November 18, 2018

Hamas reaffirms goal to destroy Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel lists conditions to negotiate with Fatah-Hamas unity government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zomlot expanded on that possibility at his news briefing Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White House explains redirected funds to Palestinians

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

A White House official confirmed Jewish Insider’s report on Wednesday that the Trump administration had quietly transferred an additional $20 million to Palestinian wastewater programs after the funds were frozen from an Egyptian economic aid package. “The State Department came to us and said they had identified this particular piece of money and these were, if I recall, FY2016 (Fiscal Year) funds that disappear at the end of September,” the White House official told Jewish Insider last week.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

However, the Trump administration source objected to an assertion made by a Congressional aide that the Trump administration was rushing to move the funds to West Bank water programs before the Taylor Force Act could be passed. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would cut off all U.S. economic aid that “directly benefits” the P.A. until they cease payments to families of terrorists. “There was a particular window for this so that the money would be used. TFA (Taylor Force Act) would have no impact on this even if they passed it tomorrow. There wasn’t an ‘oh my gosh, let’s get this money before Taylor Force passes,’” the White House official added.

The official said that there were numerous Palestinian projects that the U.S. would like to support. “But when you have terrorists stabbing American citizens in the back and tax paying dollars used to support these people, the President said very clearly to President Abbas in both Washington and Bethlehem in May, this is intolerable to us,” the source emphasized.

On a separate note, the White House official declined to opine regarding an announcement from Hamas last week that the U.S. designated terror group would dissolve the Gaza administrative committee and move towards a unity government. “Our feeling is very much wait and see. There have been lots of attempts at this before,” the White House official noted. “We appreciate the Egyptians (mediation) efforts to try and come to some resolution to do this.”

After Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections, the Islamist party joined with Fatah to form a national unity government in March 2007. The Bush Administration condemned this Palestinian government and refused to provide it with any assistance. This policy lasted until June 2007 when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the unity government following Hamas’ military coup in Gaza. Given the longstanding US policy of boycotting Hamas, any openness by the Trump administration towards the Islamist group playing some sort of internationally recognized political role is considered noteworthy.

Abbas rebuked U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during his September 20 speech at the U.N. General Assembly for referring to the “alleged occupation” of Palestinian territories. When asked if the White House agrees with Friedman regarding the “alleged occupation” or the State Department that quickly clarified its decades old policy of calling the West Bank “occupied territory,” the White House official responded, “That’s simply not my question to answer. I am going to let David (Friedman) speak to that. It wasn’t my call. My personal views aren’t really relevant. That was his statement so I would refer that to him.”

Despite some reports that the U.S. is planning a regional summit with Israel and Arab Gulf states to accelerate the peace process, the Trump administration official noted that no such meeting is currently in the works.

The White House official declined to elaborate on the timetable when the U.S. plans to present Israelis and Palestinians with its peace plan or if there have been any concrete advancements towards peace during talks with Netanyahu or Abbas.

Asked what options the administration was considering, in light of the President’s unwillingness to exclusively back a two state solution,  the White House official explained, “It goes back to the other question. The President said one state or two states: it’s for the two parties to agree on. It’s not for us to say: here are your options.”

Lavishing praise on Netanyahu’s UN address, the White House source explained, “It was a very strong speech. Obviously, the President appreciated the strong expression of support. It doesn’t make us unhappy to have the Prime Minister of Israel very pleased with President Trump’s speech and perhaps the Venezuelans, Iranians and North Koreans less so. It draws a very clear contrast between the leaders of other countries. I thought the very positive message this year about what Israel offers the world was extremely valuable.”

Trump quietly transfers $20 million to Palestinian programs

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meeting with Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy, at the Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan, on March 28.

The Trump administration has quietly directed an additional $20 million towards projects that would ‘directly benefit’ the Palestinian Authority, Capitol Hill sources told Jewish Insider“It means that the Trump administration is trying to get money out of the door before Taylor Force (Act) goes into effect,” a Congressional aide explained.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would cut off all U.S. economic aid that “directly benefits” the P.A. until they cease payments to families of terrorists. With the Senate Appropriations Committee including the Taylor Force Act in its most recent annual Foreign Operations Budget, the bill is almost certain to pass by the end of 2017.

In August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson withheld $30 million of economic aid from Egypt, citing Cairo’s harsh restrictions on human rights organizations. Congressional staffers asked the administration about the reprogramming of this funding and were told that $20 million of the sum would be spent on West Bank and Gaza programs that would “directly benefit” the P.A.

During the Obama administration’s final hours, the U.S. quietly sent $221 million to projects in the Palestinian territories despite significant Congressional opposition. Representative Kate Granger (R-TX) slammed the Obama White House for the move, even though she acknowledged that none of the money went directly to the P.A.

Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. Middle East envoy, has trumpeted a July water deal signed with the P.A., Israel and Jordan as one of the administration’s top accomplishments to date in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A Congressional staffer explained that the U.S. assistance to the “Red-Dead” water agreement “directly benefits the PA, and therefore would not be able to continue” once the Taylor Force Act is implemented as advanced out of committee.

In a speech on Monday, Greenblatt emphasized the importance of wastewater projects in the West Bank and Gaza, while he also encouraged international donors to assist the P.A. with its budget difficulties.

Last week, the State Department announced that it “strongly supports the Taylor Force Act, which is a consequence of the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization’s policy of paying terrorists and their families.” The State Department did not immediately respond to Jewish Insider’s request for comment.

Hamas and Fatah try again to move toward Palestinian unity

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

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.”

Palestinian Authority seeks membership in UN tourism body

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on March 27. Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

A request filed by the Palestinian Authority last year to join the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is slated to come to a vote this week at the body’s summit in Chengdu, China.

In order for the Palestinians to gain acceptance, two-thirds of the UNWTO’s member states need to approve.

[This article originally appeared on themedialine.org]

Speaking to The Media Line, Vice President of the PA Mahmoud Al-Aloul (“Abu Jihad”) confirmed that the Palestinian leadership is being heavily pressured to not proceed with its bid.

“All I can tell you in this regard is that President Mahmoud Abbas will give a speech in China.”

He further revealed that PA is in the process of filing a request to the International Criminal Court to oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements,” among other issues.

In response, Israel has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to block the PA’s request to join the UNWTO. “Palestine is not a state and cannot be accepted as such in the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations,” according to a statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

For his part, Hassan Ka’bia, a Deputy Spokesman at the Ministry told The Media Line “that all attempts by the PA to gain memberships at the UN will ruin the serious Israeli efforts to renew peace talks and will have no effect on the ground.

“At the end of the day,” he concluded, “our allies at the UN, including the U.S., are very strong and supportive of Israel so the Palestinians will not get anything there.”

In this respect, the latest move by the Palestinians to “internationalize” the conflict comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is engaged in a push to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, having sent his top envoys to the region on multiple occasions since his inauguration. Accordingly, the proposed moves by the PA risk derailing the effort.

