Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza. Suhaib Salem/ Reuters

Hamas reaffirms goal to destroy Israel

Hamas is rejecting the notion that they need to recognize Israel’s right to exist and disarm their military as they’re in the process of potentially forming a Palestinian unity government.

Israel and the United States have demanded that Hamas renounce violence and respect Israel’s existence if they do form a unity government with the Palestinian Authority. Hamas leader Yehia Sinwar has rejected such demands, declaring in Gaza: “The time in which Hamas discusses the issue of recognizing Israel is over. The discussion now is about ‘when to wipe out Israel.”

Sinwar also scoffed at the request for Hamas to disarm its 25,000-member military.

“Nobody in the world can take away our weapons,” said Sinwar. “Not one minute in the day or night passes without our forces accumulating them. We are freedom fighters and revolutionaries for the sake of our people’s freedom.”

Sinwar was responding to Jason Greenblatt, the White House Middle East peace envoy, who announced in a statement on Thursday, “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements.”

Israel has issued a list of preconditions that Hamas would have to agree to in order for the Jewish state to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government, including ending their ties with Iran and returning dead Israelis to Israel.

Hamas and Fatah, two rival Palestinian factions, recently reached a reconciliation agreement in Cairo and will begin negotiations to form a unity government in November. The Palestinian Authority responded to Israel’s set of demands by stating that they will continue “to move forward with the reconciliation efforts.”

Hamas’ charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews. They have attacked Israel repeatedly and were accused by Amnesty International of abducting, torturing and executing Palestinians during the 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel lists conditions to negotiate with Fatah-Hamas unity government

Israel has made it clear it will not negotiate with any unity government between Fatah and Hamas unless a set of conditions are met.

In a Facebook post on the Israeli prime minister’s Facebook page, the Israeli government stated that they would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless Hamas disarms, ceases their terrorist activity, ends relations with Iran and return the bodies of dead Israelis to Israel.

The Israeli government also demands that the Palestinian Authority cracks down on “Hamas terror infrastructures in Judea and Samaria” and “exercise full security control in Gaza” as well as be the channel of any humanitarian aid toward Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are in negotiations to form a unity government after signing a reconciliation agreement in Cairo, Egypt. The Palestinian Authority is urging Hamas to disarm, but Hamas thus far has been reluctant to cease their attacks on Israel.

“There are no secret clauses in the reconciliation understanding, and what the occupation published on the resistance halting in the West Bank is not true,” Hamas spokesman Husam Bradran told a Palestinian news outlet. “The position to choose resistance is not connected to any person or entity, but rather it is the position of the entire Palestinian people to decide. The natural situation is that when there is an occupation, there will be a resistance to confront it.”

Hamas has been designated by the United States’ State Department as a terrorist organization. They came to power after winning Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, resulting in a civil war in Gaza that ended with Hamas seizing control of the region. Hamas and Fatah have had prior unity agreements before that did little to ease tensions between the two groups.

US president Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23. Photo by Flash90

With America’s blessing, Abbas signals a reconciliation with Hamas

The Trump administration is encouraging the Palestinian Authority to assume control of the Gaza Strip and leaving the door open for a role by Hamas in the subsequent Palestinian government.

But if such a move was once seen as a traditional predicate to a two-state solution, top Palestinian leaders are hedging their bets, saying they would not rule out a “one-state” solution in which Palestinians have the same one-person, one-vote rights as Israelis. Israeli leaders have long said that would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority government officials returned this week to the Gaza Strip, the first en masse visit — by Cabinet and security officials along with top bureaucrats — since Hamas’ bloody ouster of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement a decade ago.

It was a visit twice blessed by the Trump administration, first through a statement last week by the Quartet, the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and Russia that guides the peace process, and again Monday with a statement from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” Greenblatt said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

The Quartet statement, while itself also abjuring mention of “two states,” made it clear that it foresaw a single Palestinian entity under P.A. rule. It urged “the parties” — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — “to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

This week’s P.A. visit to Gaza, brokered by Egypt, a key ally to the United States and Israel, is only for several days, but Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington and a top Abbas adviser, anticipated a consolidation of the Palestinian Authority presence there.

Zomlot, speaking Monday to reporters here, noted that Hamas dissolved its governing body last week and said the Palestinian Authority expected this week that Hamas would formally hand over governance of the strip. The final stage, he said, would be elections.

“The return of the Palestinian Authority” to Gaza “is a milestone for the Palestinian Authority and of President Trump’s deal of the century,” Zomlot said, using a phrase Abbas used in a meeting with Trump on Sept. 20.

A signal of the White House’s seriousness is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to play a role in governing the strip. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, heeding Israeli concerns, rejected any role for Hamas in Palestinian governance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly it would be a deal breaker.

Now, however, careful phrasing by U.S. and Palestinian officials strongly suggests that Hamas will not fade into the night. Zomlot called the changes in Gaza “the return of the consensus government,” the joint Hamas-P.A. venture that existed uneasily in 2006-07 and infuriated the administration of George W. Bush.

Greenblatt in his statement nodded to concerns about Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist group, but in language vague enough to accommodate a Hamas role.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.

That elides over earlier Israeli demands that not just a Palestinian government, but all of its components, must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday to a Likud party meeting in the West Bank, maintained — at least in part — a tough line on the terms of a reconciliation acceptable to Israel. He said Hamas must be disarmed, but did not count out explicitly keeping Hamas figures within the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state, and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said in Maale Adumim, a settlement of 40,000 located just east of Jerusalem.

“Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognize the State of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran, which calls for our destruction, and so on and so forth. Even these very clear things must be clearly stated,” he said.

Without mentioning the two-state goal, Greenblatt’s statement nevertheless called on the Palestinian government to abide by “previous agreements.” These would presumably include the 2003 “road map” that was to have culminated in Palestinian statehood.

Still, Zomlot said the Palestinians wanted more clarity from the Trump administration.

“We cannot travel a journey without knowing a final destination,” he said. Zomlot referred to Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu in February, when the president said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

From the launch of the Oslo process in 1993 until now, Palestinian Authority officials have spoken of a one-state outcome only in pessimistic terms, casting it as a dystopia engendered by a failed process. Last month, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas in a first for a Palestinian leader said that if the two-state option collapses, Palestinians could embrace one state. It would not be a predominantly Jewish state covering Israel and most of the West Bank, an outcome popular among the Israeli right, but a binational state in which West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have full rights as citizens.

Abbas warned in his U.N. address that in the failure of a two-state solution, “neither you nor we will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine. This is not a threat, but a warning of the realities before us as a result of ongoing Israeli policies that are gravely undermining the two-state solution.”

Zomlot expanded on that possibility at his news briefing Monday.

“As long as we mean one man and one woman, one vote, we are fine with this,” he said, adding however that the two-state solution “remains absolutely the best option.”

Zomlot also addressed the Taylor Force Act, legislation named for an American stabbed to death last year by a Palestinian terrorist that would slash funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to subsidize the families of Palestinians jailed for or killed attacking Israelis.

Palestinians say the payments mostly go to the families of the wrongfully imprisoned. Zomlot said the Palestinians proposed a tripartite commission, to include the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that would consider whether to remove some families from the payrolls.

“We have engaged with the administration, we have a trilateral commission,” he said. “We would offer to the United States to be the sole arbitrator and we will accept [the decision]. Guess who rejected it? Israel.”

A senior Trump administration official suggested that Zomlot was overstating the offer.

“We only received a brief general outline about this proposal which did not answer key questions or present a viable solution to the real problem, which is the official policy of paying terrorists and their families,” the official told JTA.

A senior Israeli official told JTA that the offer missed the point — the Palestinians can stop the payments on their own.

“The Palestinians don’t need Israel, the U.S. or anyone else, they just need to do it,” the official said. “Unfortunately they won’t.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah (front right) walks to a meeting with a Hamas delegation at a hotel in Cairo following reconciliation talks in September 2014. A new effort is underway. Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Hamas and Fatah try again to move toward Palestinian unity

The long-awaited reconciliation between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah has taken a new turn with the announcement by Hamas on Sept. 17 that it would dissolve its administrative committee — the body that effectively serves as the governors of the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

The Islamist group apparently has agreed to take the action and to abide by other conditions that Fatah set forth for implementing a reconciliation agreement. Several of the conditions have been signed in recent years but none has been implemented. The new initiative, brokered by Egypt, includes an invitation for Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to oversee a unity government for the Gaza Strip immediately.

