Israel said to consider sending direct aid to deteriorating Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel said to consider sending direct aid to deteriorating Gaza

In new security assessment, security officials assert Hamas not interested in conflict with Israel, but warn that economic collapse would make such a scenario inevitable

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Israeli security officials are weighing sending food and medicine to the Gaza Strip for the first time, in an effort to prevent the deteriorating conditions from spiraling into violence, Hadashot news reported Saturday.

In a security assessment handed recently to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense establishment reiterated its belief that the Hamas terror group currently ruling Gaza is not interested in another conflict with Israel. However, an economic collapse would make such a scenario inevitable.

Until now, Israel has not directly sent humanitarian aid to Gaza but has helped facilitate the transfer of goods provided by the United Nations and others into the strip.

At the beginning of January the cabinet tasked the national security advisor with drawing up a plan for dealing with the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and asked him to report back within three weeks. However, no plan has yet been filed, Hadashot said.

Responding to the Saturday report, a diplomatic official told Hadashot news that “the situation in the Gaza Strip is a result of the tension between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which does not transfer money.”

Palestinian children hold bread patties during a protest against aid cuts, outside the United Nations’ offices in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

“Israel has taken steps to ensure that this tension will have as little impact as possible on the humanitarian situation,” the official added.

A similar warning was made earlier this week by UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who said the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse.”

He argued that a key to saving Gaza from disaster was restoring the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas to power there, a decade after it was forced out Hamas.

Repeated reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah — the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority — have failed to reach an agreement that would return control of Gaza to the PA, most recently because Hamas refused to surrender its considerable arsenal of weapons and military infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the White House froze around $100 million in contributions to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after the Palestinians announced they would no longer accept the US as a mediator in peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians were angered after US President Donald Trump on December 6 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Mladenov said he would raise those concerns at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting, which met last Wednesday in Brussels to coordinate international donor support for the Palestinians.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade, which it says is necessary to prevent the Hamas terror group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, from smuggling in weapons and material used for digging tunnels into Israel. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, which have severely harmed Gaza’s infrastructure, and reconstruction efforts have been slow.

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Israel’s leaders atypically quiet after Abbas asserts their state is invalid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

WHILE US JEWISH GROUPS INCLUDING J STREET FUME, ISRAEL MUM

Israel’s leaders atypically quiet after Abbas asserts their state is invalid

Evidently disinclined to rub salt into wounds after Trump recognized Jerusalem as capital, ministers largely disregard speech in which PA head intimated Jews falsify faith, history

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks as he holds a press conference following the Extraordinary Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Instanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks as he holds a press conference following the Extraordinary Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Instanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week threatened to cancel his agreements with Israel, appeared to accuse Israel and/or Jews of falsifying history and religion, and asserted that Israel does not meet the criteria for statehood and thus that the international community should reconsider its recognition of Israel.

But while American Jewish groups — including, most unusually, J Street — issued highly critical responses to the PA chief’s address in Istanbul, Israel’s leaders and officials were markedly subdued in their response, apparently preferring not to kick a man when he’s down. Having pocketed the long-coveted American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Jewish state’s leaders may have decided, for a few days at least, not to pour additional salt on Abbas’s wounds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a relatively mild response to Abbas’s ferocious speech Wednesday at the Organization for Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s “Extraordinary Islamic Summit,” but his office chose not to directly address some of Abbas’s most incendiary rhetoric, and numerous other Israeli leaders, contacted by The Times of Israel, also chose not to comment. A rare exception was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who in a written response, castigated Abbas for what she called his “path of lies” and for denying “the Jewish people’s connection to its land.”

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)

The relative quiet in Jerusalem may also reflect the Trump administration’s repeatedly declared insistence — since the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6 — that it remains committed to brokering a landmark Israeli-Palestinian agreement, with Jerusalem careful not to make statements that might be regarded in Washington as further complicating that ambition. Sensitivities are particularly acute, furthermore, ahead of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel next week, during which he is not now expected to visit the Palestinian territories, having been rebuffed by Abbas.