“We will go to the United Nations anyways as well as the International Criminal Court,” Nabil Sha’ath, a senior Palestinian official, retorted to The Media Line. He said that this was necessary because while the Palestinians had already accepted the principles of the Oslo Accords they are looking for “peace on the ground and not just on paper.”

Sha’ath stated that under ideal circumstances there would be no need for the Palestinians to look to the UN, but that Israel had not held up its end of the bargain.

Ironically, the latest row over the UN comes against the backdrop of the Arab League’s decision to green light a proposal by the PA to form a high-level committee whose purpose is to block Israel’s attempts to be elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

According to the Ma’an news agency, the case against allowing Israel a turn on the Security Council roster will include the familiar charge regarding Israeli building on lands it conquered in the 1967 war that are claimed by the Palestinians for a future state; as well as accusations directed against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of having “introduced more than 20 racist legislations reflecting a systematic policy seeking to deface the historic rights of the Palestinian people.”

There formerly existed a longstanding convention that peace between Israel and the Palestinians could only come about through direct negotiations; however, this changed on September 23, 2011, when Abbas submitted a formal application to join the UN, which was overwhelmingly accepted one month later in a General Assembly vote.

Soon after gaining overall non-member observer state status in the institution, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) became the first affiliated agency to grant full membership to the Palestinians.

But the Palestinians’ momentum was soon stunted, as U.S. President Barack Obama decided to cut off funding to UNESCO, in line with Washington’s belief that the conflict with Israel can only be solved through the direct diplomacy of the peace process. As the Americans provide a huge portion of the UN’s overall budget, other bodies got the message and the Palestinians, despite repeated warnings to further pursue the UN route, have since not been accepted into any other related associations.

That is, until the anticipated UNWTO vote this week.

Perhaps the Palestinian leadership is being driven by an absence in faith in Trump, or maybe the bid to join the UNWTO is simply a method of applying pressure on his administration, which is reportedly in the process of formulating a formal policy on the conflict.

Some analysts believe it could also be meant to send Israel a message; namely, that the status quo will simply no longer suffice.

Palestinian Authority wants two-state commitment from Trump administration by end of August

Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington, speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 17, 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas.

The Palestinian Authority expects the Trump administration to commit to a peace deal endgame before the close of this month and prefers it would be the two-state solution.

“We need them to tell us where the hell they are going,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy to Washington, said Thursday at a meeting in his office with reporters. “It’s about time we hear it.”

Zomlot said a high-level U.S. delegation comprising Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and his top adviser charged with Middle East peace; Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator; and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser, would meet Aug. 24 in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian negotiating team.

The meeting will come toward the end of a tour in which the U.S. officials also will meet with Israeli and other regional leaders, including from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Zomlot said that for the Palestinian Authority, the preferred outcome remained a recommitment to the two-state solution. Trump retreated soon after assuming the presidency in January from a two-state outcome, which has been U.S. policy since 2002. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had committed to a two-state solution in 2009, also has been silent since then about his commitment. A majority of Netanyahu’s Cabinet opposes having two states.

“A two-state solution has international equilibrium, it has regional backing and it has a global consensus,” Zomlot said. “We are saying to them, we have a starting point, and letting go of this starting point is the worst thing they can do.”

Zomlot said the Palestinian Authority wanted two states based on the 1967 borders, and wanted to hear from the Trump administration how best to deal with factors that would endanger a peaceful outcome, including Jewish settlements, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and religious tensions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which both Jews and Muslims claim as holy.

“The how is crucial,” he said.

He said that in the wake of serious negotiations, “the Palestinian consensus government will be tasked with two things: the ending of the situation in Gaza — the unprecedented situation in Gaza — and as soon as possible the convening of Palestinian national elections.”

A major obstruction to advancing peace talks has been the absence of P.A. control in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas terrorist group is the authority. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, along with Israel, have been squeezing Gaza by reducing basic supplies to its Hamas rulers, including electricity.

Zomlot would not say what the Palestinian Authority would do if the U.S. delegation did not lay out an endgame, but said uncertainty could lead the P.A. to return to seeking international recognition for statehood — a posture that Israel and the United States adamantly oppose — or to further Palestinian resistance against Israel. He said the resistance would be “peaceful.”

Zomlot conveyed an overall positive impression of Trump and his negotiators, saying they had carefully considered Palestinian positions, and that Trump’s commitment to an endgame rather than simply perpetuating the process was positive.

“The character of President Trump himself — we believe this is a person who could actually take the leap, who could exert pressure on all sides,” he said.

Zomlot and the Palestinian Authority appear to be relying on pressure by Trump as a means of delivering Israel on the two-state solution. Zomlot made clear that he did not believe Netanyahu had the wherewithal to advance to final status negotiations on his own.

“Netanyahu is behaving like a politician, not a statesman,” he said of the prime minister’s coalition maneuvering, in which he must deal with partners who oppose concessions. “Israel deserves better leadership.”

Zomlot expressed anger with Congress and the welter of proposed bills that would cut U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority and otherwise penalize it. Chief among the measures is the Taylor Force Act, named for an American stabbed to death in a 2016 terrorist attack, which would link funding to the Palestinian areas to the cessation of P.A. payments to the families of Palestinians killed in or jailed for attacks on Israelis.

He said the Palestinian Authority was ready to “revise and negotiate” its payment system, but would not submit to pressure.

“Don’t use financial pressure with us,” he said. “It does not work.”

Sen. Charles Schumer joins sponsors of bill cutting payments to Palestinian Authority

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking with the media at the Capitol building, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer added his name as a co-sponsor of a bill that would substantially cut U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it maintained payments to the Palestinians killed in or jailed for attacks on Israelis, all but assuring it becoming law.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act because it aims to put an end to this disturbing practice, which only perpetuates the cycle of violence and undercuts the drive to peace,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Friday.

Schumer’s co-sponsorship, a rare move for the leader of a party in the Senate, ensures that Democrats will not use parliamentary maneuvers to block the act. A similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives is also likely to pass.

The Taylor Force Act, named for an American who was stabbed to death in a 2016 terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, was approved a day earlier by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 17-4 vote. It had bipartisan support after being softened to attract backing from Democrats as well as centrist pro-Israel groups.

Instead of broadly cutting all assistance to the Palestinian areas, the measure would withhold assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority and its programs unless the payments end. Humanitarian assistance would be left in place.

Jordan’s King Abdullah makes rare visit to Ramallah in West Bank

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wave during a reception ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7. Photo Mohamad Torokman/REUTERS.

Jordan’s King Abdullah visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah for the first time in nearly five years.

The two leaders in their West Bank meeting reportedly discussed President Donald Trump and the peace process, as well as the recent crisis over the Temple Mount.

Abdullah has not visited Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, since December 2012.

Abdullah reportedly told Abbas that Trump is committed to brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and “stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to create real political prospects for progress toward resolving the conflict,” the Jordanian government’s Petra News Agency reported.

