Is Trump Administration Working On A Serious Israeli PA Peace Plan?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US must address our security needs, PM says amid peace plan speculation

Israel ‘won’t agree to talks with the Palestinians as long as Hamas’ is part of Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu tells fellow ministers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONEN ZVULUN)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel’s response to any peace plan proposed by the Trump administration would be determined solely by the country’s security needs and interests.

The comments came amid reports that the US plans to push forward with a peace plan that would recognize a Palestinian state but leave open the possibility for all Israeli settlers to remain in their homes. An Israeli TV report to this effect Saturday night was dismissed as inaccurate by both Israel and the US.

Speaking to a gathering of Likud ministers Sunday morning, Netanyahu said, “As for the speculation I’ve been hearing [about the US plan], if [US President Donald] Trump presents a diplomatic plan, the only consideration that will guide me will be Israel’s national and security interests.”

At the full cabinet meeting shortly after, Netanyahu told ministers, “I don’t intend to address the many speculations we’ve heard over the weekend” regarding the Trump plan. But, he added, the security and other interests that will determine Israel’s response to such a plan “have been explained fully to our American friends.”

At the earlier meeting, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin asked Netanyahu if the Trump administration was aware of last month’s cabinet decision that ruled out negotiating with any Palestinian government “that relies on Hamas.”

“Very much,” Netanyahu replied, according to Channel 10 news. “I, too, won’t agree to talks with the Palestinians as long as Hamas is part of an alliance [with the Palestinian Authority,” he told the Likud ministers.

According to a Hadashot (formerly Channel 2) news report Saturday, the US plan would include recognition of a Palestinian state, but no insistence on the evacuation of Israeli settlements or settlers under a permanent accord, while Washington would back most of Israel’s security demands regarding the West Bank.

Citing what it said were senior Israelis intimately involved in the ongoing discussions with Trump’s peace team, Hadashot said the plan would see Trump prepared to offer recognition of Palestinian statehood, with the parameters of that state to include land swaps. The borders, however, would “not necessarily” be based on the pre-1967 lines.

Sunni Arab states and others would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in economic assistance for the Palestinians to help encourage Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the deal, the report said.

The US would recognize most of Israel’s stated security needs, including for the ongoing presence of Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, the TV report added. It said Netanyahu, for his part, was pushing for the retention of overall Israeli security control in all Palestinian territory.

No settlers or settlements would be evacuated under the US proposal, the TV report said, and no Arabs would be required to relocate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump are seen prior to their meeting at the Palace Hotel in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017.(AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

The report was immediately denied by both Washington and Jerusalem.

A White House official called it “not an accurate representation” of the peace plan being worked on.

“There is constant speculation and guessing about what we are working on and this report is more of the same,” the official said. “It is not an accurate representation; rather it is a mix of possibilities and ideas that have existed for decades.”

“What we can say is we are engaged in a productive dialogue with all relevant parties and are taking a different approach than the past to create an enduring peace deal,” the official told The Times of Israel. “We are not going to put an artificial deadline on anything and we have no imminent plans beyond continuing our conversations. As we have always said, our job is to facilitate a deal that works for both Israelis and Palestinians, not to impose anything on them.”

Netanyahu’s office similarly stated that “the report is not accurate.” It said Netanyahu’s response to the US proposal would depend on its content and specifically on whether it met “the security needs and national needs of the State of Israel.”

The proposal is to be presented within months, but not in the next month, the TV report claimed. It will not deal with the issue of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, or with US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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The day Palestine gave up

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

ANALYSISARAFAT MISREAD THE ISRAELIS. ABBAS MISREADS THE PALESTINIANS

The day Palestine gave up

In last month’s reconciliation agreement, Abbas handed his legacy into Hamas’s keeping, and Hamas revealed that it is strong enough to drag its people to war, but not to freedom

Haviv Rettig Gur

File: Palestinians protesting in Gaza, November 12, 2012. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

File: Palestinians protesting in Gaza, November 12, 2012. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

On November 1, against all expectations, Hamas officials dismantled the checkpoints the organization maintained inside the Israeli-controlled crossings on the Israeli-Gazan border.

It was a dramatic step. No longer would Palestinians leaving Gaza for Israel or the West Bank face questioning by Hamas intelligence officials about their business. No longer would Palestinians entering Gaza face the exorbitant import taxes and other fees imposed by Hamas.

That bears repeating. In taking this step, Hamas, a group choked on almost every side by enemies foreign and domestic, willingly surrendered a lucrative source of income that fed many millions of shekels each year into its coffers.

More startling still: it was a step beyond what Hamas was strictly required to do at this stage under the reconciliation agreement signed with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in Cairo last month that handed some control over Gaza to the PA.

A Hamas security man walks inside a border checkpoint building after it was decommissioned at the northern entrance of the Gaza Strip just past the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing, on November 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

It is not enough to simply say these actions are part of “reconciliation.” Hamas’s commitment to “national reconciliation” has never extended this far in the past. What changed? What could possibly drive Hamas to surrender part of its rule over Gaza and renounce vital sources of influence and money?

Winners and losers

At first glance, it is Fatah, not Hamas, that appears the clear winner from the agreement. In the reconciliation deal, Fatah regained a foothold in Gaza for the first time since its forces were summarily routed from the Strip in 2007.

The advantages for Fatah are many. Its chief, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, now has an answer to the complaint occasionally heard from Israeli officials that he cannot negotiate a peace agreement because he neither controls nor represents half of the Palestinian body politic. Similarly, his standing on the world stage is boosted by the sheer fact of movement. There is a crack in the status quo. If Fatah and Hamas can reconcile, some diplomats have quietly suggested, perhaps wider gulfs, such as those separating Israelis and Palestinians, can also be bridged.

The ability to show progress also has financial implications. Incorporating Hamas into a new PA government would probably cost the PA dearly, as some countries and international institutions would find it difficult to fund Palestinian agencies linked to Hamas or its officials. On the other hand, if Fatah can incorporate Hamas sufficiently for “reconciliation” to be realized, while maintaining a firewall between Hamas and aid-receiving institutions, the takeover of Gaza could yet turn out to be a financial boon. International assistance to Gaza all but dried up under Hamas. If it picks up again under PA auspices, there’s a lot of money, institution-building and political capital to be gained for Fatah.

