Mike Pompeo waits to be sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Jan. 23. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

New CIA head meets with Abbas in West Bank ahead of Trump-Netanyahu meeting


CIA director Mike Pompeo reportedly met secretly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the P.A. headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The meeting was held Tuesday, The Associated Press reported, citing two unnamed senior officials. The White House and the CIA declined to comment to the AP.

The talks came a day before the scheduled meeting in Washington, D.C., between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abbas reportedly briefed Pompeo on Palestinian positions ahead of the Trump-Netanyahu meeting. He also reportedly expressed concern about a statement made Tuesday night to reporters by a senior White House official that a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the General Assembly: Abbas slams UN inaction, Netanyahu says UN ‘war against Israel’ is over


At the United Nations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would push for a resolution condemning West Bank settlements, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ties between Israel and the rest of the world were improving and that “the war against Israel at the U.N. is over.”

Speaking to the crowd of international leaders in New York on Thursday, Abbas continually blasted Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, while also criticizing the U.N. Security Council for not coming down harder on the Jewish state’s settlement expansion.

In his speech, during which he kept emphasizing that the Palestinian Authority was “the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” Abbas said the P.A. will push for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements and that he hoped “no one will cast a veto against this draft resolution.”

“What the Israeli government is doing in its pursuit of its expansionist settlement plans will destroy whatever possibility and hopes are left of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders,” he said.

Abbas, who referred to Palestine as “a state under occupation,” also said Britain should apologize for signing the “infamous” Balfour Declaration, a 1917 letter that declared its support of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

The declaration, he said, “paved the road for the nakba,” an Arabic term referring to Israel’s victory in its war of independence and the displacement and dispersal of Palestinians that resulted.

The Palestinian leader also appealed to countries who had not yet recognized Palestine as a state to do so.

“Those who believe in the two-state solution should recognize both states, and not just one of them,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the international leaders that their governments at home were changing their views of Israel for the better.

“The change will happen in this hall because back at home your governments are rapidly changing their attitudes toward Israel, and sooner or later that’s going to change the way you’re voting on Israel in the U.N.,” he said after blasting the international body’s past condemnations of Israeli policy.

The Israeli prime minister cited improved ties with African and Asian countries, but said relations with neighboring countries were the most significant change.

“The biggest change in attitudes towards Israel is taking place elsewhere, it’s taking place in the Arab world,” he said, calling peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan “anchors of stability” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu said he welcomed “the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative,” a nod to Saudi Arabia, which initiated the peace proposal that has not been accepted by Israel.

He mocked Abbas’ call to  launch “a lawsuit against Britain” over the Balfour Declaration, saying it was as “absurd” as suing Abraham for buying land in Hebron in the Bible.

But Netanyahu also said he was open to dialogue, inviting Abbas to speak in the Knesset and saying he would be open to speaking to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.

In his speech, which came a day after he sat down with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu also emphasized the strong bond between Israel and the United States.

“We never forget that that our most cherished alliance, our deepest friendship, is with the United States of America, the most powerful and most generous nation in the world,” he said, adding that while “the U.N. denounces Israel, the U.S. supports Israel.”

 

Abbas reportedly rejects meeting with Netanyahu


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly turned down an American request that he meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a bid to jump-start peace talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry made the request of Abbas at their July meeting in Paris, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported  Thursday.

Abbas refused the meeting, the newspaper said, telling Kerry that he would only acquiesce after Netanyahu froze all settlement construction and released the last group of Palestinian prisoners that were slated to be freed as a goodwill gesture in the 2014 peace talks.

It’s unclear after false starts what might be next. In May, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem.”

But Gershon Baskin, founder and co-chairman of IPCRI-Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, who in the past has acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian officials, told JTA in May that Abbas offered three times to begin secret, direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu refused.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the report, saying “Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process collapsed two years ago, and progress now appears unlikely before President Barack Obama’s final term ends in January.

On Facebook, Abbas’ Fatah boasts of killing 11,000 Israelis


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party on Facebook cited killing 11,000 Israelis as an example of its many achievements.

The post appeared Tuesday on the party’s official Facebook page, according to Palestine Media Watch.

The list does not mention the Oslo Accords or any other peace talks or negotiations, listing only acts of violence and terror, according to PMW, which described the 11,000 figure as a “gross exaggeration.”

Since the wave of renewed violence that began in October, Israel has accused Fatah of inciting violence against Israelis on social media and other venues.

Tuesday’s post notes that Fatah “has sacrificed 170,000 martyrs,” and that it was the first to carry out terrorist attacks during the first intifada, which began in 1987.

It also claims Fatah was the first to fight in the second intifada and that it “was the first to defeat the Zionist enemy,” referring to a battle between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah’s forerunner)in Jordan in 1968. Both sides claimed to have won the battle.

Fatah posted a similar text on its Facebook page in 2014, according to PMW.

In rare call, Netanyahu offer Abbas’ his condolences over brother’s death


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to offer condolences on the death of Abbas’ brother.

Omar Abbas died in Qatar Thursday, with the funeral taking place on Friday. He had been suffering from cancer and had been undergoing treatment in Tel Aviv’s Assuta Medical Center, the AFP news agency reported.

Netanyahu called Abbas on Friday, according to an official from Netanyahu’s office, who said the conversation was “only to offer condolences.” No other topics were discussed, he said.

Palestinian state media confirmed the call.

Relations between the two men are frosty, with Netanyahu accusing Abbas of libeling the Jewish people last month after he suggested some rabbis had called for Palestinian wells to be poisoned. The Israeli leadership has often accused the Palestinian leader of promoting incitement against Israel in Palestinian media, thereby encouraging violent attacks against Israelis.

Abbas and Netanyahu shook hands at a climate summit in Paris in November, but held no significant talks.

The last substantial public meeting between them is thought to date back to 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.

Abbas says some Israeli rabbis called for poisoning Palestinian water


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israeli rabbis on Thursday of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water, in what appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled a medieval anti-Semitic libel.

The remarks drew strong condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who termed them a “blood libel”, in a statement issued by his office.

Abbas's remarks, in a speech to the European parliament, did not appear on the official transcript issued by his office, suggesting he may have spoken off the cuff as he condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians amid stalled peace talks.

“Only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians,” Abbas said.

“Isn't that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?”

The Israeli statement said that Abbas had “showed his true face in Brussels,” adding that “by refusing to meet with the Israeli president and with … Netanyahu for direct negotiations, and by spreading a blood libel in the European parliament, his claim that his hand is outstretched for peace is false.”

Abbas's remarks were made as Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, made a parallel visit to Brussels. Rivlin's office said Abbas had declined a European proposal that the two meet there. A spokesman for Abbas said any such meeting would require more preparation.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Abbas, who received a standing ovation from EU lawmakers after his speech, gave no source for his information — and there has been no evidence over the past week of any call by Israeli rabbis to poison Palestinian water.

Israel said in the statement that it “awaits the day when Abu Mazen (Abbas) will stop spreading lies and be involved in incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to protect itself from the Palestinian incitement which generates acts of terror.”

