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.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in Washington, D.C., on July 27. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act in letter to senators

After months of declining to explicitly endorse the Taylor Force Act, AIPAC announced on Wednesday their support of the bipartisan legislation that would cut off U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until they cease payments to families of terrorists.

[This story originally appeared on]

“We urge all members of the committee to work together to move this important legislation forward and to VOTE YES to report the bill from committee,” Brad Gordon and Marvin Feuer, AIPAC’s Directors on Policy and Government Affairs, wrote in a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are hopeful that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup will produce a strong, bipartisan bill that will send a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority: Stop these payments to terrorists and their families or your assistance will be cut.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the bill on Thursday morning.

AIPAC appears to be persuaded by the revised version of the bill released on Tuesday. The updated version allows continued payments towards Palestinian humanitarian programs and also contains an exemption for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. “The Taylor Force Act does not affect U.S. funding for security cooperation, nor does it cut humanitarian programs,” AIPAC noted. Unlike the Jerusalem Embassy Act, this legislation does not contain a waiver allowing the president to delay implementation of the funding cut.

The bill had no Democratic backing when it was first introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in February. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation in June. However, despite the bipartisan support, AIPAC remained unwilling to actively lobby for the bill. “We strongly support the legislation’s goals and we are working with Congress to build broad bipartisan support that will require the Palestinian leadership to end these abhorrent payments,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann told Jewish Insider at the time.

On Monday, Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced a deal was reached with members of the committee to advance the legislation. “This is yet another sign of the bipartisan commitment in Congress to the security of Israel and to ending the Palestinian Authority’s outrageous incitement to violence against Israelis,” the conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement.

The House version of the bill, introduced by Doug Lamborn (R-CO), has increasedsubstantially the number of co-sponsors to 100, but without any Democratic support.

“For too long, some supporters of Israel have feared cutting funding to the PA because it would ‘destabilize’ a supposed peace partner. Now, hopefully, [they] all understand that continuing to fund the PA while it funds murder legitimizes their policy and keeps peace further away,” Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, told Jewish Insider. “The Palestinian government’s salaries for convicted terrorists is not just a reward for murder, it is murder-for-hire.”

Noah Pollak, an advocate in favor of the Taylor Force Act, said that AIPAC’s formal backing is a “welcome development and something we have been encouraging for many months. We hope that AIPAC will now put its considerable resources behind promoting the bill, even if it is not possible to earn a perfectly equal number of Republican and Democratic votes. We have worked hard to gain bipartisan support. But in the end, passage of a strong, meaningful bill is more important than the details of the vote count.”

In a statement emailed to Jewish Insider, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) applauded AIPAC’s support  and expressed hope that “Democrats will step up, join in, and support a strong and effective version of the bill without diluting it with amendments.”

When informed of AIPAC’s support of the bill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the decision was helpful. While AIPAC’s view on the Taylor Force ACT isn’t conditional for Rubio, the pro-Israel organization’s position “is influential with me,” he added.

“Once this bill became bipartisan, it became easier for a wider range of groups to support it,” Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), explained. “It’s also important to see that the bill ensures continued security assistance to the PA, as well as humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in need. In short, the politics in Washington have made this easier to back, and the bill itself does not ignore the importance of stability.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump at he White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process

Momentum is building toward resumption of the dormant Middle East peace process. The efforts by presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, the successful visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House last week, and President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank all signal that, for now, the Trump administration is serious about promoting peace. Can it succeed where others have failed?

Optimists believe things could be different this time around. An alignment of interests between Israel and key Arab Sunni states seeking to contain Iran’s regional ambitions and to confront Islamic extremism has made these countries ready to embrace ways to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind them. Pessimists warn, however, that except for the new U.S. administration, not much has changed.

The truth is probably in the middle. A changing regional setting coupled with a renewed interest in the conflict on the part of an unconventional U.S. president could open a window of opportunity. But rather than overpromising to achieve the ultimate deal, a promise that would likely backfire, the administration could take concrete steps that might pave the way toward resumption of an earnest peace process. Here are four steps that could help get there:

• The president could state a clear vision, while setting realistic benchmarks, and remain committed for the long haul. Speaking generally about “peace” and implying indifference between the two-state and one-state options may suffice for first meetings, but the Trump administration could articulate that in the absence of another feasible option, it is committed to a two-state solution that allows the peaceful existence of a Jewish democratic Israel alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.

But promising to end the conflict in an unrealistic time frame could dim the chances for success. In this part of the world, when it’s all or nothing, it usually is nothing. It would make more sense to move forward with concrete measures and achievable goals to gradually help set the stage for a two-state solution.

In addition, Greenblatt is perceived in the region as directly executing the president’s wishes. This credibility could be crucial for regional leaders.

• Second, the administration could promote a three-pronged approach combining bilateral, multilateral and unilateral processes. Traditionally, the U.S. role in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts focused on bringing the two sides to the negotiation table hoping that with a little help, they would reach a peace deal. Focusing solely on a bilateral approach has not worked before and it is unlikely to work now.

In parallel to resuming peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. could promote a multilateral approach by bringing in the Arab Sunni states to help back the Palestinians and incentivize Israel. Unilateral independent steps could include pushing Israeli and Palestinian leaders on issues that are hard for them politically at home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

While too sensitive to push for during a highly publicized hunger strike of Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Authority (PA) could be prodded to stop generously paying prisoners convicted of terrorism. This could send an important signal to Israel and to the world that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

  • Third, the U.S. could continue efforts to stabilize the Gaza Strip, while at the same time seeking to help strengthen the PA. The Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse and the winds of war are blowing again between Israel and Hamas. This administration has been following the footsteps of its predecessor in an attempt to stabilize Gaza. Building on these efforts, Trump could use his leverage to coordinate with Israel and push the Gulf States — maybe during his visit to Saudi Arabia before he heads to Israel — to follow through on their pledges to help stabilize Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

Efforts also could focus on providing Gaza’s residents with clean drinking water, proper sanitation, a regular supply of electricity and improved freedom of movement for people and goods. It is crucial, though, that efforts in Gaza do not bolster Hamas at the expense of the PA.

Trump gave a much needed boost to the weak PA by meeting with Abbas, calling it an “honor,” tweeting about the meeting and not asking Abbas publicly to make any compromises.

• Finally, the administration could sign the waiver forestalling the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem so close to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War could shatter any chance of peace and risk plunging Jerusalem and the whole region into turmoil.

Such steps may not bring about the ultimate deal. Despite regional dynamics and a new energy from the White House there are still plenty of obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Without a clear, consistent plan that delivers quick, tangible results to both Israelis and Palestinians and helps restore trust between the two sides, the newly created window opportunity to addressing this conflict will close again.

Shira Efron is a policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp., a special adviser on Israel with Rand’s Center for Middle East Public Policy and a professor at the Pardee Rand Graduate School.

Jewish Federations to debate travel to West Bank settlements

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is considering a change to its policy that could allow its missions to Israel to visit Jewish settlements in the West Bank but not areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The proposed policy has some leaders worried that the country’s largest network of Jewish organizations is presenting too narrow a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an Oct. 26 conference call, JFNA’s board of trustees will be asked to “authorize the entry of JFNA missions, including federation community missions planned through JFNA, into Israeli-controlled territories beyond the Green Line (e.g., Ariel or Gush Etzion, etc.),” JFNA president Jerry Silverman wrote in an email to trustees, naming two Jewish settlements.

Interfaith Partners for Peace, a program of JFNA affiliate Israel Action Network (IAN), already takes delegations of faith leaders to Palestinian towns, Silverman said in the email obtained by the Journal.

In the case of the interfaith trips, the email noted, the JFNA believes “authorizing the entry of IAN missions into the PA is in the best interest of the federation system.”

JFNA, the umbrella organization for local Jewish federations across the country, leads annual missions to Israel, for instance for young leaders and LGBT individuals. Local federations lead many more such trips, which are a fundamental way federations engage Jewish philanthropists and leaders in Israel.

It was unclear whether the trustees would be asked to rewrite federation policy or simply lend their approval to the IAN trip. But even if the vote applied only to the IAN trip, it would set precedent, since federation missions currently avoid the West Bank entirely.

The email seems to suggest that JFNA-led trips would be allowed to travel to areas under direct control of the Israeli military and not to Palestinian areas like Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah.

The vote raises concerns that mission participants would be exposed to one side of the story if they visited Jewish settlements in the West Bank while avoiding Palestinian areas.

One philanthropist and Israel activist who was briefed on federation discussions by a trustee told the Jewish Journal the policy would have the effect of “normalizing” Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 Green Line that most countries see as violating international law. She asked to remain unnamed because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

She said she believes it best if federation trips simply avoided the West Bank altogether.

But, she said, “If seeing is so important, then I think that we have an equal responsibility to go see Palestinians living over the Green Line.”

The conference call comes the day after Simchat Torah, a holiday when observant Jews don’t answer their phones or emails. The conversation is “deemed privileged information,” according to Silverman’s email, restricted only to voting trustees.

Reached by phone, Leslie Bider, former chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and a trustee for the national organization, said the discussion was “confidential to the JFNA board” and declined to comment.

Requests for information from JFNA were not immediately returned.

Israeli TV report: PA President Mahmoud Abbas was KGB agent

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas served as a KGB agent during the 1980s, an Israeli news station reported.

Israel’s Channel 1 public television station reported Wednesday night that Abbas worked with the Soviet intelligence agency using the code name “Mole” while living in Damascus, the capital of Syria.