The Hamas declaration was released one day after the PA’s delegation reached Egypt after meetings last week between a visiting Hamas delegation and the head of the Egyptian Intelligence Agency, Khaled Fawzi.

Hamas’ promising press release is something Palestinians have been waiting for since the signing of the first reconciliation agreement in Egypt in 2011. The statement also mentioned that new elections will soon be held in Gaza, and that Hamas is willing to accept Egypt’s invitation to meet with the PA under Cairo’s aegis. Hamas said all of these decisions were made with the desire to establish a unified Palestinian government that includes all political parties that were signatories to the 2011 agreement.

Wassel Abu Yousef, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, cautioned that while the Hamas press release is important, it must be followed by action — specifically, practical steps to implementation, unlike after previous attempts at reconciliation.

“The Palestinian Authority needs to go to Gaza to assess the current governmental infrastructure and prepare for the elections to come,” he said. Abu Yousef also warned that follow-up was critical to end the division, and he expressed appreciation for Egypt’s role in initiating and providing the venue for the political reconciliation.

“The Palestinian Authority needs to go to Gaza to assess the current governmental infrastructure and prepare for the elections to come.”

In recent months, Hamas has sought to improve its relationship with Egypt in several ways, including issuing a new charter that removed its association with the Muslim Brotherhood — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s nemesis. The Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas had been the catalyst for the Sisi government to eschew Hamas and refuse its pleas for assistance. Hamas needs Egypt to allow passage of goods and people through the Rafah crossing, the only crossing point not controlled by Israel. It also needs Sisi’s help in obtaining goodwill gestures from Israel, such as medical treatment for Gazans.

Having been teased several times since 2011, Palestinians-at-large were not optimistic that the latest developments would spell unity.

Abdel Rahman Haj Ibrahim, head of the political science department at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, pointed out that the Palestinian government has not made an official statement despite the PA sending a delegation to Egypt.

“Nothing is solid or official,” he said. “Hamas and Fatah have two different political agendas, they have no mutual points, and there will be no reconciliation without the two parties finding mutual grounds.”

He cautioned, “No one knows what is going to happen. Remember, more than once has there been talk of reconciliations but there were no results on the ground.”

A former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a rival group to both Fatah and Hamas, explained under the condition of anonymity that the Palestinian people have no faith in either of the two factions involved in the talks.

“For the last 15 years, we have needed a unified government to fight settlements and the occupation, to support prisoners during the strike. … We needed one unified official political Palestinian entity, but they failed to put aside their differences.”

He agreed, however, that the Palestinian reconciliation is a necessary step that needs to be taken in order to reunify the Palestinian people.

“The bad situation in Gaza is a result of Fatah and Hamas and their respective governments, which resulted in corruption and disingenuousness,” he said. “They need to work on regaining the trust of their people.”

Israeli Police try to clear Muslim worshippers from the area of the Lion's Gate, after they performed their noon prayers, outside the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. Metal detectors were placed at gates to the Temple Mount, and the Muslim worshippers refused to pass through them. The Temple Mount was reopened following last weeks terror attack when two Israeli Arabs opened fire and killed two Israeli police men. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Abbas’ Fatah party calls for ‘day of rage’ following Temple Mount clashes

The party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for a “day of rage” in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank to protest new security measures at the Temple Mount.

The call on Tuesday by Fatah for a day of rage on Wednesday followed a night in which Muslims protesting the installation of metal detectors on the Temple Mount clashed with Israeli security forces. About 50 Muslim protesters and one Israeli officer were hurt in the violent protests in eastern Jerusalem.

Tanzim, the armed faction of Fatah, also announced that Friday prayers will be held in the centers of Palestinian cities and that the sermons be dedicated to the Al-Aqsa mosque and against the new security measures, Ynet reported.

Muslim worshippers and the Muslim Waqf, which administers the site, have boycotted the Temple Mount over the new security measures.

Two of the nine entrances to the site holy to both Muslims and Jews were reopened at about noon Sunday, two days after three Arab-Israeli visitors there opened fire on Israel Police guarding the area, killing two Druze-Arab Israel Police officers.

On Monday, the Temple Mount was opened to Jewish visitors without the scrutiny of the Waqf guards, who usually watch to make sure Jewish visitors do not pray or perform any religious rituals at the site. Reports on social media said that some of the visitors prayed and one group recited the mourner’s prayer at the site where the officers were killed.

A report Tuesday on the London-based Arabic news site Elaph said King Salman of Saudi Arabia passed a message to Israel through Washington calling for the opening of the Temple Mount to worshippers. The story cited an unnamed senior source but did not say from where.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying that Israel had no intention of changing the status quo at the site, which prevents Jews from praying there and which the Waqf says has been altered by the presence of metal detectors. The report also said Netanyahu invited Saudi officials to come visit the site themselves but has received no response.

An Israeli prison guard escorts jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, middle, to a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court on Jan. 25, 2012. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Cookies for Barghouti; Crumbs for Palestinian people

Hunger strikes usually conjure up images of a united front of beleaguered campaigners for a just cause led by a heroic, larger-than-life leader.

Rarely however, does the mastermind behind a 1,000-strong hunger strikers get caught stuffing his face.

Now some Palestinians are left hungering for some truth.

Marwan Barghouti — the self-promoted reincarnation of Nelson Mandela — and a convicted murderer, recently called on Palestinians in Israeli prisons to join him in a hunger strike for better conditions. Only problem is a video showing Barghouti “eating two cookies and a candy bar in the toilet stall of his cell. The video shows Barghouti appearing to try to hide the evidence by flushing the wrapper down the toilet.”

Once a self-declared “peace advocate,” Barghouti turned mastermind of Intifada suicide bombing attacks against Israel. Barghouti was sentenced to fifteen years in jail on five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Just as he sent suicide bombers out to die during 2002-2005 while remaining safely behind the scenes, he now munches on cookies and, in the words of Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while he “urged his fellow prisoners to strike [against prison conditions] and suffer while he ate behind their back.”

It is this Cookie Monster of Palestinian Murder Incorporated who, from behind bars, plots the destruction of democratic Israel while the Palestinian man and woman in the street, beggared by the pervasive corruption of the Palestinian Authority, struggle to survive on the crumbs.

Barghouti’s shameful, murderous hypocrisy is also reflected in another member of the Barghouti clan, Omar, who founded the so-called BDS (Anti-Israel) boycott of Israel. Never designed to help a single Palestinian, its goal is to use “soft power” to demonize and cripple the Jewish state. Among their main “victories”, forcing Sodastream to close its factory built past the 1967 Green Line. As a result, Palestinian workers who were paid equal salaries as their Jewish co-workers, lost their ability to sustain their families. Recently arrested for tax evasion, he was allowed to travel to Yale to pick up the Gandhi Peace Prize!

Hate, hypocrisy, terrorism, and corruption of their leaders only delay and derail the hope of Palestinians for a bright future.

Instead of leading boycotts of Israelis, Palestinians should have attended the recent. 2017 Milken Global Conference. There a panel which included renowned venture capitalist and former UC Regent Chair Richard C. Blum, a Rwandan businesswomen-activist Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, Angela Homsi, Director of Angaza-Africa Impact Innovation Fund, joined with Jeremy Bentley, Head of Financial Institutions and Public Sector, Citi Israel, and other Israeli hi-tech innovators to discuss visionary but practical projects. Among the ideas discussed were using drones to overcome the infrastructure deficit across the developing world, foster new technologies to enable nations to meet sustainable development and climate goals, and jump-starting business startups across Africa.

Don’t look for purported “next generation” Palestinian leaders like the Barghoutis to embrace the true path towards peace and statehood. So long as there are millions pouring from the UN, governments, and NGOs that help sustain the bigotry, corruption and terrorism, Palestinians thirsting for opportunity in the here-and-now are having to forge their own path to a brighter and more prosperous future.

Let us hope that the new leaders of the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterrez and US President Donald Trump will lead the way by halting the funding of fraudsters, bigots, and murderers, and instead begin to invest in all those interested in real peace.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman is a historian and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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.

Cartoon: Stereo headphones

Senior Israeli officials fear PA collapse

Senior Israeli military and Shin Bet security service officials are warning that the Palestinian Authority could collapse, Haaretz reported.

The diplomatic-security cabinet held lengthy discussions about the possibility of the PA collapse Wednesday and Thursday, Haaretz reported, citing three sources who either attended the meetings or were briefed on them.

