How the ‘peace process’ sustains the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Nathan Thrall writes: In the early days of the Gaza war that took the lives of some 2,150 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, a number of officials in Washington, Ramallah, and Jerusalem began to speak of renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States. As the fighting dragged on, this talk intensified, again showing that the “peace process” gains greatest urgency from the threat of Israeli-Palestinian violence, as well as from the U.S.’s desire to calm a roiling region, including by helping Arab allies justify pro-American stances to their publics. This was why the 1991 Madrid talks occurred during the first Palestinian intifada and immediately following Arab support of the United States in the 1991 Gulf War. It was why President George W. Bush’s 2003 Road Map for Middle East Peace was drafted during the second intifada and as the U.S. assembled a coalition for the 2003 Iraq War. And it is why the United States may soon seek to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, following sharply increased Israeli-Palestinian confrontation not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and after Israel’s actions in Gaza were given both tacit and overt support by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

There is little reason to believe that renewed talks would succeed. The obstacles that caused the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry have not disappeared. Many of them have grown larger. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his political program of nonviolence and negotiation have been weakened by Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, which impressed many Palestinians, although the costs were enormous. Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel, killing seven civilians, while Israeli air strikes and artillery killed hundreds of children, devastated large parts of Gaza, and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Reconstruction will cost many billions and take years.

Still, Hamas demonstrated that its militancy and its willingness to endure a ferocious Israeli attack could achieve more in weeks than Abbas’s talks have achieved in years. During the Gaza war, Israel did not announce a single new settlement in the West Bank. Although Israel did not agree to some of Hamas’s most important requests—for example, the opening of a seaport and the release of recently arrested prisoners—it showed eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians and willingness to make significant concessions, including the easing of some border crossings, extending fishing rights, facilitating the supply of construction materials, and offering to begin working in Gaza with the new Palestinian government formed in June. [Continue reading...]

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Veterans of elite Israeli intel unit refuse reserve duty, citing mistreatment of Palestinians

The New York Times reports: Denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under occupation, a group of veterans from an elite, secretive military intelligence unit have declared they will no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians” in required reserve duty because of what they called “our moral duty to act.”

In a letter sent Thursday night to their commanders as well as Israel’s prime minister and army chief, 43 veterans of the clandestine Unit 8200 complained that Israel made “no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence” and that information collected “harms innocent people.” Intelligence “is used for political persecution,” they wrote, which “does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”

The letter, revealed Friday in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper as well as The Guardian in Britain, echoes similar periodic protests by reservists over the years, including a group of 27 pilots who refused to participate in what Israel calls targeted assassinations, and 13 members of the vaunted commando unit known as Sayeret Matkal, both in 2003. But it is the first public collective refusal by intelligence officers rather that combat troops. Unit 8200 has a special role in Israeli society as a coveted pipeline to its high-technology industry.

“After our service we started seeing a more complex picture of a nondemocratic, oppressive regime that controls the lives of millions of people,” said one of the group’s organizers, a 32-year-old sergeant major who was on active duty from 2001 to 2005. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the military prohibits Unit 8200 members from being publicly identified. [Continue reading...]

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Britain ‘deplores’ Israel decision to seize West Bank land

Reuters reports: The British government said on Monday it deplored an Israeli decision to appropriate a large swathe of land inside the occupied West Bank, saying the move would seriously damage Israel’s international reputation.

On Sunday, Israel announced the appropriation of land in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group said was the biggest such claim in 30 years.

“The UK deplores the Israeli government’s expropriation of 988 acres (1.54 square miles) of land around the settlement of Etzion,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement which echoed U.S. calls to reverse the decision.

“This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the ceasefire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.”

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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U.S. urges Israel to reverse planned West Bank land appropriation

Reuters reports: The United States sees Israel’s announcement on Sunday of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts and urges the Israeli government to reverse the decision, a State Department official said.

Israel laid claim to nearly a thousand acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” the U.S. official said. “ This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” [Continue reading...]

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Desmond Tutu — My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine

Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: The past weeks have witnessed unprecedented action by members of civil society across the world against the injustice of Israel’s disproportionately brutal response to the firing of missiles from Palestine.

If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world.

A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens … as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation. [Continue reading...]