Abbas was recruited to the KGB, it was suggested, while working on his doctoral dissertation in Moscow, in which he minimized the genocide of Jews in the Holocaust.

Channel 1 cited documents secreted out of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The mention of Abbas was discovered and the documents, the Mitrokhin archive kept by KGB defector Vasily Mitrokhin, were shown to the TV station by two Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez.

The documents were revealed amid reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB, was close to arranging a face-to-face meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss resuming peace negotiations.

The Palestine Liberation Organization was openly working with the Soviet Union at the time Abbas was alleged to be working for the KGB, so there was no need for Abbas to be a Soviet agent, The New York Times reported, citing Palestinian officials, who said that Abbas was leading a Palestinian-Soviet friendship foundation at the time.

Palestinian officials called the allegations a “smear campaign.”

In an interview the same night with Israel Radio following the Channel 1 report, senior Fatah members Jibril Rajoub, Hussein al-Sheikh, Saeb Erekat and Nabil Shaath can be heard laughing as the reporter introduces the allegations against Abbas, The Times of Israel reported.

New program aims to get B’nai Mitzvah teens to open up

In Jewish communities today, the b’nai mitzvah ritual is seen as a culmination — graduating from adolescence to adulthood. There’s a powerful ceremony, often followed by a lavish party. 

Then what? 

One organization hopes engaging teens, parents, teachers, clergy and their communities in honest, open-ended discussions about faith and adolescence will encourage sustained involvement long after that — and its mission just got a big boost. 

Moving Traditions, a Jenkintown, Pa.-based organization specializing in Jewish youth engagement, was among the 12 recipients of this year’s Cutting Edge Grants, given out by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) and announced Aug.  16. It will receive $200,000 over the next three years to institute its pilot b’nai mitzvah program in Los Angeles, beginning this fall. 

Since its inception 11 years ago, Moving Traditions has grown into a wide-reaching organization, partnering with more than 400 institutions across North America — mostly synagogues, JCCs and schools. Los Angeles boasts 23 of the organization’s partners with programs benefiting more than 850 teens as of last year. Overall, Moving Traditions’ programs have trained nearly 1,400 educators and reached more than 17,000 teens nationwide, according to figures on Moving Traditions’ website.  

The organization’s primary focus so far has been on its signature programs, “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing” and “Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood.” The former is an experiential education program using Jewish teachings and practices that touches the lives of 3,500 girls and gives them a place to feel safe, articulate concerns, consider the impact of gender on their daily life, have fun and be honest with their peers. The latter is a similar program aimed at boys; it partners with more than 100 institutions and impacts more than 1,300 boys. 

Now, the organization will bring its approach to the realm of b’nai mitzvah preparation. The organization’s California director, Beth Tigay, a Los Angeles resident and member of IKAR (where her husband, Hillel Tigay, is cantor), will spearhead the implementation in L.A. with as-yet-unnamed partner institutions. She said the key is framing Jewish values in a way that connects with teens as they undergo everything that surrounds the big day. 

 “We as communities have to find ways to make the b’nai mitzvah process relevant,” she said. “We impart all of these traditions and teachings that are sacred in Judaism, then declare them a Jewish man or woman. Then we kind of slam the door. What does it mean? We come in to say that what you’re going through is a tough time, one of the most complicated, confusing times of your life. We give that place to talk about it, to process it.” 

Tigay has two children of her own and equated the fervor of bar and bat mitzvah season and attending parties every weekend to “clubbing for 12- and 13-year-olds.” The social pressure and anxieties — impressing peers, the advent of constant posting on social media, who’s invited and who’s not, whose dress looked best — require a place for teens to voice thoughts and concerns with well-trained mentors, she said. 

 “Believe it or not, all of this is a critical part of the process. We need to help them process all of that. Right now, there’s no one else doing that,” she said. 

The process of developing a program curriculum for this began several years ago with focus groups made up of 15- and 16-year-olds, because they weren’t far removed from their own bar or bat mitzvah and had the capacity to articulate like adults, according to Moving Traditions’ chief of education and program, Rabbi Daniel Brenner, who is based in New Jersey. 

Rosh Hodesh girls express Jewish identity through art. Photo courtesy of Moving Traditions.

Brenner then created a nine-session supplemental b’nai mitzvah curriculum for trained mentors. He will be traveling to Los Angeles in November to begin training clergy and sixth- and seventh-grade Jewish educators with hope of things kicking off at the start of 2017.  This will be key to the program’s success, he said. 

 “Good mentors can get teens talking on topics for hours,” Brenner said. “It’s a matter of having the right space. We’re talking about what’s really going on in their lives. That’s a role of the Jewish community. We’ve seen it in our other programs, and we’ve seen how effective it can be. We even see how effective it is for the adults and how it engages them. Mentors aren’t there to tell you something. They’re there to talk about what’s going on and to listen to you. Teens need that just like adults do.” 

The nine sessions will cover topics including what it means to enter the teenage years, being a party host versus being a guest, what fashion tells us about how we’re supposed to be seen, humility and pride, social media, being the center of attention, teen romance, and gifts and money. Some sessions will be single-gender, others co-gender, and some will include parents to inform them about what their kids are learning. 

Brenner said the program will follow the strategy of Moving Traditions’ signature programs when it comes to getting teens to talk about uncomfortable subjects. 

 “This issue is an issue we deal with in a lot of our programs,” he said. “We find the best approach is to be reactive in the pedagogy. A lot of work with teens is helping them understand expectations placed on them. We need to discern between things that are really challenging for them and things that aren’t. Example: Give them a question like, ‘Which of these things in your family produces the most stress? Is it academic concerns? Is it chores and household work seen as non-negotiable?’ Which is real stress and give them a couple of options. That’s easy to talk about as opposed to, ‘What is stressful in your life?’ You’re probably not going to get an answer. 

 “When talking about feelings, being able to make choices opens up space to start reflecting on what’s going on in their lives. A lot of our training is about helping educators have access to simple pedagogic tools that help with conversation.”

With hopes of eventually expanding the program across North America, Brenner felt Los Angeles was the perfect launching pad, pointing to the uniqueness of the city’s diverse, bustling Jewish community. 

 “This pilot here in Los Angeles is critical for us,” he said. “The city has an incredible diversity in terms of Jewish community. We want to work with traditional synagogues that have a lot of involvement and buy-in from members as well as synagogues that struggle on that front with members not as connected. The grant enables us to develop relationships with pilot partners and understand the needs in diverse community environments and build something that has deeper impact. Many of our partners across the country are interested in rethinking b’nai mitzvah education. This is program is going to help us and help a lot more communities,” he said. 

Elana Wien, JCFLA director of the Center for Designed Philanthropy, said the Moving Traditions’ b’nai mitzvah program concept upholds the ideals and values of the Foundation’s overarching mission and should yield tangible results in the local Jewish community. 

 “The path to b’nai mitzvah represents a pivotal period of discovery into the deeper meanings of being an engaged contemporary Jewish adult,” she said in a statement. “The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles was impressed by Moving Traditions’ approach to fostering reflection, connection, confidence and positive decision-making during the b’nai mitzvah preparation stage, creating more meaning for our young people in the process, and laying the groundwork for future continued engagement in the Jewish community.” 

Is Abbas responsible for inciting the terror in Israel?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of tampering with the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. He railed against Jews defiling the holy site with their “filthy feet.” He claimed, falsely, that Israeli security forces had killed a 13-year old Palestinian boy.

It’s that sort of rhetoric that has led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to charge Abbas with inciting the wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians that has swept Israel over the past month.

But some Palestinian and Israeli experts say Abbas does not support violence and has little power to influence the attacks. They note his long history of supporting nonviolent resistance, reiterated as recently as September in a speech to the United Nations, and the continued cooperation of Palestinian security forces with their Israeli counterparts.

And though his rhetoric may be harsh, these experts say, Abbas has so little influence among his constituents that his statements have scant effect.

“Abbas couldn’t even incite a rabid dog,” said Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies think tank. “It’s not just him as a leader having no authority and influence, it’s the whole political class. The people who have been demonstrating, carrying out these spasms, have been acting on a completely unorganized basis.”

Last month, Israel released a compilation of recent statements and social media posts from Abbas’ Fatah faction that the government says amounts to incitement to violence. Examples showed caricatures of Jews being stabbed and punched.

“These Palestinian kids were indoctrinated on a daily basis in schools, in kindergarten even, in children’s magazines published by the Palestinian Authority, by Palestinian TV,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s energy minister, at a media briefing last month, referring to Palestinian children who had engaged in acts of violence aimed at Israelis. “There is no other explanation.”

Speaking to the United Nations in September, Abbas accused Israel of threatening Palestinian religious rights at the Temple Mount, a charge Israel vehemently denies. Earlier in the month, in an interview on Palestinian television, Abbas said: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem.” Speaking about the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, he said Israelis “have no right to dirty it with their filthy feet.”

In October, Abbas falsely claimed in a speech that Israeli forces killed a 13-year-old Palestinian who had attempted a stabbing. In fact, the boy was recovering in an Israeli hospital.

This kind of language, says Eran Lerman, a former deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council, is endemic to the Palestinian leadership.

“In the Palestinian domestic arena, the more virulent you are, the more influential you’re likely to be,” said Lerman, a fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He said attackers “continue to draw encouragement from a climate of incitement, and in this respect there’s no question that the P.A.’s behavior is a contributing factor.”