In the past, by contrast, Netanyahu has frequently issued damning criticism of Abbas’s speeches, including accusing the PA president of refusing to accept Israel in any borders, peddling lies and libels, and proving that he is no partner for peace.

Donald Trump waving to reporters, as Vice President Mike Pence looks on, after announcing that the US government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, Dec. 6, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

In his hour-long address in Istanbul, at an emergency summit of Islamic and Arab nations convened in the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, Abbas denounced the US administration, threatened to abrogate all peace agreements since Oslo, and vowed to seek full membership for the “State of Palestine” at the United Nations. While he has issued similar threats in the past, however, he also made fresh inflammatory accusations.

Notably, for instance, he declared that “there is no one better at falsifying history or religion than them,” in a comment that appeared to refer to Israel and/or Jews.

That section of his speech, translated by The Times of Israel, went as follows: “At this occasion, I don’t want to discuss history or religion, because there is no one better at falsifying history or religion than them. But if we read the Torah, it says that the Canaanites lived here before Abraham and haven’t left since that time. It hasn’t been interrupted. That’s in the Torah. If they want to fabricate, ‘to distort the words from their [proper] usages,’ as God said. I don’t want to get into religion.”

The phrase “to distort the words from their [proper] usages” is an expression directly quoted from the Quran, widely interpreted to refer to the Jews.

In another passage of his address, as translated by the Washington Free Beacon, Abbas argued that Israel does not fulfill the criteria of statehood, and urged the nations of the world to rethink their recognition of the State of Israel.

“International law says that the state must meet three conditions: authority [i.e., government], population and borders. But the third condition is not available in Israel, and I challenge it to say where its borders are. This leads us to [the conclusion] that recognizing it is invalid,” he said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on December 13, 2017. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

The Palestinian president was likely referring to the declarative theory of statehood, which postulates that an entity needs to fulfill certain objective criteria before it can be considered a state. According to the first article of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which has traditionally been recognized as the benchmark to determine what constitutes a state under international law, a state needs to possess the following qualifications: a permanent population; a defined territory; government, and capacity to enter into relations with the other states. Israel has no defined borders, hence no defined territory, and therefore cannot be considered a state, Abbas seemed to be arguing.

“I wonder,” he went on, “how can world nations remain silent to these violations of international law, and how can they continue to recognize Israel and deal with it while it mocks everyone, and continues to violate the agreements signed with it, and persists in its repressive and colonialist practices, and the creation of an apartheid, and the desecration of our peoples and our Christian and Islamic sacred [places]?”

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa published its own text of Abbas’s speech in Arabic, and excerpts in English.

Netanyahu responded to Abbas’s speech in general terms on Wednesday.

“The Palestinians would do well to recognize reality and work toward peace, not extremism, and acknowledge an additional fact regarding Jerusalem: Not only is it the capital of Israel but in Jerusalem we uphold freedom of worship for all faiths and it is we who are making this promise in the Middle East even though no one else does and despite frequent severe failures in this regard,” Netanyahu said at an event for outstanding Mossad personnel in the President’s Residence. “Therefore all these statements fail to impress us. The truth will win in the end and many countries will certainly recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and also move their embassies.”

Queried on some of the specific passages of Abbas’s speech, however, the Prime Minister’s Office had no further comment. Likewise, the Foreign Ministry merely responded to queries by referring to Netanyahu’s comments. (Netanyahu serves as his own foreign minister.)

The Times of Israel contacted numerous politicians — including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Defense Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren, and opposition leaders Avi Gabbay and Yair Lapid — but they either refused to comment or did not reply.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Washington, November 2017. (Shmulik Almany/MFA)

Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely responded in writing: “Abu Mazen [Abbas] insists to continue on the path of lies and to deny the Jewish people’s connection to its land. When the Hasmoneans returned to the Kingdom of Israel [around the year 110 BCE] no one disputed the Jewish people’s historic connection to the Land of Israel. Every stone in Jerusalem testifies to the thousand-year-old connection between the Jews and their land,” she told The Times of Israel.