MASSACRES

Reports of an alleged rabbinical edict emerged on Sunday, when the Turkish state news agency Anadolu said that a “Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements”, had issued an advisory to allow Jewish settlers to take such action.

The same day, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, on its website, cited what it said was a water-poisoning call from a “Rabbi Mlmad” and demanded his arrest.

Reuters and other news outlets in Israel could not locate any rabbi named Shlomo Mlma or Mlmad, and there is no listed organization called the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank.

Gulf News, in a report on Sunday, said a number of rabbis had issued the purported advisory. It attributed the allegation to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of veteran soldiers critical of the military's treatment of Palestinians.

A spokesman for Breaking the Silence told Reuters the group had not provided any such information.

For Jews, allegations of water poisoning strike a bitter chord. In the 14th century, as plague swept across Europe, false accusations that Jews were responsible for the disease by deliberately poisoning wells led to massacres of Jewish communities.

For Israel and the Palestinians, the peace plans just keep coming


Here a plan, there a plan, everywhere a peace plan.

Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian Authority may not exactly seem conducive to peace — Israel just formed what may be its most right-wing government ever, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is aging and becoming less popular.

Yet peace plans have been coming at the region from all sides. No less than three Israeli-Palestinian peace proposals have been put forward in recent weeks, spanning a range of countries, leaders and organizations.

  • conference of some two dozen countries in Paris on Friday reiterated the need for a two-state solution.
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi reportedly has been pushing Netanyahu and Abbas to meet in Cairo.
  • This week, the U.S.-based Israel Policy Forum, a center-left pro-Israel group, presented two plans in tandem that are designed to lay the security groundwork for a peace treaty.
  • And despite their limitations, Netanyahu and Abbas have also said they’re game for talks. On Sunday, Netanyahu declared his commitment to a two-state solution and praised the Arab Peace Initiative. Last month, JTA reported that Abbas allegedly sent Netanyahu three separate negotiation proposals in recent years.

So is peace in the offing, or is it all talk? Here are the plans on the table, what Israel and the P.A. are saying and why these efforts are coming together now.

Three paths to peace: International intervention, a trusted ally or confidence-building steps

The Paris summit that took place Friday was more than a year in the making. It was based on the idea that after more than two decades of inconclusive direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, it was time for the international community to take a more active role. Nearly 30 countries attended the summit; neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were invited.

It ended after five hours with a statement asking the Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate “a genuine commitment to the two-state solution in order to rebuild trust.”

France, which organized the meeting, plans to convene another conference including Israel and the Palestinians by year’s end. But while the P.A. has praised the initiative, Israel has demurred, saying the only way to peace is through direct talks. Israel objects in particular to a French pledge to recognize a Palestinian state should talks fail.

Sissi’s initiative, reported last week in the Israeli publication Ynet, may be more promising. Sissi hopes to organize a tripartite meeting of Egypt, Israel and the P.A. to restart talks. Israel views Sissi as a trusted security partner, and he’s an ally of Abbas — so he could be better able to coax both sides back to the table.

On May 17, Sissi gave a speech urging relaunched negotiations. Egypt didn’t want to lead the initiative, he said, but would “make every effort” to reach peace.

third push, meanwhile, has come from a coalition of American and Israeli military officials hoping to reassure Israelis that a Palestinian state would not degrade their security. They see Israeli security fears as one of the primary obstacles to peace.

The plan by Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of pro-peace former generals, calls for Israel to complete its security barrier around the West Bank, freeze settlement construction outside the barrier and provide incentives for settlers outside it to relocate within Israel. The plan calls on Israel to forfeit sovereignty over the West Bank and acknowledge that sections of eastern Jerusalem will be part of a future Palestinian state.

A parallel plan from the Center for a New American Security focuses on the details of security arrangements in a future Palestinian state. It calls for a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank based on a timetable and benchmarks. It would also place an American security force in the Jordan Valley, the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

Both the CIS plan and the CNAS plans were promoted by the Israel Policy Forum, a group of Jewish community leaders aiming to build support for a two-state solution.

Netanyahu and Abbas both say they’re ready — but won’t meet.

Netanyahu and Abbas have not met formally since 2010. Each insists he is not the obstacle to another round of talks. Netanyahu has called several times recently for direct talks and welcomed Sissi’s speech. He offered qualified praise for the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 Arab League proposal that calls for full relations with Israel in return for a Palestinian state, Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Golan Heights, and a negotiated solution for Palestinian refugees.

“The Arab Peace Initiative includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians,” he said Sunday at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states revisions to that initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in the region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”

Abbas also says he is committed to peace. Gershon Baskin, an Israeli who has acted as an unofficial conduit between Israel and Palestinian leaders, told JTA last month that he personally delivered three Abbas offers for direct talks to Netanyahu’s office over the past three years. Netanyahu’s spokesman denied the claim. And in a March interview on Israel’s Channel 2, Abbas said he was “prepared to meet Netanyahu anywhere, any time.”

But the leaders’ declarations haven’t led to action. Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu absent prior Israeli commitments or concessions. He also lacks the support of his constituents. According to a September 2015 poll, two-thirds of Palestinians demanded Abbas’ resignation.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, refuses to participate in international peace conferences, demanding only direct talks. In addition, the pro-settler Jewish Home faction, as well as many in Netanyahu’s own Likud party, oppose Palestinian statehood.

Observers worry the window for peace is closing.

Despite adverse conditions, advocates for peace say there is an urgent need for another round of negotiations. They say continued settlement growth, as well as growing disenchantment among Israelis and Palestinians, mean a two-state solution may soon be impossible to reach.

Israeli and Palestinian actions are “dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution,” said a statement released by the foreign ministers attending the Paris conference, which “underscored that the status quo is not sustainable.”

Even if talks are unlikely, detailed proposals are still important, said Ilan Goldenberg, lead author of the Center for a New American Security study. By showing Israelis and Palestinians that an agreement is still possible, he said, the study keeps the opportunity for peace alive until Netanyahu and Abbas are ready.

“Abbas and Bibi have a complicated personal relationship, and that makes this more difficult in the short term,” he said Thursday at a briefing for reporters, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “But that doesn’t mean this isn’t the solution in the long term.”

Palestinians reject Netanyahu’s call for direct talks, support French plan


The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister rebuffed the latest call by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for direct talks, opting instead to join a French-led multilateral peace initiative.

“Time is short,” Rami Hamdallah said Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. “Netanyahu is trying to buy time … but this time he will not escape the international community.”

Hamdallah made the remarks during a meeting in Ramallah with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is in the region this week to promote the French peace initiative. The initiative calls for a multilateral international conference later this year to jump-start peace talks. If the initiative fails, France has said it will recognize a Palestinian state, though adding the conference would not “automatically” spur any action.

“Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences, U.N.-style,” Netanyahu said. “It doesn’t get to fruition through international diktats or committees from countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake in it.”