Senior Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet officials reportedly warned of security consequences if the PA collapsed under the weight of Israeli military pressure and the declining legitimacy of President Mahmoud Abbas. But other ministers reportedly argued that Israel could benefit and shouldn’t try to prevent it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially called the meeting because the government had received information that the Palestinians are contemplating fresh diplomatic initiatives against Israel, including a United Nations resolution calling for protection of the Palestinians in the “occupied State of Palestine.” Also reportedly under consideration is the revocation of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1993 recognition of Israel.

Abbas’ Fatah party blames Paris attacks on Israel

The Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has blamed the terror attacks in Paris on Israel.

Cartoons blaming Israel for the attacks were published on the party’s official Facebook page, Palestinian Media Watch reported Monday, one day after an Op-Ed in the official PA daily said that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was behind the attacks.

One cartoon shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu helping an ISIS terrorist near the Eiffel Tower aim his machine gun. Another cartoon shows two matches in a matchbox labeled “Terrorism,” with the head of one match shaped like an ISIS terrorist and the other like an Orthodox Jew.

The Op-Ed was published Sunday in the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and translated by PMW.

“It is not a coincidence that human blood was exploded in Paris at the same time that certain European sanctions are beginning to be implemented against settlement products, and while France leads Europe in advising the security council that will implement the two-state solution, Palestine and Israel — which the Israelis see as a warning of sudden danger coming from the direction of Europe, where the Zionist, occupying, settling endeavor was born,” the Op-Ed reads.

The PA newspaper also ran a cartoon that compares Israel to ISIS — an Israeli decapitates the Al-Aqsa mosque next to an ISIS terrorist beheading a hostage simultaneously and with the same sword.

Abbas and Fatah both condemned the Paris attacks.

Israeli gov’t minister says Abbas’ incitement reaches Hitler’s level

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement against Israel is on the same level as Adolf Hitler’s anti-Jewish propaganda, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

“The level and intensity of the incitement and the level of anti-Semitism is the same level as Hitler,” Steinitz said Sunday while speaking with reporters in Washington, where he was addressing the annual conference of the Israeli American Council.

“I see Abu Mazen as principally responsible for the wave of terrorism,” Steinitz said, using Abbas’ by-name and referring to the recent spate of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis.

Steinitz said Abbas’ Palestinian Authority peddles propaganda to children that champions Israel’s removal and dehumanizes Jews. He said also that Abbas’ accusations that Israel plans to alter the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem site holy to Muslims and Jews, are lies and have spurred the recent deadly violence.

“Abu Mazen is not a partner for peace as long as he does not stop, completely, the incitement toward destroying Israel,” he said.

Abbas has accused Israel of wanting to usurp Muslim claims to the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif, and has said Israelis wrongfully killed Palestinian assailants, including a boy who turned out to be alive and cared for in an Israeli hospital. He has also condemned last week’s arson attack on a Jewish holy site in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Steinitz said he was speaking out because it was his “responsibility” to do so as a member both of the Israeli Cabinet and the smaller Security Cabinet, but made clear his views were his own and not those of the government.

Other Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have also said that Abbas has peddled incitement against Israel, but at the same time have maintained security cooperation with Abbas’ security forces.

Yitzhak Herzog, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union party, said at the same conference that government attacks on Abbas, whom he described as a flawed but viable peace partner, were bluster, and that little scared Netanyahu’s government more than the prospect of Abbas’ removal.

“Let’s not be hypocritical,” Herzog told the plenum, saying that Abbas’ absence would lead to more chaos.

Steinitz will also meet with his U.S. counterpart, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, while he is in Washington to advance the U.S.-Israel dialogue on energy.

Steinitz noted that this is the first time that the dialogue has taken place on a ministerial level, and attributed the elevation of the talks to an effort by both the U.S. and Israeli governments to improve ties after a year of tensions arising from the Iran nuclear deal. He said a central focus would be Israel’s experience in defending its facilities from cyber attack.

Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal

Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.

The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.

But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.

“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.

Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.

Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.

“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”

After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.

The separation barrier winding through the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israel's security barrier winding through the West Bank has proven controversial since it first started being built in the early 2000s. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90/JTA

Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.

The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.

The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.

“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.

“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.

Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.

“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”

But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.

“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”

Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.

“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”

The terror attacks in Israel: A timeline of the escalating violence

The past week has seen a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and Israeli military operations, again prompting fears of a third intifada. Here’s a timeline of the lead-up to the unrest and the attacks themselves.

Sept. 9: Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon outlaws the Mourabitat, an Islamist protest group that Israel says is violent, from the Temple Mount. Muslims, who revere the site as the Noble Sanctuary, protest the decision.

Sept. 13: Israeli security forces raid the mount in the morning, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, and discover stockpiles of firebombs, pipe bombs and rocks that they fear will be used against Jewish worshippers.

Palestinian protesters throw rocks at Alexander Levlovich, a 64-year-old Jewish-Israeli, as he drives home from Rosh Hashanah dinner. Levlovich loses control of the car and crashes. He dies the next morning.

Sept. 14: Israeli police clash with Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount. Two Israelis are injured. The U.S. State Department calls on all sides to “refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric.”

Sept. 15: On the third straight day of clashes on the mount, 26 Palestinians and five Israeli policemen are injured.

Sept. 18: In clashes in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, 21 Palestinians and three Israeli police officers are injured. Also, Israel bars Muslim men under 40 from the mount and increases police presence in the Old City of Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. Clashes temporarily die down.

Sept. 19: Rockets from the Gaza Strip land in Israel, causing no injuries. Israel retaliates with airstrikes on Gaza.

Sept. 22: If clashes continue, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says in a speech, it could lead to an “intifada we don’t want.”

Sept. 24: Israel increases the penalty for stone throwing, upping fines and prison sentences. Israel also relaxes the open-fire orders for police officers combating stone throwers.

Sept. 28: Riots start anew on the Temple Mount, then die down, as Israeli security forces again uncover stockpiles of weapons.

Sept. 30: Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, Abbas accuses Israel of using “brutal force to impose its plans to undermine the Islamic and Christian sanctities in Jerusalem.” He also says Israel has broken Israeli-Palestinian agreements and says the Palestinian Authority will not be bound by them.

Oct. 1: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses the United Nations. In addition to a lengthy rebuke of the world’s embrace of Iran, Netanyahu reiterates his assertion that Israel seeks to maintain the status quo on the mount. He also repeats his call to restart negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions.

At night, as they drive home through the West Bank, a Jewish-Israeli couple, Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, are ambushed by terrorists and shot dead in front of their four children.

Oct. 3: A terrorist kills two rabbis in the Old City of Jerusalem. Aharon Bennett, a 22-year-old Israeli soldier, is on the way to the Western Wall when he, his wife and their two sons are attacked. He is off duty and out of uniform. His wife, Adele, 21, is seriously wounded and undergoes emergency surgery.

The second victim, Nehemia Lavi, 41, is stabbed and killed when he tries to fend off the attacker with a gun. The assailant is shot by police.

Oct. 4: Moshe Malka, 15, is stabbed near the Old City. The alleged assailant, Fadi Alloun, is shot by police as he flees the scene. But the Palestinians claim that Alloun is innocent and was shot by police at the urging of an extremist Jewish mob.

Oct. 5: Thousands demonstrate in front of Netanyahu’s residence demanding harsher security measures.

Netanyahu says: “We are allowing our forces to take strong action against those who throw rocks and firebombs. This is necessary in order to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens on the roads and everywhere. We are not prepared to give immunity to any rioter, inciter or terrorist anywhere; therefore, there are no restrictions on the action of our security forces.”

In military raids in the West Bank, Israel kills two Palestinians, including a 13-year-old, within 24 hours. Israel says the 13-year-old was shot in error.

Oct. 6: The Israel Defense Forces arrests the five-man Hamas cell allegedly responsible for the Henkin attack.

Oct. 7: Jewish-Israelis are targeted in four separate attacks. A soldier is stabbed in the southern city of Kiryat Gat, a man is stabbed in the Old City of Jerusalem, a woman is attacked with stones as she drives to the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, and a man is stabbed in the central city of Petach Tikvah.

Oct. 8: Three more stabbing attacks take place: a man in Jerusalem, a woman in Hebron and five people in central Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv attack, which lightly injured the victims, is with a screwdriver.

Netanyahu bars all Knesset members from the Temple Mount, hoping to curb escalations.

Terror cell members that killed Israeli couple arrested

The members of a terror cell responsible for the murder of an Israeli couple whose four children were in the car at the time of the attack were arrested.

The five-member terror cell affiliated with the Hamas terror movement in Nablus in the West Bank were arrested Monday during a joint operation conducted by the Shin Bet security agency, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police, according to statements released by the security agencies.