Palestinians in Gaza City wave Palestinian and Egyptian flags to celebrate the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah in Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

And what has Hamas gained for all that? The answer, ironically, is that the very things it lost are its most significant gain.

When it seized Gaza from Fatah in 2007, Hamas declared that the takeover validated its vision of an Islamic Palestine, that its rise against all odds, against the express wishes of the PA, Israel and much of the international community, proved that these opponents, for all their immense power, could be pushed back, and that pious Muslims could find themselves on the ascendant in their wake.

Hamas’s troubles may have begun when it made the mistake of believing its own propaganda. In the name of its pious devotion to the cause, it drove Gaza from one ideological clash to another, dragging its long-suffering population not only into repeated rounds of war with Israel, but even, inexplicably to outsiders, into the bloodstained mess of the civil war between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s one-time patrons and ideological forebears.

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water from public taps in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Facing an Israeli blockade from the start of Hamas’s rule in 2007, as of 2014 Gazans found themselves under a ruthlessly tightening Egyptian one as well — the Egyptian army’s response to Hamas’s meddling. And beginning in 2017, Abbas’s PA began imposing its own financial stranglehold, denying the Hamas-led government in Gaza funds from the PA for the provision of basic services such as electricity.

Hamas could blame and bluster, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for it to argue it was leading Gaza to a better place.

Hamas’s political leadership has spent the past 10 years attempting to prove that the movement was more than a narrowly conceived paramilitary organization. By 2017, its military wing, which took control of the organization with the rise of Yahya Sinwar in the last internal elections in February, had concluded that the attempt to expand Hamas’s agenda and vision beyond the narrow confines of its guerrilla war against Israel had become a trap, a distraction. It saddled the organization with the thankless monotonies and shackling responsibilities of civilian leadership. It was suddenly in charge of the economic wellbeing, health, education and safety of millions — and for what?

A Palestinian man blows fire as Gazans gather at an intersection to celebrate the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, on August 26, 2014, in Gaza City. (AFP/Roberto Schmidt)

And so both sides in the reconciliation deal believe they are gaining something important. Fatah restores some of its lost privileges and powers after 10 long years of embarrassment in Gaza. Hamas sheds the distracting albatross of civilian rule that so diminished its standing and, many feel, set it up for failure.

Misunderstandings

Abbas’s predecessor, former Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority founder Yasser Arafat, passed away in 2004 having watched his efforts come to ignominious failure. His PA all but crushed, and with much of the post-9/11 West, usually so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, exasperated at the Palestinian resort to the mass-killing of Israeli civilians, Arafat’s bitter end led to a reexamination of his fundamental strategy by the Palestinian elite.

US President George W. Bush listening to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, speaking at a joint news conference following their talks about the Middle East peace process at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, April 11, 2005. (J. Scott Applewhite /AP Images/JTA)

By the time of Arafat’s death, the man who had destroyed him, who had humiliated him by demolishing part of his Muqata headquarters building in Ramallah with him inside, who had sent Israeli forces marching into Palestinian population centers with one purpose: to capture and dismantle the terror groups and end the wave of suicide bombings detonating in Israeli cities – that man, Ariel Sharon, had become the most popular Israeli leader in decades. Sharon attained that popularity through a simple expedient: amid a wave of detonating pizzerias and mass-murders of Israeli children, he ended the decade-old experiment of negotiating with Palestinian leaders on the assumption that they were capable or willing to offer peace.

Arafat’s failure, and Sharon’s parallel success, drove home something important about the nature of that failure. It was in large part a failure to understand Israelis.

Arafat spent those final years of his life apparently believing that the relentless campaign of bombings and shootings that began in 2000 would convince the Israelis that the Palestinian spirit was indomitable and ultimately irresistible, that they could never be safe in this land and so, eventually, were destined to lose the long war between the two peoples.

A Palestinian woman walks past a portrait of Yasser Arafat at the start of celebrations marking the 13th anniversary of his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

But Israelis drew the opposite lesson from that experience: according to countless and exhaustive polls, most Israelis concluded from that violence that Palestinian politics could not resist the temptation to transform any gains at the negotiating table into a staging ground for violent jihad against Israeli civilians. Palestinian demands were thus unfulfillable, because they did not end at the Green Line. It did not matter if one found a Palestinian moderate and began negotiating with him. There would always be Arafats, Marwan Barghoutis and Yahya Sinwars in the wings preparing to turn any peace gains into further and deadlier war.

Most Israelis came to believe, in other words, that Palestinian violence was not susceptible to policy or concession, that there was nothing they could afford to give to the Palestinians that would end it — and that therefore it was up to the Israelis themselves to take the necessary steps to crush the Palestinian capacity for violence.

The point here is not to argue that this mainstream Israeli belief is correct. Palestinian society and politics are complex, and Palestinian attitudes have themselves changed over the years. Whether this Israeli view is objectively true is a judgment call, one usually made with insufficient evidence either way. The point here is simply to note that this is what mainstream Israelis have come to believe about the Palestinians — and that this belief carries strategic implications for the Palestinian future.

The Palestinians have yet to recover from Arafat’s miscalculation about Israeli psychology, his misreading of how Israelis would respond to the terrorism of the Second Intifada. They have yet to regain the economic integration and political potential that once drove the Palestinian economy and thrust its cause upon the world stage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a peace conference in Washington, D.C. on September 2, 2010. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at a peace conference in Washington, DC, on September 2, 2010. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Yet, ironically, it was in the 13 years since Arafat’s death, under the less-than-inspiring, less-than-competent rule of his heir Mahmoud Abbas, that the Palestinians engaged in an even more fundamental miscalculation. Arafat misunderstood the Israelis. Abbas misunderstands the Palestinians.

Abbas has spent most of the years since 2004, the year when Arafat’s strategy of violence might be said to have begun its long, slow, comprehensive collapse, pursuing the alternative policy he had long championed: replacing Palestinian terrorism with internationalism, replacing a type of pressure that cost Palestine its allies and any gains it had made under the Oslo process with a different sort of pressure geared toward restoring those allies and augmenting those gains.