“The Palestinian leadership does not work for the benefit of the Palestinians, but rather only deals with negating Israel’s right to exist,” she went on. “This way, they will continue to watch from the sidelines as Israel flourishes and thrives, while they are losing the world’s sympathy.”

Asked by The Times of Israel to respond to the passage of the speech in which Abbas appeared to accuse Jews and/or Israelis of fabricating history and religion, the PA president’s adviser on religious affairs, Mahmoud al-Habash, said Friday: “What he means is something in our faith. In the Quran. We don’t blame the Jews as Jews. We don’t consider ourselves in conflict with Judaism. You have to take the speech as a whole. From the beginning to the end. Don’t try to pick and choose some statements here and words there, trying to form something about the president.”

Mahmoud al-Habash (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

“Abbas is not anti-Semitic,” Habash went on. “We are Arabs. We consider ourselves to be part of the Semitic people. We don’t want to enter the religious area in the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is exactly what Abu Mazen means. We don’t fight against Judaism. We don’t fight against Jews. We are fighting against the occupation. This is our position. This is the position of President Abbas.”

Queried on who Abbas meant by “them” in the quote, “There is no one better at falsifying history or religion than them,” Habash said: “The occupiers. Any colonial occupation can do anything to convince the people, to convince the world, that he’s right, including, as you mentioned, distorting religion. This is not just for the Jews or some faiths here or there. Anybody who uses religion in the political conflict could be included in what Abu Mazen said. Anyone who uses religion for bad means in a political conflict, as Abu Mazen quoted the Quran saying, they ‘distort the words from their [proper] usages.’ It means don’t try to take the religion to bad areas in your political or personal conflict between each other. Religion belongs to God.”

Pressed on the widespread interpretation that this Quranic verse refers to Jews, or as it says “Beni Israel,” Habash said: “‘Beni Israel’ is not the Jews. The Jews are not all part of the Beni Israel. Beni Israel means the children of Yaaqub. But there are many Jews that are not part of the Children of Yaaqub. There are many Arab Jews on the Arabian Peninsula in the era of the Prophet Mohammad. I have many examples of Jews not from the Beni Israel. I advise all people, Jews and non-Jews, don’t try to use religion in this conflict with the Palestinians.

“Abu Mazen said in this speech, I don’t want to debate with them religion or history. It’s not a conflict about religious or historic narratives. The conflict focuses on the political issue. When you end your occupation of Palestinian land, everything will be ended. You will not find us in conflict with you.”

Habash said he was “sure that many of the Israeli leaders will try to take to the statements to another area and to find some words in the speech and change the meaning of the words. Don’t try. We are focusing on specific points: the occupation and our national rights.”

Regarding Abbas’s call to countries to review their recognition of the state of Israel, Habash said: “You know why Abu Mazen said this: because Israel until now doesn’t have specific borders. Any state, if you want to recognize a state, you have to recognize it within its borders. Where is the borders of Israel? Could Netanyahu himself draw the borders of Israel? If I want to recognize Israel, where are the borders to recognize? This is what Abu Mazen means. If any state wants to recognize Israel, okay, but you can recognize it in specific, well-known borders. But where are its borders? This is the question. This is not new. It’s not new.”

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Israel airstrikes, Gaza rockets amid tensions over Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israel airstrikes, Gaza rockets amid tensions over Jerusalem

Clashes erupt in Jerusalem

Jerusalem (CNN) Two Palestinians were killed Saturday in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as tensions soared in the region after US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces said Israeli aircraft had targeted what it identified as four facilities belonging to Hamas — the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza — early Saturday in response to rockets fired into southern Israel from Gaza.
The aircraft targeted two weapons manufacturing sites, a weapons warehouse and a military compound, according to an IDF news release.
The two Palestinians killed were a 27-year-old man and a 30-year-old man, Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qadra told CNN.
The IDF said Israeli aircraft had also struck a Hamas training compound and ammunition warehouse in Gaza late on Friday.
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One of the rockets fired from Gaza landed in the Israeli city of Sderot, according to the IDF. There was no mention of casualties.