Netanyahu’s office denies Abbas offered direct talks


A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied a claim that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered to begin secret, direct talks with Netanyahu three times but was rejected.

In a statement to JTA Tuesday, Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes flatly denied the assertion made a day earlier by Gershon Baskin, who has acted as an unofficial conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian leadership.

“There is no truth whatsoever to the claim that President Abbas offered to begin secret direct talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Keyes said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”

Baskin told JTA that he personally delivered the requests from Abbas over the past three years.

“Netanyahu is paying lip service to the public and the world because Abbas has offered Netanyahu on three opportunities a request to enter into secret, direct negotiations,” Baskin told JTA.

On Tuesday, Baskin told JTA, “There are at least three times I know of because I sent the messages for Abbas.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas faces heat for UN resolution wavering


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

A set of Palestinian initiatives aimed at advancing policy through anti-Israel measures at international organizations, or using international forums, appear to be in disarray following a series of setbacks.

Late last week, Irinia Bokova, the director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was forced to repudiate a Palestinian-backed initiative that ignored all historic Jewish ties to the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem’s Old City.

“This decision was made by the economic council and the management council of UNESCO which are both management bodies, and was not made by me,” she clarified, in a statement, adding that she maintains “Jerusalem is a Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people, nothing should be undertaken to alter its integrity and authenticity. It is a mosaic of cultures and peoples, whose history has shaped the history of all humanity. Only respect and dialogue can build the trust we need to move forward – this is the strength of UNESCO, for the benefit of all.” 

It was the second time this year that Bokova, who aspires to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, was forced to step in when an anti-Israel move crossed the bounds. In January, she condemned Iran for sponsoring a conference denying the Holocaust. 

Bokova’s backtracking followed another embarrassment related to Palestinian initiatives. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that, following a Palestinian about-face, his country would not install CCTV cameras on the Temple Mount, called Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, which is the site of Islam’s holy Al-Aqsa mosque and, for Jews, known as the site of the ancient temples. 

In an interview with the semi-governmental Petra news agency, Ensour disclosed that, having disposed of initial Israeli opposition to the idea, “we were surprised since our intention to carry out the project, by the response of some of our Palestinian brethren to the project, adding that they voiced their concern and cast doubt on its aims and objectives.” 

The Palestinian government declined to explain its reversal following months of demands that cameras document “Israel police violations.” In recent weeks, as the prospect of cameras placed on the contentious site grew more plausible, a number of banners declaring, “We don’t need any cameras here. Only Allah sees all,” and “the picture is clear – so no cameras are needed,” among other mottos, have appeared.  

Ensour said “we decided to halt implementation” of the plan out of respect for “our brethren in Palestine.”   

For many Israeli observers, the volte-face, and the embarrassment to Jordan, were the consequence of long-time and inaccurate Palestinian accusations that Israel “is invading” the holy site, which were cameras present, might be exposed as frauds.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is visiting New York, was blasted by his own political allies when it emerged that he is leaning towards shelving the Palestinian effort to secure a UN Security Council resolution condemning and declaring as illegal the ongoing construction in Israeli West Bank communities, at the behest of France, that hopes to convene its own Israeli-Palestinian peace summit this summer.

Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials have told numerous local media outlets that the French government has demanded that the Palestinian delegation stand down so as not to sabotage its own efforts.

“The opportunity to go to the Security Council will always be there and we want to give a chance to the French initiative because, in the end, this is an initiative that serves us and not one that hurts us,” one Palestinian official told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Another setback, the third in two weeks, has provoked expressions of frustration form Abbas supporters in Ramallah, who fear their hands are tied as a long, hot summer recess looms and as issues such as the ongoing killing in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe have overshadowed Palestinian demands in the international arena. 

Until Monday, despite hints of official wavering, Palestinian diplomats continued to assure Western diplomats and the international media that the demand for a vote on the Palestinian resolution was not in question. The confusion is such that Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in New York with Abbas, confirmed the Haaretz report one day after his office in Ramallah denied it.

Some exasperated senior Palestinian officials, who have not been kept in the loop of the president’s thinking, believe shelving the resolution is a mistake when, in fact, there is no inconsistency between the resolution and the French-sponsored conference.

Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the government-affiliated Palestinian National Initiative and a longtime insider of the Palestinian corridors of power, who many consider a possible successor to Abbas, said that

“It’s impossible to rely solely on the French initiative, since to this day we don’t know what it’s based on, and on the other hand, we know very well that Israel and the U.S. won’t lend a hand to implementing such an important move, and Israel will continue building in the settlements and expropriating large parts of the West Bank as if there were no global public opinion.”

“Therefore, if there’s a trend we should support in practice, it’s increasing anti-Israel boycott activity and intensifying the popular struggle.” 

Panama Papers show Abbas’ son has $1M in PA-linked equity firm


Tareq Abbas, the son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, holds $1 million worth of shares in a Palestinian investment company with ties to the PA, the “Panama Papers” data leak revealed.

The Arab Palestinian Investment Company, or APIC, launched in 1995, is today a major financial player in the Palestinian economy, with involvement in the food, medical and automobile industries, as well as public relations and a host of shopping centers.

Abbas’s son Tareq was appointed to the board in 2011, a fact that was public knowledge. However, his personal investment in the company — $982,000 as of September 2015 — had not been known, Haaretz reported Thursday.

The revelation came from documents, known as the “Panama Papers,” that were leaked this week and that provided details on the offshore holdings of a dozen current and former world leaders, as well as businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars.

The PA does not directly hold shares in APIC, but the Palestinian Investment Fund, which has close ties to the PA chairman, holds 18 percent of its stocks, Haaretz reported. APIC’s board of directors has historically featured members with close ties to the head of the PA — previously Yasser Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas.

The leak of 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca has caused scandals throughout the world. These have so far brought down the leader of Iceland and raised questions about the dealings of the presidents of Argentina and Ukraine, senior Chinese politicians and famous actors.

It has also turned up information that may be relevant in the restitution of Nazi-looted art.

Speaking on behalf of the Abbas brothers and APIC, attorney Kareem Shehadeh told Haaretz the firm was regularly audited and supervised by the Ministry of Commerce and the Palestine Capital Market Authority. Another source said that Tareq Abbas is a salaried employee from before his father became president.

Israel has launched a probe into 600 Israeli companies and 850 Israeli shareholders who were listed in documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca.

Among the Israeli names found in the leaked documents are those of top attorney Dov Weisglass, former bureau chief of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon; Jacob Engel, a businessman active in the African mining industry; and Idan Ofer, a member of one of Israel’s wealthiest families, according to Haaretz.

Appearing in the documents does not necessarily imply wrongdoing, but in some cases proves offshore holdings and use of tax havens.

Israel’s Rivlin to UN envoy Samantha Power: Tell Abbas direct talks are urgent


Israel’s president told Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to send a message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: Direct talks are the only way to end their conflict.