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The occupation is a political problem needing a political solution — not a humanitarian band-aid

Taghreed al-Khodary, former Gaza correspondent for the New York Times, said in an interview: Ending the siege is not a “Hamas demand.” It is the people’s demand. Gaza is still under occupation — it is an open jail. Israel always says, “We withdrew, we gave them land to control…” I am always shocked when I hear this line repeated by someone on CNN. The borders are completely controlled by Israel, the sea is completely controlled by Israel. The airspace is completely controlled by Israel. The crossings are completely controlled by Israel, aside from one crossing, controlled by Egypt—and this is now closed as well.

My father had cancer. Because he knew people, he managed to go to Israel to get treatment, but most others cannot. When he died two months ago while getting his cancer treatment in Israel, only my mother was allowed by Israel to join him. None of his daughters or brothers were permitted to join him. Imagine dying far away from your loved ones…the occupation is cruel.

What is happening in Gaza and throughout the occupied territories is not primarily a humanitarian issue, although there are devastating humanitarian side effects: It is a political issue. Focusing only on the humanitarian issues is a pretext not to have to come up with a long-term political solution.

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To end violence, end the occupation

Charlie Rose in conversation with Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, Khaled Elgindy, Rula Jebreal and Yousef Munayyer. Starts at 15 minutes 40 seconds.

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Palestinian Authority tries to prevent uprising in West Bank

Ahmad Azem reports: It should be noted that young Palestinians have started to develop a new type of confrontation in the villages near the settlements, or at checkpoints. They are starting to cut off roads and prevent Israeli vehicles from passing while the Israeli army watches from afar. Al-Monitor has witnessed such events in the village of Al-Eizariya, near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. Yet at times, the army would directly intervene as it did in Beit Hanina and Shuafat. This raises the question: To what extent will this situation develop?

The lack of traditional confrontations with the occupation forces led to the idea of holding mass rallies outside the areas under the PA’s influence, such as the protests that took place near Ofer prison, west of Ramallah, or the Laylat al-Qadr march on July 24 at an Israeli checkpoint in Qalandiya. The protest that was known under the name of the “48,000 march” reflected the will to gather 48,000 demonstrators — which is an unprecedented number of protesters — in reference to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948.

Those who called for the march are young people affiliated with the Fatah movement, but they took action on their own without any official endorsement. This was made clear by one of the organizers in his speech at al-Manara, the main square of the city, where Al-Monitor was present a few days before the march was held. “This march has nothing to do with the leaderships,” he said. [Continue reading...]

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Is another Intifada possible in the West Bank?

Ahmad Kittaneh was shot by Israeli soldiers on Thursday night during the largest protest in the West Bank since the Second Intifada. He and almost died. From his hospital bed he told Dalia Hatuqa, protest “is a national duty for every one of us.”

In the last two weeks, three separate attacks on Israelis took place in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and two Palestinian men participating in separate protests in villages near Tulkarem and Ramallah were shot dead. These skirmishes, coupled with the massive protests that Kittaneh took part in, have left many wondering if they were witnessing the beginning of a formal Intifada — or if the uprising would just patter out over time.

“What I saw the other day were people finally rising up,” Kittaneh insisted. “The numbers were huge. I don’t think we can go back from this.”

While the immediate motivation for these flare-ups may be the Gaza bombardment, it’s undeniable that a change in West Bank dynamics has also played a major role. With the temporary trappings of a quasi state-let slipping away — the peace process at a standstill, economic stagnation setting in — the only part of the window dressing that remains are the PA’s security forces whose main job, as far as regular Palestinians are concerned, is to protect Israel. This harsh reality is now in stark relief since Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad left office roughly a year ago.

“People are coming to the conclusion that maybe what was taken by force cannot be returned except by force,” said Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem-based activist and university professor. “There has been significant upheaval and anger. It’s hard to determine the future, but the Palestinian psyche is changing, and we may be closer to a revolution against the PA, which is needed as well.” [Continue reading...]

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#Hamas has a modest demand: That #Israel honor its past agreements

Nathan Thrall writes: The current war in Gaza was not one Israel or Hamas sought. But both had no doubt that a new confrontation would come. The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented. It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea and air – including the ‘targeting of individuals’ (assassinations, typically by drone-fired missile) – and that the closure of Gaza would essentially end as a result of Israel’s ‘opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas’. An additional clause noted that ‘other matters as may be requested shall be addressed,’ a reference to private commitments by Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.