Palestinians on Saturday look at the damage from an Israeli airstrike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinians were also killed Friday in Gaza in clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces over Trump’s controversial move. Thirty-year-old Mohammad Masry was killed when fired on by Israeli forces and 54-year-old Maher Atallah died of injuries sustained in the clashes earlier that day, al-Qadra said.

A relative of Mohammad Masry, who was killed Friday in clashes with Israeli troops, mourns during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.

Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital.
Sporadic clashes erupted Saturday between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces on a busy shopping street in the eastern part of Jerusalem and in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah.
Israeli security forces responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets as small groups of protesters threw rocks.
Seven people were arrested during the clashes on Salah el-Din Street in Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 12 injured after police dispersed the demonstrators there.
Meanwhile, crowds of mourners gathered in Gaza for the funerals of the four men killed there.

Relatives of 30-year-old Mohammad Masry mourn over his body during his funeral in town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday.

An Israeli army statement said what it called violent riots had broken out in about 30 locations across the West Bank and Gaza on Friday. The main disturbances in the West Bank were in Hebron, Al-Arroub, Tulkarm, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Nablus.
More than 300 people were injured across the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem on Friday, 50 of whom needed hospital treatment, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health said.
At least 49 people were also injured Thursday during protests over Trump’s decision, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Trump’s decision Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and commit to moving the US Embassy to the holy city has prompted international condemnation and sparked protests in countries around the globe, from Indonesia and Malaysia to Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.

US envoy to UN defends Trump move

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended Trump’s decision and criticized member countries for their treatment of Israel during an emergency UN Security Council meeting Friday.
She also said the US has credibility with both the Israelis and the Palestinians and that any peace agreement would likely be “signed on the White House lawn.”
“The United States is not predetermining final status issues,” Haley said.
“We remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. We support a two-state solution if agreed to by the parties.”
Several countries voiced their opposition to the US decision before Haley’s comments, including France and Egypt.

Egypt’s Coptic Church won’t meet Pence

Egypt’s Coptic Church on Saturday issued a statement “excusing” itself from receiving US Vice President Mike Pence during an upcoming visit to the region, state-run Al-Ahram reported, citing a church statement.
“In consideration of the decision that the US administration took regarding Jerusalem, which was inappropriately timed and took no consideration of the feeling of millions of Arab people, the Egyptian Orthodox Coptic Church excuses itself from this meeting,” Al-Ahram cited the statement as saying.
A day earlier, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cast doubt on whether he would receive Pence during his planned visit in mid-December.
Speaking to broadcaster Al Jazeera, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said: “Jerusalem is more important than Mike Pence — we will not abandon Jerusalem just to receive Mike Pence.”
Speaking Friday in Paris, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “is not something that will happen this year, probably not next year.”
He also said that Trump’s decision did not “indicate any final status for Jerusalem,” adding that the “final status would be left to the parties to negotiate and decide.”
This story has been updated to correct a Palestinian Health Ministry report that originally stated one person was killed in an airstrike Friday. The report was later updated to say that the person died from injuries suffered in clashes, not an airstrike.

Palestinian Official: U.S. Threat to Close Washington Office Is ‘Extortion’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Oct. 30, 2017
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Oct. 30, 2017
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration has put the Palestinians on notice that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they’ve entered serious peace talks with Israel, U.S. officials said, potentially giving President Donald Trump more leverage as he seeks an elusive Mideast peace deal.

The Palestinian foreign minister denounced the U.S. move as an attempt at “extortion.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has determined that the Palestinians ran afoul of an obscure provision in a U.S. law that says the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians. A State Department official said that in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas crossed that line by calling on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.