His policy, in short: to throw the Palestinian cause at the feet of the world.

But Abbas’s internationalization strategy rests on two unexamined assumptions. First, that the Israeli resistance to withdrawing from the West Bank is a relatively weak sentiment, weak enough to be swayed by international opprobrium or sanctions; second, and despite all evidence to the contrary, that his fellow Palestinians would play along with the strategy.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20, 2017, in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Abbas grasps that the two Palestinian strategies — violence and internationalization — counteract each other: that terrorism bolsters Israeli resistance to withdrawal, and so fatally undermines the capacity of international pressure to deliver results. Yet this understanding has only ever expressed itself at the tactical level. Abbas’s security services have spent much of the past 10 years cracking down on Palestinian terror groups in areas controlled by the PA.

Abbas’s problem, however, extends far beyond the piecemeal challenge of preventing the occasional act of violence. Among Palestinians, the violent “resistance” is no mere tactic employed by a small handful of violent extremists. It is a fundamental pillar of their narrative of national liberation, a vehicle for reclaiming the dignity lost by their history of dispossession, a crucible that for many lends the sheen of redemptive theology to their long suffering.

This vision of a violent reclamation of national honor is reified in Hamas, funded by cash from Qatar, Iran and elsewhere, and sustained by the religious leadership of Palestinian society in most Palestinian towns and villages. Indeed, it often seems to be the only narrative left standing that still teaches Palestinians that they have agency in deciding their fate, or that victory against immovable Israel is even possible.

After Arafat’s death, Abbas turned away from the tactic of terrorism, but never seems to have given serious thought to the strategic problem posed by the reservoirs of ideology and identity that still lionize that violence in the Palestinian body politic.

Palestinian supporters of Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (portrait) gather in Gaza City as Abbas addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

In the end, Abbas lives in a kind of ideological purgatory. He cannot pursue the violent strategy he has watched fail so spectacularly, nor can he acknowledge the flaw at the heart of his diplomatic strategy — the sad fact that Israelis who could not be frightened off by waves of suicide terrorism are not likely to be dislodged by waves of international tut-tutting. Worse, the trap is permanent. Israeli recalcitrance is shored up against foreign pressure by the very expectation of more waves of terrorism. The one Palestinian strategy fatally undermines the other.

And so he is left trying to sell Palestinians on the shallowest of the strategic visions available to them, and they know it. (A recent poll found that 67 percent of Palestinians want him to resign, a result that surprised no one.) Salvation will come from New York and Geneva, he insists, even as Israelis remain distinctly unimpressed by his international efforts. And the longer salvation is delayed, the more he is identified with yet another drawn-out failure of the Palestinian national movement.

Albatrosses

In the unity deal struck between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority last month, Abbas effectively swallowed into his PA, into his vehicle for restoring Palestinian dignity by — not to put too fine a point on it — ignoring the causes of Palestinian self-defeat, the very architects of that defeat, the party most responsible for the hardening of Israeli politics against Palestinian aspirations.

And, as might be expected, he has done so without any capacity to control what Hamas does or says in Palestine’s name. Hamas, after all, seems eager to surrender every instrument of sovereignty it possesses in Gaza – except the one that matters: its armed wing will remain intact, and under its control.

This was not Hamas’s “red line,” as some commentators suggested, implying that Hamas was being magnanimous with its other concessions. It was the original point and purpose of the entire exercise of reconciliation. Hamas could not give up its military wing because it was in the process of becoming its military wing, shorn of the extranea of civil politics.

The leader of the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, waves as he arrives for a meeting with the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister and other officials in Gaza City on October 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

It is no accident that in the delicate days leading up to the November 1 transfer of Gaza’s border crossings to the PA, Hamas leaders took painstaking care to assure their Fatah counterparts that, more than anything else, they should not fear the continued existence of a separate Hamas military.

The nation is “still in the throes of our national liberation efforts,” and therefore “we cannot surrender our weapons,” Sinwar himself said on October 25. But, he assured, “our weapons must be under the umbrella of the [Fatah-dominated] Palestine Liberation Organization.”

“The weapons of the Qassam Brigades [Hamas’s military wing] belong to the Palestinian people,” he added for good measure. They were meant “to be used for the liberation effort, and not for internal conflict.”

Those words, meant to soothe the nerves of Fatah officials who understand how small is their victory if Hamas retains its 25,000-strong military, were a signal of the tension within Fatah over the reconciliation. Indeed, just a week earlier, Sinwar was decidedly less magnanimous: “Disarming us,” he quipped, “is like Satan dreaming of heaven. No one can take away our weapons.”

Fatah leaders are not stupid; they understand that their retaking of Gaza is coming at the cost of liberating Hamas from its civilian responsibilities and freeing it to better lead the military side of the Palestinian agenda. They are worried.

Some analysts have suggested that Hamas will still be able to play “spoiler” to any peace initiative. This is true, of course, but it was also true before the reconciliation.

Members of Hamas’s military branches take part in a military parade in Gaza City on July 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

What worries Fatah is not Hamas’s ability to spoil peace talks. Hamas has won something more important in Palestinian terms. By granting it a reprieve from its civilian rule in Gaza, and thus unshackling it from responsibility for the consequences of its narrative, Abbas has ensured that no matter what he says or does, it is Hamas and its ilk, the proponents of sacred, violent resistance, who will tell his story. They are now the emancipated bearers of the only Palestinian narrative actively being told in Palestine, a narrative whose basic tenets Abbas has not even attempted to challenge.

Abbas’s entire vision and legacy now lie at Hamas’s feet. He can never crush them enough, nor suppress their narrative about Palestinian resistance sufficiently — in part because he believes much of it himself — to win the war of ideas. He has now backed himself into the unenviable corner of trying to push ahead with his internationalization strategy while an unfettered Hamas operates without the slightest check to undermine him.

And he did it to himself, all for the paltry benefit of restoring the lost dignity of Fatah’s 2007 collapse in Gaza.