Both the king and Abbas emphasized “the need to preserve the historical and legal status quo” of the Temple Mount, which Petra called the Al-Quds Al-Sharif. Abdullah reiterated that the Hashemite Kingdom would continue to take seriously its guardianship of Muslim holy sites in the city and involve the international community, according to the report.

Abbas reportedly praised Abdullah for his efforts to defuse the recent Temple Mount crisis.

The two sides agreed to form a joint task force that would study the crisis, which was sparked by the murder of two Druze-Israeli police officers by three Arab-Israeli visitors to the site, and to prepare for possible future conflict at the Temple Mount.

Abdullah flew into Ramallah by helicopter, which required coordination with Israeli authorities, but did not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The failure to meet was meant to show the king’s unhappiness with Netanyahu in the wake of the Temple Mount crisis and the incident late last month in which an Israeli security guard from the Israeli Embassy shot and killed two Jordanian civilians after he was stabbed by one of them — a teen who was installing furniture in an apartment used by the embassy.

AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act in letter to senators

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

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 jewishinsider.com]

“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.”

New security cameras at Temple Mount will respect public and its privacy, Israel Police say

View of a new security camera that was placed near metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount in the Lion's Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City, July 23, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Israel Police said the new security cameras they plan to install at the Temple Mount will retain “full respect for the public and its privacy.”

The police released the statement Tuesday after rumors gained traction that the police had plans to install X-ray cameras at the entrances for Muslim worshippers at the Temple Mount.

Palestinian social media said that the cameras would be able to look at Muslim women’s bodies and could cause cancer.

“The Israel Police does not use any type of camera that harms privacy in any way and has no intention of using such cameras in the future,” the statement said. “The purpose of the cameras is to protect and guard public safety.”

This is done, the statement said, “while maintaining full respect for the public and its privacy, whether the people are worshippers or passersby, let alone women.”

Late Monday night, the Security Cabinet said it would remove the metal detectors and security cameras that were put in place less than two weeks ago and instead incorporate security measures based on advanced technologies, called “smart checks,” and other measures instead of metal detectors. Israel will pay up to 100 million shekels, about $30 million, over the next six months to install the new devices, which include sensitive security cameras.

A Waqf official told The Times of Israel that “the new high-tech cameras” would not be accepted in place of the metal detectors.

The new security measures had been put into place after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14. Once the metal detectors were put in place, Muslims refused to enter the Temple Mount, instead praying outside of its gates, leading to clashes and the deaths of at least five Palestinians in recent days.

Despite the removal by Tuesday morning of the metal detectors, Muslim worshippers have continued to stay away and pray at the gates leading to the holy site.

Haaretz reported Tuesday that the cameras would rely on a database of photos of people who are deemed suspicious and would scan the faces of those entering the Temple Mount. The system is capable of scanning millions of faces for 12 distinct characteristics every few seconds, according to Haaretz.

Those in the database identified by the cameras can be taken aside for questioning or a body search.

Abbas says security coordination with Israel remains frozen despite removal of metal detectors

Israeli security forces remove metal detectors which were recently installed at an entrance to the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City July 25, 2017. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said security coordination with Israel will remain frozen despite Israel removing the metal detectors it placed at the entrances for Muslim worshippers to the Temple Mount.

Abbas made the announcement on Tuesday hours after the metal detectors and security cameras placed at the holy site less than two weeks ago were dismantled.

“All new Israeli measures put in place since July 14 must be removed so things can go back to normal in Jerusalem and we can resume our work regarding bilateral relations,” Abbas said at the beginning of a meeting with the Palestinian leadership.

The metal detectors were installed at the entrance to the Temple Mount after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers there on July 14.

Abbas canceled scheduled security coordination meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials on Sunday, two days after he announced that Palestinian leaders had frozen all contact with Israel over the newly installed security measures at the Temple Mount. It reportedly was the first time that security cooperation has been halted since Abbas was elected nearly a decade ago.

Late Monday night, the Israeli Security Cabinet said it would remove the metal detectors and security cameras and instead incorporate security measures based on advanced technologies, called “smart checks,” and other measures instead of metal detectors. Israel will pay up to 100 million shekels, about $30 million, over the next six months to install the new devices, which include sensitive security cameras.

Despite the removal by Tuesday morning of the metal detectors, Muslim worshippers have continued to stay away and pray at the gates leading to the holy site, as they have since the metal detectors were installed. At least five Palestinians have died in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police over the security measures.

Senators demand action on Palestinian terror payments

Israeli policemen secure the scene of the shooting attack at the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City on July 14. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

Republican and Democratic lawmakers called for a dramatic reduction in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday. The session focused on the Taylor Force Act, legislation that would cease American economic aid to the PA if payments to terrorist families do not end. “To me, this legislation is an absolute no brainer. I’d go much further than this,” said Sen. James Risch (R-ID). “This thing has been going on for decades and decades. We are getting nothing for this but business as usual.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who introduced the bill in February, spoke at the beginning of the packed hearing and praised the efforts of Taylor Force’s father, Stuart Force, who also attended the session. Taylor Force was a West Point graduate who served in the US military before being killed by a Palestinian terrorist while participating in a study abroad program in Israel last year.

Elliott Abrams, who served in several senior administration positions for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, testified in favor of the bill while former U.S. Ambassador to Israel (2011-2017) Daniel Shapiro, urged the bill to be amended. Shapiro did however back the legislation’s ultimate goals of ending the controversial payments.

The independent-minded Republican Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, expressed his support for the legislation. He noted how in 2014 he sponsored S. 2665 that would have also cut off U.S. assistance to the PA, but “the chairman (Bob Corker, R-TN) blocked me at the time.” The Kentucky lawmaker added, “People sense weakness. Cut it all. Cut every last penny of it. Restart it when they (PA) change their behavior.”

Responding to Paul’s charge, Corker emphasized, “Please remember also the reason I opposed bringing it to the floor at that time is the Israeli government — who it is we are trying to help here — was strongly opposed” to the bill.

In response to a suggestion by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) about possibly shifting the U.S. assistance from PA funding to non-governmental organizations or peace projects, Abrams expressed skepticism. “If the penalty for spending money on terrorists is well it goes from box one to box two, that’s not much of a penalty. I think Palestinians need to be told: this has got to stop.”

Paul suggested that it’s up to Israeli lawmakers to take the first step. “If the Knesset can’t even withhold the tax money… what kind of message are we sending? If the Knesset is listening to us, for goodness sake you have got to do at least that first step.” The Knesset has in fact introduced legislation similar to the Taylor Force Act. However, the bill requires additional three readings before it becomes law.

One proposal floated by Shapiro was to add a national security waiver — similar with the six-month waiver on moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — that would allow President Donald Trump to waive the requirement of cutting off aid if viewed as appropriate.