Following the announcement of the capture of the terror cell, U.S. State Department spokesman Marc Toner confirmed that Rabbi Eitam Henkin, who with his wife Na’ama was killed in the attack, was an American citizen. He was the son of Rabbi Yehuda and Chana Henkin who moved to Israel from the United States in the 1970s and in 1990 founded Nishmat, an institute for advanced Torah study for women in Jerusalem.

Each of the Palestinian men arrested had a defined role in the attack, the Shin Bet said in a statement announcing their capture. One checked the route, three were in the vehicle used in the attack – a driver and two gunmen, and a cell commander, who was not in the vehicle. Several additional suspects have been arrested on suspicion of aiding the cell, according to the Shin Bet.

During questioning, the cell members said that after they opened fire on the car carrying the Henkin couple and their four young children, they left their vehicle and approached the Henkin’s car and fired on the couple at close range.

During the shooting, one of the cell members was accidentally shot by one of his colleagues and dropped his pistol, which was left at the scene and found by Israeli forces. After carrying out the shooing, the terrorists fled toward Nablus, according to the Shin Bet.

The cell members also said that they had been involved in two shooting attacks in recent weeks, neither of which resulted in casualties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the arrests in a statement issued Monday evening.

“We are acting with a strong hand against terrorism and against inciters,” Netanyahu said. “We are operating on all fronts. We have brought an additional four IDF battalions into Judea and Samaria, and thousands of police into Jerusalem. The police are going deeply into the Arab neighborhoods, which has not been done in the past. We will demolish terrorists’ homes. We are allowing our forces to take strong action against those who throw rocks and firebombs. This is necessary in order to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens on the roads and everywhere.”

Netanyahu added: “We are not prepared to give immunity to any rioter, inciter or terrorist anywhere; therefore, there are no restrictions on the action of our security forces. We will also lift restrictions regarding action against inciters.”

Netanyahu thanked Israel’s security forces “who have been working around the clock for our security; they are doing excellent work. They have full backing from me and from the government. We are in a difficult struggle but one thing should be clear – we will win. Just as we defeated previous waves of terrorism, we will defeat this one as well.”

Fatah unit claims responsibility for murder of Israeli couple

A cell affiliated with Fatah’s armed wing assumed responsibility for the murder of an Israeli couple near the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

The Abdel Qader al-Husseini Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, announced on Friday that its men on Thursday night opened fire on the car of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, a couple in their 30s, while they were driving home with four of their six children, aged four months to 9 years, from Hebron. The children were not wounded in the attack.

The victims are the son and daughter-in-law of Chana and Yehuda Henkin, a U.S.- born couple who in 1990 founded Nishmat, an institute for advanced Torah study for women in Jerusalem.

Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is the largest faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the governing body in West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

“With Allah’s help and in keeping with our people right for resistance and our duty to sacred jihad, our forces on Thursday night carried out a necessary action in which they fired on a car of occupying settlers that left the settlement of Itamar, built on Palestinian lands in the south of the city of Hebron,” the statement said. “They fired on the car and killed the settler and his partner.”

The statement, translated into Hebrew by the Ma’ariv daily, also warned “the enemy against taking revenge on civilians,” as “any war crimes would be severely retaliated against.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “wild Palestinian incitement leads to acts of terrorism and murder such as we have seen this evening.” He added he will consult Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on how to apprehend the killers, who fled the scene, and “increase security for all Israeli citizens.”

Shortly after the attack, unidentified individuals set on fire a car in the Palestinian village of Bitilu near Ramallah and wrote “Revenge Henkin” on a nearby wall. No one was hurt in the fire, Army Radio reported.

The Henkins, who lived in the West Bank settlement of Neria, were ambushed while driving home from Hebron, where Eitam Henkin was attending a reunion for graduates of Yeshivat Nir. He and his wife are to be buried today at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Palestinians split on two-state solution

Palestinians are divided in their feelings on a two-state solution with Israel, while 42 percent believe that armed action is the best way to achieve a state, a new poll found.

The survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that a slight majority, 51 percent, oppose the two-state solution while 48 percent are in favor. The margin of error, however, is 3 percent.

While armed action was the preferred method to a state, 29 percent of Palestinians surveyed think negotiations is the most effective way to achieve a state and 24 percent favor popular nonviolent resistance.

To carry out the poll, 1,270 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations from Sept. 17 to 19.

Some 66 percent of Palestinians reject a return to unconditional negotiations with Israel if it means that settlement activities will continue. In addition, 88 percent of Palestinians demand that the Palestinian Authority take Israel to the International Criminal Court in the Hague over the settlement building.

The poll also found Palestinians mostly split on the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders in return for peace, with 45 percent in support and 49 percent in opposition. Forty percent back a mutual recognition of Israel’s national identity as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people, but 58 percent oppose it.

Some 65 percent of Palestinians support indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel to reach a long term hudna, or truce, in the Gaza Strip in return for lifting the siege and 32 percent oppose such negotiations. At the same time, 59 percent of Palestinians believe that Hamas won last summer’s Gaza war, which breaks down to 69 percent of those in the West Bank and 42 percent in Gaza. Some 67 percent believe that rocket launches at Israel from Gaza should resume if the blockade of Gaza is not ended.

The poll found that 65 percent of the Palestinian public wants Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Satisfaction with Abbas’ job performance dropped to 38 percent from 44 percent three months ago and from 50 percent in June 2014.

If new elections were held today, according to the poll, 35 percent each would vote for Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party.

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.

Fatah official: Palestinian unity government on verge of collapse

The Palestinians’ unity government forged last year between Hamas and Fatah will dissolve within the next 24 hours, a senior Palestinian official said.

“The government will resign in the next 24 hours because this one is weak and there is no chance that Hamas will allow it to work in Gaza,” Amin Maqbul, secretary general of the ruling Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council, said Tuesday, according to the French news agency AFP.

The unity government has been stymied by disagreements over the governance of Gaza, which has essentially remained under Hamas control and been in disarray since the Israel-Hamas war last summer.

An unidentified Palestinian government source denied to AFP that dissolution was imminent. The source did confirm, however, that the idea had been under discussion for weeks, since a government delegation was forced to abort a late April trip to Gaza because of a dispute with Hamas over salaries for government workers there.

The unity government established in May 2014 followed a reconciliation agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas belongs to the Fatah party.

Path to Israeli-Palestinian peace starts with meeting the neighbors

Palestinian peace activist Ali Abu Awwad shared the stage with an Israeli settler on May 28 as part of his ongoing attempt to accomplish what some might consider the unbelievable. 

“I couldn’t imagine that one day, I would be standing next to a settler, talking about any hope,” he said, “but sometimes we don’t reach solutions in life because we believe that we can’t do them.”

Listen to their stories – story continues after the video.

Awwad, who teaches nonviolent resistance as a means for pursuing peace, was joined by Zionist settler and Orthodox Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. Together, they headlined the Painful Hope Tour, which took place at the Pico Union Project near downtown Los Angeles.

Schlesinger, who divides his time between Texas and the West Bank settlement Alon Shvut, serves as the founder and executive director and community rabbinic scholar for the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas. He is active in promoting peace initiatives in Texas and Israel. 

He and Awwad are part of Friends of Roots (friendsofroots.net), a collaborative effort between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. It brings together local children from both sides of the conflict through after-school programs and summer camps that promote fun and friendship. Friends of Roots also runs a leadership program that unites 65 Israeli leaders who dedicate their lives to tolerance education.

Schlesinger told his story first during the local event: Born and reared in Israel, he found a profound disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians. He talked about the first time he left his settlement and ventured over to see Awwad after previously meeting at an event in the United States. 

“Until a year and a half ago, I’d never met a Palestinian,” he said. “I opened the front door and walked 20 minutes to the Palestinian vineyards, fields and orchards that surround my house to meet the neighbor that, until then, didn’t exist for me.” 

As for Awwad, he told the audience about how, before turning to nonviolence, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being part of a militant cell as a young man. Three years into his sentence, he held a hunger strike, demanding to see his mother, who was also detained. It was then that he realized nonviolence was far more effective than its alternative. His sentence was reduced, and he was released after the Oslo Accords. 

“It’s OK to be angry and act nonviolently,” he said. “Violence will not erase the anger. The pain will not disappear. But nonviolence is the management of that anger. When we act nonviolently, we celebrate our existence.” 

After the event, Schlesinger commented to the Journal about the cognitive dissonance that affects those who struggle with the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine.