Hamas’s leaders are surely breathing easier now that the responsibility for Gaza’s desolation is being lifted from their shoulders. But for them, too, the reconciliation comes at a vast price. Hamas has effectively acknowledged that it is unable to steer the territory under its control to freedom and prosperity. The hard-bitten tacticians of its military wing may scoff at such considerations, but that doesn’t make them unimportant. In its abdication of civil leadership, Hamas reveals its own underlying strategic weakness, a weakness it shares with its new ally Hezbollah. Both groups are powerful enough to drag their nations into war, but not ideologically flexible or curious enough to be the bearers of better days.

Hamas has acknowledged that it cannot build a Palestine where Israel has withdrawn. It no longer even wants to.

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IDF deploys Iron Dome, raises alert amid Gaza terror threat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF deploys Iron Dome, raises alert amid Gaza terror threat

Deployment of missile defenses comes 2 weeks after military destroyed an Islamic Jihad attack tunnel, leading to death of at least 12 of the group’s operatives

An Iron Dome missile defense system deployed near the southern Israeli town of Beersheba in 2014. (Flash90/File)

An Iron Dome missile defense system deployed near the southern Israeli town of Beersheba in 2014. (Flash90/File)

A number of Iron Dome missile defense batteries were deployed in central Israel on Monday, the military said, amid heightened tensions with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the army demolished the terrorist group’s border-crossing attack tunnel last month.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the anti-missile systems had been installed in central Israel, but would not elaborate on their exact location, citing army policy.

The Iron Dome system, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets and, in some cases, mortars was deployed to counter the threats made by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group, which has vowed to avenge its members killed in the tunnel blast and its aftermath.

Israeli officials have tried to dissuade the terrorist group, warning of a harsh retaliation by the IDF.

On Saturday, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who runs the Defense Ministry’s chief liaison officer with the Palestinians, publicly warned Islamic Jihad in a video posted to YouTube. He addressed by name the terror group’s leader, Ramadan Shalah, and his deputy, Ziad Nakhaleh, who run the Gaza-based group from Damascus, and said they would be “held responsible” should Islamic Jihad attack Israel.

In the video, Mordechai said that Israel is “aware of the plot that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is planning against Israel,” and warned that “any attack by the Islamic Jihad will be met with a powerful and determined Israeli response, not only against the Jihad, but also against Hamas.”

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad responded to Mordechai’s video on Sunday, saying the Israeli threats against its leaders constituted “an act of war,” and vowing to continue to try to carry out a revenge attack against Israel.

The “threats to target the movement’s leadership is a declaration of war, which we will confront,” Islamic Jihad said, according to a statement carried by its media affiliate Palestine Today News Agency.

Islamic Jihad said it would not back down on its “right” to retaliate against Israel for the tunnel explosion, which led to the death of 12 members of the terrorists group, including two commanders, as well as two members of Hamas’s military wing.

“We reaffirm our right to respond to any aggression, including our right to respond to the crime of aggression on the resistance tunnel,” the terror group’s statement said.

The Israel Defense Forces blew up the tunnel, which originated in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and crossed into Israeli territory, near Kibbutz Kissufim, on October 30.

According to the army, the tunnel had been under surveillance the entire time that it was inside Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.

The army said later that killing the terrorists was not the primary objective of the tunnel demolition.

The bodies of five terrorists who were working on the tunnel inside Israeli territory were recovered by the IDF, the army said.

According to Palestinian media, Hamas encouraged Islamic Jihad to abstain from retaliating both in order to prevent further escalation with Israel and to prevent the reconciliation talks it has been conducting with the Palestinian Authority from falling apart.

Mourners carry the coffin of Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement terrorist Arafat Abu Morshed during the funeral at the Bureij refugee camp, in central Gaza of Palestinians killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel, on October 31, 2017. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In his YouTube message, Mordechai referred to those reconciliation efforts, saying the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was “playing with fire” and potentially threatening them, as well as the safety of Gaza Strip residents.

Earlier this month, a senior officer in the IDF’s Southern Command warned that the military suspected the terror group may retaliate for the tunnel demolition with attacks on soldiers serving near the border, rocket fire at southern Israeli communities or terror attacks in the West Bank.

“The [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad will have a hard time holding back,” said the unnamed senior official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, November 12, 2017. (AFP/POOL/ABIR SULTAN)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added his words of warning against those contemplating an attack. “These days, there are still those who toy with trying renewed attacks on Israel,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We will take a very strong hand against anyone who tries to attack us or attacks us from any sector.”

“I say this to every entity, rogue faction, organization — every one. In any case, we see Hamas as responsible for every attack that emanates from, or is planned against us in, the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report. 

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PA police chief: Hamas must disarm under unity deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

PA police chief: Hamas must disarm under unity deal

Hazem Atallah’s comments came as cracks begin to show in reconciliation efforts between Fatah and the Gaza-based terror group

Major General Hazem Atallah (C), the head of the Palestinian police in the West Bank, speaks with journalists following a press conference in Ramallah on November 8, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Major General Hazem Atallah (C), the head of the Palestinian police in the West Bank, speaks with journalists following a press conference in Ramallah on November 8, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

The head of the Palestinian Authority police said Wednesday that Hamas must disarm in order for a landmark reconciliation deal signed last month with rival Fatah to succeed.

Hazem Atallah’s comments came as cracks began to show in the Palestinian reconciliation deal mediated by Egypt over the issue of security control of the Gaza Strip.

The PA is due to retake control of the Strip, still run by the Hamas terror group, by December 1.

“We are talking about one authority, one law, one gun,” Atallah told journalists in Ramallah in the West Bank, echoing a line from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Asked whether he could allow Hamas’s armed wing to maintain its weapons while being in charge of police in Gaza, he said: “No way.”

Major General Hazem Attallah (C), the head of the Palestinian police in the occupied West Bank, speaks with journalists following a press conference in Ramallah on November 8, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

“It is impossible. How can I do security when there are all these rockets and guns and whatever? Is this possible? It doesn’t work.

“Otherwise how can I be in charge? Who is going to be standing and saying ‘I am the chief of police, I am in charge,’ if I am not controlling everything?”

He said the 8,000-9,000 Palestinian police who worked in Gaza before Hamas took over in 2007 would return to their posts, rejecting the idea of merging with the existing Hamas-led police.

This, he added, would need major financial support as the police’s budget would effectively double.

Hamas seized Gaza in 2007 following a near civil war with Fatah, which currently dominates the PA.

