Israel: Shin Bet Chief Meets Palestinian President, Warns of PA’s Bankruptcy

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

 

Shin Bet Chief Meets Palestinian President, Warns of PA’s Bankruptcy

Monday, 17 June, 2019 – 11:30
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian volunteer paramedic Sajed Mezher was killed by Israeli troops, during his funeral in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 27, 2019. (Reuters)
Ramallah, Tel Aviv – Kifah Zboun, Asharq al-Awsat
Head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Nadav Argaman, recently met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to persuade him to agree to accept tax money collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf, according to political sources in Tel Aviv.

The sources said that Argaman tried during the meeting to convince Abbas to accept the funds after the deduction of amounts paid to families of martyrs and prisoners. He informed the PM that the amount Israel intends to decduct is far less than the salaries.

But Abbas refused to give up any “dime” and asked that Israel deal with these funds as Palestinian funds that no one has the right to dispose of them.

“Any deduction from these funds is a theft,” Abbas said.

After his meeting, the Israeli Minister reported to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that Abbas firmly and categorically refused the proposal and called for a political decision to resolve this crisis.

Argaman said that the Authority is suffering from a severe financial crisis, which led to the reduction in salaries of a large number of employees, including tens of thousands of members of the Palestinian security services.

Military analyst Amos Harel indicated that Abbas believes he is facing a triple attack from the United States, Israel and Hamas. Washington has almost completely curtailed economic aid to the Palestinians.

The United States is now offering “economic peace” without resolving the issue of Jerusalem and borders, and trying to impose a permanent separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The military estimates that Abbas considers that Israel is economically affected by the prisoner crisis, but continues to build the settlements, rejects the political dialogue and seeks the opportunity to annex parts of the West Bank after the failure of the deal of the century.

Hamas is building a state in the Gaza Strip with a “silent US-Israeli approval.” It is also believed that a number of Arab leaders in the region support Trump’s plan.

Israeli security services top officials agree that the Authority will begin its economic collapse within two or three months.

In related news, Abbas stressed that “we reject the US peace plan,” better known as the “deal of the century,” in a meeting with the leaders of the Fatah Youth Movement.

He announced that Palestine will not participate in the US-sponsored economic workshop to be held in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25.

“Jerusalem and Palestine are not for sale,” asserted Abbas, adding that “the Palestinian leadership is sticking to the stable legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state.

Abbas reiterated the Palestinians’ rejection to receive the partial funds of the tax revenue dues collected by Israel on behalf of the PA from the Palestinian trade.

World Bank Warns Of Severe Shock Facing Palestinian Economy

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

 

World Bank Warns of Severe Shock Facing Palestinian Economy

Thursday, 18 April, 2019 – 09:15
Ramallah – Asharq Al-Awsat
The World Bank said that the Palestinian economy is now facing a severe shock in regard of public finances as a result of Israel’s approach over tax revenues, calling for an urgent resolution of the crisis before it deepens.

This came in a report that the World Bank has prepared on Wednesday and is due to be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) at its next meeting in Brussels on 30 April.

The report quoted Anna Bjerde, World Bank Acting Country Director for West Bank and Gaza and Director of Strategy and Operations for the Middle East and North Africa Region, as saying: “The economy, which in 2018 saw no real growth, is now facing a severe fiscal shock because of the standoff over clearance revenue transfers.”

Bjerde stressed that “Urgent resolution is needed to prevent further deterioration of economic activity and living standards. Clearance revenues are a major source of budgetary income and the ongoing standoff is felt by all segments of the population in what is already a weak economy.”

In February, Israel decided to deduct around $10 million a month from the revenues — the sum the PA paid families of prisoners or prisoners themselves serving time in Israeli jails — prompting the Palestinians to refuse any funds at all.

“Against a background of declining aid flows, the recent standoff stemmed from Israel’s unilateral deduction of US$138 million from the PA’s clearance revenues in 2019 to offset estimated payouts to Palestinian martyrs and prisoners’ families,” the report noted.

According to the World Bank, “the clearance revenues, collected by Israel and transferred to the PA monthly, amount to 65 per cent of the PA’s total revenues. In response, the PA rejected the diminished transfers and was forced to cut the wage bill by 30 per cent, reduce expenditures in social assistance, and borrow more from local banks. If not resolved, the standoff will increase the financing gap from US$400 million in 2018 to over US $1 billion in 2019.”

“The dual-use goods system in its current application limits economic diversification and sustainable growth in the Palestinian territories. A revamp of the application of the restrictions on dual-use goods is critically needed,” added Bjerde.

The report stressed that “The Palestinian economy has witnessed low growth rates that are not able to keep up with the growth in population, resulting in an increase in unemployment and deteriorating living conditions. The absence of growth in the past year is mainly attributed to the steep deterioration in Gaza, where more than half of the population is unemployed and economic activities contracted by 7 per cent in 2018—the deepest economic downturn Gaza has witnessed that is not a result of a conflict. However, growth in the West Bank has also slowed below its recent trends.”