The Taylor Force Act would actually cut $50 million to Israel since the PA spends some of the US assistance on debt repayments to Israel, Corker emphasized. The committee Chairman added that based on a conversation he had with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, Jerusalem still supports the proposal.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) raised the concern that the language of the bill as written could prevent Washington from providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip should there be another outbreak of violence. Shapiro agreed with Coons that flexibility in the legislation is critical to allow the U.S. to offer emergency humanitarian aid given the three wars in Gaza since 2009.

During his time as U.S. Ambassador, Shapiro noted that senior Israeli military officers cautioned against significant reduction in foreign assistance to Ramallah due to the fear of the PA’s collapse and the impact such an event could have on Israeli security.

Ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (D-MD) expressed disappointment during his opening statement that no representative of the Trump administration was present at the hearing to offer the executive branch’s view on this legislation.

While the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has actively promoted the bill, AIPAC has mostly remained mum and did not post about the Taylor Force Act on social media Wednesday.

Corker has called for the passage of a “Taylor Force like Act” by the August recess signaling urgency for the legislation.

How to save Gaza: A Palestinian American argues it’s time to bring in the UN and stop blaming Israel

A Palestinian girl looks through the gate of the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on July 6. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Ten years ago, terrible events were unfolding in my native Gaza Strip. The Fatah-Hamas conflict was escalating, and all signs were pointing to an outcome that many in the George W. Bush administration did not want to believe was coming.

Despite millions of dollars in cash and arms from Arab countries and the United States, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas misplayed his hand and failed to stop Hamas’ violent military takeover of the coastal enclave, thereby raising tensions within Palestinian communities and with Israel.

By sheer coincidence, the very day the Islamist movement declared Gaza under its full control, June 14, 2007, my interview for political asylum status in the United States was underway.

Now, as an American citizen living in San Francisco, I can write about my experiences and perspectives in ways that many in Gaza cannot, fearing only that my parents, siblings and other family members who remain there are not held responsible for my opinions. My folks are sometimes jealous of my ability to speak my mind and remind me frequently to consider the implications for them of what I say.

While Israel continues to play a significant role in Gaza’s affairs, the grim anniversary of the Hamas takeover warrants focusing less on Israel than the role that Palestinian political organizations have played in worsening the misery for Gaza’s more than 2 million residents. And that has led me to conclude that the United Nations, for all its problems and the hate it incurs by Israelis, is perhaps Gazans’ best hope for progress.

After Hamas won local and parliamentary elections in 2006, Fatah — led by Abbas — was reluctant to relinquish executive authority to what it believed was an incompetent ideological group, unfit to govern and lacking the international recognition necessary for success. Hamas, on the other hand, felt emboldened by its popular victory to take the helm from Fatah, whose corruption had reached epic proportions that caused many — even some seculars — to vote for Hamas, hoping for change.

The years that followed have proved that change remains elusive. Gazans’ hope for a better life was never realized. An Israeli and Egyptian blockade, initiated because of security concerns after Hamas seized power, set the stage for the degradation of the quality of life in the troubled Strip. The three major conflicts with Israel that followed in 2008, 2012 and 2014 worsened conditions and caused tens of thousands of causalities and billions of dollars in damages to the economy and infrastructure. And while hundreds of trucks carrying goods enter Gaza from Israel on a daily basis, restrictions prevent numerous consumer, industrial and even medical items from being sold to Gazans because of Israeli concerns over potential dual-use.

Virtually every aspect of life in Gaza continues to deteriorate. One can start with the crippling electricity outages, which can last as long as 21 hours a day, or the heavily polluted drinking water. Chronic illnesses have become untreatable. Massive unemployment, especially among youth and college graduates, is a major source of misery and uncertainty — it’s been reported as the highest in the world.

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib on the Egyptian side of Gaza’s Rafah border in 2012 after accompanying his brother, who was visiting with him in Cairo, to the furthest part of Egyptian soil. Alkhatib hasn’t been in Gaza since July 2005. Photo courtesy of Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib

 

While some parts of Gaza have had a chance to rebuild since the last war, others still lay in ruins, and millions of gallons of untreated raw sewage continue to flow in streets and into the Mediterranean Sea, forcing most beaches to close. Then there are the contrasts between those living in sheer poverty and the flashy shopping malls — unaffordable to most people — that have popped up in some parts of town.

Darkness resulting from the electricity crisis makes Gaza feel like a sad, miserable place, particularly at night. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if given a chance, more than half of Gaza’s population would choose to leave the Strip for any other place in the Middle East or Europe, in pursuit of a better, more secure and stable life.

Ongoing bickering between Hamas and Fatah only serves to increase the suffering. In an effort to pressure the Islamist movement, Abbas is retiring more than 6,000 Gaza-based Palestinian Authority employees. Red tape and politics are impacting the permitting process for Gazans who need to travel outside the small enclave to receive medical treatment. With several major heat waves and no electricity, nor, at times, water to cool off, people are experiencing hell on earth.

The humanitarian conditions are spiraling downward and may hit the point of no return. To hit back at the PA, Hamas is entering into an unorthodox alliance with Mohammed Dahlan, the group’s former enemy with whom it clashed in 2007, and the current arch-enemy of Abbas. This resulted in the recent delivery of Egyptian industrial diesel fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant but resulted in no tangible improvement in the electricity disaster.

When Hamas approached the elections in 2006, it had two goals. First, it was convinced that it could bring its agenda of armed resistance against Israeli occupation to the global stage through the PA, which was created by the Oslo peace accords — the very agreement that Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, despises and rejects. The group also believed that its Islamic principles would result in better governance in Gaza, based on integrity, honesty, discipline and compassion. Surely, many believed, the religious folks would be better than the secular nationalists with their scandals and unchecked corruption.

However, even in power, Hamas has failed to convince the world that its armed struggle against Israel is, in fact, legitimate. To many around the world, engagement in a political process often means abandoning violence. Shooting unguided rockets into Israeli communities — and in the process endangering many local lives through inevitable Israeli retaliations — does not effectively foster international compassion for one’s cause. Nor does digging smuggling tunnels near residential areas without the consent of local residents, many of whom are intimidated into silence.

As for Hamas’ second objective, the international and Israeli blockade against Gaza has meant that the group had virtually no financial or political capital for improving lives. Promises of better infrastructure, power-sharing and improved government-to-people relations were never kept because there was no way for them to be realized given Hamas’ ideological stance. This has hindered its ability to rule effectively.

To its credit, Hamas has been able to restrict the public flaunting and use of firearms in Gaza, and it holds a monopoly on force. It has established an agreement whereby armed groups cannot engage Israel militarily at random. And it has cracked down on ISIS-inspired Salafists in recent months.

Overall, however, Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip was a grave miscalculation that resulted in nothing short of a disaster for the people. Ask most people on Gaza streets today about what their concerns are: Most are worried about not having power, water, clean air, housing, jobs, quality health care and other necessities that Hamas’ government has been unable to deliver. It is unlikely that you’ll encounter many people concerned with long-term issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas’ decade-long adventure has reduced people’s interests to the mere basics, destroying their hopes for a resolution to the big and historic challenges.