Last month the two parties signed an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement under which Hamas is meant to hand over control of Gaza by December 1.

The agreement signed in Cairo does not specify the future for Hamas’s vast armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas has made clear it is not prepared to disarm.

On November 1, Hamas handed over control of border crossings in a first key test.

But in a sign of tension, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said Tuesday the PA still did not have full control of the crossings, with Hamas dominating the police and security inside Gaza.

Hamas rejected that, with a statement saying it had fully transferred power.

Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, publicly seeks the destruction of Israel and has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for a decade in order to prevent the import of weapons, while Egypt has also kept its border largely closed in recent years.

Multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.

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Iran: (Demonic Hypocritical) Iran blasts ‘bloodthirsty’ Israel after terror tunnel destroyed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iran blasts ‘bloodthirsty’ Israel after terror tunnel destroyed

Tehran accuses Jewish state of ‘seven decades of crimes, bloodshed and child-killing’ against the Palestinians

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (center right) meets with senior Hamas officials in Tehran on August 7, 2017. (screen capture)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (center right) meets with senior Hamas officials in Tehran on August 7, 2017. (screen capture)

Iran on Monday condemned Israel as “bloodthirsty” after the Israel Defense Forces blew up an attack tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, killing seven people, including two commanders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

“The bloodthirsty Zionist regime is trying to bend the will of the oppressed people of the occupied territories to guarantee its security by killing Palestinian youths,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi said, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency.

“This is while seven decades of crimes, bloodshed and child-killing could not weaken the determination of this patient and courageous people at all,” he added.

The IDF on Monday said it “neutralized a terror tunnel” that was discovered inside Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and is believed to have been dug after 2014. The tunnel was being built by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

The blast killed at least five members of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, including a senior commander and his deputy, and two members of Hamas’s military wing died in rescue efforts. At least 12 others were injured, Gaza’s health ministry said. Many reports said the terrorists were killed inside the tunnel, though this was not definitively clear.

The statement from Iran came days after a Hamas delegation visited Tehran and officials in the Iranian regime praised the Gaza rulers for not abandoning its armed struggle against Israel.

The IDF said the tunnel was “detonated from within Israel, adjacent to the security fence.”

Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah earlier on Monday accused Israel of trying to foil ongoing unity efforts between them in destroying the tunnel.

In a statement, Hamas called the Israeli measure “a desperate attempt to sabotage efforts to restore Palestinian unity and maintain the state of division.”

The body of Palestinian Marwan Alagha,22, is carried by mourners after he was killed when Israel blew up what it said was a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into its territory, at Naser hospital in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 30, 2017. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Earlier this month, the two factions signed an agreement in Cairo allowing for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to resume control of Gaza — which Hamas seized in a near civil war with Fatah in 2007 — by December 1.

Fatah spokesperson and vice-chairman of the party’s revolutionary council Fayez Abu Eita echoed Hamas’s sentiment that the move by the Israeli army to detonate the tunnel in Gaza was aimed at disrupting the unity talks.

“This crime comes in the context of [sowing confusion] and creating tension in the atmosphere in order to thwart the Palestinian national reconciliation,” he said, in a statement carried in the official PA news outlet Wafa.

Abu Eita said that despite the incident, the Palestinians would push ahead with the unity plan.

“The one who is most harmed by Palestinian national reconciliation is the occupation. The implementation of the reconciliation agreement is the optimal response to this crime,” he said.

The incident raised tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowing revenge.

Israel deployed its Iron Dome anti-missile system in the area and declared the border region a closed military zone.

“The explosion took place inside Israeli territory. The majority of the dead were activists that entered the tunnel after it was exploded and died in the Gaza Strip, and not as a result of the explosion,” said IDF spokesperson Avichay Adraee.

“We are not interested in an escalation, but we are ready for all scenarios,” he said.

The IDF said the tunnel ran from the Gazan city of Khan Younis, crossed under the border, and approached the Israeli community of Kibbutz Kissufim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed the IDF for destroying the attack tunnel, with the two leaders attributing its discovery to Israel’s new “breakthrough technology.”

The prime minister said Israel holds Hamas responsible for all military action against Israel emanating from the Gaza Strip and “whoever hurts us, we hurt them.”

Israeli soldiers patrol close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Despite an assassination attempt on Hamas’s internal security chief Tawfiq Abu Naim on Friday, blamed variously on Israel and Islamic State, the terror group says it will continue to abide by the Cairo agreement and hand over control of Gaza’s border crossing to the PA on Wednesday.

The fate of the Hamas security forces after it transfers power to the PA in the territory is one of the most delicate issues facing the reconciliation process.

Abbas wants the handover to be comprehensive and include all security institutions, but the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has said “no one” can force his group to disarm.

Israel and the United States have meanwhile said that Hamas must disarm as part of any unity government.

They have also said it must recognize Israel and sever ties with Iran.

The Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel, but Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks Israel’s destruction, has not. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report. 

READ MORE:

Israel: IDF, We don’t apologize for killing terrorists

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF responds to criticism: We don’t apologize for killing terrorists

Bennett excoriates army after spokesman says tunnel blast was intended to destroy infrastructure, not kill Islamic Jihad commanders; Liberman derides Jewish Home leader’s critique

Israeli soldiers sit on a tank close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Israeli soldiers sit on a tank close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

After politicians Kcriticized the army on Tuesday for appearing to apologize for killing terrorist leaders in the bombing of a Gaza attack tunnel the day before, the military clarified that its comments were taken out of context and that it does not regret their deaths.

On early Monday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces blew up an attack tunnel that had entered Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. At least seven terrorists, including two senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders, were killed in the blast and its aftermath, a dozen more were wounded and, as of Tuesday afternoon, five were still missing in the rubble, according to the coastal enclave’s health ministry.

Several hours after the demolition of the tunnel, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis responded to a reporter’s question about the goal of the tunnel blast, saying that the operation was intended only to destroy the underground infrastructure and was “not in any way” meant to assassinate senior terrorist leaders.

Taking to Twitter in response to the comment, Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday morning accused the military of “apologizing” for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders’ deaths.