“What I see today is just so different from what I saw a year and a half ago. We ask ourselves, ‘Which reality is true?’ The truth is that they are all true. Each reality comes to us differently depending on what assumptions we come with. Sometimes we don’t even know what those assumptions really are. What you have to do is examine these assumptions. Think of the drawing that, if you look at it one way, you see a woman, but if you look at it another way, you see a vase. You wonder, ‘Which is it really?’ It really is both!” 

Awwad said the evening at the Pico Union Project gave him hope and strength. 

“We are dealing with a very complex subject in a very crazy reality over there,” he said. “This event shows that people want a solution.” 

Friends Noor-Malika Chishti, a Muslim, and Rachel Landsman, an Orthodox Jew, were moved by what they heard. Both women are members of the West Los Angeles Cousins Club, a group of Muslim and Jewish women that meets monthly in the spirit of peaceful sisterhood. 

“We really believe that to know one another is to love one another,” Landsman said. “The path of reconciliation and nonviolence is what I’ve been waiting to hear.” 

Audience member Oren Rehany, an Israeli-born writer, actor and producer who has been living in Los Angeles for 12 years, said the only way peace will happen is through the efforts of everyday people like Schlesinger and Awwad.

“Politicians are probably not the ones who are going to make peace happen. Grass-roots movements like this one will make the change,” Rehany said. “This grass-roots style of education gives me a lot of hope as an Israeli. The only thing Schlesinger and Awwad are attacking is the demonization of either side of the conflict.”

Palestinians want world pressure on Israel after Netanyahu win

Palestinian leaders on Wednesday called for international pressure on Israel and support for their unilateral moves towards statehood after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election win.

Netanyahu's surprise victory, after pledging in the final days of the campaign that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was in power, left Palestinians grim about prospects for a negotiated solution to a decades-old conflict.

“It is clear Israel has voted for burying the peace process, against the two-state choice and for the continuation of occupation and settlement,” Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel that collapsed in April, told Voice of Palestine radio.

Seeking to shore up right-wing votes and saying that Islamist militants would move into any territory relinquished by Israel, Netanyahu also vowed to keep building settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state.

Palestinian leaders said a fourth term for the Likud party leader meant they must press forward with unilateral steps towards independence, including filing charges against Israelat the International Criminal Court.

“This makes it more necessary than ever to go to the international community, and to go to the ICC and escalate peaceful resistance and boycott against the occupation,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a Palestine Liberation Organization leader, told Reuters.

The Palestinians are due to become ICC members on April 1.

Erekat called in a statement on the international community to back Palestinian efforts “to internationalize our struggle for dignity and freedom through the International Criminal Court and through all other peaceful means”.

Netanyahu's stand against a Palestinian state had already threatened to strain ties with the United States and Europe.

The parliaments of several European countries, including Britain and France, have called on their governments to recognize an independent state of Palestine in the past year, reflecting exasperation at continued settlement building. Sweden formally recognized Palestine in October.

Netanyahu, who in 2009 had endorsed the two-state solution, seemed on course to form a coalition government leaning further to the right than his outgoing cabinet, which had included two centrist parties and engaged in the U.S-brokered peace talks.


In his new coalition, Netanyahu is expected to include his natural allies, religious and far-right parties, as well as one centrist party which campaigned on internal social-economic issues rather than on matters of war and peace.

Yariv Oppenheimer, head of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, said he was concerned that as head of rightist-dominated government, Netanyahu would move forward more easily towards expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, enclaves many countries view as illegal.

“Netanyahu's masquerade is over. Everything's clear now, we're talking about a man who has sworn allegiance to the right, not about a centrist,” Oppenheimer said.

Adding to Palestinian frustration is Israel's January decision to withhold $127 million tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a retaliatory step after the Palestinians moved to join the ICC.

Though Israeli officials have indicated no imminent change, Gaza-based political analyst Hani Habeeb said Netanyahu may unfreeze the funds, which cover around two-thirds of the Palestinian budget, now that the election is over.

“I do not rule out Netanyahu releasing the PA tax revenues to improve his (international) image,” Habeeb said. “He used it as a card during the election campaign and now he won.”

Erekat suggested the Palestinians may press on with their pledge this month to suspend security coordination with Israel, a move that could have an immediate impact on stability in the West Bank.

But Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, did not close the door completely on negotiations with Israel.

“We are not bothered by who is head of government in Israel, what we want from the Israeli government is to recognize the two-state solution and that east Jerusalem be the capital of the state of Palestine,” he said.

Fatah leader, Lebanese newspaper urge Arab-Israelis to vote Joint Arab List

A Fatah leader in the West Bank urged Arab-Israelis to vote for the Joint Arab List in the Israeli elections, as did a Lebanese newspaper.

In voicing an opinion about the election, Hatem Abdul Qader broke with Fatah’s longstanding policy of not intervening in Israeli politics, according to the Times of Israel.

Qader said the unification of numerous Arab parties into one list presented a critical opportunity for Arab-Israelis to demonstrate their opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s “fascism and racism” and to “determine the destiny of Arabs in Israel, whether they will remain marginalized or become an active force capable of influencing and claiming their rights.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper published an editorial Monday headlined “Say ‘yes’ to the Joint (Arab) List,” which noted that the election gives Arab-Israelis a “historic opportunity” to “assert the absent Palestinian presence in Israel.”

“An Israeli Arab vote for the Joint Arab List can be the start of a Palestinian awakening, a unique revival the echo of which will inevitably reach the Palestinian street, which suffers from disunity and fragmentation in Gaza and the West Bank,” the editorial said, the Times of Israel reported.

Also in the Lebanese media, the country’s Al-Mayadeen TV broadcast an interview with Hanin Zoabi, an Arab Knesset member from the Balad party, in which she said Arab Knesset members are part of the “Palestinian national project” and not Israeli politics.

“I don’t consider myself just a member of Knesset,” she said, according to the Times of Israel. “We are part of the national project. We don’t rely on any Israeli government to recognize our rights.”

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned a Knesset decision that sought to bar Zoabi, on the basis of her alleged support for Hamas, from participating in the elections.

Boycott tests depth of Palestinian market

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Responding to Israel's decision to withhold tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian officials have initiated a boycott against products manufactured by six leading Israeli companies.

The campaign was announced on February 11 by Fatah Central Committee member, Mahmoud Aloul and PLO member Wasel Abu Yousof.  The targeted companies, all of whom are top tier producers, include dairy giant Tnuva; food manufacturer Osem; chocolate, coffee and ice cream maker The Strauss Group; and soft drink manufacturers Prigat and Jafora-Tabori. Israeli produce also falls under the ban.

The Israeli move to withhold more than $100 million per month was intended as blowback for the Palestinian foray into membership at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, a move Jerusalem and Washington call unilateral and provocative. Although the Israelis have used the tactic in response to other acts by the Palestinian Authority that it deems to be offensive, officials in Ramallah have, until now, believed it lacked the ability to utilize a boycott: in particular, having substitute providers lined up to replace the boycotted goods. This time, those behind the boycott are promising customers that the subject goods will be replenished on their supermarket shelves within the two week period merchants have been given to rid their stores of the selected Israeli products.

Despite those assurances, though, boycott leaders say it has not – and will not – be easy to abide, again citing concerns that there are insufficient alternatives to the consumer goods that will not be available.

Amjad Mohtaseb, a sales manager at local dairy products manufacturer Al-Junaidi, told The Media Line that he hopes that his company, as well as other Palestinian owned dairy manufacturers, will be able to cover consumer demands. Mohtaseb points out that not only are all dairy products provided by Israel not currently manufactured in the Palestinian Territories, but most “in-put resources”  – the ingredients from which product is made – are also obtained from Israel.

Nevertheless, many Palestinians see the economic boycott as a way for Palestinians to express their anger at the Israeli withholding of funding at a time when the PA's economic situation is in dire straits.  Dr. Nafteh Abu Baker, an economist at An-Najah University in Nablus, believes that the economic boycott is a useful “non-violent tool of the struggle” that will eventually help create jobs and boost sales of local goods, predicting that the boycott campaign will be rather effective in the long run.

“Having a complete boycott is unattainable when there are goods or services we cannot import from other countries or provide locally, such as electricity, fuel, gas, and water,” Abu Baker told The Media Line. “If we want to see substantial changes, the government, civil society, and consumer protection bodies need to change their attitudes about Palestinian goods.”

Rather than being a spontaneous reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian tit-for-tat, the Palestinian “BDS Movement” – boycott, divestment and sanctions – has its fingerprints on the campaign.  Aisha Mansour, a volunteer with the global BDS movement, said, “Six years ago when I would talk about boycotting Israeli goods, people would roll their eyes at me. Today the boycott is growing as a culture among consumers.”