During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012. Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the quiet on Gaza’s border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza’s waters.

The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones – agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn’t enter without being fired on – were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.

Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the deal, then because Netanyahu couldn’t afford to make further concessions to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to honour it.

Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel’s satisfaction. [Continue reading...]

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After #Gaza, #Palestine’s uprising will spread to the West Bank

Khaled Elgindy writes: Given the intensity of the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, it is easy to forget that the current crisis began in a different part of Palestine. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank led to a severe Israeli crackdown on Hamas, which responded with a barrage of rocket fire at Israel from Gaza. Meanwhile, the murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists sparked several days of violent protests by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere. The shift in venue served Israel’s interests, diverting the conflict away from sensitive and strategically vulnerable areas. For Israeli policymakers, another concentrated war against Gaza was preferable to the possibility of another West Bank uprising against Israel, akin to the so-called intifadas that occurred in the late 1980s and the early 2000s. Contrary to what Israelis may have hoped, however, the present war has made a third intifada more, not less, likely.

For most of the past decade, Israel’s de facto policy has been to deepen Palestinian geographic and political division by maintaining the schism between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Although the current Israeli government has made no secret of its opposition to any Palestinian government that includes or is even accepted by Hamas, which it views as a vicious terrorist organization that is beyond the political pale, Israel’s policy of isolating Gaza from the West Bank began before Hamas’ rise to power. In fact, it was the closure of Gaza’s borders in late 2005 shortly after Israel unilaterally removed its settlers and soldiers from Gaza that helped pave the way for Hamas’ election and created the conditions for the endless cycle of violence in Gaza that we see today. As Dov Weissglas, chief of staff to Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, put it at the time, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza would serve as “formaldehyde … so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” By cutting Gaza loose, along with its 1.5 million Palestinians, Israel could then focus on consolidating its control over and colonization of the West Bank.

Since then Israel, with U.S. and international backing, has treated Palestine as two separate conflicts, rather than one. By maintaining security cooperation and a diplomatic relationship with Fatah in the West Bank, Israel hoped to maintain calm in areas adjacent to its main population centers as well the settlement project itself. At the same time, by treating Hamas-controlled Gaza as a perpetual “enemy entity,” subject to air, land, and sea blockades, Israel reserved the right to periodically go to war against Gaza, a process that Israeli military officials refer to as “mowing the grass.” In this way, Israel would free itself from having to deal with the underlying causes of the conflict, most notably its 46-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This has produced the worst of all possible outcomes, simultaneously increasing the likelihood of violent confrontations with Hamas while decreasing the likelihood of resolving the conflict with Abbas’ PA. [Continue reading...]

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Israeli intelligence officers doubt Hamas involvement in incident that sparked Gaza war

Sheera Frenkel reports: Three weeks into Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, Israeli security officials are no closer to finding the men held responsible for the killings that sparked the assault, and some of those working on the case are strongly rejecting the Israeli government’s assertion that the alleged killers were linked to the militant group Hamas.

Israel has failed to capture Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, and Amar Abu Aisha, 32, the two men it says were behind the murder of three Israeli teens on June 12. At least four of the men’s relatives have been detained over the last month in connection to the kidnapping and killing. They remain under gag order, meaning they cannot be made public or reported on inside Israel.

In the weeks following the kidnapping, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel knew “for a fact” that Hamas was behind the kidnapping, adding, “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”

But one Israeli intelligence officer who works in the West Bank and is intimately involved in investigating the case spoke to BuzzFeed on condition of anonymity and said he felt the kidnapping had been used by politicians trying to promote their own agenda.

“That announcement was premature,” the intelligence officer said. “If there was an order, from any of the senior Hamas leadership in Gaza or abroad, this would be an easier case to investigate. We would have that intelligence data. But there is no data, so we have come to conclude that these men were acting on their own.” [Continue reading...]

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Interview with Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal

(I will post the complete interview once it’s available on PBS.)