“It is forbidden to apologize for successfully destroying terrorists,” Bennett wrote. “Let’s be clear – these were terrorists involved in digging an attack tunnel inside Israeli territory with which they intended to kill Israeli women and children.”

Head of the Jewish Home party and Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Bennett, who is a member of the security cabinet, said that although Monday’s operation was the deadliest incident in the coastal enclave since the 2014 Gaza war, Israel does not want an escalation of violence with Gaza.

“We are not looking for escalation,” he tweeted. “As a member of the cabinet which has been working since Operation Protective Edge to remove the threat of the tunnels, I give my full support to the army’s actions. The purpose of the IDF is to defeat the enemy, and it should continue to do so.”

In response to Bennett’s statement, an army spokesperson said that the military did not regret the deaths of the terrorists and didn’t make “even one apology” about the army operation.

The body of Marwan Alagha, 22, is carried by mourners after he was killed when Israel blew up a tunnel built by the Islamic Jihad terror group stretching from the Gaza Strip into its territory, at Naser hospital in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 30, 2017. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The official said Manelis’s comment was in response to a question about the goal of the detonation, which was not specifically intended to kill terrorist leaders, but to destroy the infrastructure — “and that was done extremely well,” he said.

“The comments were responsible,” the spokesperson added.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, continuing the war of the words, attacked Bennett on Twitter, accusing him of harming Israel’s security.

“A briefing by the IDF spokesperson cannot be used for a blatant assault on the IDF and its commanders. Comments like this seriously damage the security of Israel and the IDF,” Liberman wrote.

“We will continue to operate with determination, strength and responsibility for the security of Israel’s citizens,” he said.

Opposition MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), a retired IDF general, also slammed Bennett and the other right-wing politicians who criticized the military.

Israeli soldiers patrol close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

“It is a shame that government ministers, instead of backing the IDF after an incident like this, chose once again to use it to score political points at the army’s expense,” he said in a statement.

Stern said he fully supported the army, and it was clear that there had been no apology. “The result of the IDF’s response was seven killed terrorists but a quiet night in the communities bordering the Gaza Strip — that is a great result,” he said.

The IDF said the terror tunnel was discovered inside Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and is believed to have been dug after the 2014 Gaza war. The tunnel was being built by the Islamic Jihad terror group. It ran from the Gazan city of Khan Younis, crossed under the border for dozens of meters, and approached Kibbutz Kissufim.

The incident significantly raised tensions in the region, though so far there has been no military response from Islamic Jihad.

READ MORE:

How Dare Israel Blow Up Hamas Tunnels That Are In Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWS AGENCY ‘DAWN’)

 

A mourner reacts as Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants hold their weapons during the funeral of their comrades killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel, in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2017. —AFP
A mourner reacts as Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants hold their weapons during the funeral of their comrades killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel, in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2017. —AFP

Tensions rose on Tuesday after an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnelfrom the Gaza Strip killed seven Palestinian militants in one of the deadliest incidents since a devastating 2014 war.

The seven men, from the armed wings of Gaza’s rulers Hamas and allied group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were killed on Monday when Israel blew up the tunnel it said had crossed into its territory and was intended for attacks.

They were being buried on Tuesday in their respective neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya appeared at a funeral in central Gaza attended by a few thousand people, witnesses said, while senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Hayya spoke at one in the southern part of the strip.

“(Hamas) knows how to manage the conflict with the enemy and how to get revenge and strike at the time and place that hurts the enemy,” Hayya said, according to a statement.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to carry out attacks.

Israel said it had been monitoring the digging of the tunnel for an unspecified length of time and was forced to act after “the grave and unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

It said the operation was carried out on the Israeli side of the border and stressed it was not seeking a further escalation.

No tunnel opening had been found on the Israeli side of the border. It had come from the vicinity of the city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, Israeli’s military said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday his country would “not tolerate any attacks on our sovereignty, on our people, on our land, whether from the air, from the sea, from the ground, or below the ground”.

“We attack those who seek to attack us.”

Sensitive moment

The operation comes at a sensitive time, with rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas pursuing a reconciliation accord aimed at ending their 10-year rift.

Hamas is due to hand over control of the enclave’s borders to the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday under the deal mediated by Egypt and signed on October 12.

It is due to return the Gaza Strip to full PA control by December 1.

Both Haniya and Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah spoke of ensuring the reconciliation pact remains on track.

“The response to this massacre… is to move forward towards the restoration of national unity because the enemy realises our strength is our unity,” Haniya said.

Senior PA official Mustafa Barghouti accused Israel of trying to disrupt the reconciliation bid.

Separately in the West Bank on Tuesday, Israeli forces opened fire on a “suspect” vehicle, killing one Palestinian and wounding another, Israel’s army and the Palestinian health ministry said. There did not appear to be any connection.

Hamas forces have used tunnels in the past to enter Israel and carry out attacks, but discoveries of those stretching into Israeli territory since the end of the 2014 war have been rare.

In April 2016, Israel’s military said it had located and destroyed a tunnel extending from the Gaza Strip into Israel in the first such discovery since the 2014 conflict.

First test of unity

An Israel army spokesman said on Monday that Israel used advanced technology to locate the tunnel but declined to elaborate.

The army has been seeking to build an underground wall surrounding Gaza that would block such tunnels, among other methods it has been developing.

Israeli leaders have been keen to show they are addressing the threat of tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

A state inquiry in February accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top army brass of being unprepared for the tunnels used by Hamas during the 2014 conflict.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since a near civil war with Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, in 2007.

Since then they have fought three wars with Israel, while Gaza’s two million citizens have suffered as Israel has blockaded the strip.

Egypt’s border with the enclave has also remained largely closed in recent years.

Wednesday’s scheduled handover of the border crossings is a first key test of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal.

Israel has said it will reject any unity government that includes Hamas if the group does not disarm and recognise the country, among other demands.

During the 2014 war, 32 tunnels were discovered, including 14 that extended into Israel, according to a UN report on the conflict.

The devastating conflict killed 2,251 Palestinians, while more than 10,000 were wounded and 100,000 were left homeless.

On the Israeli side, 74 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers.