Nevertheless, many Palestinians realize the limitations of the boycott call, in particular because the Palestinian market is so strongly reliant on Israel. Through May 2014, 86.5 percent of Palestinian exports went to Israel, while approximately 65 percent of all Palestinian imports came from Israel, approximately $300 million worth of goods.

Abbas’ Fatah faction distances itself from from provocative Facebook post

The political faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas distanced itself from an image of skulls adorned with Jewish stars posted on its official Facebook page.

The image, posted Wednesday on the Fatah Facebook page, also displays a rifle, the Fatah flag and the words “lingering on your skulls.” It was posted on the occasion of Fatah’s 5oth anniversary.

A spokesman for Fatah told CNN on Friday that the group was not responsible for the image.

“Fatah did not design this image,” Mahmoud al-Aloul said, who added that the person who posted it “is currently being asked to remove it. The image and the text do not reflect the opinions of Fatah.”

The image was removed after al-Aloul’s comments were made to CNN.

This is not Fatah’s first Facebook controversy. After the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers last summer, Fatah’s page displayed a number of cartoons, including one depicting the kidnapped teens as rats caught on a fishing line.

Exchanging charges of incitement, Israelis and Palestinians stand firm

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

In the wake of the most recent spate of violence that is reverberating through Israel and the Palestinian territories, newspapers, television and street corner debates are all focusing on the issue of incitement – albeit perhaps more in an effort to assign blame for the increasing loss of life and soaring anxiety than to address ways of reducing tension. Each side reacting to the other’s ire with a sense of disingenuousness and anger, Israelis and Palestinians risk the rapid erosion of the most successful elements of post-Oslo Accord: joint security cooperation.

As is typical in the course of debates over the efficacy of the use of force to subdue armed resistance, many opine that a political solution is the only realistic course of action for ending the violence, a position expressed by Dr. Ghassan Khatib, a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority and labor minister. According to Khatib, both sides are correct when they accuse the other of incitement the level of which, he says, increases or decreases according to the state of relations between the two leaderships.

“When things are tense, incitement will increase. When there is an active peace process, it will decrease,” Khatib told The Media Line.

But following Tuesday’s synagogue shooting that left four Jewish worshippers and a policeman dead, fear is spreading among Israelis who believe much more bloodshed is in the offing, and who see the shootings, stabbings and motor vehicle attacks on pedestrians as premeditated terror while many Palestinian see the same incidents as predictable and for many, justified, responses to Israeli actions against Palestinians.

PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi told The Media Line that Israel itself is responsible for the surge of violence. “We have been cautioning against Israeli actions for the longest time. We said they will generate violence and create instability for Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop the incitement, accusing him of proffering “blood libel.” This despite Abbas’s condemnation of the synagogue killing.     

On the Palestinian street, the death of Yousef Al-Rimouni, a 32-year old bus driver for Israel’s Egged cooperative, is a clear case of murder by Israelis and casus belli for the synagogue slaughter despite findings of suicide resulting from an autopsy conducted by Israel’s chief medical examiner and witnessed by a Palestinian doctor appointed  by the Al-Rimouni family. The incident came after a mosque was torched, apparently by right-wing Jews intent on claiming revenge for acts committed by Palestinians.

Hamas, which praised the attack with a call for more “operations” to be carried out against Israeli targets, endorsed a cartoon that depicted a Palestinian wearing a koffiyeh (traditional Arab headdress) and dressed as a religious Jew, holding a knife dripping with blood, with bodies of Israelis on the ground above a caption that read: “show them to me.”

In the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, commentator Hassan Al-Batal criticized violence on any side, writing, “…nothing justifies the torching of a mosque of a terror attack on a synagogue even if there are multiple reasons and some will call these heroic deeds. A terrorist attack on a synagogue is a terrible and dangerous act.”

As for Fatah, while Abbas came out in condemnation of the synagogue shootings, a Fatah Facebook posting praised the attack. But Gaza based Palestinian journalist Saud Abu Ramadan believes the posting is not indicative of the larger organization. “The factions have their own agenda, have their own ideology and are certainly not going to be friendly with what the Israeli occupation is doing to them,” he told The Media Line. 

Khatib agrees that it deserves little attention. “Fatah is a huge movement that has never been unified. It could have been an individual that did that. The posting doesn’t say much.” Taking a shot at Netanyahu, Khatib added that he wishes the Israeli prime minister “can be as successful in restraining various Israeli officials from inciting violence.”

Nevertheless, in commemorating the 10th anniversary of Yassir Arafat’s death, the Fatah-aligned Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade warned Israelis that, “Our bullets will continue to be aimed at your chests and heads.”

Fatah spokesperson in Gaza Dr. Fayez Abu Atia says the most important element is that “Abbas does not support it.” He did acknowledge that Palestinians were inciting violence against Israelis because they were “emotionally affected by the acts and provocations of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.” He also said that Israel was responsible for this new wave of violence and “that a major part of the incitement problem is from Mr. Netanyahu,” adding that “It’s the Israeli media that encourages settlers to attack our people.”

Yoram Cohen, head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency disagrees with those who accuse Abbas of inciting to violence. He said the PA president was not inciting what he called “acts of terror, overtly or covertly” but that these attacks were driven by “subtler forces.”

Abu Ramadan sees incitement in the words of rightwing Israeli politicians Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Lieberman recently called plans by Abbas to go to the United Nations to pursue world recognition of the Palestinian state a “terror attack”; and Bennett has called for a military operation in east Jerusalem in response to the recent attacks perpetrated by residents of that part of the city.

Referring to restrictions barring Palestinians from the holy site Muslims call Al-Haram Al-Sharif [and Jews call The Temple Mount] during times of violent demonstrations, Abu Ramadan admonishes that, “every action has a reaction” and incitement is a result because it has “pushed them to carry out equivalent campaign.”

On other websites, Israelis expressed outrage at the site of Palestinians celebrating over the synagogue attack. But officials claim it’s not the voice of the majority. According to Ashrawi, “We do not condone acts of violence against any civilians.”

On the other hand, some 300 Israeli right-wing activists protested at the entrance of Jerusalem and Jaffa Road following the synagogue attack calling for “Death to Arabs.”

Meanwhile, for both Palestinians and Israelis, Khatib says “it’s not easy to correct the non-official media or individuals from doing it (incitement), be it Palestinian or Israeli.”

Kalman Levine: Born in Kansas City, transformed in L.A., murdered in Jerusalem

Rabbi Kalman Levine, born Cary Levine in Kansas City, Mo. on June 30, 1959, was murdered Tuesday morning in a terror attack at Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was in the middle of the daily morning prayer service.

A man who in many ways came of age while living in Los Angeles as a young adult, Levine was killed by two young Palestinian men who also murdered three other worshippers and injured at least another 12 in the synagogue.

The assailants, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32, attacked their victims with a gun, knives and axes.  Both were killed in a subsequent shootout with police. Zidan Saif, an Israeli Druze policeman who engaged the two Palestinian attackers, was shot in the head and died of his wounds Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

Levine leaves behind a wife, Chaya, who’s from Cleveland, and 10 children and five grandchildren. He was 55.

Shimon Kraft, Levine’s best friend from childhood, lives in Los Angeles and owns The Mitzvah Store. He shared memories of Levine just hours after he learned of the murder. He is also Levine’s former brother-in-law from Kraft’s previous marriage. He spoke about their lives growing up and how Levine, who was not raised Orthodox, was transformed when he spent six months at a kibbutz after high school and then moved to Los Angeles for college only to drop out after becoming engrossed in Torah study and inspired by an influential rabbi in North Hollywood.

Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.

“We lived at Royals Stadium in the summer,” Kraft said. “We used to trade baseball cards.”

After Levine graduated from Kansas City’s Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in the late ’70s, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel for six months and then returned to the United States to enroll at a pre-dental program at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. Although he grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Kansas City, Levine’s time in Israel led to a religious transformation that led him to become Sabbath and kosher observant.

Levine, after he came to Los Angeles, became very close with Rabbi Zvi Block, who established the first Los Angeles branch of Aish HaTorah—an international Orthodox educational group—in North Hollywood. Levine’s relationship with Block helped solidify the transformation that began in Israel, and Levine eventually decided to drop out of USC and pursue Torah study full-time.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, a discernibly heartbroken Block spoke warmly of his former student. “I became a father to all these children, to all these talmidim (students)—they are like my children,” Block said. “This is a huge loss for me. You’re talking about someone who was 18 or 19 when we first met.”