Power, making her first visit to Israel as U.N. envoy, arrived on Saturday. Her four days in the area will include visits with Palestinian Authority leaders; she met on her first day with Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

“Power will discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues, including the United States and Israel’s shared security concerns and close cooperation,‎ prospects for a two-state solution, and the importance of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the region” during meetings with Israeli officials, the State Department said in a statement.

On Monday, Power met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Rivlin called Power “a bridge between very decisive voices in the world, and we welcome you as one who can bridge gaps and as a real friend.”

He also said: “I know that you are meeting the Palestinians, and I would ask to transfer once again a message to President Abbas, that he must understand the conflict between us — the tragedy between us — can only be solved through direct negotiations. No solution can be imposed on either side, and we must negotiate to come to an understanding.”

Netanyahu told Power there is a direct connection between Palestinian incitement in schools and the media and the latest wave of terrorism and violence, and called on the international community to demand that the P.A. stop the incitement, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

During a speech to Israeli high school students later Monday, Power criticized the United Nations for its disproportionate criticism of Israel.

“Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country, Israel as an idea,” she said.

She also spoke in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said she hoped to see an official state of Palestine at the United Nations during her tenure.

On Sunday, Power visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Abbas nixes rumors about collapse of Palestinian Authority, his resignation


The Palestinian Authority is not going to collapse, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said, addressing at least one report to the contrary.

“The Palestinian Authority exists and it is here. It will be followed by a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority is one of our achievements and we won’t give it up,” Abbas said Wednesday night from Bethlehem, where he was attending Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

“We won’t accept any other scenarios,” he said.

Haaretz reported that Israel’s Security Cabinet convened twice in recent weeks to prepare for the possibility of the PA’s collapse, a scenario described by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as undesirable for Israel.

Abbas also said that during meetings next week, the PLO will make an official decision on whether or not to cancel agreements signed over the years with Israel, including the security coordination enshrined in the Oslo Accords from the 1990s.

Prior to the speech, rumors had circulated that Abbas was planning to resign amid reports that he was seriously ill, including being treated for a stroke.

Abbas called on the international community to impose a peace agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said the Palestinians remain committed to a two-state solution.

“We shall remain on our land and Israel is not permitted to establish an apartheid state or a state with two systems,” he said.

Abbas also called for all West Bank settlements to be dismantled.

“This is our land and all the settlers must leave, he said, “and they will leave as was the case in the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest


Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence – that it is being carried out by “lone-wolves” active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed – the deeper causes are disputed.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

“What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, within any borders,” he said as he left for the climate talks in Paris on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration, particularly among young men and women in the West Bank.

While they have criticized Abbas and his Fatah party for tacitly condoning the violence, including praising “martyrs” who have carried out stabbings, they have avoided accusing the Palestinian leader of inciting it directly.

“The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” the Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.”

At a cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister who was angry that the general's briefing was not in line with the government's position.

The details were leaked to Israeli media and confirmed to Reuters by a government source who attended the meeting.

Since Oct. 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians, 58 of whom were identified by Israel as assailants.

“PINPOINT ACTION”

As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which has been in the West Bank for 48 years and is minutely involved in maintaining stability, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators.

Senior ministers who sit on Netanyahu's security cabinet want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinian population, arguing that it is the only effective deterrent.

So far, Netanyahu has shown no inclination to launch a large-scale military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank by 40 percent and calling up reserve units.

He has also rejected suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that he offer concessions to the Palestinians to diffuse tension. Violence has to end first, he says.

Instead, there is a strong presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints across the West Bank, without the sort of iron-fisted tactics that marked the last intifada, although the homes of several attackers have been destroyed.

“This is about taking pinpoint action to tackle specific challenges,” a senior army officer told Reuters, saying operations focused on three particularly unruly areas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said the military was trying to ensure that the bulk of the population, which is not involved in violence, is as unaffected as possible.

One example of the balance the military is trying to strike is in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, the most volatile West Bank city. On Friday a 19-year-old from the village, Omar Zaakiek, got into his car and drove into six Israeli soldiers, who shot him dead.

Within hours Netanyahu's security cabinet announced Beit Ummar would be put under “closure”, with cars barred from entering or exiting, except via a winding back road, and pedestrians having to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Locals accused Israel of collective punishment. The mayor said Zaakiek's family was told their home faced demolition, a tactic the army and Shin Bet have called counterproductive.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz acknowledged the rift between some ministers and the military and said the latter's policy of trying to isolate the attackers was flawed.

“It is legitimate to have an argument about distinguishing terrorists from the Palestinian population,” he told Channel 10 TV. “It is completely clear that the more you differentiate, the more your ability to deter is limited.”

So far Netanyahu has headed off the pressure. But the situation remains precarious. Given the complex roots of the violence, Michael said there was no military solution.

“This reality cannot last long,” he said. “Ultimately one side will make a mistake and the situation will spin out of control.”

Netanyahu, Abbas shake hands at Paris climate summit


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shook hands at the United Nations climate change conference near Paris.

The two leaders met and spoke after the group photo of the some 150 world leaders in attendance at the conference, which is being held at Le Bourget Airport just outside the French capital. Abbas and Netanyahu had been standing in the same row, with only one person between them.

It was the first time the leaders have come face to face with each other since September 2010.

Netanyahu also met on the sidelines of the summit with President Barack Obama for about 10 minutes. They were joined at the end by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to reports.

Netanyahu is scheduled to have official meetings with French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the prime ministers of Canada, Poland, Japan, Australia, India and the Netherlands, according to The Jerusalem Post.

He reportedly also spoke on the sidelines of the conference with Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Britain’s Prince Charles, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and, according to some reports, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Netanyahu, Kerry at Berlin meeting call for end to incitement


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting in Berlin called for an end to incitement to violence against Israelis.

Netanyahu singled out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for blame.

“I think it’s time for the international community to say clearly to President Abbas: Stop spreading lies about Israel. Lies that Israel wants to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, lies that Israel wants to tear down the Al-Aqsa mosque, and lies that Israel is executing Palestinians. All that is false,” Netanyahu said Thursday in Germany.

Kerry did not assign any blame for the violence but said it and incitement had to stop. He also said that the leaders need to “settle on the steps that will be taken that take us beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric” and move toward a larger peace process.

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, a Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses a mosque compound. Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu vehemently denies.

Netanyahu also said that “Israel is acting to protect its citizens as any democracy would in the face of such wanton and relentless attacks.”

He is scheduled to meet in Berlin with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

Kerry is scheduled to meet over the weekend in Amman with Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Kerry says no joint Abbas-Netanyahu meeting for now


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a joint meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is unlikely.

“I’ve talked to President Abbas and I’ve talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the last few days, and we could meet if we chose to,” Kerry said Tuesday, answering reporters’ questions at a climate change conference. “But I think it’s not – that meeting together in the same country is not – this is not the moment, obviously.”

A sharp increase in Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent weeks has killed eight Israelis, an Eritrean refugee and nearly 50 Palestinians, as tensions swirl around claims to the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews and known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

There had been reported discussions of setting up a possible meeting between Abbas, Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah, who is responsible for the Muslim supervision of the site, as a means of tamping down tensions.