Israel Blows Up Hamas Tunnel In Israel Killing 8 Hamas Members

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

8 killed as Israel strikes Gaza tunnel, Palestinian Health Ministry says

Israeli soldiers block a road close to the Israeli border with Gaza on October 30 in southern Israel. The Israeli military blew up a tunnel leading into Israel from Gaza.

(CNN)Eight people were killed when the Israeli military struck a tunnel leading into Israel from Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The Israeli Army said earlier it had “neutralized a terror tunnel” leading into southern Israel from Khan Younis in the south of Gaza.
Israeli Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the tunnel, which he described as kilometers away from the nearest Israeli village of Kissufim, had been detonated on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border, close to the security fence that separates the two territories.
Asked about reports that senior members of the militant Islamic Jihad group had been killed in the operation, an IDF spokesman said there had been “no intention in any way or at any stage” to target senior figures.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the number of fatalities could rise significantly because a large number of people are still missing after the tunnel’s collapse.
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The strike comes just two days before internal control of Gaza’s border crossings is due to pass from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority, as part of a reconciliation agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas, though not claiming the tunnel as one of theirs, said in a statement that the Israeli action was aimed at undermining the reconciliation agreement; in an earlier posting on its Twitter account, Hamas had called it a dangerous escalation that threatened a “new war against Gaza people.”
An Islamic Jihad leader, Mohammad Al Hindi, said in a statement: “The truce with the enemy is over and the response will be the size of the crime.”
In a statement carried on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Fatah condemned what it called “the Israeli crime,” saying “the blood [of those killed] would not be wasted.” It said it would move ahead with the unity agreement with Hamas.
Earlier, the IDF’s Conricus said Israel held Hamas accountable for “all hostile activity” emerging from Gaza, though he stopped short of directly accusing Hamas of being responsible for the tunnel. He said Israel did not intend to escalate the situation but stood prepared for all eventualities.
He would not say how the tunnel was detonated, but described the technology used to detect it as “advanced and groundbreaking.”
Later, an IDF spokesperson rejected Hamas and Palestinian Ministry of Health claims that Israel had used poison gas in its operation against the tunnel, telling CNN the IDF had only used conventional ammunition in the action.
The spokesperson also said the IDF had told local Israeli farmers not to work near the security fence; however, the spokesperson said reports that people living in towns and communities near Gaza had been told to avoid large gatherings outdoors were false.
During the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas militants launched surprise attacks from tunnels that crossed under Israel’s security fence and into Israel. Identifying and destroying the tunnels became a major goal of the war for the Israeli military, which found many tunnels that were more than a mile long and 60 feet deep.
Two days ago, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees revealed it had recently discovered the existence of what appeared to be a tunnel underneath one of its schools in Gaza. It said it had rendered the school safe and sealed the cavity created by the tunnel. The agency said it had protested “the violation of the sanctity and disrespect of the neutrality” of UN premises to what it called the “relevant parties” responsible for the tunnel.
  

Yehya al-Sinwar: New Hamas Face with Different Rhetoric

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Yehya al-Sinwar: New Hamas Face with Different Rhetoric

Monday, 23 October, 2017 – 09:00
Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yehya al-Sinwar. (Getty Images)
Ramallah – Kifah Ziboun

Yehya al-Sinwar, the head of the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, has adopted a political rhetoric that advocates reconciliation. This is a language that the Palestinian public is not used to hearing from Hamas leaderships. Many have started to look to him as the leader who will change the movement’s image.

Despite the hierarchical structure of Hamas and several members occupying higher posts than him, Sinwar’s charisma, manner in which he carries out his work and surprising statements have garnered him local, Israeli and regional attention.

It can be said that his reputation preceded him before he was released from Gaza prison and assumed the command of the Hamas movement in the coastal strip. Hamas has gone so far as to assure its followers that his election as Gaza chief will not alter the movement’s policy.

It wanted to assure that the military man, who is few on words and who Israel labels the “sheikh of murderers,” will not drag the movement into new rounds of internal and external violence.

Eventually however, it became clear that Sinwar is leading Hamas in another direction – one of regional and internal reconciliation – by adopting a balanced approach and rhetoric.

Prior to assuming his current post, he had voiced his regret over the years of Palestinian division, adding that he was willing to cater to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ concerns. He even told some Gaza youths that he will “break the neck of anyone who obstructs the reconciliation.” He also added that he was ready to meet the demands of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and that he was ready to “run after” Fatah in pursuit of reconciliation.

Before this, Hamas had often adopted an occasionally arrogant approach. It made accusations and threats that did not serve reconciliation efforts.

Political activist Salim al-Hindi, who had met Sinwar, said that he has a lot of charisma.

“He is very honest and persuasive. He answers all questions and does not leave room for doubt,” he continued.

Many look at him as the leader who will help Gaza out of its crisis, he added.

Sinwar, who previously shied away from media appearances, has in a short period of time met two youth groups.

Yasmine Abou Harb was present at one of those meets. She described him as being “more flexible than another Hamas leader.”

“He led the movement towards reconciliation with Fatah and to restoring its ties with different countries,” she noted.

Saleh Hmeid agreed with her, adding that Sinwar’s stances demonstrate that he has a real national vision and that he prefers reconciliation to division.

The public was surprised when Sinwar said that he wants Abbas to become a strong president. He also called on women to become involved in political life.

This stands in stark contrast with the image painted by Israel of a man with a bloody and violent past. It had warned against Sinwar assuming Hamas’ leadership once he was freed from prison.

Israel had indeed succeeded in raising these concerns. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that it would only be a matter of time before a new confrontation erupts between Israel and Hamas due to Sinwar’s approach.

These concerns were heightened with Sinwar being listed as a terrorist by the United States.

Whether or not Israel had exaggerated in its bloody depiction of Sinwar, it appears that he would not hesitate to resort to violence in the name of the nation. There are records of him killing four Israeli collaborators.

As his star continues to rise, observers insist that Sinwar is part of the change and not the actual change itself.

Political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim said: “He has major influence within Hamas, but he is not leading a complete change in its policy.”

“He is influential and has contributed to the movement taking decisions since the reconciliation was signed …. but these moves are not isolated from Hamas’ work as a whole, which is structured and based on a Shura Council,” he added.

“One person alone cannot change the movement’s course,” he stressed.

