened 186 criminal investigations into suspected offenses against Palestinians in 2015, but just four of those investigations yielded indictments. The group said the 2015 figures, based on official army data, were the most recent available.

In the fall of 2015, a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted, characterized by Palestinian stabbing and car-ramming attacks on Israelis. The report said that of 76 Palestinians killed in clashes with soldiers in the West Bank in 2015, only 21 deaths resulted in investigations.

“The fact that in 55 incidents no criminal investigation was considered necessary raises doubts about the implementation of Israel’s declared policy on investigating civilian fatalities,” the report said. It said the data signaled an “inability and unwillingness” to address unlawful conduct. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli settlements grew on Obama’s watch. They may be poised for a boom on Trump’s

The Washington Post reports: Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped.

Thousands of homes were built. Miles of roadway. Restaurants. Shopping malls. A university.

Here in Shiloh, a tourist center went up, with a welcome video in which the biblical figure Joshua commands the Jewish people to settle the land promised to them by God.

Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the U.N. Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama administration.

But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling.

And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.

Already, Israel has a right-wing government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a U.S. president, Donald Trump, who has signaled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of U.S. policy and end American objections to the settlements. [Continue reading…]

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Trump adviser says Israeli settlements are ‘not illegal’

Middle East Eye and agencies reports: Donald Trump’s adviser on Israel said on Wednesday that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are not illegal, adding that he believes the candidate agrees with him, putting the pair at odds with much of the world.

Speaking to AFP at a rooftop restaurant on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion after a pro-Trump rally, David Friedman also said the US presidential candidate was “tremendously sceptical” about the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

About 150 people, including right-wing Israelis and evangelical Christians, attended Wednesday’s Trump rally outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, near the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The compound is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. Located in East Jerusalem, it was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Asked whether Trump viewed the West Bank as part of Israel, as many far-right Israelis do, Friedman did not answer directly.

“I don’t think he believes that the settlements are illegal,” Friedman said. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli military clears itself of wrongdoing over Gaza war airstrikes

The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has cleared its forces of wrongdoing in a string of deadly incidents that took place during the 2014 Gaza war – including an airstrike that killed 15 members of a single family and the bombing of a United Nations school.

Israel’s investigative process is at the heart of a Palestinian case to press for war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Palestinians say that Israel has a poor record of prosecuting wrongdoing in its ranks.

In a statement on Wednesday, the military said it had closed a total of seven investigations without filing charges after a special team collected testimony from Gaza residents and Israeli officers. [Continue reading…]

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Israel launches up to 50 strikes on Gaza after rocket attack on Sderot

The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has launched dozens of strikes on Gaza in an unusually strong response to a rocket fired from Gaza that landed between two houses in the Israeli community of Sderot.

Responsibility for the rocket attack on Sunday was initially claimed by Ahfad al-Sahaba, one of the small Salafi groups – ultra-conservative Sunnis – that have recently become more active in Gaza, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It prompted a wave of up to 50 retaliatory attacks, according to Israeli military sources, hitting several of Gaza’s armed Palestinian factions.

A security source said raids targeted Hamas’s Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades and the PFLP. Artillery shells also hit the area of al-Bureij in central Gaza and Beit Hanoun in the north. Several Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded.

The raids broke the pattern of limited Israeli retaliation during periods of relative quiet, leading the Islamist group Hamas to accuse Israel of escalating tensions. According to reports, the Israeli response came in two waves, the first immediately after the rocket attack, the second during the night, involving three Israeli jets and tank fire. [Continue reading…]

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