Still, it is terrifying to know that Gaza is a powder keg, with many young people who are desperate and vulnerable to radicalization and violent tendencies. Gaza also is full of young people who have dreams just like Israeli and other youth do, but they lack the means to pursue their aspirations and realize their true potential as capable, talented contributors to humanity.

The Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, shares responsibility for the misery in Gaza. Fatah derives much of its legitimacy from two things: its historic battles with Israel before the Oslo accords and the ability to create public service jobs that reduced unemployment. But it was the corruption and failures of the PA that paved the way for Hamas’ takeover. Despite dozens of redundant security services, safety in Gaza was a serious issue and rampant gun violence promoted desperation for change.

The Palestinian authority and Hamas have failed the people of Gaza miserably.

Gazans feel that the PA has abandoned them. This is evidenced in the recent cuts to the salaries of public servants on the PA’s payroll: My mother, who teaches high school math, had her salary reduced by 40 percent last month just as she is about to retire. In April, the PA stopped paying for electricity being generated by Israel in an effort to apply further pressure on Gaza’s rulers. After the Hamas takeover, the PA told many of its employees to stay at home and not work for Hamas. Many of these public servants have been decaying at home, their skills diminished and mental health worsened by their inability to work daily and to be contributing members of society.

The PA and Hamas have failed the people of Gaza miserably. People’s lives are reduced to waiting for change that cannot come as long as this stagnant impasse continues. How is it that a jewel on the Mediterranean with one of the most strategic locations and a nearby unused gas field does not have a functional airport, a seaport, a vibrant economy, sound infrastructure or robust exchange with its neighbors?

We cannot place the entirety of the blame at Israel’s feet. After the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leadership missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the entire world that, when given a fair chance, Palestinians are able to govern effectively and create the foundations for a state worth living in. Success in Gaza could have demonstrated that the West Bank would look the same, were Israeli settlements vacated. Instead, we have made the lives of pro-occupation political parties in Israel much easier, affirming the claim that security threats have been too great to give back the land.

So, what can be done? As someone with deep roots in Gaza, I cannot consider the status quo a viable option. Hamas and Fatah are ideologically and politically irreconcilable. It is almost certain that corruption and incompetence will continue to hinder the establishment of robust systems in Gaza to turn things around and improve the lives of its residents.

The best way forward may be back.

After the 1956 Suez crisis, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) established its headquarters in the Gaza Strip to facilitate military disengagement after the war ended. The multinational force maintained peace for almost a decade. It even operated an airport that facilitated the movement of goods and passengers, local and foreign.

Although Egypt was administratively in charge of the Gaza Strip, U.N. agencies provided the foundation for the stability and well-being of local Palestinians. The ill-advised decision by then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to demand the withdrawal of the UNEF set the stage for problems that Palestinians continue to face.

However, 50 years after the UNEF left Gaza, conditions are very different, with Egypt overtly allied with Israel to combat terrorism in Sinai and restrict movement and access to Hamas-controlled Gaza.

A damaged UN school and remnants of the Ministry of the Interior in Gaza City, as seen in 2012. Many parts of Gaza have not been rebuilt following several conflicts with Israel. Photo from Wikimedia

 

In 2014, because of concerns that the Hamas regime would collapse, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for Gaza to be placed under a U.N. mandate to facilitate the Strip’s resurgence as a vibrant territory. Although many ridiculed the proposal at the time, I was one of the few who vocally supported certain components of the idea because it would have removed Gazans from the control of intransigent Palestinian-Israeli political dynamics.

Furthermore, the U.N. has a track record of carrying out major interventions in places that suffer from instability, violence, collapsing infrastructure and political deadlock. Since the 1980s, the United Nations has been involved in significant humanitarian operations, using ground and aerial assets and networks, in countries such as Afghanistan, Liberia, North and South Sudan, Mali, Libya, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Pakistan, Nepal, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

A great example of such involvement is Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), a consortium of U.N. agencies and international organizations operating in South Sudan to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance throughout the war-torn and drought-afflicted regions.

OLS was established in 1989 after it became apparent that major intervention was needed because of the second Sudanese civil war and a devastating famine. As a result of practical and detailed negotiations, the U.N., the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army agreed to deliver humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need regardless of their location or political affiliation. Civilians in need of travel were transported in and out of certain areas using various U.N. mechanisms, including aircraft. The northern Kenyan town of Lokichogio and its airport became primary staging areas for U.N. humanitarian air operations that serviced South Sudan. The U.N. dealt with a non-state armed group out of necessity, but without conferring recognition upon it.

Because the U.N. has been operating in Gaza for decades, it already enjoys a status in Palestinian society as a humanitarian platform and provider of essential services. A transitional period of five or 10 years could prove vital in stabilizing the Strip by preventing another war, reversing the deterioration of living conditions, initiating infrastructure renovations and managing aid money in a professional, nonpartisan manner. This stability could break the current deadlock and allow political resolutions that would empower the Palestinian people to truly achieve self-determination, with a focus on the needs of future generations.

Many nations and organizations can operate under the U.N.’s umbrella, which is the most accepted international entity to Gazans sensitive to the potential of “another foreign occupation.” Criticism may be hard to hear, but we all have an obligation to speak out against the continuing gradual destruction of hope for our Palestine.

Gaza is at a critical juncture. Internationalizing it offers the only hope for a pragmatic way forward. Conditioning improvements to Gaza’s situation upon Hamas’ departure from power or a fundamental change in its ideology only will further the suffering of Palestinian civilians, who are paying the price for circumstances over which they have no control.

I am optimistic that there’s a way forward to fulfill the needs of Gazans while addressing Israel’s legitimate security needs.

As someone who received political asylum status in the United States in 2008, I am one of very few lucky Gazans who have acquired this status over a 20-year period. I enjoy great privileges, now as an American citizen, but I won’t enjoy those alone: I cannot let go of where I came from. And I refuse to be hopeless.


AHMED FOUAD ALKHATIB is a San Francisco-based Palestinian-American humanitarian activist from the Gaza Strip and founder of Project Unified Assistance, which advocates for the establishment of a humanitarian United Nations-operated, Israel Defense Forces-approved airport in the Gaza Strip.

Israel denies Palestinian Authority has stopped paying terrorists’ families, contradicting Tillerson

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Jan. 10. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90

The Palestinian Authority has not stopped paying salaries to the families of terrorists jailed in Israel, according to Israeli officials, contradicting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The officials, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, said Wednesday that they have not seen a change in the P.A. policy. A day earlier, Tillerson told senators at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the policy had changed.

“I have not seen any indication that the Palestinian Authority stopped or intends to stop payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families,” Liberman told Israel Radio.

An unnamed Israeli diplomatic official told Israeli publications, “We are not aware of any change in the Palestinian Authority’s policy, and as far as we know they are still paying funds to terrorists’ families. The Palestinian Authority continues to praise, incite to and encourage terror through financial support.”