Abbas in particular has seen his influence decline. An October poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that nearly two-thirds of Palestinians want him to resign. The same poll found a majority of Palestinians calling the P.A. a “burden on the Palestinian people” and two-thirds accusing it of insufficient action against “settlers’ terrorism.” A majority of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada.

“He said some pretty bad things in his recent speech. He shouldn’t have said some of the things he said,” said Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, a joint Israeli-Palestinian think tank, referring to Abbas’ U.N. address.

“But he’s talking to his home audience,” Baskin added. “Now he’s facing a situation where he has little legitimacy on the ground. Most people think he should pack up and go. He’s holding onto whatever legitimacy he can gather.”

But even if Abbas were to take a more dovish tack, says Elias Zananiri, deputy chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, there’s little he could do to stop the violence. The Palestinian Authority, Zananiri said, has little control over what have, in many cases, been lone wolf attacks by young men.

“It’s not an organized campaign against Israel,” he said. “It’s boys going to school, [and] on the way back from school they try to stab an Israeli. That’s a question that’s far beyond everybody, not just President Abbas.”

PA condemns Israel for killing 2 Palestinian attackers

The Palestinian Authority condemned Israel for the killing of two Palestinian attackers in Jerusalem and called on the United Nations to intervene to protect its citizens.

In a statement published Sunday on the website of the Wafa Palestinian news and information agency, the P.A. called on the international community to intervene following “the killing of two young men in occupied Jerusalem and the series of incursions into cities and villages in the West Bank.”

The statement by P.A. government spokesman Ihab Bseiso did not say that the two Palestinian men were killed by Israeli security services in the wake of attacks on Jewish-Israelis.

Muhannad Shafeq Halabi, 19, a law student from the al-Bireh village near Ramallah in the West Bank, killed two Jewish-Israeli men on Saturday night in the Old City of Jerusalem in a stabbing attack. He was killed in a shootout with Israeli troops after he grabbed one of his victim’s guns and started firing.

Fadi Aloon, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, was killed Sunday morning while being pursued by Israeli police officers after stabbing a 15-year-old Israeli teen in Jerusalem.

“The only solution is the end of the Israeli occupation of our occupied Palestinian land and the establishment of our independent state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” Bseiso said in his statement, according to Wafa.

On Sunday, the Israel Police announced that Palestinians would be banned from the Old City for two days in the wake of the stabbing attacks.

Israeli injured in West Bank drive-by shooting

A Jewish-Israeli man was injured in a drive-by shooting in the northern West Bank.

The car of the victim, who lives in an Israeli settlement, was fired upon Sunday near the Kedumim settlement. The victim received emergency treatment at the scene for an injury to his hand before being taken to a hospital in Kfar Saba some 45 minutes away, according to reports.

The attackers drove on to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Israel Radio reported.

On Saturday night, a soldier was moderately injured near a checkpoint in Hebron, also in the West Bank, when he was intentionally rammed by a car. The driver has not been apprehended.

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.

Armed Palestinian police expand security control

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

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

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

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

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

How Bibi could surprise the world

When the eyes of the world are on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu on March 3 as he speaks to the U.S. Congress, he’ll have an opportunity to shock them all – Congressmen, Israeli voters, the foreign press, European leaders, Arab dictators, the United Nations and President Barack Obama.

He won’t shock them with his widely anticipated message about the dangers of making a bad deal with Iran. That message is hugely important and must be shared, but that cat’s already out of the bag.

As I touched on in my last column, the political uproar over “Bibigate” has had an unintended consequence – it has broadened the debate. We’re no longer talking just about tougher sanctions against Iran in case an agreement isn’t reached, or the president’s threats to veto such sanctions. 

We’re now talking about the agreement itself. We’re talking about strategy, about the danger of rushing headlong into what Israeli author Ari Shavit last week called “Obama and Khamenei’s disastrous deal.”

Bibi’s speech will milk this. He will rail against the number of centrifuges inside Iran, but also against the growing number of terror states under Iran’s umbrella. He will rail against allowing the chaos in the Middle East to turn a predatory Iran into an ally of the West. He will warn of the dangers of starting a nuclear arms race in the world’s most explosive and unstable neighborhood.

For Bibi to reach greatness, he’ll have to add something new, something epic, something totally unexpected.

In short, Bibi’s address will reinforce a message of risk – the risk of basing a grand bargain with an evil regime on the hope that that regime can, in time, become less evil.

But as crucial as that message will be – and I believe it’s the most crucial foreign policy message of our time – it’s already being delivered by others, and it’s what everyone is expecting to hear. For Bibi to reach greatness, he’ll have to add something new, something epic, something totally unexpected.

Something that will reward the Democratic congressmen who attend the speech despite opposition from their own president.

Something that will belie his reputation as a political opportunist who’s using this high-profile forum to solidify his base back home, two weeks before national elections.

Something that will confront the albatross around Israel’s neck that is fueling the BDS movement and eroding Israel’s global standing.

On March 3, to really shake up the world, Bibi will have to commit to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative and make a serious announcement regarding settlements.

Here’s what I propose: Assuming he remains prime minister, Bibi would invite the Palestinian Authority (PA) back to the negotiating table, and, while negotiations are ongoing, commit to freezing construction in West Bank settlements outside of the main settlement blocs.

Yes, I know, this will lead to a few coronary attacks in his Likud party and make his opponents on the far right salivate. But it would also transform Bibi into a global leader, one with the courage to challenge his own base and risk his political future for the good of his country.

And make no mistake – this would be good for Israel. Even if you believe Israeli settlements are not illegal (as I do), the hard reality is that Israel has lost that argument with much of the world. That reality, however, presents an opportunity: A concrete gesture regarding settlements will disarm our enemies. Why? Because that’s pretty much all they’ve got on Israel. 

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has been cleaning Israel’s clock for years now with the diplomatic bomb of Israeli settlements. Think of how depressed he would be after this announcement, deprived of that most precious weapon with which to batter the Jewish state.

And no, this would not be like the previous freeze. This would be initiated by Israel and would be conditional—they don’t negotiate, Israel doesn’t freeze. How do you beat that for an incentive?

Think also of the U.S. Congress, the most powerful legislature in history and Israel’s greatest friend. Sadly, we’re seeing some of this bipartisan support start to fray. I can’t think of a better way to reinforce that support than to give the Democrats and President Obama a diplomatic initiative they could willingly embrace.

This is not about naively pushing for a peace deal – everyone knows that’s a pipe dream right now. It’s more about demonstrating intent and good will. This good will would surely come in handy when Israel needs maximum congressional support as the zero hour approaches on the nuclear deal with Iran. 

There’s been more than enough bad blood surrounding Bibi’s speech. The differences between Bibi and Obama on Iran are serious and real. On March 3, as he expounds on these differences in front of the world, it wouldn’t hurt to spring a sweet surprise.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Indyck “cracks the whip” on Israel

As Yom Kippur sermons go, Martin Indyk's was a doozy. Speaking at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C. on the holiest day of the Jewish year, the former U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations accused Israel of showing “total disrespect” for the Obama administration.

Indyk said many things in his Yom Kippur address with which one might take issue, but one analogy in particular stands out as especially disturbing.

He said that he “discovered” in the most recent round of failed negotiations “that we would crack the whip, but no one was responding to our whip cracks. That's a change.”

How disappointing for Indyk. Those who recall his days as U.S. ambassador to Israel no doubt feel a sense of deja vu when they hear Indyk talking about whips. Here is how he described his role in Israel to the Washington Post back on February 24, 1997:  “The image that comes to mind is a circus master. All these players in the ring. We crack the whip and get them to move around in an orderly fashion.”

Ironic, isn't it? The ex-diplomat who accuses Israel of being “disrespectful” has repeatedly compared the Israelis to circus animals who need to have some sense whipped into them. And when the dumb brutes don't respond, Indyk the circus master is outraged and lashes out at his victims.

The irony goes further. Indyk served a president who has made almost a hobby of being disrespectful to Israel's prime minister. Nobody can forget the time that President Obama deliberately left Prime Minister Netanyahu waiting for an hour and a half, while he went off to have dinner with Michelle and the kids. Or the infamous photo that the White House released of President Obama with his feet on his desk as he spoke by phone with Netanyahu. 

Not to mention just last week, when Mr. Obama repeatedly referred to Netanyahu as “Bibi,” while Netanyahu, by contrast, appropriately referred to Obama as “Mr. President.” In an earlier era, perhaps someone could complain that it was difficult for an American president to pronounce a name such as “Menachem.” But how hard would it have been for President Obama to pronounce the name “Benjamin” ?

If the U.S.-Israel relationship is indeed “in trouble,” as Ambassador Indyk claimed in his Adas Israel speech, the reason is not that Israelis are being “disrespectful,” which Indyk claims to be “really, really disturbed by.”

The reason is that the Obama Administration's policymakers, starting with the president and going all the way down the line to envoys such as Indyk, automatically blame Israel for everything and the Palestinians for nothing.

They denounce Israel for construction within existing Jewish towns in Judea-Samaria, but never criticize the Palestinian Authority for building entire new Arab cities there. They denounce Israel for building homes in Jerusalem, yet they never say anything about the widespread illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem. 

Nor do they ever say a word about the truly “disrespectful” actions by the PA toward the United States, such as paying salaries to imprisoned terrorists who have murdered Americans, or naming streets, parks and soccer tournaments after killers of Americans — including the killer of the niece of the late U.S. Senator Abraham Ribicoff. 