But the law leaves Trump a way out, so Tillerson’s declaration doesn’t necessarily mean the office will close.

Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” If Trump determines they are, the Palestinians can keep the office. The official said it was unclear whether the U.S. might close the office before the 90-day period expires, but said the mission remains open at least for now.

Even if the office closes, the U.S. said it wasn’t cutting off relations with the Palestinians and was still focused on “a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The State Department official said in an email that “this measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts.” The official wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the developments and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, told Palestine Radio that the Palestinian leadership “will not accept any extortion or pressure.” Malki said the Palestinians were waiting for further communication from the U.S. government. “The ball is now in the American court,” he said.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although the Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations, Trump’s administration has been working all year to broker a peace deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior aide, White House officials have been preparing a peace proposal they intend to put forward at an unspecified time.

The Palestinians, though publicly supportive of the U.S. effort, have been skeptical because Trump’s close ties to Israel suggest whatever deal he proposes might be unfavorable to them. The threat of losing their office in the U.S. capital could become another pressure point as the Trump administration seeks to persuade the Palestinians to come to the table.

The PLO is the group that formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO maintains a “general delegation” office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials’ interactions with the U.S. government.

The United States allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994, a move that required then-President Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians couldn’t have an office. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the United States started letting the Palestinians fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.

Israel opposes any Palestinian membership in United Nations-related organizations until a peace deal has been reached.

The Trump administration has not revealed any details about its effort to bring about a peace deal that would ostensibly grant the Palestinians an independent state in exchange for an end to its conflict with the Israelis. But Kushner and other top Trump aides have been shuttling to the region to meet with Palestinians, Israelis, and officials from neighboring Arab nations as it prepares to put forward a peace plan.

The requirement that the PLO office be closed if the Palestinians back an International Criminal Court move came in a little-noticed provision in U.S. law that says the United States can’t allow the Palestinians to have a Washington office if they try to “influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorized investigation, or to actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”

Abbas, the Palestinian leader, said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September that the Palestinians had “called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggression against our people.”

The U.S. law says that if the government determines the Palestinians have breached that requirement, it triggers a 90-day review period in which the president must decide whether to let the office stay open anyway. The president is allowed to waive the requirement only if he certifies to Congress “that the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

The provision doesn’t explicitly define what would constitute direct or meaningful negotiations.

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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.

Several Scenarios for Safe Transition of Palestinian Presidency after Abbas

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

 

Several Scenarios for Safe Transition of Palestinian Presidency after Abbas

Palestine

Ramallah- Hamas movement has ignited the battle over the early succession of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by announcing that the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council would assume his position if Abbas could not carry out his duties.

“The Palestinian basic law stipulates that if the president’s health deteriorates, if he dies or can not carry out his job, then the president of the Legislative Council (parliament) should assume his position for 60 days in preparation for holding elections,” said Ahmad Bahar, a leader in the Islamic Movement that governs Gaza Strip.

Bahar recalled a similar incident in 2004, when former President Yasser Arafat passed away and was replaced by Speaker of the Parliament – back then Rouhi Fattouh. He stressed that the National Council has nothing to do with this matter.

Bahar’s statements came amid rising fears of a vacuum in the Palestinian political system after Abbas, especially following a slight setback in his health that demanded him to do some medical tests in Ramallah.

While Hamas says that Speaker of the Legislative Council Aziz Duwaik, pro-Hamas, will succeed Abbas, Fatah is preparing for a totally different plan and is discussing different scenarios, but it will first elect a new executive committee for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The National Council will convene a meeting at any time before the end of the year to elect a new Executive Committee for the PLO. Fatah officials say the election of a new committee comes within the framework of renewing Palestinian legitimacy. Yet, observers say that it also paves the way for a safe and smooth transition of power.

They are not only Palestinian concerns but also Arab as well as Israeli. The Israeli security services have put forward several post-Abbas scenarios.