Kerry said he would meet separately with the leaders during his forthcoming tour of Europe and the Middle East.

“I’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu either in Germany or in the region, and I will be meeting with President Abbas and meeting with King Abdullah and others,” he said Tuesday. “And we will go back to some very basics here with respect to what the expectations are for the administration and the Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount, and hopefully begin to open up enough political space to begin to move on some other areas.”

Palestinians offer to mediate Syria conflict


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Palestinian officials have met their Syrian counterparts as well as Syrian rebels in an effort to mediate a solution to the long-running civil war in Syria, Palestinian officials told The Media Line. The offer came after Saudi Arabia asked Abbas, who has good relations with Syria, Iran, and Russia to push forward a Saudi proposal for a deal in Syria.

Abbas met the Syrian officials in Cairo recently when Arab leaders gathered to celebrate the opening of the newly expanded Suez Canal. He was acting on a request from Saudi officials, Tayseer Khaled, a longtime member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) told The Media Line.

“We are suggesting the formation of a transitional government in Syria with broad powers,” he said. “All sides should stop using weapons, and there should be elections for a new president.”

He said that a constituent assembly should be elected for one year to draft a new constitution which would mark the beginning of a transition to a democratic state, and that parliamentary elections would be held under the new elected legislative authority.”

The proposal is very similar to the Saudi plan, which also eliminates Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a potential candidate for the country’s next president. Iran, which has poured money and sent thousands of fighters to help Assad, has offered a different proposal, according to recent media reports, in which Syria would be divided into mini-states according to which part of Syria various groups control. The city of Aleppo, which has been the focus of much of the fighting, would be under international control.

The Syrian civil war has ground on for more than four years, leaving at least 240,000 people dead. Millions of Syrians have become refugees with neighboring countries in the Middle East straining their resources.

The Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have long been bitter enemies, and rancor has grown over Saudi attacks on Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supported by Iran. In many ways, the two countries are jockeying for position in the Middle East, and perhaps ironically, it is the Palestinians who have ties with both sides.

Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, was in Iran last week to discuss a series of issues with Iranian officials, including the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons, which is sharply opposed by Israel. Abbas has announced his intention to visit Iran in the next few months.

After his visit, Majdalani told Palestinian Radio that his trip had been successful and that Iran and “Palestine” will cooperate in several spheres, including economic and diplomatic.”

“Palestine is keen to end the crisis in Syria, because the Palestinian refugees there have paid a heavy price,” Basem Zubaidi, a political analyst at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank told The Media Line. Hundreds of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus have been killed in the fighting in Syria, and the camp, which used to house 160,000 Palestinians is virtually deserted.

Zubaidi also said that Abbas has close ties with new Saudi King Salman, and the Palestinian president is also close to Russia.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not a party to any dispute or any axis and that is very important,” he said.

The budding relationship between the PA and Iran has grown as ties between Iran and the Islamist Hamas movement which control the Gaza Strip, have cooled. Iran has sharply cut its financial assistance to Hamas, and has been angry over Hamas support for Saudi Arabia’s attacks on the Houthis in Yemen. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s planned visit to Iran recently was cancelled, to show Iran’s anger over Hamas’ efforts to move closer to Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian officials say they are the only ones with close ties to all of the parties involved in Syria, and hope to boost their diplomatic credibility as they plan to approach the United Nations in the coming months with a new UN Security Council resolution to recognize them as an independent state.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Netanyahu and Abbas speak for first time in 13 months


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the phone, marking the first time the two have spoken in over a year.

Netanyahu phoned Abbas on Friday to wish him a happy Eid al-Fitr, Haaretz reported. Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan.

During the call Netanyahu said Israel’s citizens want peace and Israel will continue to act to ensure stability in the region, according to a news release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Abbas said it was important to reach a peace deal in the coming year, Haaretz reported, citing a Palestinian news agency. The two leaders have not spoken directly since June 2014, when Abbas called Netanyahu to say he condemned the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank.

Palestinian unity government resigns


The Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah has resigned and the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister has been asked to form a new government.

Resignation letters were given to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reported. The possible collapse of the 14-month-old-government was signaled on Tuesday, despite P.A. denials.

Abbas received the resignations from the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, then asked Hamdallah to form a new government, AFP reported, citing Nimr Hammad, a close aide to Abbas.

The Palestinian unity agreement was signed in April 2014.

Hammad reportedly said that Hamas would be included in consultations to form a new government. Hamas reportedly had been against the dissolution of the government and said it was not consulted by Fatah, Abbas’ party, before the resignation were submitted.

The announcement of the resignation comes amid reports of indirect talks between Hamas and Israel in order to reach a long-term truce in the wake of last summer’s Gaza conflict. Arab and European countries reportedly have mediated the talks.

Vatican says Pope meant no offense calling Abbas ‘angel of peace’


Pope Francis meant no offense to Israel by referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as being “an angel of peace” and intended to encourage harmony between the two sides, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

Francis met Abbas at the Vatican on Saturday and used the words as he presented the Palestinian president with a large bronze medallion representing the angel of peace, one of his customary gifts to visiting presidents.

Receiving Abbas at the papal apartments, the Argentine pontiff, speaking in Italian, said the medallion was an appropriate gift because “you are a bit an angel of peace”, according to a reporter representing several news agencies at the meeting.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he had not heard the remarks himself and had nothing to add to the words attributed to the pope by the pool reporter.

“It is clear that there was no intention to offend anyone,” Lombardi told Reuters.

Early reports had conflicted as to whether the pope urged Abbas to be an “angel of peace” or if he had described him as such.

The pope met Abbas a few days after the Vatican formalized its recognition of the Palestinian state, a move which riled Israel's government.

The Vatican said after Saturday's meeting that the two had expressed hope that talks between the two sides could resume after breaking down a year ago.

Francis and Abbas, who met last year with former Israeli president Shimon Peres in an unprecedented inter-religious event at the Vatican, had a “very colloquial” exchange as they exchanged gifts, Lombardi said in a statement.

“In any case, the sense of encouraging a commitment to peace was very clear and I believe that the very gift of the symbol of an angel of peace was made by the pope with this intention as well as previous presentations of the same gift to presidents, not only to Abbas.”

Lombardi said the pope explains the significance of the medal to heads of state who receive it, and that the word “angel” in this context means “messenger”.

Abbas also attended a canonization ceremony on Sunday at which Francis made saints of two Palestinian nuns.

Palestinian court dismisses corruption case against Mohammed Dahlan


This post originally appeared on The Media Line.

A Palestinian court recently dismissed a high-profile corruption case against exiled Gazan strongman Mohammed Dahlan, in a move that could open the door for his return to the West Bank, and a bid for succession to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Dahlan has spent the past few years living in Dubai after he was accused of corruption and defamation.