Just two weeks ago, both PA cabinet minister Yusuf Ida'is and the official PA news agency “WAFA” praised the killers of the three Israeli teenagers –one of whom was an American– as “Shahids,” or “martyrs.” And just a few weeks before that, the official PA daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published no less than five articles in a six-day period acusing the United States of creating ISIS in order to destabilize the Middle East.  (For details, see

It is precisely this Obama-Indyk attitude, which ignores the disrespectful actions of the PA, and accuses Israel of being “disrespectful” if it fails to respond to “whip cracks,” which threatens U.S.-Israel relations.

[Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America]

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.

Where is Obama on Hamas?

I can understand why President Barack Obama would be reluctant to blindly support Israel at times when Israel’s neighbors have major grievances against the Jewish state. It serves no one’s interest for America to appear overly biased toward Israel. Better to appear fair and reasonable.

What I can’t understand, though, is why Obama has not jumped at the opportunity to rally behind Israel when neighbors such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are clearly on the side of Israel on one major issue: the disarming of Hamas.

This is not a parlor game of “Who won the war?” It’s more serious than that.

Disarming Hamas is about the rehabilitation of Gaza after major devastation. It’s about rebuilding the infrastructure, building better schools and hospitals, opening up trade, creating jobs and an economy, and giving the Gazan people hope for a better future.

It’s about ending the terror of rockets and mortars raining down on Israel, and ending the fear of Israeli children living near the Gaza border that a Hamas terrorist may one day dig a tunnel under their bedrooms.

It’s about improving relations between Israel and the Palestinians by having the PA control the Gaza strip and coordinate security with the Israel Defense Forces — as they’ve done so successfully in the West Bank. No matter how suspicious you may be of Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, they’re still far better than religious fanatics who believe that murdering Jews is doing God’s work. 

It’s about nurturing a closer relationship between Israel and powerful players such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the hope of creating an anti-terror coalition that can contain the violent Islamist extremism now sweeping the region.

It’s about showing the nuclear mullahs in Iran that we will stand up to their proxy wars against Israel via the likes of Hezbollah and Hamas.

It’s about America making a statement to the world that despite all the complexities of geopolitics, there should be no confusion when it comes to calling out evil. A Hamas charter that promotes the murder of Jews is exactly that — evil.

In short, this is about a unique chance for President Obama to fight the evil of Hamas by bringing together the more moderate forces in the Middle East. You would think, then, that the president would be all over this. You’d think, for example, that he’d be using all this “Arab leverage” to push for a United Nations Security Council resolution to disarm Hamas as a precondition for rebuilding the Gaza Strip. 

After all, this isn’t one of those risky or unpopular ideas — like putting American boots on the ground or being the lone defender of Israel against a hostile world. This is about Obama doing something very popular with plenty of important allies.

In fairness, the Obama administration has repeatedly expressed its support for the demilitarization of Gaza. But words, even the right words repeated often, are not enough. It’s time for real action. It’s time to go to the U.N. Security Council. 

We can only hope that the president has this idea up his sleeve, and that he will act aggressively on this issue. But it was disheartening to read a report on JPost this past weekend, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told associates that demilitarization of the Gaza Strip “doesn’t appear to be attainable in either the short term or the long term.”

Let’s acknowledge that the United Nations is never a picnic for Israel. As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel, “The U.N. drafting process — much of it driven by Israel’s enemies … would see language and assertions added to the resolution that run counter to Israel’s interests.”

The only party that can ensure the move doesn’t backfire on Israel, he writes, is America: “Through its veto and its alliances, the U.S. would find it far easier than Israel to shepherd a disarmament resolution through the Security Council that Israel could stomach.”

At a time of unusual darkness in the Middle East, what a ray of sunshine this would be: The United States shepherds a U.N. resolution that fights extremism and helps its allies in the Middle East.

The American-Jewish community, including AIPAC and J Street, must seize the moment and rally behind this one unifying cause: “Disarm Hamas and rebuild Gaza.”

How often do we get a chance to promote a cause that is supported by both the Jews and the Palestinians?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Hamas’ global support network must be targeted

The recent Gaza conflict again has revealed that Hamas is not alone in its campaign against Israel. It has a vast and diverse terrorist network that supplies it with the resources it needs to carry out its destructive objectives. This web of terror must be targeted. It is the only way to prevent Hamas from rearming and of ensuring sustained calm.

Not shy about the terrorist collaboration, Iran’s Deputy Minister for Arab and Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, recently underscored they “regularly support Hamas … and all factions of the Palestinian resistance” and that the regime had been in constant communication with Hamas leaders. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei exhorted the Muslim world to support Hamas and provide weapons to use against Israel. And Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Iran’s Al-Alam news network that the regime will provide weapons and technology to groups attacking Israel.

U.S. officials have confirmed Iran has been providing funds to Hamas and helping its militarization. This is part of Tehran’s modus operandi. Yet, U.S. and European sanctions on Iran were eased again last month. The deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was extended until November and the two pillar threats — terrorism and proliferation — are being treated as distinct from each other, rather than intertwined. This must be corrected. Pressure on the regime in Tehran, its surrogates and enablers must be increased, not reduced.

Iran, however, is not Hamas’ only arms supplier. The foreign terrorist group is reportedly looking to another reliable ally, North Korea, to replenish its weapons stockpiles and provide it with mission-critical communications equipment. If true, Hamas and the trading company reportedly brokering the deal could be subject to sanctions under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). This U.S. law requires punitive action against entities or individuals who transfer to or acquire from North Korea, in this instance, military or proliferation-related equipment or technology listed under myriad international agreements.

Pyongyang’s relationship with Islamist militants is not new. It has a long history of selling arms in the Middle East, including a cache of grenades, missiles, rocket launchers and other armaments bound for Iran that was seized at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport in December 2009. Also, it was revealed in a recent U.S. Federal Court decision that North Korea, in coordination with Iran and Syria, had provided material support to Hezbollah, including advanced weaponry and assistance building underground tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks in 2006 against Israel.  

North Korea’s pivotal role in the global terrorist network also includes providing ballistic missile technology and expertise to Iran and aiding Syria’s missile and covert nuclear activities. The Al-Kibar nuclear facility, for example, was built by the Syrian regime with Pyongyang’s help and followed a model North Korea used as part of its nuclear weapons program.

This evidence, combined with new revelations about a potential arms deal with Hamas, requires North Korea’s redesignation by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. This must be followed by immediate action targeting the convergence of terrorism and proliferation involving Pyongyang, Tehran, Hamas and Hezbollah. The European Council and United Nations should follow suit and impose punitive measures against Hamas, as well as North Korea and others aiding and abetting Palestinian terrorists and threatening global peace and security. The Palestinian Authority (PA) should be required to disavow and sever all ties to Hamas and all other Islamist militant groups, or be sanctioned as a terrorist enabler and supporter. For the U.S. Congress, this means suspending aid to, or through, the PA until the conditions set forth in various U.S. laws are fully met. 

The Gaza conflict may appear to be an isolated confrontation between Israel and Hamas, but it is part of a larger terrorist plot. The global response must, therefore, reflect an understanding of the interdependence among Islamist militants, their supporters and their state sponsors, and of how policies against one bad actor can affect  the others.

Yleem D.S. Poblete is former chief of staff to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs and is currently a fellow at The Catholic University of America. Dennis P. Halpin is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and former adviser on Asian issues to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. During their Capitol Hill tenure, Poblete and Halpin were responsible for numerous bills on Iran, Syria and North Korea that were enacted into law.

How does Israel know Hamas is responsible for the kidnappings?

In the weeks since the Israeli government learned of the kidnappings of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, its military and intelligence sources have worked tirelessly to piece together the puzzle of what happened, where it happened and precisely how it happened.

One piece of the puzzle, though — who did it — appears to have been clear since the beginning, according to Israeli government officials. They have named two Hamas operatives — Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha — as the kidnappers and murderers of the three teenage boys, and say the two were acting — explicitly or implicitly — on orders from Hamas’ leadership. The whereabouts of both men are currently unknown.

Coming just weeks after the formation of a Hamas-Palestinian Authority (PA) unity government, Israel’s accusation that Hamas orchestrated the triple murder reinforces its position that Western nations must pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to break all ties with Hamas if he wants peace with Israel.

On June 13, shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Hamas was behind the kidnapping, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said in an interview with the Journal that Hamas’ involvement ought to prompt the Obama administration to cut its annual aid allocation of $400 million to the PA until it breaks with Hamas.

On the same day, David Siegel, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, also said there was “no doubt” the kidnappings was a Hamas operation, but would not elaborate on the evidence for his statement. And in an interview on June 30, just hours after the boys’ bodies were found under a pile of rocks in a field north of Hebron, Siegel stressed again that the murders were not the work of lone Hamas operatives.

“I can tell you that there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Hamas is squarely behind this — as an organization,” Siegel said. Again, though, he said he could not disclose how the Israeli government knows that Qawasmeh and Aisha were acting with the approval of, or under the direction of, Hamas’ top brass.

Danon, who posted on his Facebook page on June 30 that the murders should mean “the end of Hamas,” took a less definitive stance than Siegel on whether Hamas, as a group, ordered the abduction, but said on July 1 that, from Israel’s perspective, it doesn’t matter.