Palestinian Leaders Are Rejecting A Peace Plan They Have Never Seen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Kushner to Palestinians: Don’t let your leaders reject a plan they haven’t seen

Senior White House adviser, in region ahead of peace proposal rollout, appeals to Palestinian people in effort to bypass Ramallah’s boycott of administration

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner appealed directly to the Palestinian people, urging them to not let their “scared” leadership reject the Trump administration peace plan, which the Palestinian Authority has yet to see. Directly critiquing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said he was not sure Abbas truly wanted an accord.

In an interview with a Palestinian paper published Sunday, Kushner said he is ready to work with Abbas, but voiced doubt the 83-year-old leader has the ability or desire to make peace because he has not altered his negotiating position in over two decades.

“There have been countless mistakes and missed opportunities over the years, and you, the Palestinian people, have paid the price,” Kushner said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the White House. “Don’t let your leadership reject a plan they haven’t even seen.”

“A lot has happened in the world since this conflict began decades ago. The world has moved forward while you have been left behind. Don’t allow your grandfather’s conflict to determine your children’s future,” he added.

The top US peace adviser was in the region ahead of the launch of a fresh peace effort. The trip, which took Kushner and US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, did not include meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

Kushner, Greenblatt and other White House officials have been effectively blackballed by Ramallah, which was angered by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to move the US embassy there in May.

The interview with the East Jerusalem-based Al Quds newspaper was seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to reach out to the Palestinian people, despite the official boycott.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

In the interview, Kushner said the Palestinians should speak to their own leaders and “give them the courage to keep an open mind” toward achieving peace.

Referring to comments by Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh, who said Saturday that the US peace mission was a waste of time, Kushner said the Palestinian leaders fear the plan might receive popular support.

“I think the Palestinian leadership is saying those things because they are scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life,” Kushner said.

“President Abbas says that he is committed to peace and I have no reason not to believe him,” he said. “However, I do question how much President Abbas has the ability to, or is willing to, lean into finishing a deal. He has his talking points which have not changed in the last 25 years. To make a deal both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions. I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs the Fatah Central Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 29, 2018.(Majdi Mohammed/AP)

“I greatly respect that there are many things he [Abbas] has done well for establishing the foundations of peace, but I don’t think the Palestinian people feel like their lives are getting better and there is only so long you can blame that on everyone other than Palestinian leadership,” he added.

Kushner said the international community is “getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many actions that are constructive towards achieving peace.”

Kushner admitted he had not tried to contact Abbas directly ahead of his Middle East tour but noted, “President Abbas knows we are in the region and we have many mutual contacts who convey messages – he knows that we are open to meeting him and continuing the discussion when he is ready. He has said publicly he will not meet us and we have opted not to chase him.”

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” said Kushner.

Kushner suggested that Israeli and Palestinian leaders could hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the Trump peace plan as “a way for them to take less political risk on endorsing a solution, but that is still a few steps ahead of where we are now.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, speaks to journalists during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 21, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Kushner, who together with Greenblatt has reportedly been trying to raise aid funding from Gulf states for the Gaza Strip, also rejected recent criticism by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who on Saturday accused the Americans of trying to use the situation in Gaza to divide the Palestinians and topple the PA.

“The last I checked they are divided, they are not connected by government or land and it’s needlessly become a dire humanitarian situation because the Palestinian leadership has made it a political situation,” Kushner said. “It’s time for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to stop using the people of Gaza as pawns. The narrative of victimhood may feel good for the moment and help you grab headlines but it doesn’t do anything to improve lives.”

Ramallah officials, who have sought to squeeze the Strip’s Hamas rulers by withholding salaries and goods as a means of retaking power there, have said plans to fund infrastructure projects to ease the humanitarian crisis in the enclave were tantamount to attempting to split Gaza from the Abbas-ruled West Bank.

“The people of Gaza are hostages to bad leadership,” Kushner said, warning that continued attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza would prevent the humanitarian situation from improving as Israel and Egypt would continue to impose their blockade aimed at prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons.

“As long as there are rockets being fired and tunnels being dug, there will be a chokehold on resources allowed to enter. It’s a vicious cycle. I think the only path for the people of Gaza is to encourage the leadership to aim for a true ceasefire that gives Israel and Egypt the confidence to start allowing more commerce and goods to flow to Gaza,” said Kushner.

“We have said from the beginning that there is no path to peace without finding a solution for Gaza.”

Palestinian children fill jerrycans with drinking water from public taps in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The US earlier this year cut some $250 million to the budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA.