It is believed that Fatah movement will elect one of its members in the Central Committee for membership of the Executive Committee of the PLO, and this will be, according to the Fathawi Khales’s concept, the closest person nominated to succeed Abbas.

Notably, there is still no vice president for Abbas since the basic constitution of the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not include the position of vice president, but there is a deputy to the president of Fatah movement, who is Mahmoud al-Aloul, the former governor of Nablus.

The other scenario might lead to reconciliation with Hamas and carrying out new public elections.

With this legal dispute and with the absence of a vice president, fears of a vacuum in the Palestinian political system are growing.

These concerns are not only limited to Palestinians but also to Arabs and Israelis as the Israeli security services put several scenarios for the post-Abbas era.

Terrorist President Abbas Calls For ‘Day Of Rage’ Over Israel Security Measures At Temple Mount

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Protesters rioted in East Jerusalem neighborhoods overnight Tuesday against new security measures at the Temple Mount, throwing stones and petrol bombs at police and shooting fireworks at Israeli forces. At least 50 Palestinians and one officer were reported hurt.

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The disturbances come after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party on Monday called for a “Day of Rage” on Wednesday in protest against the new measures, including metal detectors installed following a terror attack in which three Arab-Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers at the Temple Mount on Friday.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Jerusalem police commissioner Yoram Halevi said the city was tense but quiet on Tuesday morning after what he described as a difficult night of protests, with youths throwing stones at officers and setting dumpsters on fire.

Halevi said that many of those who took part in the rioting were encouraged to do so by the provocative statements that came from the Palestinian leadership.

He said despite the protests Israel would not back down on the new security measures.

“We are determined to create [a situation of] security after the killing of two police officers,” Halevi said. “While the families are still sitting and mourning, we can’t let this just pass.”

The placement of the metal detectors at the Temple Mount has also been met with outrage by the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority charged with managing the Temple Mount. Muslims have held prayers outside the metal detectors to protest their placement at the gates.

Israeli border policemen install metal detectors outside the Lion's Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017, after security forces reopened the ultra-sensitive site, whose closure after a deadly attack earlier in the week sparked anger. (AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)

Israeli border policemen install metal detectors outside the Lion’s Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on July 16, 2017, after security forces reopened the ultra-sensitive site, whose closure after a deadly attack earlier in the week sparked anger. (AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)

During the night there was rioting at two focus points in and around the capital, police said in a statement.

In Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, rioters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police and targeted them with fireworks.

A police officer was taken to the hospital in after being hit in the leg with a rock. His condition was described as good. A police squad car was damaged in the clashes, the statement said. Cops arrested one suspect who was holding a knife.

Police used riot dispersal methods to counter the protesters during which police “identified a hit” on one of the rioters, the statement said. Police did not say what the incident involved but noted that they later received a report that the suspect made his own way to Al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem.

In Issawiya, another East Jerusalem neighborhood, youths threw Molotov cocktails and shot firecrackers at police. Two suspects were arrested. In addition, another four suspects from the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Wadi Goz and Sur Baher were detained for taking part in the rioting during the night.

Earlier Monday there were clashes at the Lions Gate to the Old City, the scene of the shooting and knife attack during carried out by three Arab Israelis. After shooting officers Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, who died of their injuries, the attackers retreated into the Temple Mount compound where they were shot dead by pursuing police.

The Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service said in a statement Tuesday that 50 were injured during the confrontations at Lions Gate and in other clashes during the night.

Of those injured 15 were transferred to the Makassed Hospital and 35 were treated by paramedics on the ground. Sixteen people were injured by rubber-coated bullets, nine by stun grenades and 25 had injuries caused by beatings from police, the statement said.

Four members of the Red Crescent were also injured while treating other people, the organization said.

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Following Friday’s terror attack Israel closed the Temple Mount compound for the first time in decades, only reopening it to Muslims on Sunday and to non-Muslims on Monday.

As part of the security measures taken in the wake of the shooting to prevent further such attacks, police installed metal detectors at the entrance to the site, which Halevi said were necessary for it to reopen. Friday’s gunmen, residents of the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, had emerged armed from the compound and opened fire on the police officers stationed outside.