“They were Hamas activists for years,” Danon said of the suspects. “They were arrested for being involved in terrorist activities in the past — all the [people] around them are Hamas activists. So it doesn’t matter whether they got the direct order a week ago [or] a year ago. But the fact that they belong to the Hamas organization speaks for itself,” Danon said.

Danon said he hopes the murders will “make it very clear” to Americans that their government is allowing “the taxpayer money of U.S. citizens to be used to support terrorist activities against Israelis.”

An outspoken opponent of recent lopsided trades of Palestinian prisoners for abducted Israelis or as a precondition to negotiations, Danon called upon Netanyahu to respond to these murders in a manner similar to how former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded to the Passover bombings at Netanya’s Park Hotel in 2002, in which a Hamas suicide bomber — disguised as a woman — blew himself up, murdering 30 Israeli civilians and wounding 140, most of them elderly.

On the day following that attack, Israeli forces launched Operation Defensive Shield, a five-week operation in the West Bank that targeted key members of Hamas and the PA (known then as Fatah) and severely restricted the ability of terrorist cells to operate.

“I think it’s now the time to declare a war against Hamas,” the deputy defense minister said, adding that he wants the Israeli military to immediately expand operations in the West Bank. “We should crack down on the Hamas infrastructure, including the civilian infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.”

In a phone call from Israel at 4 a.m., Jonathan Schachter, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said that whether or not Qawasmeh and Aisha were taking orders or working on their own accord is a “distinction without a difference,” adding in a follow-up email that Hamas bears the responsibility for the actions of terrorists with whom it is affiliated.

“You have this pact that President Abbas signed with Hamas, and from there you get expanded Hamas activity in the West Bank, so there’s nothing surprising about this attack,” Schachter said. “Hamas is behind this attack, is responsible for this attack, and as the prime minister said earlier this evening, Hamas will pay.”

The night after the teenagers’ bodies were found, the Israeli Air Force bombed 34 sites in Gaza. Those operations, according to the military, were a response to a recent uptick in Hamas rocket attacks against Israel.

A Palestinian man inspects what police said was a chicken coop damaged in a nearby Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip on June 29. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Matthew Levitt, a Middle East expert for the Washington Institute, is not surprised that Israel’s government has been more or less mum regarding who among Hamas’ leadership had knowledge of the kidnappings.

“Hamas lays out these larger operational guidelines,” Levitt said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “Even if there was no Hamas individual who told these people, ‘Go kidnap these three people in Gush Etzion right now’ — this is something that was very much tied to Hamas leadership. There’s really no question about that.”

He added that certain “operational considerations” could preclude Israeli officials from going public with its full slate of evidence — which may include, he said, indications that Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas operative now living openly in Turkey, had direct connections to the kidnappers.

A fire worker inspects the family home of an alleged abductor after a blast on the top floor in Hebron on July 1. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Some analysts have suggested Hamas’ willingness to partner with the PA, its rival organization within Palestinian society, had indicated that it was desperate for legitimacy and money following the closure of tunnels into Gaza and the fall of the pro-Hamas Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt.

Levitt said the kidnappings may have been an attempt by Hamas to improve its reputation among Palestinians. “Hamas is trying very hard to resurrect its status as a ‘resistance’ organization, and kidnapping is seen among many Palestinians as something legitimate — it’s not like a suicide bombing,” Levitt said. He argued Hamas’ failure to admit responsibility is only further evidence of its vulnerability, and any claim to that effect would only put them “even more in the crosshairs” of Israel’s military.

“There’s absolutely no benefit to Hamas claiming credit,” he said. “There are no kidnapped people to trade; there are no bodies of dead kidnapped people to trade.”

In an email to the Journal, Schachter said Israel’s “ongoing operation” will “strike at the Hamas infrastructure — which helped make the kidnapping possible — in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“The hunt for the boys’ killers is ongoing,” Schachter wrote. “Once they and their accomplices have been brought to justice, Israeli authorities will be able to publicly release additional evidence.”

You can follow Jared Sichel on Twitter 

Turkey’s prime minister set to visit Gaza

This story originally appeared on

Political observers in Turkey expect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reaffirm his support for Palestinians with a visit this month to Gaza, marking the third anniversary of a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish aid flotilla bound for the disputed territory

Israeli forces stormed the vessel, the 'Mavi Marmara,' killing nine Turkish activists, including a Turkish-American in 2010. Dozens of others were injured. The ship was attempting to breach a naval blockade of Gaza.

In March, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a long-awaited apology for the raid to his Turkish counterpart in March. Following the apology, Turkey's relations with Israel began to normalize. Israel has agreed to pay compensation to Turkey and the two sides have worked out a draft agreement.

Despite mending its relationship with Israel, Turkey has also focused new attention on its friendship with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Turkey continues efforts to build a hospital in Gaza and manage infrastructure and trade deals vital to the PA.

Even as Turkey's relations with Israel soured, trade between Turkey and the PA increased following a free trade agreement between the two signed in 2004.

In 2011 trade between Turkey and the PA increased 21 percent to $49 million, according to the most recent available data from the Turkish Ministry of Economy. Almost all of the trade was exports to the PA, mostly industrial and cooking supplies, according to the Palestine Trade Center, a Ramallah-based trade group.

The PA has sought to position itself as an emerging market for investors in Turkey and other countries, and Turkey is firmly positioned as the PA's second-largest trading partner after Israel.

Yet data on which Turkish corporations are investing or beginning business operations in the PA are limited. Turkey's largest trade group, the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, declined to comment on the role of any of the country's 1.7 million companies in the PA.

“I don't think any reasonable corporation or person would want to put a dime into Gaza” because of the risks, Dr. Hossein Askari, a professor and Middle East economic expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told The Media Line.

However, some corporations have found a footing in the PA, despite the risks there.

The Istanbul-based Eurasia operations of Coca-Cola have long had a presence there with a locally-owned franchisee overseeing three bottling plants and four sales and distribution centers, corporate spokesman Dana Bolden said in an e-mailed statement.

Foreign leaders including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have praised Coke's efforts in the disputed territories as promoting economic development and furthering peace.

“Improved economic conditions are a necessary part of achieving a sustainable PA and The Coca-Cola Company is committed to investing in sustainable communities wherever we do business,” Bolden said.

But analysts say Turkey's state-funded trade and investment in Gaza and the West Bank and its corporate encouragement could be more than just good will.

“I have long felt that Turkey's drive, in my view, is looking increasingly towards the East instead of to the West,” said Askari. “By looking eastward and establishing its hegemony in that whole region there will be much more bargaining power with Europe.”

Turkey has recently renewed talks to join the European Union, and is one of Europe's fastest growing economies. Turkey hopes by investing in the PA it will earn a larger stake in the Middle East as well, as the collapse of Syria threatens regional stability,  Askari said.

But Turkey's move towards Gaza has angered some foreign governments.

Gaza is controlled by Hamas, recognized as a foreign terrorist group by the US.

Kerry had urged Erdoğan to postpone his trip to Gaza while Turkey's relationship with Israel is repaired.

“The prime minister obviously has a right to make decisions about what he does and where he goes, but it was our feeling in a constructive way that we thought that the timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process that we’re trying to get off the ground,” Kerry said during an April visit to Istanbul.

Instead, Turkish authorities announced they would continue preparations for the visit to take place after Erdoğan visits US President Barack Obama in Washington later this month.

World Bank: Palestinian economy in decline

During President Obama’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA)  next week, he will visit the West Bank towns of Ramallah, where he will meet PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, and Bethlehem, to see the Church of the Nativity. A new report by the World Bank says he will see an economy that is in steady decline and losing its competetiveness.

The World Bank published its report ahead of a forum of donors to the Palestinian Authority in Brussels next week. It said the deterioration of the Palestinian economy “will have lasting and costly implications for economic competitiveness and social cohesion.”

The report blames Israel for its economic restrictions, lack of freedom of movement, and prolonged closures. Israel says its restrictions are solely for security. The report says the PA

“Continued financial support by the donor community, and increased reform efforts by the PA to manage the current fiscal challenges must remain a high priority,” Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for the West Bank and Gaza told The Media Line. “However, such bolder efforts to create the basis for a viable economy need to be made to prevent the continued deterioration that will have lasting and costly implications for economic competitiveness and social cohesion.”

The economy could lose its ability to compete in the global market. The productivity of the agricultural sector has been cut in half since the late 1990’s, and the manufacturing sector has stagnated. In Gaza, the quality of infrastructure in sectors like water and transportation is declining.

Unemployment among university graduates is close to 30 percent and Palestinian society is facing a growing brain drain.

“What is their option but to look for job opportunities abroad?” Naser Abdelkarim, a professor of economics at Birzeit University told The Media Line. “They simply leave the West bank and Gaza. If you want to let young people stay you must offer them hope for a better future.”

Part of the problem has to do with the world recession and the slowing of economic activity in Israel. The report also says that donor countries have not paid their pledges to the PA, leaving them unable to pay the salaries of civil servants.

Israel has also contributed to the problem by holding some $100 million it collects in customs and tax revenues on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The PA also has large debts to banks and suppliers.

Economic growth is also down, from 11 percent in 2010 and 2011 to 6.1 percent in 2012. While those numbers are positive, especially in comparison to growth rates in Europe, most of it is fueled by donors which is not sustainable in the long – term.

The future of the Palestinian economy is expected to be on the agenda when President Obama sits down with President Abbas. Palestinians say the political issue and the economic reality are intertwined.