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Channel 4 News: Today’s ‘day of rage’ in the West Bank

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The right of armed resistance

Giles Fraser, who is a priest in the Church of England, founder of the Inclusive Church, and has lectured on moral leadership to the British Army, writes: For decades now the United Nations has been unable to agree a definition of terrorism. Even our own supreme court recently concluded that there is no internationally agreed definition. The stumbling block has been that western governments want states and state agents to be exempt from any definition. And a number of Islamic counties want some national liberation movements exempt.

Or, to put it in terms of today’s news: the Israelis won’t have any definition that would make them terrorists for bombing old people’s homes in Gaza, and West Bank Palestinians won’t have any definition that will make them terrorists for fighting back against occupation with petrol bombs. Writing in his annual report this week, David Anderson QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, sounds exasperated: “The intractability of some of these questions has induced a degree of defeatism among those seeking to define terrorism.”

I am eating aubergines and flatbread with Dr Samah Jabr in a cool Palestinian cafe in Stoke Newington. A psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works out of East Jerusalem, Dr Jabr is quietly spoken, modest, and perhaps just a little bit shocked by my lapses into overly colourful language. She is an educated, middle-class Palestinian (in no way a rabble-rouser) but she insists that the word terrorist has become a powerful – though often un-thought-through – political pejorative employed to discredit legitimate resistance to the violence of occupation.

What some would call terrorism, she would call a moral duty. She gives me her paper on the subject. “Why is the word ‘terrorist’ so readily applied to individuals or groups who use homemade bombs, but not to states using nuclear and other internationally proscribed weapons to ensure submission to the oppressor?” she asks. She insists that violent resistance must be used in defence and as a last resort. And that it is important to distinguish between civilian and military targets. “The American media call our search for freedom ‘terrorism’,” she complains, “despite the fact that the right to self-determination by armed struggle is permissible under the UN charter’s article 51, concerning self-defence.” [Continue reading...]

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#48KMarch to Jerusalem — start of the Third Intifada?

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Israel, not Hamas, orchestrated the latest conflict in Gaza

Musa al-Gharbi writes: In the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the dominant discourse is that the Palestinian militants provoked the hostilities — while Israel, as President Barack Obama affirmed last week, is acting in legitimate self-defense. Many have attempted to problematize this narrative, for instance by arguing that Israel, as an occupying power, does not have a legitimate legal or moral claim to self-defense. Others have argued that rockets fired by Hamas do not constitute an existential crisis for Israel or its citizens and certainly did not warrant the killing of more than 500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including women and children.

While these are all valid and important points, the broader narrative remains largely unchallenged: Hamas began firing rockets at Israel first, triggering Israel’s latest military incursion. This is not true. In fact, far from acting in self-defense, the crisis is the result of deliberate actions by Israel over the last few weeks — first to stir up anti-Arab sentiment among the Israeli population and then to provoke Hamas into open conflict.

The current escalation began with the abduction of three teenage Israeli settlers from the West Bank. The fact that the three were settlers is an important detail that is often passed over far too quickly or overlooked altogether. The settlements, what they represent and how the settlers interact with the Palestinian population form a critical part of the episode’s context.

After the kidnapping, for more than two weeks Israeli authorities put on a show of looking for the missing settlers — the whole time whipping up anti-Arab sentiment, raising hopes of a recovery and marginalizing voices of dissent. When the abductees were found murdered, the Israeli public was outraged and demanded vengeance. Shortly after the funerals for the youths, another group of Israeli settlers beat and burned to death a 16-year-old Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. This incident was followed by a brutal assault on Tariq Khdeir, a 15-year-old U.S. citizen and cousin of Mohammed’s by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). [Continue reading...]

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For Netanyahu, Gaza proves why Palestinians cannot be allowed to govern themselves

In a news conference held on Friday in which Benjamin Netanyahu spoke only in Hebrew, the Israeli prime minister spelled out why he believes a two-state solution is impossible:

The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].” Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Not relinquishing security control west of the Jordan, it should be emphasized, means not giving a Palestinian entity full sovereignty there. It means not acceding to Mahmoud Abbas’s demands, to Barack Obama’s demands, to the international community’s demands. This is not merely demanding a demilitarized Palestine; it is insisting upon ongoing Israeli security oversight inside and at the borders of the West Bank. That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state. A less-than-sovereign entity? Maybe, though this will never satisfy the Palestinians or the international community. A fully sovereign Palestine? Out of the question.

He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible. This was not a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance. [Continue reading...]

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