Fatah on Monday called for marches in the West Bank toward Israeli checkpoints in protest of the new measures and announced that Friday prayers, when many worshipers go to the Temple Mount, would be conducted in public squares instead. The decision was made following a meeting between Fatah Revolutionary Council secretary Adnan Ghaith, Fatah central committee member Jamal Muheisin, and Fatah representatives from the northern West Bank.

The group said the measures were called in order to denounce Israeli “terrorist procedures” in the Old City, according to a report in the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

The officials called for maintaining the delicate status quo at the Temple Mount, denouncing a “fierce and organized attack” by Israel against East Jerusalemites.

Along with other Islamic groups, the Waqf trust, which administers the site, on Monday called on Muslims “to reject and boycott all the Israeli aggression measures, including changing the historical status quo including imposing the metal detectors.”

In its statement, the Waqf called on the faithful not to enter the mosque by passing through the metal detectors, adding, “If the metal detectors continue to be imposed, we call upon the people to pray in front of the gates of the mosque and in the streets of Jerusalem.”

Jews revere the site, where the two Jewish temples stood in biblical times, as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the nearby Western Wall, a retaining wall of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Muslims regard the same hilltop compound as the Noble Sanctuary. Home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. It is Islam’s third-holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

A picture taken on July 17, 2017, shows the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

The Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Thomas Coex)

The fate of the compound is an emotional issue and forms the centerpiece of rival Israeli and Palestinian national narratives. Any perceived changes to the delicate arrangements at the site can spark tensions. Its closure after Friday’s attack prompted condemnations from the Arab world, many of which made no reference to the terror attack that prompted the closure.

Dov Lieber and AP contributed to this report.

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

President Trump discussed how to fight terrorism and improve international relations during a speech alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 23 in Bethlehem. (The Washington Post)
May 23 at 9:40 AM
President Trump told Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday that he knows they are eager to reach a peace agreement with each other and that he is committed to helping them “make a deal.”In a speech at the Israel Museum as he prepared to end his four-day trip to the Middle East and depart for his next stop in Rome, Trump repeated his call for Arab countries and Israel to form a grand coalition with the United States to “drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst” and “defend our citizens and the people of the world.”

“This trip is focused on that goal,” he said.

Trump recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a key component of cooperation in the region, although he has not outlined how he hopes to achieve an agreement that has eluded many presidents before him.

Trump on Middle East peace deal: ‘We’re going to get there eventually, I hope’
Speaking in Jerusalem, May 22, President Trump lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “commitment to pursuing the peace process.” (The Washington Post)

In some respects, his effusive praise for Israel during his two days here — which also included a Tuesday morning visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — appeared to endorse Israeli claims to a united capital in Jerusalem.

Noting that Jerusalem is a “sacred city,” and that “the ties of the Jewish people to this holy land are ancient and eternal,” Trump recalled his Monday visits to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sites sacred to Jews and Christians in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank, and claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their envisioned state.

To sustained applause, Trump cited the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, a place he called “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” He spoke of “a future where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children can grow up together in peace.”

“America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever,” he said. “Under my administration, you see the difference. Big, big beautiful difference, including the Iron Dome missile defense program . . . [and] David’s Sling,” an aircraft interception system. The former was established here under the Obama administration, the latter under President George W. Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, who introduced him and praised “the leadership that you bring,” condemned Monday night’s terrorist attack in Britain, claimed by the Islamic State.

But in describing the authors of global terrorism, Trump focused nearly all his attention on Iran and the anti-Israel organizations it supports, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s leaders, he said, “routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump,” he said. “Believe me.”

Key moments from Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu
Here is President Trump’s May 22 joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in less than two minutes. (The Washington Post)

“The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorism and militias,” Trump said to sustained applause as Netanyahu stood and pumped his fist.