“It must come up in the meetings because you cannot talk about a political settlement of the conflict without talking first about living conditions of the Palestinians,” Professor Abdelkarim said. “I expect that the Israeli restrictions of our economy will come up too. Unemployment is also linked to the political issue.’

EU condemns Israeli settlements, seizure of PA funds

The European Union (EU) called on Israel to cancel planned construction in West Bank settlements and “avoid any step undermining the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority” (PA).

The EU made the appeal in a document published Dec. 11 titled “Council Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process,” which came out of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels the previous day.

Last week, Israel said it would withhold approximately $100 million in tax revenues that it had collected for the PA.

“Such action by Israel would undermine existing cooperation mechanisms” and “negatively affect the prospects of negotiations,” the document read.

The money freeze came after the United Nations General Assembly voted on Nov. 29 to upgrade the Palestinian U.N. status to nonmember state observer, against Israel’s wishes and those of the United States. In the EU, only the Czech Republic voted against the upgrade. The EU document called on the PA to “use constructively” the new status. 

“Israel regrets the one-sided wording of the EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions,” a statement on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Web site read. “The root cause of the absence of a peace accord is the Palestinian refusal to engage in direct negotiations.”

The statement went on to say, “This one-sided position taken by the E.U. rewards rejectionism and does not contribute to promoting a permanent peace agreement.”

The EU text also said the EU was “deeply dismayed by and strongly opposes” recently announced plans by the Israeli government to construct 3,000 housing units in the West Bank. Some of the homes are to be built in the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.

“The E1 plan, if implemented, would seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict by jeopardizing the possibility of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” the document said.

The document also called on both parties to start direct talks with no preconditions on a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. 

The document came a day after the EU was named the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for “what the European Union means for peace in Europe,” said Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Abbas seeks talks if Israel halts West Bank construction

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly said he wanted to negotiate with Israel it if freezes construction for six months in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Abbas made the statement on Sunday in Qatar during a meeting of Arab League nations in Doha, The Jerusalem Post reported. He was responding to statements by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasem al-Thani calling on Arab nations to reconsider their 2002 peace initiative.

Arab nations should be “keeping the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative on the table,” Abbas said, adding, “We want to discuss with you a mechanism that would lead to an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab territories, including Jerusalem, the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and halting settlement construction.”

“If this happens, there could be feasible negotiations. Also, we could return to the point where we stopped during the era of Ehud Olmert’s government, when we put all the final-status issues on the table. We reached many understandings on over these issues.”

Abbas said the two sides had reached understandings on the borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.

The PA leader also urged Arab nations to provide financial assistance to cover a new monthly $100 million budgetary shortfall after the United Nations General Assembly voted to enhance the Palestinians' statehood status — the result of a punitive Israeli measure.

‘‘We are in a collapsing state now. We can’t pay our salaries. So you have to offer this safety net,” Abbas told the Arab League delegates. “Do you agree, are you committed and how much will you pledge? We have to know your position soon.’’

Rabbi Mordecai Finley: Peace and protection

I have tried to figure out why Rabbi Sharon Brous’ thoughts left me empty when I read them. As Rabbi Daniel Gordis has written, there is nothing objectionable in them. In fact, as I read her e-mail word-for-word many times, I found that I agreed with her completely regarding empathy for Palestinians. I have uttered nearly those precise words, word-for-word. 

I think what disturbed me was what she left out, her exhortation on what to feel, and her timing. 

Here is a small example of the first: “I believe that the Israeli people, who have for years endured a barrage of rocket attacks targeting innocents and designed to create terror, instability and havoc, have the right and the obligation to defend themselves. I also believe that the Palestinian people, both in Gaza and the West Bank, have suffered terribly and deserve to live full and dignified lives.”

This seems to be a nuanced expression of two sides of an issue — on one hand, on the other — but what exactly is the issue, at least in passing? There is no ethical statement here. I know that my friends on the  left are not reticent to offer ethical critique when it is due, but why not here? These words make it sound as if two groups of people have suffered from a natural disaster, unnamed. 

What is left out is the ultimate source of Israeli and Palestinian suffering. Many of us believe that while various Israeli governments have made mistakes, some of them wretched, the ultimate source of Palestinian suffering, since the attempt to eradicate the Jewish state in 1948, has been implacable hatred. 

Another example of what is left out:  The idea “that the best way for Israel to diminish the potency of Hamas — which poses a genuine threat to Israel — is to engage earnestly and immediately in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority” is a strategy that is at least questionable. 

This seems to imply that success of the negotiations, which would supposedly diminish the potency of Hamas, is entirely up to Israel. What if the Palestinian Authority (PA) refuses to negotiate earnestly? And what if the PA does sincerely give up the right to return, does agree to border adjustments, etc., and this does not diminish the potency of Hamas, but rather strengthens Hamas (as it likely will, in my opinion)? Those who call for the eradication of the Zionist Entity enjoy a great popularity. What if Hamas wins the next round of elections in the West Bank?

I would agree that a long-term strategy is to engage in earnest and immediate peace negotiations, realizing that the PA must also negotiate earnestly (why is the condition that PA must negotiate in earnest left out?). And we must realize that even earnest bilateral negotiations with the PA might not bring around Hamas, and its supporters — the Muslim Brotherhood and the theocratic thugs in Tehran, to name a couple. 

My second problem with the words of Rabbi Brous is her exhortation on what to feel. We are told that it is critical to witness with empathy and grace. By implication, we are told to escape our “deeply entrenched narrative” and not diminish the losses on the other side, and not to gloat. 

This is not moral advice on what to do; this is advice on how to feel, on what attitude to have. We asked to be balanced in our feelings, to see things from a universalist approach, as Rabbi Gordis has described it. To paraphrase a recent post by Rabbi Michele Sullum in support of Rabbi Brous, the universalist approach is the perspective required of the angels. When the Egyptians are drowning at the Sea of Reeds, God rebukes the rejoicing angels, saying that the Egyptians are God’s children, too. 

I don’t have children in Tsahal, as does Rabbi Gordis, but our daughter lives on a moshav — a cooperative agricultural settlement — about seven miles from the border of Gaza, in the hard-hit Eshkol region (she will be inducted into the Israeli army soon). She was on the moshav until the last day of shelling, when she took the bus up to Tel Aviv to military headquarters for further classification. The bus blown up by Hamas was only about 10 blocks from her.  

When they are trying to kill my daughter (really, and as a symbol for all Israelis), I wish for our leaders to acknowledge our dread, the crushing fear in the core of our being that one of those mortar shells will land on one of our children. When they are shooting at the children of Israel, I need a Miriam, a Moses to address my emotions, not God’s recommendation to the angels. Remember: God does not rebuke Miriam and Moses for rejoicing that God has destroyed the Egyptian army. God did it for them. That rejoicing is enshrined in our daily liturgy. Universalism has its honored place in our tradition. So does attachment and concern for one’s people. There is a time for each. 

There is no joy or gloating in Zion, no dancing in the streets, or in any part of the Jewish world that I can see, at the death of Palestinians. There is the simple relief that many of those who have been trying to kill Israelis have been killed themselves.

There is a resolute will to fight terror and not tolerate Israeli citizens living under the threat of terror. Here is how I feel:  I am enormously grateful to and proud of the bravery, skill and conscience of the Israeli military forces, air, sea and ground, who have dealt a heavy blow to Hamas in defense of our people, all the while trying as much as is humanly possible to minimize civilian casualties 

Third:  The timing of the exhortation on how to feel, for empathy and grace, made me cringe. I will tell you what is obvious:  There were people trying, God forbid, to kill our daughter. It felt horrible. Our nephew is in Tsahal; he was on the border. They were trying to kill him, too. And Tsahal was trying to kill those who were trying to kill our daughter. Those who were trying to kill our daughter often place their rocket launchers among civilians. I feel sorry, very sorry, for those civilians.

My sadness for them is not greater than the dread that they would kill our daughter. Those innocent Palestinians should blame Hamas, not Israel, for placing their rocket launchers in civilian areas and shooting them at my daughter (my daughter here symbolizing all my people in Israel. They are my family). I wanted to kill those firing mortars at our daughter with my bare hands. I was ripped with dread and anger. During the bombings, I was nowhere near able to witness with empathy and grace. Was I really supposed to?

Now that there is a cease-fire, I feel deep empathy for the suffering of innocent Palestinians (though the celebrating and gloating sicken me). They are victims of Hamas, too. But while the rockets were being fired, that instruction for empathy left me empty.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and Professor of Jewish Thought at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.

More on the compassion controversy: 

Americans for Peace Now backs Palestinian U.N. bid

Americans for Peace Now called on President Obama to support the Palestinians’ bid to upgrade their status in the United Nations to non-member observer state.

The stance by the left-wing group issued in a statement Tuesday places it at odds with others in the pro-Israel community. The statement by the group's president and CEO, Debra DeLee, was issued two days ahead of the anticipated vote in the U.N. General Assembly on the Palestinians' application for enhanced status.

“In the wake of the latest Gaza War, we believe the international community, led by the Obama administration, must take urgent action to restore faith in a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” DeLee wrote.

A number of major Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith International, oppose the bid and are lobbying against it among U.N. member nations.

Some leading lawmakers in Congress have threatened to cut assistance to the Palestinian Authority should its affiliated Palestine Liberation Organization press ahead with the bid.

J Street, also a left-wing pro-Israel group, released a position paper that did not take a position on the bid but pledged to oppose any effort to penalize the Palestinians for making it.