Issa Karaka, head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, told Haaretz that the payments have been made this month and will be made next month.

“Almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr,” he told Haaretz. “Anybody who thinks he can execute a decision like that is badly wrong.”

Tillerson in his remarks before the Senate committee, speaking about the Palestinians, said: “We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us. They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Tillerson: Palestinian Authority to stop paying terrorists’ families

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators that the Palestinian Authority will stop paying the families of terrorists who have attacked or killed Israelis.

“We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us,” Tillerson said on Capitol Hill Tuesday at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Tillerson noted that he and President Donald Trump both spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the issue during recent meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.

The American Jewish Committee welcomed Tillerson’s remarks.

“If a firm U.S. stance actually leads to the end of this outrageous practice, as Secretary Tillerson said will be the case, AJC would be the first to applaud,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement.

According to Times of Israel, an Israeli general told parliament last month that the Palestinian Authority has paid out nearly $1.2 billion to terrorists and their families over the past four years.

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process

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

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.

Hamas hangs 3 accused of collaborating with Israel in killing of commander

The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades cadets marching in the town square of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip on June 15, 2015. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Hamas hanged three men in Gaza accused of “collaborating” with Israel.

The death sentence was carried out Thursday by the terror organization that controls the coastal strip.

The men were accused of being involved in giving information to Israeli military intelligence to aid in the assassination of a top Hamas commander, Mazen Fuqaha, late last month in Gaza, which Hamas blames on Israel. Israel has neither affirmed nor denied involvement in the killing.

The men, aged 32, 42 and 55, were charged with providing information on the location of Hamas operatives and military sites over the past three decades. Hamas said they were allowed to defend themselves as provided under Sharia law.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the executions and said they were illegal because Hamas did not get the permission to execute from P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the hangings.

“The abhorrent executions by Hamas authorities of three men in Gaza deemed to be collaborators project weakness, not strength,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the organization’s Middle East division, said in a statement. “Hamas authorities will never achieve true security or stability through firing squads or by the gallows, but rather through respect for international norms and the rule of law.”

Trump invites Abbas to the White House

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. Feb. 27. Photo by Denis Bailbouse/REUTERS.

President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House.

Abbas and Trump spoke on Friday and a Palestinian Authority spokesman soon after reported the invitation, saying the meeting would be aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been dormant since 2014.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, confirmed the invitation later Friday but did not add details.

Trump met at the White House last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a meeting both leaders said would lead to improved ties after eight years of tension between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu, however, appeared taken aback at Trump’s request during a press conference that Israel stop settlement building for now. Israelis are also wary of U.S. leaders assuming an oversized role in peace-making, while Palestinians have traditionally welcomed it.

Trump has said he is open to outcomes to the conflict that don’t necessarily end in two separate states. The Palestinian Authority still embraces a two-state outcome, as does Netanyahu. Trump’s retreat from the two-state solution have led some Israeli Cabinet members on Netanyahu’s right to call for annexing portions of the West Bank.

Reform movement leaders meet with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah

Rick Jacobs speaking at the 2013 URJ Reform Biennial, Dec. 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of URJ.

Leaders of the U.S. Reform movement met with Palestinian Authority President President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

The delegation of around 30 leaders from the Union for Reform Judaism, led by its president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, met with Abbas and other Palestinian officials Thursday afternoon.

Discussions during the meeting, which represented the first time a URJ delegation led by Jacobs met with Palestinian leadership, included the two-state-solution, Israeli settlements and the Trump administration.

“I was impressed with the president’s clear and unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution,” Jacobs said in a statement. “He clearly is frustrated with the lack of progress, or even the existence of ongoing negotiations. I share that frustration.”

Jacobs also said he learned from Palestinian officials that they had spoken with the Trump administration, which had confirmed that U.S. policy continues to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a joint news conference last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump had said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, a statement Palestinians slammed for breaking with decades of American policy.

One unnamed Palestinian official told Israel Radio that the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.” Liberal and centrists Jewish groups also criticized Trump’s statement.

During Thursday’s meeting, the delegation also spoke with Abbas “about the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to stem anti-Israeli incitement.”

“He acknowledged it was a real challenge, just as it is in Israel, and called for reviving the anti-incitement trilateral committee led by the U.S.,” Jacobs said.

Daryl Messinger, chair of the URJ North American Board, acknowledged that the two sides disagreed about some issues.

“We clearly did not agree on everything, nor did we expect to. We were warmly received, and I found our conversation to be positive,” Messinger said.

The URJ delegation, which arrived in Israel on Monday, also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky as well as members of the Knesset. The group is scheduled to speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel in a narrow vote. David Friedman’s nomination will now go before the full Senate for approval.

Friedman’s critics cited his past skepticism of the two-state solution and his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement as well as his past insults of Jews with whom he doesn’t agree. Friedman had called J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, “worse than kapos,” the Jewish Nazi collaborators.

Bernie Sanders asks envoy nominee David Friedman whether some funds for Israel should go to Gaza

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Sen. Bernie Sanders asked David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, whether he would back using funds earmarked for assistance to Israel to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Sanders in a letter he handed Friedman after they met Wednesday also asked whether he thinks the tax-exempt status of groups that fundraise for settlers should be reviewed. JTA obtained a copy of the letter on Thursday.

The questions in the letter are significant as they suggest the path forward for Israel policy among progressive Democrats.

Sanders has emerged as a de facto leader of progressives following his insurgent but unsuccessful campaign last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. In perhaps the best-received speech over the weekend at the annual conference of J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, Sanders pushed the theme that pro-Israel Jews need not hesitate to criticize Israeli government policies.

His letter outlines three questions for Friedman: whether he supports a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the appropriateness of an ambassador having deep involvement in the settler movement as a fundraiser and advocate, as Friedman does; and regarding Israeli assistance.

Two states has long been Democratic policy and for 15 years was official U.S. policy until Trump retreated into agnosticism on the issue when he met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The second two points, however, venture into areas that Democrats have yet to embrace.

“As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination [of] their tax-exempt status?” Sanders asked.

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

J Street has advocated for withdrawing tax-exempt status for groups that fundraise for settlements. Other pro-Israel groups – including some of J Street’s allies on the left – oppose the position, in part because it could trigger far-reaching consequences for all nonprofits on the left and right while turning tax-exempt status into a political battlefield.

Sanders also asked Friedman whether “a portion” of the $38 billion in defense aid to Israel over the next 10 years under an agreement signed last year by former President Barack Obama “should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials” to Gaza.

Aid to Israel in Congress and the pro-Israel community has been sacrosanct, and no president has seriously proposed cutting it since Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. Subsequent presidents used short delays in delivery of assistance and the amount that the United States guarantees Israel’s loans as means of leveraging pressure on Israel, but assistance has been untouched.