The audience included U.S. and Israeli officials, as well as prominent citizens from both. Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated millions of dollars to support Trump’s campaign and then his inauguration, were seated just behind the stage, near first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Before his speech, Trump and his delegation visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where he said the Jewish people had built the state of Israel out of the “depths of suffering” as “a testament to [their] unbreakable spirit.”

Earlier, he had traveled to Bethlehem for a private meeting with Abbas to discuss the peace process and his vision for anti-terrorism cooperation.

In joint remarks afterward, Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”

“Our commitment is to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas added.

But while Trump spoke in generalities about the goal, Abbas laid out the specifics of Palestinian demands — which have been supported by the Arabs and rejected by Israel through decades of unsuccessful peace negotiations shepherded by American presidents.

“We reassert to you our positions of a two-state solution along the borders of 1967, a state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, living alongside of Israel,” he said, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a war against three Arab armies.

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the plan has been shelved, at least temporarily.

Abbas said he had also drawn Trump’s attention to more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel who have been on a hunger strike for over a month, led by Marwan Barghouti, whom supporters call the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas delivered to Trump a letter from the families of the strikers, who have demanded more family visits, access to telephones, medical care, the freedom to study and cessation of isolation as a punishment.

Israel and some U.S. lawmakers have objected to American aid to the Palestinians, claiming the money is used to make payments to the families of prisoners, who are considered “freedom fighters” among many Palestinians. Trump did not mention the aid or the payments in his public remarks.

Abbas also spoke of Palestinian insistence that all “final status issues” be resolved “based on international law” and United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative first offered more than a decade ago. It promised Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

Escorted by Israeli police and helicopters, Trump and his delegation sped down Hebron Road and found themselves, just minutes from their Jerusalem hotel, at the gates of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The closeness of Bethlehem — the physical proximity between Israel and the Palestinian territory — surprised most first-time visitors in the entourage.

Trump and the convoy passed through the 26-foot-tall concrete wall with watch towers that is Israel’s barrier and past “Checkpoint 300,” where thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel each morning to reach their jobs on construction sites.

Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression.

Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born.

The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Later, Trump told his museum audience that after his meeting with Abbas, “I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace … I know you’ve heard it before. I’m telling you, they are ready to reach for peace.

“My good friend Benjamin [Netanyahu], he wants peace.” Both sides, he said, “will face tough decisions. But with determination and compromise … Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

There was no applause from the audience.

Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

Is President Trump Bluffing Again? Or, Does He Actually Know Something?

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

Opinion

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”

Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.

The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.

Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.

Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.

“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”

In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.

Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.

The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.

“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”

Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.

Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.

Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.

“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.

There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.

But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Washington Post

Allowances for families of Palestinians killed by Israel are intact, says official

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PALESTINIAN NEWS AGENCY ‘WAFA’)

Allowances for families of Palestinians killed by Israel are intact, says official
RAMALLAH, May 2, 2017 (WAFA) – Allowances for families of Palestinians killed by Israel will not be touched and they will be dispersed on Thursday, a Palestinian official said on Tuesday.

The official, Mohammad Sbeihat, secretary general of the National Coalition for Families of Martyrs, was dispelling reports that President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered a halt to these allowances.

“I checked with all official parties related to his issue and they all confirmed that these are just rumors and that the allowances will be distributed on time on Thursday morning,” he told WAFA.

The reason for these rumors is to create confusion and to hurt the Palestinian Authority, he said, and “to shift attention away from efforts by President Abbas in Washington to achieve the dream of independence and statehood.”

Abbas is expected to hold talks on Wednesday in Washington with US President Donald Trump on revival of the moribund Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been using the allowance issue to discredit Abbas before his US visit by claiming that he pays from money provided as foreign aid for families of Palestinians involved in attacking and killing Israelis.

Reports said three  US Republican senators wrote Trump on Tuesday asking him to pressure Abbas to stop these allowances, and one of them has proposed legislation to stop all US funding for the Palestinian Authority if it does not halt them.

M.K.

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