DeLee called on “all nations, including the United States and Israel,” to endorse the Palestinians’ request and “should likewise refrain from and reject punitive measures against the Palestinians in the wake of this initiative, including efforts by Israel or any other party to exploit this initiative as a pretext for actions that further erode the possibility of peace.”

APN's Israeli sister group, Peace Now, expressed similar support for the bid in a letter to Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman.

The PLO was rebuffed last year in its bid to have the U.N. Security Council recognize Palestine as a state; the United States successfully lobbied against the move, threatening to use its veto.

There is no such veto in the General Assembly, where the Palestinians have an assured majority. Observer state status does not carry with it the privileges of full membership; observers must still apply to become members of U.N. constituent groups. The PLO is currently a non-member observer entity.

Israel-Gaza conflict: Low expectations

No one knows for sure why the Gaza hostilities began. 

We know that there had been weeks of intensifying rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, rockets fired by various Palestinian groups that were tolerated, even encouraged by the governing Hamas. And we know that the Israeli government had reached its limit of tolerance for such attacks, possibly, though not primarily, because elections are coming up, and the Israeli public wanted something done. We also know that what ignited the final escalation of this cycle of violence was Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military chief on Nov. 14. We know that, following every such action, a barrage of rockets can be expected. We know, as well, that such a barrage is invitation for even more retaliation, and so on and so forth. 

Israelis got a glimpse last week of the damage Hamas can inflict on Israel; they discovered that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are, indeed, within the reach of rockets from Gaza. That Hamas’ threats are no joke. But Israelis still don’t know why it all began. What was the calculus behind Hamas’ decision to allow and abet this growing harassment of Israeli civilians? What was the logic behind it, assuming there is some such logic? What was Hamas trying to achieve?

Not knowing Hamas’ goals is a problem for all those trying to assess Hamas’ ability to actually meet those goals. As this article was being written, attempts at negotiations were taking place to reach an agreement that would put an end to the fighting. Israelis will be happy if such agreement can end the barrage of rockets on its territory. Israeli leaders believe the country demonstrated last week that its citizens are willing to temporarily increase their own suffering in hope of getting a better long-term deal. And they also demonstrated the ability of Israel’s defensive tool — the Iron Dome — to dramatically decrease damage to Israel’s citizens in case of war. And that is an important message not just for Hamas, but also for all other potential attackers, such as Hezbollah and Iran. 

Of course, it is possible that Hamas had just miscalculated its way into this week of skirmishes; it is possible that its leaders did not quite understand that Israel had reached the boiling point. Back in 2006, when Ehud Olmert abruptly launched the second Lebanon war, it was widely assumed — even publicly admitted — by Hezbollah leaders that the other side didn’t see it coming. That Hassan Nasrallah believed he could kidnap Israeli soldiers and get away with it. So it’s possible that the leaders of Hamas are guilty of a similar misperception; it’s possible they didn’t expect the harsh response they got.

However, other possibilities must also be considered. Maybe Hamas needed the fight. Maybe it needed to reassert its presence as a player that can make things complicated for all parties just as the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, was going to the United Nations to get the coveted seat of an almost official member. Maybe Hamas was trying to send a message to a disappointing Egyptian government that had not yet proven itself to be the ally Hamas expected it to be. 

The raging events around Gaza are a distraction from more urgent matters engulfing the Middle East and threatening to turn 2013 into a year much more challenging and dramatic than the year that is about to end. Lost behind the Gaza headlines is the recent report that the Iranians have completed yet another step in building their nuclear program. Pushed aside from attention are the much more bloody — but repetitious — events in Syria. 

The nature of small wars such as the one involving Gaza is that the context is always overwhelmed by the details. Another siren, another rocket, another Israeli attack from the air, more reservists join the troops, more injured, and dead; the hours pass, the days pass, but after a while, it all becomes blurred and seems cyclical. Each rocket fired matters only the moment it hits, or, in most cases, misses. Each siren matters only for the couple of minutes until the danger is over. Most of the occurrences of the past week — which I write abut with the caveat of a Nov. 19 press time — were quickly forgotten, negligible in their impact on the larger scheme of things. 

The final outcome of the battle is what matters, and, strangely, while no one can quite explain why the war started, everyone has known from the outset how it is supposed to end: a cease fire, the return to the status quo. No more rockets fired at Israel; no attacks from the Israeli side. Until the next round. The Gaza pressure cooker had to let some steam off before returning to normal (which is hardly what people in most other countries would call “normal”).

There have been many complaints as the operation continued, related to the lack of “strategy” on the part of Israel (for some reason — maybe lack of expectations? — fewer such complaints were aimed at Hamas). These complaints have come mostly in two forms: 1.) that Israel should not fight a war against Hamas without coupling its effort with a parallel effort at advancing the peace process with the PA; and 2.) that it is time for Israel to abandon its policy of non-negotiation with Hamas and acknowledge reality — Hamas is here to stay.

These two alternative policies are both worthy of discussion, as long as one realizes that they contradict one another. If Israel negotiates with Hamas, it undermines the PA, the only partner Israel might have for a peace process. If Israel advances peace negotiations with the PA, it is likely to draw even more opposition from Hamas. Nevertheless, some serious people believe that at least one of the two options should be vigorously pursued by Israel, and some even believe that Israel can attempt to try both in parallel. At the bottom of these alternative policy paths, though, lie two assumptions that Israel doesn’t seem to accept, and hence doesn’t seem inclined to follow: 1.) that there’s no problem without solution, and 2.) that action is always preferable to inaction.

If one accepts these two assumptions, it is reasonable to be puzzled, even dismayed by Israel’s lack of “strategy.” It is clear, and not just in regard to the 2012 Gaza operation, that Israel operates under the supposition that no solution is currently available for the problem of Gaza and Hamas, and that inaction — in the larger sense — is indeed preferable to action. Israel believes that Hamas is an enemy with whom no negotiation can lead to resolution, and that this is a component of the larger problem of a Palestinian society that isn’t yet ready for peace. When Palestinians are ready — when they are ready not just to negotiate with Israel, but also to confront the radical factions within their own society — that will be the right time for an attempt at a resolution that demands action. But until then, Israel defies both above-mentioned assumptions: It believes that there’s no present agreement that will put an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and that the lack of a possible agreement makes a tense but quiet status quo the only thing it can hope to achieve. 

Hence, an operation with no “strategy.” A war of low intensity, but also of low expectations. An operation aimed at restoring a status quo that is far from satisfying to both Palestinians and Israelis. An operation that outsiders perceive with a measure of dismay: All this violence just to go back to what we had two months ago? All this violence, and no attempt to leverage it to achieve larger goals? 

The answer, sadly, is a resounding yes. The dead, the injured, the terrified, the heart-wrenching scenes, the scared innocents, the crying children, the wasted days, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, the shattered windows, the wasted resources, the sad realization that there’s no end — all this with no purpose other than to restore the status quo. That is what Israel wants for now. And as for Hamas: As I warned at the outset of this article, we have a problem with Hamas, beginning with the fact that we don’t quite understand what they want.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry: Oslo Accords could be canceled over Palestinians’ U.N. bid

A document being circulated by Israel's Foreign Ministry instructs its envoys to warn their host governments that the Oslo Accords could be canceled over the Palestinian Authority's attempt to upgrade its status at the United Nations.

The document, which says the possible upgrade to non-member state “would be considered a crossing of a red line,” reportedly also calls for “toppling” the regime of PA President Mahmoud Abbas if the proposal is approved, the French news agency AFP reported.

Abbas has said he will go to the U.N. General Assembly this month to ask that the Palestinians be upgraded to non-member state status.

The document also recommends offering the Palestinians immediate recognition of statehood along provisional borders for a transition period, according to Haaretz.

“In the event that the Palestinians give up going to the UN, Israel must reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority for a Palestinian state along provisional borders, during a transition period — until the stabilization of the Arab world, new elections in the Palestinian Authority, and a clarification of the relations between the West Bank and Gaza,” the document obtained by Haaretz reads.

The Palestinians currently are considered an observer “entity” at the United Nations. Acceptance of the Palestinians as a non-member state, similar to the Vatican's U.N. status, could grant the Palestinians access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they could file complaints against Israel.

The status upgrade seems certain to win approval in any vote in the General Assembly, which is composed mostly of post-colonial states historically sympathetic to the Palestinians. Palestinian diplomats also are courting European countries to further burnish their case.

The Palestinian Authority last year sought full U.N. membership. The bid failed because of U.S. opposition in the U.N. Security Council.

“Observer status” does not need approval of the Security Council, where the United States wields a veto.

The Palestinian great escape?

Abdullah Ashee, a 45-year old investor, is wanted in the West Bank for alleged fraud. But two years ago, while his case was being considered in a court in the West Bank city of Ramallah, he fled to neighboring Jordan. He says he entered Jordan legally and that he fled his home because he does not trust the Palestinian Authority’s legal system.

“The people who filed the charges against me are related to influential people from the Palestinian Authority – I was a victim,” Ashee told The Media Line. “I was facing prison and losing more money, so I decided to flee.”

It is hard to know how many Palestinians have fled to Jordan in recent years, but according to figures published on the website of the Palestinian Authority, its police have apprehended nearly 2,000 people who were trying to escape prosecution in the Palestinian territories by fleeing to Jordan. Legal scholars in Jordan say despite efforts by the PA, dozens have succeeded.

Jordanian officials acknowledge that many Palestinians leave the West Bank while their cases are being heard in Palestinian courts.