Sanders cast the proposal in part as one that would help secure Gaza by stabilizing the strip. But it comes at a time that Republicans in Congress are proposing cutting assistance to the Palestinians as a means of pressuring them into direct talks with Israel and pushing the Palestinian Authority to end subsidies for the families of jailed or killed terrorists.

Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, did not reply to a request for comment. His ambassadorship is controversial in Congress and in the Jewish community because of his past involvement with settlers, and because of the rhetoric he has used to describe Jews who disagree with him.

Palestinians blast Trump’s break with two-state policy

A Palestinian man watches a joint press conference by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a coffee shop in the West Bank city of Hebron. Feb. 15. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Palestinian officials slammed President Donald Trump for breaking from decades of U.S. policy supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One unnamed official told Israel Radio on Wednesday, after Trump at a joint White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, said the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.”

The official also said that no regional approach to the Arab-Israel conflict will be successful without a solution for the Palestinians.

The Trump administration had suggested in recent days that a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. During the news conference, Trump did not commit to any particular solution.

“I like the one the two parties like,” Trump said in answer to a question about what solution he prefers. “I can live with either one.”

The Palestinian official told Israel Radio: “What’s this two state or one state? Why not five states already? This is worthless talk.”

He added that the Israeli prime minister is not the only player in the region and that Trump should also listen to the Palestinians’ opinion on the issue.

“If Trump would like to be in touch with us, we are here and not going anywhere,” he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO, responded to Trump’s remarks in a statement.

“If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Ashrawi said. “Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy.”

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset, told CNN in an interview following the news conference that if a one-state solution gives Palestinians the vote, he will run for prime minister and win. He also said that a solution other than two states “could lead to violence.”

Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union coalition, called it “sad and shameful” to see Netanyahu “twisting and turning just to avoid the idea of separating from the Palestinians in the form of two states.”

“Every Israeli should be concerned tonight about the very concept of one state between the sea to the Jordan, which means no Jewish state. This is a very dangerous disaster and we will fight it in every way possible,” Herzog said.

Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, celebrated Trump’s backing away from a two-state solution.

“A new era. After 24 years, the Palestinian flag is lowered and the Israeli flag is put in its place,” Bennett wrote on his Hebrew-language Facebook page. On his English language page he posted:

“A new era.
New ideas.
No need for 3rd Palestinian state beyond Jordan & Gaza.
Big day for Israelis & reasonable Arabs.
Congrats.”

Following the meeting, Netanyahu tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump, thanks very much for the warm welcome. Israel has no better friend than the US; the US has no better friend than Israel.”

Obama administration reportedly gave $221M to Palestinians hours before Trump inauguration

The Obama administration reportedly sent $221 million to the Palestinian Authority on the morning of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The administration told Congress that it would send the funds hours before Trump was sworn in Friday, an anonymous State Department official and several congressional aides said, according to The Associated Press.

At least two unnamed Republican lawmakers had held up the money, AP reported, in an act that is not legally binding but is usually respected by the executive branch.

In total, the Obama administration sent over $227 million of foreign funding on Friday, including $4 million to climate change programs and $1.25 million to United Nations organizations, according to AP.

In 2016, the United States gave $557 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, according to USAID. Israel was the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid last year, receiving $3.1 billion.

Erekat launches personal attack against Friedman

This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed David Friedman, President-elect Donald Trump’s selection for Ambassador to Israel, in a conference call organized by the Wilson Center on Monday.

“David Friedman is a very well known extreme right wing supporter of settlers, supporter of annexation of East Jerusalem… This is a disaster,” the veteran Palestinian official said. Erekat assailed Friedman for refusing to use the term “West Bank” and instead refer to the territories conquered by Israel in the 1967 war as “Judea and Samaria.”

Erekat’s personal attack against Friedman is a departure from his statements on Friday trying to focus only on policy. “Donald Trump’s announcement of his cabinet… is his business,” the chief negotiator emphasized at a press conference in Bethlehem.

But, by Monday, Erekat appeared to change his tone. “With such a move by Mr. Trump, he says that there is no longer a two-state solution when he sends an ambassador like David Friedman to the region… For God’s sake, what is going on?”

Last week, Erekat and a senior Palestinian delegation came to Washington and met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about a proposed UN Security Council resolution on settlements. Haaretz reported on December 10 that the Palestinian delegation was supposed to meet with Trump transition officials during their time in the American capital.

Jewish Insider asked Erekat about the outcome of these meetings, but the chief Palestinian negotiator clarified, “We did not meet with any of the Trump people. I don’t know any of them as a matter of fact. We tried, but we did not get the chance to meet with any of them.” It appears from Erekat’s answer that Trump officials turned down the Palestinian delegation’s request for a meeting.

David Friedman did not immediately respond to Jewish Insider’s request for comment about Erekat’s accusations.

Friedman, 57, served as Trump’s bankruptcy attorney and Israel advisor throughout the campaign. Both Friedman and Trump have proposed moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, earning praise by hawkish members of the Israeli government including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud).

The Palestinian leadership has wrestled since the election results with the proper response to Trump’s hardline policies. The Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said on November 11 that if Trump moved the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, the Palestinians would “make life miserable” for America at the UN. “If they do that nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves and we have a lot of weapons in the UN.”

However, Al-Monitor’s Shlomi Eldar reported on November 28 that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reprimanded Mansour for his threat against the real-estate mogul turned commander in chief. At the same time, Abbas has yet to issue any public remarks criticizing Trump.

Erekat also issued a threat during the call. “I am still the chief negotiator for the Palestinians. If the (US) Embassy moved to Jerusalem, I will not be the negotiator anymore,” he added. Nonetheless, Erekat has repeatedly promised to leave his post during his decades of service but still kept his position.

On the other hand, Aaron David Miller Vice President at the Wilson Center and longtime US Middle East negotiator cautioned about overemphasizing the role that Friedman may play. For many years US Presidents have established discrete channels with Israeli leaders that do not involve the Ambassador, Miller noted.

Netanyahu thanks Abbas for sending firefighting crews

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for sending firefighters to assist in putting out massive fires throughout Israel.

Netanyahu called Abbas on Saturday night, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Palestinian Authority sent eight fire trucks and about 40 firefighters.

The Palestinian firefighters worked to tamp down fires in Haifa and along Route 1, the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. They also helped extinguish fires in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, where dozens of homes were damaged or burned to the ground.

Twelve countries sent planes and firefighters to assist in putting out the fires.

Most of the fires were doused by Saturday night.

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.

Ethnic cleansing? Really, Netanyahu?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a new PR strategy that involves posting clever YouTube videos.   

Except exactly one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video declaring that removing Jews from their homes in the West Bank is “ethnic cleansing,” his minister of defense, Avigdor Lieberman, announced he was removing Jews from their homes in the West Bank.

As the very much missed Jon Stewart would say: “Wha-wha WHAT?”

Lieberman is no Peace Now-nik. But the Israeli High Court ruled that the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona must be evacuated, and Lieberman said he would follow the court’s ruling. Israel, he said, is a nation of laws.