Levine was one of Block’s first five students at Aish HaTorah and the Los Angeles rabbi remembers Levine as one of the brightest young minds he ever encountered. “When you start off a program you are not sure if you are going to be successful. I feel I owe a lot of gratitude to the ones that helped me start, to the original students,” Block said.

The rabbi also said that he encouraged his small group of students to improve their knowledge of Judaism and Torah by moving to Israel to learn in an environment immersed in yeshiva students.

“My goal at the time was really to send people off to Israel,” Block said. “I thought that would be the best way for them to develop, to really pursue their Judaism to the fullest.”

While Kraft visited Levine in Los Angeles in 1977, the two decided to travel to Israel together to learn Torah. They attended two years of yeshiva before they returned to Los Angeles to attend a post-high school study program at Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA).

Kraft said that Levine decided to return to Israel again in the early 1980s—this time he never left. Over the years in Jerusalem, Levine built a family and continued pursuing the passion of his life—Torah. Kraft said Levine even organized a group of men who would get together for the sole purpose of self-improvement and strengthening character traits.

“He was truly great,” Kraft said. “He was so unusual, so special.” Block remembered Levine as being a great entertainer during weddings and goofing off during skits that he and others would put on for the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. “I remember him being extraordinarily talented at weddings and doing all sorts of shtick,” Block said.

On Monday night in Los Angeles, as Kraft was going to bed, he heard about the attack in Har Nof, but didn’t think more of it. On Tuesday morning though, Kraft’s son called from Baltimore and told him the news—his best friend had been murdered.

“He died in the beit midrash [synagogue], which is where he lived his whole life,” Kraft said. “It’s where he lived and died.”

Block, while on the phone, found two books of Jewish law that Levine once gave to him as a symbol of gratitude. Block recalled that Levine wrote a note in one. Eventually finding the note, Block read it aloud as he tried to hold back tears:

“Dear Rabbi Block, here is a small token of appreciation for sending me to Eretz Yisrael. If it wasn't for you it is very possible I would never have had the opportunity to learn Torah. Thank you for changing my life, Kalman Levine.”

Palestinian analyst: ‘Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood one in the same’

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Despite the formation of a national consensus government, Hamas has not only failed to reconcile with Fatah, but the Islamist group is also beset by an internal rift between a majority who follow the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and those who seek independence from the group.

“The Palestinian cause is being held hostage by Hamas. Hamas is a catastrophe for us,” Palestinian analyst Abdelmajeed Sweilem told The Media Line. Arguing that Hamas is setting the agenda of the Palestinian issue, he charged that Hamas is echoing the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not wish to see statehood established for West Bank and Gaza residents. “Power is their [only] objective; not seeing a Palestinian state,” he said.

Sweilem believes Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – the party of ousted Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi — are one in the same. Through its actions, he says, Hamas is serving the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood while waiting for regional differences to benefit them.

“This is a catastrophe for Abu Mazen (nickname for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) because the [Muslim] Brotherhood wants to end the Palestinian cause. My opinion is that the Muslim Brotherhood has no problem with Palestinians being like North and South Koreans,” said Sweilem, suggesting that the Palestinian president is currently engaged in two fights: the first against Israel and the second versus Hamas.

Hamas spokesmen declined to speak to The Media Line for this article.

Offering an example of the Hamas internal rift, a source in Ramallah close to the Abbas government who spoke anonymously because he is not cleared to speak with media explained that “If one Hamas official in Gaza says something and a Hamas official in Qatar disagrees with it, he will accept it even though it’s wrong to sustain the illusion that there is unity among Hamas.”

Sweilem believes only a minority of Hamas members support reconciliation and peace while the “dominant side is the Muslim Brotherhood,” supporting division and violence.

In an exclusive interview with The Media Line, senior Fatah official Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the Fatah bloc and Political Committee, confirmed the existence of a split within Hamas.

“Logically speaking — although without proven evidence — there is no doubt that that many members of Hamas were shocked over the 15 explosions,” he said referring to the recent incident in the Gaza Strip where bombs exploded near the homes of prominent Fatah members. A spokesman for Hamas told The Media Line at the time that the group was not involved and that it would launch an investigation. The blasts came as Palestinians in Gaza were gearing up to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Yassir Arafat, but as a result of the incident, the festivities in Gaza were cancelled.

“[Holding commemorations] would have showed how many people are against Hamas,” Sweilem said, suggesting that the explosions were a Hamas tactic: talking in media about ending the Hamas/Fatah division but holding out the explosions to signify the “end of reconciliation” — proof that the Fatah officials there have no good will toward uniting the Palestinians.

In April, after seven years of disunity, the Palestinians were purportedly united, which led to the formation of a national consensus government comprised of technocrats.  But the short window of hope was to last only seven months.  

Sweilem says Hamas is “sending a clear message that you must deal with Hamas as the rulers [of Gaza] and forget about any elections, unification of the Palestinian institutions and the PLO constitution,” he added.

According to Abdullah, there are two lines of thinking within Hamas: “ideologues who don’t want to end the division [between Fatah and Hamas] as principle; and a second group, which is negatively affected materially and financially from reconciliation because “tunnel trade would end, and along with it, bribery on the crossings.” He gives the example of Gaza residents being forced to pay bribes to Hamas in order to be allowed to leave the enclave.

“Disunity and the lack of a consolidated internal front will no doubt cost the Palestinians,” he said.

Sweilem says anyone who thinks the Palestinians will ever be united is living a lie. “It’s irrational to ever think there will be Palestinian reconciliation. It’s a lie,” he said.

This comes at a time following the donor conference in Cairo which saw contributing nations pledge more than $5 billion to reconstruct Gaza in the aftermath of last summer’s 50-day war between Hamas and Israel that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead along with vast destruction. Sweilem says that Palestinian Presidential Guards will never replace Hamas forces; and the Palestinian Authority will never have sovereignty over a single inch of Gaza because Hamas’s leadership wants any reconstruction efforts to be channeled through them. 

Analysts believe that under the present conditions, there will be no consensus government and no restoration of Palestinian unity because Hamas is absolutely unwilling to accept the authority of the PA under Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

As proof that Hamas will not let the reconstruction process happen, Sweilem says, “If they wanted that to happen, they could have used money received after the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2012, but instead they built homes for its members.” He expects the current round of Gaza reconstruction to take place “trickle by trickle.”

 Many agree that the elements of the Fatah-Hamas stalemate will also hinder any efforts undertaken on the Palestinian-Israeli peace track.

Referring to rumors reported in local media, a senior source in the Abbas camp adamantly denies that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas held any secret meetings when both were in Amman to see King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State John Kerry. But it is acknowledged that “Kerry tried (to bring the two together), but Abbas refused because he doesn’t want to.”

Kerry also promised Abbas that he would get negotiations back on track. According to the source, the Palestinian did not respond himself, but someone from his delegation said to Kerry, “Only if Israel honors its commitments not to negotiate for the sake of negotiating, but to negotiate to yield peace results.”

The Palestinian leadership believes that the SecState “is afraid to lose and wants to end his career with any success.” Therefore, they believe Kerry convinced Netanyahu to have given the order to ease restrictions on Muslims allowed to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif (what Israelis call the Temple Mount) even before the Amman meeting with Kerry and the king in order to calm the situation down following a month of elevated tensions at the holy site and rioting in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

 “Netanyahu is looking for an Arab ally at this particular time and that’s Jordan,” the source said. He also says the King of Jordan was very direct with the Israeli Prime Minister, reminding him of the borders between the two, the long peace agreement between Israel and Jordan and the alliance. “We will not accept any actions in Jerusalem,” King Abdullah reportedly told Netanyahu.

Sweilem believes the Americans exerted significant pressure on Netanyahu for the first time. “What this proves is that if the Americans are willing to pressure Israel in to making peace, they can and Israel can’t say no,” he said.

Meanwhile, sources in Ramallah believe that Abbas does not want a third Intifada (Palestinian uprising.)

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah says the Palestinian president is committed to not letting Gaza down. And when asked why Abbas insists on not giving up on unity with Hamas, he says the Palestinian leader is “polite” and wants to “keep the window open” because Hamas is a part of the Palestinians; and Gaza and the West Bank will never be separated. “President Abbas has said to Israel not to give Hamas an excuse to make violence and instead give them hope; and when that happens, it will convince extremists to end their violence because there is a solution.”