“It would be a mistake to write Dahlan off. Among a handful of figures that are pushing themselves as presidents-in-waiting, Dahlan stands out for his charisma and political savvy,” says Ghassan Khatib, a former minister who now teaches politics at Birzeit University close to Ramallah. “He has a cadre of loyalists in the Palestinian territories, many of them members of the security agency he once ran, numbering hundreds of thousands in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Dahlan feels that he is doing things for Gazans, says Khatib, and this is bringing him more support from Palestinians. His popularity in recent months seems to be rising. Dahlan has also pushed forward ideas for a solution to the current political deadlock: a joint government between Fatah and Hamas based on the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative and elections within six months. Despite violence between Hamas and Dahlan’s forces in the past the two had moved towards reconciliation, stating that they had the need to help Palestinians in common.

Khatib, the politics professor, says the division has become convenient for Dahlan and Abbas. “The two main powers are not serious about reconciliation efforts. This can be seen because recently when top Lebanese security officials asked them to finish their conflict, no change was seen on the ground. Some colleagues believed that the last court decision could be the beginning of a new atmosphere, which could be true.” If there were a vote for new Palestinian leadership tomorrow, Khatib says, then Dahlan would be a part of it. Although elections are unlikely to happen in the near future Dahlan’s maneuvering ties into a larger question troubling people, both in the Palestinian territories and abroad: how much longer can Abbas hold on?

Khatib finished by pointing out that Abbas is a heavy smoker, who recently turned 80, with a history of medical problems, including cancer. Yet he’s never named a deputy and has no natural heir. For Palestinians, this adds another layer of uncertainty to an existence already rife with it. For the U.S. and Europe it raises the possibility of a political vacuum, one that Hamas, Fatah’s Islamist rival, could exploit in order to extend its rule from Gaza to the West Bank.

“This is a great victory for the defense and also for the political future of Palestine,” believes Sevag Torossian, Dahlan’s French lawyer, who spoke to The Media Line said of the dismissal of the charges against his client. “What is courageous in the decision by the judges, who have just demonstrated the independence of the Palestinian judicial system from the executive, is that this could open the door for Dahlan’s return to the West Bank and Gaza”.

Dahlan’s acquittal by the court is a setback to the plans of Mahmoud Abbas, says Gasan Jadalah, Dahlan`s office director in Dubai, who spoke with The Media Line. “The ruling is considered another blow to Abbas, after he had counted on the court to officially prosecute Dahlan in accordance with Palestinian law.”

“The fact that Dahlan's parliamentary immunity was circumvented contrary to the rule of law (and that this has now been quashed), shows that this decision will give legitimacy for him to start acting in the street with his supporters and his people,” Jadalah added, before saying: “Dahlan is back.”

Mohammed Dahlan himself welcomed the court's ruling, saying: “The court's decision is a ruling which serves justice and enhances the status of the Palestinian judicial system and its legislations regarding the immunity of elected members.”

Under Palestinian law, a lawmaker's immunity can only be removed after a parliamentary vote, but the Palestinian Legislative Council has not convened since Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in 2007. Dahlan was last year convicted in absentia of defamation and sentenced to two years in prison. That decision was overturned as well.

Akram Khatib, Palestinian Attorney General for anti-corruption, announced in a press conference that the prosecution would appeal the ruling.

 

Since his exile in 2011, Dahlan has worked as a national security consultant for the United Arab Emirates. His supporters, individuals living in the West Bank and Gaza who are mostly members of Fatah but not exclusively, insist that he is a credible challenger to the ageing Abbas. Before Hamas’s rise to power in Gaza, Dahlan counted the area as part of his power base, having been born in Khan Yunis refugee camp in 1961 and later leading the Strip’s powerful security apparatus. Dahlan, once a leading figure in Fatah, fell from grace in June 2007, after the humiliating rout of his forces by Hamas in a week of street battles that saw the Islamists expel Fatah from the coastal enclave.

Following this, as the dispute between Dahlan and Abbas worsened, each accused the other of corruption, theft and collaboration with the Israeli government, standard charges against a political rival in Palestinian politics. This led to the Fatah Central Committee dismissing Dahlan from the party in June 2011 and referring him to the General Prosecution on charges of financial corruption and murder.

Besides Dahlan, another man mentioned as a possible successor to Abbas, Marwan Barghouti, is currently in an Israeli prison. The 55-year-old founder of the Fatah youth movement Tanzim, was originally in favor of negotiations with Israel, and a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next to Israel. Israel arrested Barghouti in 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, and he was sentenced to five life sentences for murder. He refused to present a defense, saying the trial was illegitimate. Some Palestinians have even called Barghouti “the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.”

But with Barghouti in prison, the court’s decision to drop charges against Dahlan puts him in the spotlight as the man most likely to replace Mahmoud Abbas.  

Armed Palestinian police expand security control


Armed Palestinian police have expanded security control to Palestinian towns bordering Jerusalem.

Under a deal with Israel, the patrols began working in Abu Dis, A-Ram and Biddu, Reuters reported. The patrols include 90 officers.

The towns have been under Israeli security control since the peace process began with the Oslo Accords in 1993.

The Palestinians have threatened to halt security cooperation with Israel since it withheld tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority beginning in January. P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas refused the revenues earlier this month when Israel held back some of the money for utilities payments.

Israel withheld the money as a punitive measure for Abbas signing requests in late December to join the International Criminal Court and other international conventions as a result of the failure of the United Nations Security Council to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal.

Abbas rejects Israel’s partial transfer of Palestinian tax revenue


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday Israel had released frozen tax revenue to the Authority but that he had ordered the funds to be returned because money had been deducted to cover debts to Israeli utility companies.

Israel started withholding around $130 million a month in tax and customs revenue in December. The move came after the Palestinians announced that they were joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move finalised on April 1.

Under international pressure, Israel agreed last week to resume the transfers, saying it would immediately pay around $400 million, the withheld revenue minus the amount owed by the Palestinians for utilities supplied by Israel.

Abbas said those deductions amounted to a third of the total sum that Israel owed the Palestinians.

“We are returning the money. Either they give it to us in full or we go to arbitration or to the court (ICC). We will not accept anything else,” he said in a speech.

An official at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel had deducted a portion of the Palestinians' electricity, water and health bills from tax revenue it transferred and was “willing to transfer back to the Palestinian Authority the sum that was returned whenever it wishes”.

In February, Israel's state-owned electric company briefly cut power to several Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank to press for payment of what it said was $492 million owed by the Palestinian government.

Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, are largely dependent on electricity supplied by Israel Electric Corp.

Palestinian president calls Israel a ‘gangster’


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “gangsterism” on Wednesday over its decision to withhold the transfer of more than $100 million a month in tax revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf.

Opening a two-day meeting of senior Palestinian officials, when overall ties with Israel and the possibility of suspending security coordination with the Israelis will be discussed, Abbas described the tax move as a provocation.

“How are they allowed to take away our money? Are we dealing with a state or with a gangster?” he asked a gathering of the Palestine Liberation Organization's central council, its second-highest decision-making body.