So this is interesting. Assume, one day, there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Will Israeli families be made to abandon their settlements because the Palestinians are engaged in ethnic cleansing, or because the Israelis want to abide by international law? 

Wait, don’t answer. There’s more.

Because the very idea that the prime minister asserts — that the Palestinians want a Judenrein Palestine — is debatable.

In 2009, then-Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad spoke at a conference in Aspen, Colo. Asked if Jews would be able to live in a future Palestine, here’s what he said:

“In fact the kind of state that we want to have, that we aspire to have, is one that would definitely espouse high values of tolerance, co-existence, mutual respect and deference to all cultures, religions. No discrimination whatsoever, on any basis whatsoever. Jews to the extent they choose to stay and live in the State of Palestine will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel,” Fayyad said.

Oh, you say, but that’s Salam Fayyad. He’s like the Palestinian Elijah — more aspiration than reality. Except here’s Hanan Ashrawi speaking to the Times of Israel, reiterating what many Palestinians have told various media over the years:

“Any person, be he Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, will have the right to apply for Palestinian citizenship. Our basic law prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity.”

The Palestinians refuse to allow Israeli settlers to stay as Israelis in a future state, because they see the settlements as illegal, as do the majority of international bodies. But if the settlers want to stay as Jews loyal to Palestine, these leaders are saying “welcome.” 

“If Netanyahu argues that these positions are against Jews, we say to him that two Jews were elected in 2009 as members of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council: Ilan Halevi and Uri Davis,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said to the Times of Israel in 2014. “Our position is against settlements, considering them illegal and contrary to all international laws.”

So it turns out that Bibi’s very premise, that the Palestinians want Jews out, isn’t exactly true. A two-state solution would end Israeli sovereignty and control in Palestine, not necessarily a Jewish presence. It would separate the two sides legally, but not ethnically. Jews would be able to live and prosper in Ramallah. Palestinians would be able to live and prosper in Haifa — as tens of thousands of them already do. A two-state solution is not ethnic cleansing. It is border-setting.

The alternative to that solution is one that I can’t imagine Bibi really wants, though more and more Palestinians (and a few Jews) do. They want one state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  And within that one state, they want each person to have one vote.   

Just to be clear on the details, that land, comprising the pre- and post-1967 borders of Israel, currently is home to 5.8 million Arabs and 6.2 million Jews, according to Arnon Soffer, a geography professor and one of the founders of the University of Haifa.

If Bibi wants to guarantee the rights of Israelis to live anywhere on that land, now would be a good time to say so, before Russian President Vladimir Putin goes through all the trouble of hosting a peace conference. In short order, Israel would be a very different state than what its founders intended, or it would cease being a democracy.

The late Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin thought it was best to divide the land, as did every Republican president and presidential candidate until, you know, Donald Trump. 

The rule of law matters to Israel —  or else why evacuate Amona?  And international law, demographics, security and economics matter, or else why evacuate Israelis from Gaza, or maintain Oslo?

The point is, YouTube is easy; peace is hard.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

U.S. court voids $655 million verdict against PLO over Israel attacks

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday threw out a $655.5 million verdict against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for damages suffered by American families from terrorist attacks in Israel.

By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a lower court judge erred in concluding he had jurisdiction over the case. The appeals court ordered that the civil lawsuit, which began in January 2004, be dismissed.

“The terror machine gun attacks and suicide bombings that triggered this suit and victimized these plaintiffs were unquestionably horrific,” Judge John Koeltl wrote for the appeals court.

“But the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs' claims.”

Wednesday's decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for Americans seeking to hold foreign entities liable in U.S. courts for damages tied to international terrorism.

The 10 families who won the verdict had sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets American victims of international terrorism sue in U.S. courts.

“The very terrorists who prompted the law have now hidden behind the U.S. Constitution to avoid responsibility for their crimes,” Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families, said in an email. “This cruel decision must be corrected so that these families may receive justice.”

Gassan Baloul, a lawyer for the defendants, said in an email they were gratified that the appeals court accepted their “consistent position” that U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction.

SIX ATTACKS

The families had sought to hold the Palestinian Authority and PLO liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area. The attacks killed 33 people, including several Americans, and wounded more than 450. They have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas.

The families contended that late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for payments to attackers and to families of attackers who died. But the defendants have said they condemned the attacks, blaming them instead on rogue employees who acted on their own.

In February 2015, after a six-week trial, a federal jury in Manhattan found the Palestinian Authority and PLO liable and awarded $218.5 million, a sum automatically tripled to $655.5 million under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act.

The appeals court said the trial judge, George Daniels, erred in letting the case proceed at all.

Koeltl noted the attacks “occurred entirely outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States” and found no evidence the attackers targeted Americans.

He also said that while the Palestinian groups maintained a mission in Washington, D.C., and promoted their cause within the country, this did not make them “essentially at home” in the United States so that courts there could exercise jurisdiction.

OTHER LEGAL SETBACKS

Wednesday's decision is the second in eight days by the Manhattan appeals court against victims of attacks in Israel.

On Aug. 24, the court said it lacked jurisdiction to hold Lebanese Canadian Bank SAL liable under the Alien Tort Statute to victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks, for allegedly helping finance that group through a New York bank account.

In December, the court said thousands of non-U.S. citizens could not pursue claims against Jordan's Arab Bank Plc for allegedly providing support to Hamas, al-Aqsa and others for attacks in Israel.

In August 2015 Arab Bank settled separate litigation brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act over its responsibility for attacks in Israel. That accord is conditioned on an appeal of the Brooklyn jury's 2014 underlying liability verdict.

The case is Sokolow et al v. Palestine Liberation Organization et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-3135.

Palestinian gunman in attack that killed father of 10 dies in shootout with Israeli troops

The Palestinian gunman who killed a rabbi and father of 10 in a West Bank ambush nearly a month ago was killed in a shootout with Israeli security forces near Hebron.

Soldiers and police surrounded the house of Muhammad al-Fakih, 29, who is said to have been the member of the Hamas terror cell who pulled the trigger in the attack on the family as they traveled in their car on Route 60, a main thoroughfare in the southern West Bank.

Rabbi Michael “Miki” Mark, head of the Otniel Yeshiva, was killed in the July 1 attack. His wife was shot in the head and seriously wounded, and two of their teenage children were injured.

Three other men have been arrested in connection with the attack. One of the arrested has been identified as a member of the Palestinian Authority security forces, according to Israel’s Channel 2.

Al-Fakih reportedly fired on the Israeli troops who surrounded his house. The troops returned fire, including reportedly hitting the building with an anti-tank missile. The building was then mostly knocked down by an Israeli army bulldozer. Weapons including a Kalashnikov rifle and a homemade grenade were discovered in the house, Ynet reported.

Al-Fakih reportedly served time in an Israeli jail for ties to the Islamic Jihad terror group, but switched his allegiance to Hamas while in prison.