The situation is complicated by the close ties between the West Bank and Jordan.  Jordan ruled the area from 1948 to 1967, when it came under Israeli control. An estimated 800,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank, out of a total population of 2.6 million, hold Jordanian citizenship, the impact of which is strengthened where there are close family ties.

Jordanian law prohibits the extradition of Jordanian citizens except in exceptional cases, so the kingdom’s government is unlikely to extradite Palestinians to the West Bank once they have entered Jordan.

The Palestinian justice system is still in its infancy and according to legal experts, Palestinian lawyers have made some mistakes. For example, says Mahmoud Naghawee, a member of the Jordanian Bas Association who has been involved in several cases of extradition requests for Palestinians from Jordan, Palestinian officials do not always send the correct documents to Jordan.

“Jordan’s legal system is very strict. For example, deportation would not take place without the original deportation request, but the Palestinians send a certified copy,” he told The Media Line. “By the time proper documents are sent, the wanted individual will have already left Jordan to a third country, which further complicates efforts to bring him to justice,” Naghawee explained.

Meanwhile, Palestinian diplomats said their attempts to pursue wanted individuals once they have left Jordan for a third country become even more complicated due to the fact that that the Palestinian territories is not a full- fledged state.

Many countries in Europe and Asia do not cooperate with the Palestinian Authority due to the absence of a legal frame work that allows the extradition of wanted people, despite the existence of the Interpol, which operates between states.

Officials from Jordan's Ministry of Justice said Jordan does deport Palestinians to the West Bank, depending on the gravity of the case. They declined, however, to give figures on the number of individuals who have been deported. Sources in the ministry said that no more than five people have been deported in the past four years.

Palestinian Ambassador to Jordan Attallah Khairi said the problem of extradition exists, but he played down its significance.

“Jordan did not shirk its responsibility to the Palestinian Authority on this issue, but cooperation on issues of financial corruption could be improved,” he told The Media Line.

Khiri said the Palestinian Authority and Jordan cooperate under the Riyadh Agreement between members of the Arab League, which allows the extradition of individuals sentenced to prison for more than one year.

Diplomats from the Palestinian embassy in Amman said the fact that many Palestinians hold dual nationality, Jordanian and Palestinian, makes deportation very difficult.

Palestinian diplomats, who spoke to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity, said the Palestinian Authority asked Jordan to freeze the financial assets of former senior Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan, who is wanted on charges of alleged corruption.

“Jordan did not cooperate in the Dahlan issue. It continues to drag its feet on the matter, demanding more papers every time we meet their demands,” said the diplomat.

Dahlan, who carries dual Jordanian and Palestinian citizenship, is believed to have fled to Jordan after a fallout with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He is currently wanted in the PA-controlled West Bank on charges of financial fraud.

Meanwhile, a Jordanian official from the justice ministry said Jordan has extradited a few individuals from its territories in cases related to money laundering.

Speaking to The Media Line on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, he said the case of Dahlah is purely political, and therefore Jordan cannot extradite him.  “The issue of Dahlan is an internal Palestinian issue that Jordan does not want to be dragged into,” he said. 

Palestinian street begins to sound like Spring

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring almost two years ago, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been remarkably quiet. There have been no large demonstrations against what Palestinians call the ongoing Israeli occupation; or against President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

That may now be changing. But unlike the Arab Spring protests which many hoped would stimulate political reforms and democracy, the current protests in the West Bank center clearly on the economy. Last month, Palestinian officials increased the Value Added Tax, or VAT, which is paid on most goods and services, from 14.5 percent to 15.5 percent. The move came as Israel increased its own VAT from 16 to 17 percent.

Thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets all over the West Bank. In Hebron, demonstrators attacked the police station and the municipality. In several refugee camps, they closed roads. Palestinian taxi and truck drivers held a one-day strike earlier this month, effectively shutting down the West Bank, to protest the increase in fuel prices.

Like the professional drivers, the demonstrators, too, were protesting increases in the price of gasoline, which has increased in Israel to approximately $8 per gallon. The Palestinian economy is dependent upon the much larger Israeli economy for imports of raw materials. The minimum wage in Israel is just over $1,000 per month, while the Palestinian minimum wage is about $400 per month.

Following the demonstrations, Prime Minister Fayyad decided to reduce the  VAT increase, leaving the tax at just 15 percent, to try to stem the public protests. The American-educated Fayyad is very popular in the West, but at home in the West Bank as an independent not associated with the ruling Fatah party, he is far less popular. Abbas, too, is being seen as ineffectual and his popularity has sharply declined.

A recent study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip found that 76 percent of Palestinians expect the current wave of protests to continue and even to escalate. Almost half of the public believe that the current economic crisis facing the Palestinian Authority (PA) is “manufactured” and 37 percent believe the PA will not be able to pay the salaries of teachers, policemen and other civil servants over the next year.

The World Bank has concluded that the Palestinian economy is facing an unprecedented crisis and has called on the international community to increase donations to the PA.

“It is clear that the wave of price hikes and the decisions taken by the Fayyad government, in raising prices of fuel, are responsible for this sudden shift in public attitudes and evaluations,” concluded the PSR study.

“PM Salam Fayyad was the most affected according to the results of the recent poll,” Dr. Khalil Shikaki the head of the PSR told The Media Line.

“People feel Fayyad’s government made a lot of promises that it failed to fulfill.”

He said Fayyad could bounce back, unless he continues to increase prices.

“If the price increases continue, Fayyad’s popularity will significantly decrease,” Shikaki opined. “This is a dilemma for the PA, because the protests and the street anger are directed against the PA’s economic behavior and policy.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s popularity has also sharply declined since last September when he tried to achieve recognition of Palestine as an independent state at the United Nations. “Now, after a year, there is a feeling that he failed, as he looks hesitant,” Shikaki said.

Abbas is now trying to get the UN to recognize Palestine as a “non-member observer state,” a status held only by the Vatican. He has said he hopes the UN General Assembly will debate and approve the move in November.

Other Palestinian analysts say the fates of Fayyad and Abbas are linked.

“The protests erupted against Fayyad but quickly turned against Abbas,” analyst Hani Al-Masri told The Media Line.

Fatah Central Council Member Nabil Amr says Fayyad and Abbas must try to solve the financial crisis. He says the protests are a warning to the PA.

Palestinians are scheduled to hold municipal elections later this month, and analysts believe the anger directed toward Fayyad and Abbas could negatively affect candidates who are seen as being allied with either of the two men.

World Bank: Urgent action needed to avoid PA fiscal crisis

The World Bank called on donors to act “urgently” to prevent a “deepening fiscal crisis” in the Palestinian territories.

Israel also needs to remove barriers to developing the West Bank economy, the World Bank said.

In a statement about its report published this week on the PA’s economy, the World Bank called for “immediate donor action coupled with freeing of untapped West Bank resources.”

Yet, “even with this financial support, sustainable economic growth cannot be achieved without a removal of the barriers preventing private sector development,” Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for the West Bank and Gaza.said in the statement.

She added this applied “especially” to Area C – a non-contiguous area which makes up 60% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control. Approximately 5.8% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank lives in Area C. 

Entitled “Fiscal Crisis, Economic Prospects: The Imperative for Economic Cohesion in the Palestinian Territories”, the report highlights the untapped resources of the West Bank as a potential source of private sector growth.

PA opposes moment of silence for slain Israelis

The Palestinian Authority opposed a moment of silence at the London Olympics for the 40th anniversary of the Palestinian “Black September” terrorist group’s killing of 11 Israeli team members in Munich, Palestinian Media Watch reported.

On July 25, the PA’s daily publication said in a headline that sports “are meant for peace, not for racism.” Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, wrote International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge thanking him for not granting Israel’s request of a moment of silence at the opening ceremony.

“Sports are a bridge to love, interconnection, and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism between them [nations],” Rajoub, wrote in the letter, which appeared in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.

The PA publication does not refer to the Munich murders as terrorism, simply calling the events of 1972 “the Munich Operation.”

House Middle East subcommittee considers PA corruption

The House Middle East subcommittee considered reports of Palestinian corruption and how the reports should affect U.S. assistance to the Palestinians.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee who convened the hearing on Tuesday, said assistance should take into account whether the recipients are corrupt.

“Our objective cannot and must not be to strengthen whoever recites the same prescribed lines about negotiations,” he said. “Rather, our policy must aim to empower those leaders who genuinely seek to establish the transparent and accountable institutions of government that will be necessary for any future Palestinian state to be viable and able to live side by side with Israel in peace, security and prosperity.”

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) said that while consideration of corruption is important, equally as important were how such considerations might constrain advancing U.S. policy, including a two-state solution outcome.

“How do we move forward toward a peace that enables Israel to remain secure as both a democratic and Jewish state, and for the Palestinians to have a national homeland of their own that poses no threat to others?” he said. “That’s the central question and the point from which our assessments about the seriousness of corruption must begin.”

Ackerman also noted how allegations of Israeli corruption have hindered advancing the peace process, citing the allegations that drove Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from office just as he seemed to be nearing a deal with the Palestinians.

Witnesses, including Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, reported on the reluctance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to investigate corruption except when it is useful as a tool to undermine his rivals. They also said that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was trustworthy but also hamstrung in part by restrictions imposed by Abbas.

The witnesses also stopped short of recommending a total cutoff of assistance to the Palestinian Authority; Schanzer, for instance, noted that such a vacuum would soon be filled by Iran.