Gaza commemoration for Arafat canceled following attacks on Fatah leaders

A commemoration rally in Gaza for the late Palestinian Fatah party leader Yasser Arafat was canceled after attacks on Fatah leaders there.

The event set for Tuesday was canceled on Sunday, two days after the homes and cars of Fatah leaders were blown up, as well as the stage where the commemoration was to take place.

Hamas has denied responsibility for the attacks.

A crowd of hundreds of thousands was expected to attend the rally, which was being held on the 10th anniversary of Arafat’s death, Reuters reported.

“After the series of explosions and assaults against Fatah leaders, we have been notified by Hamas’ political and security officials that security services won’t be able to take charge of security arrangements during the Arafat anniversary ceremony,” a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip told the Palestinian Maan news agency.

It would have been the first time that a public commemoration of Arafat’s death would be held in Gaza since it was taken over by Hamas in 2007.

In June, Hamas and Fatah formed a unity government under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mahmoud Abbas will visit Gaza in coming weeks

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A Palestinian official close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told The Media Line that security preparations are underway for the president to visit the Gaza Strip in the next few weeks: the first time since 2006. The visit would seem to mark the victory of his Fatah movement over the Islamist Hamas faction which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

“There is a lot of talk about the President going, but the goal of the visit has yet to be worked out,” the official said, saying there had to be more to the visit than just a photo opportunity.

When pressed, he said Abbas is expected to make a major announcement from the Gaza Strip, but failed to say exactly what it would be.

“It could be about new Palestinian elections, a unity government (between Fatah and Hamas) or lifting of the siege on Gaza,” the official said.

Until now Abbas reportedly was afraid to visit Gaza fearing for his own safety because of the rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions. The reports of a visit came after Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah convened the first meeting of a joint government with Hamas in Gaza last week.

The Abbas visit also comes as dozens of donor countries are meeting in Egypt to discuss rebuilding the Gaza Strip after this summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. Abbas has said it will cost $4 billion to rebuild the embattled Gaza Strip. As the conference convened, Qatar offered $1 billion in aid, and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the US would chip in an additional $212 million, and the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million. A total of $5.4 billion was pledged at the October 12 donors’ meeting.

However, all of the money will not be useful unless Israel agrees to allow construction materials like cement and iron into Gaza. In the past Israel has said that Hamas could divert that material to build underground tunnels, dozens of which were discovered during the latest fighting, and weapons. Both the US and Israel insist that they won’t deal directly with Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization.

The international community has made clear that it prefers that a unity government, with Abbas’s Fatah as the senior partner, be in charge in Gaza. That would also be the key to reopening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza by force, Fatah has kept a relatively low profile in the Gaza Strip. “Fatah has been suppressed by Hamas, its members imprisoned and even shot,” a member of the group told The Media Line on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly speak out against the Gaza rulers.  He also said Hamas replaced many Fatah members with its own.

When it comes to the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, passports are still issued in Ramallah and mailed to Gaza free of charge. The PA pays for water and electricity in Gaza, although many say that Hamas charges the Gaza residents a second time. 

Long-time Fatah activist in Gaza, Mamoun Swaidan confirmed to The Media Line that discussions were being held in advance of an Abbas visit, but said he did not know if Hamas is being included in these talks.

“The president is planning to visit Gaza and does not need an invitation from anyone to do so. Gaza is a part of our national state and he (Abbas) has complete jurisdiction here, like the West Bank.  I am sure he will visit Gaza very soon,” Swaidan, who is Fatah’s Gaza based international affairs officer said.

Fatah has continued to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of its employees in Gaza who were replaced by Hamas loyalists.

“Abbas is responsible for Gaza not just today but from before. To those who have doubts, yes, Abbas is back in charge of Gaza,” Swaidan said. He said that the “presence and power” of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority on the ground will be seen soon.

There has clearly been a change on the ground. In July, Hamas supporters chased out the Palestinian Minister of Health who was bringing medicine and equipment to Gaza.

Hamas interior minister Kamal Abu Madi has denied media reports that the presidential guards and intelligence officials of the PA would return to Gaza, comments that directly contradict a statement by the deputy prime minister Muhammad Mustafa, who on Friday said his government would assume control of Gaza crossings today.

“Hamas has been crippled, they know Gaza won’t be rebuilt without President Abbas but it will take time for them to come to grips with reality,” Swaidan said.

Mahmoud Abbas: Winning abroad but losing at home

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Palestinians say that when it comes to diplomacy abroad, nobody can challenge the 80-year-old Mahmoud Abbas. But when it comes to tending to matters in the Palestinian territories, he doesn’t do so well.

In his speech on Sept. 26 to the United Nations Security Council, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of conducting a “war of genocide” during the recent aggression on Gaza. The United States slammed Abbas’ speech as “offensive” and “counterproductive” for any future peace talks.   

Palestinian analysts said Abbas was aiming at his home audience, where he was seen as not being tough enough on Israel during the summer’s fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. But while Abbas has stature outside the West Bank, he is coming under growing criticism at home.

“He has gained among international parties, but failed on the internal issue. There is still division [between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas], no state institutions and a suspended Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC],” Hassan Khresheh, vice president of the PLC, said. “He has not worked hard enough on ending the division. The unity government is not functioning at all and if they don’t unite now, they will never be united.”

In April, a unity deal between the previously bitter rivals of Fatah and Hamas was reached, although it has not been implemented. Last week, Palestinian representatives of Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo that the Palestinian unity government will extend its control to include the Gaza Strip. Hamas hopes that the new government will manage to pay the salaries of 45,000 employees who were added to the Palestinian Authority (PA) during Hamas’ control of Gaza since 2007. Palestinian media report that efforts are underway to pay them through a third party before Eid Al-Adha (Muslim holiday of the sacrifice) beginning the evening of Oct. 4.

Khresheh said Abbas’ main agenda is returning to negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the Americans. But he said that most Palestinians have given up on bilateral negotiations with Israel, which have achieved little.

“Such negotiations will not bring rights to our people,” Khresheh said.

The fact that Abbas has been a key player in the Palestinian political process for years and hasn’t called it quits deserves recognition, he said. “He works very well diplomatically, although he is under constant pressure from the United States and Israel.”   

Khresheh said that as nothing has been gained since the U.N. recognized Israel as a non-member observer state two years ago, the PA should join other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel has opposed this, fearing that it could be subject to war crimes trials. 

Khalida Jarrar, a member of the small hard-line group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said negotiations with Israel have not achieved anything and Abbas should pressure Israel via international organizations.

“I disagree with going back to negotiations,” Jarrar said, adding that action is needed, not more speeches. “He is just delaying going to the International Criminal Court. The ICC and sustaining Palestinian unity should be top priorities.” 

Fatah senior foreign policy adviser Husam Zomlot said bilateral talks with sole U.S. sponsorship has failed the Palestinians for 21 years and only gotten them a “state of limbo.” He urged Israel to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with Abbas, who has long advocated a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The president believes firmly in the two-state solution and supports nonviolence,” Zomlot said. “This is an opportunity,” he suggested, that “will not repeat itself.”

The Fatah official said a peace partner like Abbas, who has clear political horizon, may not come again.  

London-based researcher Abdullah Hamidaddin said the real question is how Abbas will manage the negotiations. 

“Abbas has worked very hard but has had few successes,” Hamidaddin said. “But he was not decisive enough in the last round of negotiations. He entered them after much hesitation, and then hesitated to make tough decisions,” such as pulling out of the talks as Israel continued to expand construction in areas that Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state.

Abbas: Hamas unity pact is off if gov’t doesn’t allow unity gov’t to run Gaza

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would break his government’s unity agreement with Hamas if Hamas does not allow the unity government to operate in Gaza.

“We won’t accept a partnership with them if the situation continues like this in Gaza where there is a shadow government running the territory,” Abbas said late Saturday night in Cairo, where he was scheduled to address the Arab League, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“If Hamas won’t accept a Palestinian state with one state and one law, then there won’t be any partnership between us. This is our condition, and we won’t back away from it.”

Abbas told reporters that the Palestinian leadership is making every effort to help the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and is working to provide all forms of assistance.

He estimated that it will take $7 billion and at least 15 years to rebuild what was destroyed in Gaza during Israel’s seven-week Operation Protective Edge.

Some 461,643 people were displaced in Gaza, with at least 280,000 of them in United Nations shelters and schools, the P.A. leader said.

Abbas said some 18,000 homes were destroyed and another 41,000 were damaged, and that 75 schools were destroyed and another 145 suffered damage. Dozens of public buildings, including mosques, also were destroyed.