Despite the difficulties, Kushner said he remains hopeful the Israelis and Palestinians can overcome their past grievances.

“Yes, there is a lot of hatred and a lot of scar tissue, but I do not underestimate humankind’s ability to love. To be successful, we must be willing to forgive in the present, not forget the past, but work hard towards a brighter future.”

Peace, he predicted, would have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy.

“Israel’s prosperity would spill over very quickly to the Palestinians if there is peace. Many countries from around the world are ready to invest if there is a peace agreement,” he said.

A US official told Israel’s Channel 10 news that “the interview is part of the American administration’s attempt to address the Palestinian people directly before presenting its peace plan.”

On Saturday night, Kushner and Greenblatt met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in as many days, together with US envoy to Israel David Friedman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The four continued discussions that had begun on Friday, which included talks on easing the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the peace plan, according to the White House.

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Senior Hamas leader among dozens arrested overnight in West Bank

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Senior Hamas leader among dozens arrested overnight in West Bank

Sheik Hassan Yousef detained on suspicion of ‘promoting’ the terror group’s activities amid spike in violence, Shin Bet says

Sheikh Hassan Yousef is arrested in his home by IDF troops, October 20, 2015. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Sheikh Hassan Yousef is arrested in his home by IDF troops, October 20, 2015. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Israeli troops, in raids across the West Bank overnight Tuesday, arrested 32 Palestinians for suspected involvement in terror activities and violent rioting, as well as a senior Hamas figure, security forces said.

Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank and one of the group’s founding members, was arrested in Ramallah, the Shin Bet security service said.

He is suspected of “involvement in promoting and advancing Hamas’s activities in the West Bank,” it confirmed in a statement after Palestinian media broke news of the arrest.

Yousef was recently released from administrative detention, and has been arrested many times in recent years. Earlier this week, he called for a violent response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

A Palestinian protester pulls a burning tire during clashes with Israeli security forces near an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 9, 2017, following the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Since Trump announced his decision last Wednesday, the West Bank has seen daily protests that have at time devolved into clashes.

Hamas last week called for a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel over the US decision, urging Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and allowing thousands of Gazans to clash with Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence. Its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, on Friday praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.

In his address, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites. The final status of Jerusalem is a key issue in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim the eastern neighborhoods of the city as their future capital.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum, but rejected by the international community.

Police find a rocket, fired from Gaza, inside a kindergarten in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on December 9, 2017. (Israel Police)

Alongside the clashes in the West Bank, recent days have seen an escalation in violence around Gaza, where Yousef’s Hamas group holds sway.

In the latest in a series of tit-for-tat exchanges, the Israeli Air Force early Wednesday morning struck a Hamas facility in the southern Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rocket fire hours earlier.

On Sunday, Israel demolished a Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated hundreds of meters into Israeli territory from the southern Gaza Strip. It was the second tunnel destroyed by Israel in less than six weeks.

During the overnight raids, IDF medics treated an elderly Palestinian woman who had a heart attack in the village of al-Zubeidat, near Jericho, but eventually pronounced her dead after their efforts failed.

The IDF denied implications made by Palestinian media that the woman’s heart attack was triggered by stun grenades thrown by Israeli troops after residents threw rocks at them. An army official said the two incidents were unrelated, happening at significantly different times during the night.

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Gaza Opens its Doors after Years of Deprivation

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

 

Gaza Opens its Doors after Years of Deprivation

Wednesday, 4 October, 2017 – 11:30
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

Gaza’s leadership finally welcomed the Palestinian Authority with arms wide open to end their dispute.

This is a very important political and humanitarian agreement credited for the government of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the first in a decade who succeeded in doing so.

If the deal’s implementation went as planned, and Ramallah and Gaza’s leaders cooperated, one of the worst politicians-made humanitarian disasters would be over.

There is no doubt that Gaza’s leaders, who were drawn into Qatar’s adventures and Iran’s exploitation, are responsible for the dark stage.

For ten painful years the densely populated strip suffered, and its people witnessed devastating wars having no political objectives. The factions in the enclave fought with extremists and radicals.

Trade was banned, tunnels were blocked, swimming in the sea was forbidden, and fishermen were constrained.

The suffering began when the airport, symbol of peace promise and better future, was closed.

Most of Gaza’s news became about the crossing point, and when it would be open for humanitarian cases.

The people’s suffering was neither a national duty nor a political necessity. It was rather a nonsensical disagreement and personal rivalry over leadership.

Not until the new agreement goes into full effect for weeks and months, will we be certain that it will last. However, this remains the best thing that has happened in years.

Can Rami Hamdallah’s government run the enclave and coexist with Hamas simultaneously? Will disagreements be forgotten and replaced by a cooperation that shall unite the strip back with the West Bank?

Many old reasons make this a difficult task, and even if it succeeds today, it might not last.