Fact-checking President Trump’s speech on the Iran deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Fact Checker

Fact-checking President Trump’s speech on the Iran deal

 October 14 at 3:00 AM
 Play Video 3:00
Trump’s Iran deal announcement, in 3 minutes
President Trump announced Oct. 13 that his administration would take new steps going forward to confront Iran. (The Washington Post)

In his speech on the Iran nuclear agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), President Trump made a number of factual assertions. The deal was negotiated by Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China), Germany and the European Union.

Here’s a guide to some of his rhetoric, in the order in which he made these statements.

“The regime harbored high-level terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden’s son.”

The president recounted a long list of aggressive acts by the Iranian government toward the United States since the shah was overthrown in 1979, many of which would be familiar to Americans. This claim — that Iran harbored al-Qaeda terror suspects — might be less well-known, but it was recently documented in a 2017 book, “The Exile,” by investigative reporters Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy.

The book noted that the steady flow of senior al-Qaeda figures into Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was controversial among various factions. The government actually made some arrests and sent some al-Qaeda figures back to countries of origin. But the Revolutionary Guard was more supportive. Trump, in using the phrase “regime,” glosses over the debate within the country.

“The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.”

Trump suggests the assistance to al-Qaeda continues to the present day. This is in line with the latest State Department Country Reports on terrorism, released in July, which said: “Since at least 2009, Iran has allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through the country, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.” This phrasing marked a shift from previous reports, which indicated the support was in the past.

“The previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.”

There is little evidence that the Iranian government was on the verge of “total collapse,” though it was certainly struggling because of international sanctions. The Obama administration had been able to win broad international support for crippling sanctions precisely because it convinced Russia and China, two major Iranian partners, that the pressure was designed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and force the government into negotiations. If the government had started to teeter because of the sanctions, especially if it was perceived as part of an American campaign of regime change, that support probably would have been withdrawn.

JCPOA “also gave the regime an immediate financial boost and over $100 billion its government could use to fund terrorism. The regime also received a massive cash settlement of $1.7 billion from the United States, a large portion of which was physically loaded onto an airplane and flown into Iran.”

Trump often suggests the United States gave a $100 billion to Iran, but these were Iranian assets that had been frozen. The Treasury Department has estimated that once Iran fulfills other obligations, it would have about $55 billion left. (Much of the funds were tied up in illiquid projects in China.) For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion, not $55 billion. Iran has also complained that it cannot actually move the money back to Iran because foreign banks won’t touch it for fear of U.S. sanctions and their U.S. exposure.

As for the $1.7 billion in cash, this was related to the settlement of a decades-old claim between the two countries. An initial payment of $400 million was handed over on Jan. 17, 2016, the same day Iran’s government agreed to release four American detainees, including The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian. The timing — which U.S. officials insisted was a coincidence — suggested the cash could be viewed as a ransom payment.

But the initial cash payment was Iran’s money. In the 1970s, the then-pro-Western Iranian government under the shah paid $400 million for U.S. military equipment. But the equipment was never delivered because the two countries broke off relations after the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran.

Two other payments totaling $1.3 billion — a negotiated agreement on the interest owed on the $400 million — came some weeks later.

“The deal allows Iran to continue developing certain elements of its nuclear program and, importantly, in just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint towards a rapid nuclear weapons breakout.”

JCPOA has been in place for two years. Certain provisions of the nuclear aspects of the deal do not last indefinitely, but virtually all phase out between years 10 and 25. It’s doubtful Iran would have agreed to an indefinite ban on nuclear activities, given that it has a right to have a nonnuclear program under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Critics of the agreement argue that Iran’s past behavior suggests it will cheat in any case and thus has forfeited its rights.

Trump does not mention that under the agreement, Iran is permanently prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons, and will be subject to certain restrictions and additional monitoring indefinitely. (Readers may also be interested in a previous fact check we did on whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons; we found the claim dubious.)

It’s unclear why Trump refers to a “few years” before a potential nuclear breakout. Nonnuclear provisions having to do with arms-related transfers to and from Iran will expire in three years, or possibly sooner. In six years, U.N. Security Council restrictions end on any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

“Those who argue that somehow the JCPOA deals only with nuclear matters and should be judged separate from the restrictions in [U.N.] Resolution 2231 fail to explain that a nuclear weapon is a warhead and a delivery system,” noted David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, in testimony before Congress. “Today, the delivery vehicle of choice is a ballistic missile.”

“The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement. For example, on two separate occasions, they have exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water. Until recently, the Iranian regime has also failed to meet our expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges.”

Trump is right that Iran twice exceeded the deal’s limit on heavy water. But supporters of the deal say it shows JCPOA is working. Iran tried to take advantage of fuzzy language in the agreement but was immediately caught by international inspectors; the other partners objected and forced Iran to come back into compliance.

As for the centrifuges, the deal limits both the number and type of centrifuges Iran is permitted to use. Again Iran tried to take advantage of ambiguous limits — “roughly 10” advanced centrifuges — by operating slightly more than that number.

The dispute for the moment also appears to have been resolved, though Albright in his testimony noted that “Iran has also built and operated more advanced centrifuges than it is allowed, and it has misused quality assurance limitations to conduct banned mechanical testing of advanced centrifuges.”

“There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea. I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.”

This was a puzzling statement. The phrasing suggests there is not enough evidence to claim that Iran has dealings with North Korea, but the intelligence agencies will keep looking. But it raises the question about why the president made the assertion in the first place.

“It is under continuous review, and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.”

The other partners to the agreement dispute that Trump has the authority to end the deal. In an unusual joint statement, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron noted: “JCPOA was unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2231. The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA through its long-term verification and monitoring program.”

Similarly, Federica Mogherini, the E.U. foreign policy chief, said no one country could terminate the deal. “This deal is not a bilateral agreement,” she said. “The international community, and the European Union with it, has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will, continue to be in place.”

However, a president can stop waiving nuclear sanctions at any point, causing nuclear sanctions to come back into force. Moreover, U.S. law requires Trump to waive nuclear sanctions regularly, so he could simply not do anything and nuclear sanctions come back. In effect, that would terminate the deal, whether the other partners like it or not.

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