Israel announced in January it was halting transfers, saying it was in retaliation for a Palestinian decision to sign up to the International Criminal Court, where it plans to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

It is not the first time the payments, covering around two-thirds of the Palestinian budget, have been suspended, but in the past it has usually lasted only a few weeks. This time, the policy is unlikely to change until well after Israel's March 17 election, once a new government is in place.

European and American diplomats are worried such a long suspension would push the Palestinian Authority to the brink of collapse, affecting stability across the West Bank.

Already many of the PA's 140,000 civil servants have had their pay cut by around 40 percent and there have been bouts of unrest in Ramallah, Bethlehem and other West Bank cities.

Security coordination with Israel, a critical agreement dating back to the Oslo peace accords of the mid-1990s, may end up suspended simply because police and other personnel cannot be paid, Palestinian officials have said.

“How are we going to pay the salaries?” asked Abbas, adding that as well as the tax revenues, Israel owed 1.8 billion shekels ($450 million) in unpaid salaries to Palestinians working for businesses in Israel.

Relations between the two sides have grown dangerously brittle since the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks in 2014.

If a decision is taken to suspend security coordination, it would have an immediate impact on stability in West Bank cities such as Hebron, Nablus and Jenin, where anti-occupation demonstrations are common.

As well as not transferring the tax income, Israel's state-owned electricity company has cut power to Nablus and Jenin in the past 10 days to press for payment of $492 million it says is owed by the Palestinian government.

Earlier this week, the Israeli military mobilised 13,000 troops in the West Bank in a surprise drill, a reflection of the rising security concerns.

While some members of the PLO are determined to suspend security coordination immediately, the more likely outcome is a partial suspension or an increase in the threat to do so.

French, foreign leaders walk arm-in-arm as millions protest Paris attacks


World leaders including Muslim and Jewish statesmen linked arms to lead more than a million French citizens through Paris in an unprecedented march to pay tribute to victims of Islamist militant attacks.

Commentators said the last time crowds of this size filled the streets of the capital was at the Liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany in 1944.

President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Turkey, Britain as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories moved off from the central Place de la Republique ahead of a sea of French and other flags.

Seventeen people, including journalists and police, were killed in three days of violence that began on Wednesday with a shooting attack on the political weekly Charlie Hebdo, known for its satirical attacks on Islam and other religions.

Giant letters attached to a statue in the square spelt out the word Pourquoi?” (Why?) and small groups sang the “La Marseillaise” national anthem.

“Paris is today the capital of the world. Our entire country will rise up and show its best side,” Hollande said.

At least 3.7 million people took part in silent marches throughout the country, the biggest public demonstration ever registered inFrance. A total of 1.2 million to 1.6 million marched in Paris and a further 2.5 million in other cities, the Interior Ministry said.

The marches mostly proceeded in a respectful silence, reflecting shock over the worst militant Islamist assault on a European city since 57 people were killed in an attack on London's transport system in 2005.

The attackers, two French-born brothers of Algerian origin, singled out the weekly for its publication of cartoons depicting and ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad. The bloodshed ended on Friday with a hostage-taking at a Jewish deli in which four hostages and the gunman were killed.

Some 2,200 police and soldiers patrolled Paris streets to protect marchers from would-be attackers, with police snipers on rooftops and plain-clothes detectives mingling with the crowd.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were among 44 foreign leaders marching with Hollande.

Merkel walked to Hollande's left and at his right was President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, a country where Franceintervened to fight Islamist rebels two years ago to the day.

In a rare public display of emotion by the leaders of two powers, Hollande embraced Merkel, her eyes shut and forehead resting on his cheek, on the steps of the Elysee before they headed off to march.

Renzi said the fight against terrorism will be won by a Europe that is political, not just economic.

“The most important is the Europe of values, of culture, of ideals and that is the reason we are here,” Renzi said.

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu – who earlier in the day encouraged French Jews to emigrate to Israel – and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were also present and walked just a few steps from one another.

“In the same way that the civilized world stood today with Franceagainst terror, so it must stand with Israel against terror,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony in a Paris synagogue.

After world leaders left the march, Hollande stayed to greet survivors of the Charlie Hebdo attack and their families, while hundreds of thousands of people marched slowly and in near-total silence through Paris streets.

“We're not going to let a little gang of hoodlums run our lives,” said Fanny Appelbaum, 75, who said she lost two sisters and a brother in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz‎. “Today, we are all one.”

Zakaria Moumni, a 34-year-old Franco-Moroccan draped in the French flag, agreed: “I am here to show the terrorists they have not won – it is bringing people together of all religions.”

The attacks have raised difficult questions of free speech, religion and security, and exposed the vulnerability of states to urban attacks.

The head of France's 550,000-strong Jewish community, Roger Cukierman, said Hollande had promised that Jewish schools and synagogues would have extra protection, by the army if necessary, after the killings. He also called for limits on hate speech and more control on suspected jihadists.

Hours before the march, a video emerged featuring a man resembling the gunman killed in the kosher deli. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State insurgent group and urged French Muslims to follow his example.

Two of the gunmen had declared allegiance to al Qaeda in Yemen and a third to the militant Islamic State. All three were killed during the police operations in what local commentators have called “France's 9/11”, a reference to the September 2001 attacks on U.S. targets by al Qaeda.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that at a meeting in Paris on Sunday European interior ministers had agreed to boost cooperation to thwart further militant attacks.

He called for the creation of a European database of airplane passenger names and said Europe should fight against abusive use of the Internet to spread hate speech.

While there has been widespread solidarity with the victims, there have been dissenting voices.

French social media have carried comments from those uneasy with the “Je suis Charlie” slogan interpreted as freedom of expression at all cost. Others suggest there was hypocrisy in world leaders whose countries have repressive media laws attending the march.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, whom analysts see receiving a boost in the polls due to the attacks, said her anti-immigrant party had been excluded from the Paris demonstration and would instead take part in regional marches.

Less than 1,000 people gathered in the National Front-ruled southern town of Beaucaire.

France warns Palestinians over escalating crisis with U.N. bid


France warned the Palestinians on Tuesday against escalating a diplomatic battle with Israel after President Mahmoud Abbas said he would resubmit to the U.N. Security Council a resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The United States helped defeat the resolution, which also demands an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, in a Security Council vote on Dec. 30. Abbas said on Sunday he hoped to resubmit the resolution “perhaps after a week”.

France, one of the Council's five permanent members, backed the resolution despite some reservations. France's parliament also backed Palestinian independence in a symbolic vote on Dec. 2 that underlined Europe's impatience with a stalled Middle East peace process.

But Paris signaled concern that Abbas' diplomatic offensive — he has also signed up to 20 international conventions including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — could harm chances for peace by antagonizing Israel.

“We are against the logic of letting this spiral (out of control),” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

“While we think the Palestinians have the right to move the status quo, at the same time there has to be an effort to find a consensus solution. Once you set this cycle off, you get results that you don't want one way or another.”

Separately, the European Union criticized a decision by Israel last week to withhold critical tax revenue from the Palestinians in retaliation for Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the decision ran counter to Israel's obligations under a 1994 agreement.

She warned in a statement that recent steps by both Palestinians and Israelis could aggravate a tense situation and move them further from a negotiated solution.

Abbas hopes that new countries which joined the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 1 will be more sympathetic to the Palestinian resolution, which demands an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and independence by late 2017.

France had been working prior to the Dec. 30 vote on a separate resolution with Britain andGermany that aimed to set the parameters and a time frame for new peace talks.

“We worked on this resolution believing we could achieve a consensus but it wasn't possible,” he said.

Fabius questioned the wisdom of resubmitting the resolution, adding he would discuss the issue in coming days with Jordan, Egypt and other regional players.

Is Mahmoud Abbas to blame for Jerusalem synagogue attack?


After a gruesome attack by two Palestinian cousins left four dead at a Jerusalem synagogue, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu singled out one person for blame: Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

In a statement issued by his office, Abbas denounced the Nov. 18 morning attack (a police office also was wounded and later died), saying he “condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.” But over the past few weeks, as a string of violent attacks have unsettled Jerusalemites, Abbas has issued statements some see as encouraging violence against Israelis.

In late October, he called for a “day of rage” over the temporary closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, saying the move amounted to a “declaration of war.” Days later, he called the shooter of Jewish Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick a “martyr” in a letter to the attacker’s family.

“This is the direct result of the incitement being led by Hamas and Abu Mazen, incitement which the international community is irresponsibly ignoring,” Netanyahu said following the synagogue attack, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “We will respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray and were met by reprehensible murderers.”

In the attack, the two Palestinians entered a synagogue in a Charedi Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem and attacked worshipers with a gun and butcher knives.

Four Israeli rabbis were killed in the attack: Moshe Twersky, 59, head of the Yeshiva Toras Moshe Yeshiva in Jerusalem and a grandson of Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy; Kalman Levine, 55; Aryeh Kupinsky, 43; and Avraham Goldberg, 68.

Twersky, Levine and Kupinsky were dual Israeli and American citizens; Goldberg was an Israeli and a British citizen. Eight others were wounded, including one Israeli police officer.

An Israeli Druze police officer — Zidan Saif, 30, of the Druze village of Kfar Yanouch in the Galilee — died Tuesday night of wounds suffered during the shootout with the assailants.

The assailants, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were killed by Israeli police at the scene.

Despite Abbas’ condemnation, Israeli politicians and American Jewish groups admonished him for inciting the violence.

“There’s hypocrisy at work here,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said in an interview with i24 News. “You cannot incite in the evening and condemn in the morning.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who called the attack “an act of pure terror” while traveling in London, also called for an end to Palestinian incitement, though he didn’t mention Abbas by name.

“To have this kind of act, which is a pure result of incitement, of calls for days of rage, of just an irresponsibility, is unacceptable,” Kerry said at a news conference Tuesday. “So the Palestinian leadership must condemn this, and they must begin to take serious steps to restrain any kind of incitement that comes from their language.”

In the West Bank, a senior official from Hamas’ political echelon told a visiting journalist that he found Tuesday’s attack encouraging. The attack appeared to be a spontaneous response to Israeli actions, the Hamas official said, not a coordinated assault organized by the military wing of Hamas.

“Hamas has been trying for a long time, but particularly since the summer, to foment and incite unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” the journalist, Neri Zilber, now a visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of his meeting with the Hamas official, whom he declined to identify by name. “It’s obviously a high Hamas interest to foment this type of instability to keep the Palestinians in the West Bank rising up against both Israeli authorities and Palestinian authorities, which they see as going hand in hand.”

Some analysts say placing the blame on Abbas is a mistake. They point to the Palestinian president’s longtime opposition to violence as well as the PA’s ongoing security cooperation with Israel, which some credit with preventing the recent unrest from spiraling into a full-blown uprising.

“From the perspective of the Palestinians, every Palestinian who is killed in the conflict with Israel, no matter the circumstances, is thought of as a martyr,” said Itamar Radai, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center. “Abu Mazen lives in his society. There are codes he can’t completely break.”

Radai said that recent statements by Abbas should be understood as a reflection of his frustration with Israel and his efforts to curry favor with his constituents.

On Tuesday, Yoram Cohen, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that “Abu Mazen isn’t interested in terror and isn’t causing terror,” according to Israeli reports.

“Mr. Abbas is a true partner of Israel who wants peace,” said Munib al-Masri, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Legislative Council. “We are fed up with occupation. We don’t want harassment in our holy sites. We want to sit down and talk about this.”

But Mordechai Kedar, an analyst at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said Abbas only opposes violence when speaking to an international audience and that his inflammatory Arabic pronouncements show his true position.

“Within the Palestinian Authority, he calls for violence,” Kedar said. “In English, they speak with one mouth and in Arabic they speak with a different mouth. He can’t clearly say, ‘Go kill Jews,’ but he says it in an unclear way.” 

Netanyahu accuses Abbas of incitement in Jerusalem


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of incitement as the P.A.’s official media called for a day of rage in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu pointed out the call at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

On Thursday, Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah II agreed after meeting in Amman to de-escalate the situation on the Temple Mount and make it clear that the status quo will be upheld.

“Abu Mazen must halt the incitement that leads to acts of violence,” Netanyahu said Sunday, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “This is one of the roots of the inflamed moods that are fueled by Islamist extremist propaganda and propaganda by the Palestinian Authority.”

Netanyahu also called rumors that Israel intends to change the status quo on the Temple Mount  “a gross lie.”

Since capturing the holy site during the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has severely restricted access for Jewish worshippers, in part not to inflame tensions. The status quo continues to restrict Jewish worship on the mount.

The day after the Jordan meeting, Israel removed its age limitation on entrance to the Temple Mount, for the first time in two weeks allowing Muslim men under the age of 50 to enter the compound that contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Army Radio reported.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported Sunday that Netanyahu will meet again with Abdullah in the coming days to continue discussions over tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, citing  Jordanian parliament member Mohammed al-Katatshe.

 

Abbas calls would-be Palestinian assassin a ‘martyr’


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the alleged shooter of a Temple Mount activist a “martyr.”

Muataz Hijazi “will go to heaven as a martyr defending the rights of our people and its holy places,” Abbas wrote in a condolence letter sent Saturday to Hijazi’s family.

Hijazi is alleged to have shot activist Yehuda Glick three times outside the Begin Center in Jerusalem after Glick addressed a conference on Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. Hijazi and an alleged accomplice both worked at the center’s restaurant. Hijazi was killed in a shootout with Israel Police.

Glick remains in serious condition and on a respirator at Shaarey Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he underwent a third surgery on Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the letter.

“When we are trying to calm the situation, Abu Mazen sends condolences over the death of one who tried to perpetrate a reprehensible murder,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued Saturday night, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “The time has come for the international community to condemn him for such actions.”

Israelis Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a Facebook post that Abbas’ letter shows he is “a partner for terror, a partner to terrorists, a partner of murderers.”

The letter, he wrote, amounts to “open support for terror and encouragement of further murders.”