Gaza’s return to Ramallah is an important sign on the Palestinian leadership’s ability to speak on behalf of all Palestinians.

The reconciliation puts an end to Israel’s rejection of peace claiming that “Hamas,” “Islamic Jihad”, and other armed opposition movements thwarted past attempts for peace.

Reconciliation opens the door to any international desire to launch a new initiative.

Even if a serious peace plan is not produced, at least it will be possible to reform the internal Palestinian situation shattered by conflicts over authority.

Egypt’s return is an important new peace factor. It was responsible for sponsoring the Gaza Strip, hadn’t it been for the Qatari-Iranian interventions that struck Egypt’s role, created a wall of fear and closed the strip.

During the 10 years of intra-Palestinian conflict, Egypt tried to mediate but failed. However, this is the first time we see a sign of hope in ending the conflict between two brothers.

Sincere intentions are required so that the authority isn’t tempted into total domination, nor does it become a victim of Hamas’ deception to open the crossings in order to overcome the crisis, provide its needs, and then return to disagreement and estrangement.

Reconciliation and the opening of Gaza may be the door to regional stability and a sign of an end to regional chaos.

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.

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.

Unprecedented Verbal Attack between Palestinian Authority, Hamas

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

Middle East

Unprecedented Verbal Attack between Palestinian Authority, Hamas

Palestine

Ramallah, Gaza – An unprecedented verbal attack has broken out between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on the eve of a planned meeting between the two sides in Gaza in order to put an end to the Palestinian division.

Hamas Movement said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is leading a fourth aggression on Gaza on behalf of Israeli occupation authorities with his latest decisions on Gaza salary cuts.

Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement, on Saturday, that Abbas is responsible for Gaza siege and isolation as well as the power and water crises other than the lack of health services.

Barhoum also held Abbas responsible for denying workers of their basic rights and suspending allocations of martyrs, the wounded and other needy categories.

This language is different from that spoken by Hamas in the past few days as they welcomed the delegation from the central committee of Fatah movement that is supposed to arrive to Gaza any time before the end of April to hold talks with Hamas movement and other factions.

Notably, Fatah delegation carries with it a specific initiative from Abbas, which calls for dissolving Hamas’s committee it has established earlier to manage Gaza and then carrying out public elections, otherwise the alternative would be to enact more difficult measures against Gaza.

Hamas escalated its speech against President Abbas following the latter’s threats to take unprecedented measures in case Hamas refused the options that will be suggested by the central delegation.

The Palestinian authority government started last month to cut salaries of Gaza employees by 30 to 50%, which sparked a wave of anger among the Fatah leadership in Gaza and their staff before the president threatened to take unspecified further steps.

Abbas warned that he will take “unprecedented steps” to end the political division between his West Bank-based autonomy government and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Abbas told Palestinian diplomats in Bahrain during conference of the ambassadors of Palestine to Arab and Muslim countries: “These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps, and we are to take these decisive steps.”

“Therefore, we are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division.”

Gaza’s Energy Authority went on strike on Friday in protest of the unjust measures taken against Palestinians in the besieged strip.

During the protests, several participants carried candles in a message to Abbas and his government that Gaza would never yield to their extortions and threats.

For his part, Mushir al-Masri, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told demonstrators: “We are not blind to the enemy’s use of tricks including tightening the siege using its cheap tools: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Tightening the siege will blow up in the occupation’s face.”

US Releases $221 Million Fund To Palestine

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

Middle East

US Releases $221 Million Fund to Palestine

USAID

Ramallah – US has announced the release of the $221 million for Palestinians, which President Donald Trump had previously frozen and put under review after former US President Obama had ordered at the “last minute” of his presidency.

US State Department had confirmed that the money will be used for services in the West Bank and will not go directly to the authorities’ treasury.

A Palestinian official told Asharq Al-Awsat that most of this money had been allocated to foreign organizations working within the Palestinian territories.

Speaking during a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that to his understanding the money had been released, but also said that the issue was still under review.

“220.3 million that was released was for West Bank programs such as water, infrastructure, education, renewable energy, civil society, municipal governance, and the rule of law, as well as Gaza recovery. And a smaller amount was to go directly to Israeli creditors of the Palestinian Authority as well as East Jerusalem hospitals. None of the funding was to go directly to the Palestinian Authority,” explained Toner.

The official stated that these funds were never assigned to the authority and were not a donation from former President Obama.

“We don’t know why Trump decided to freeze them, and then released them,” said the official.

He added that the majority of these funds will be given to international organizations in Palestine. “Most of the money will be given to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for projects within the Palestinian authorities,” according to the official.

The funds included $180 million from USAID, $25 million to support Palestinian hospitals and $45 million to pay for fuel purchased from Israel.

He then explained that the funds were supposed to be given before the end of 2016, but they were delayed until Obama ordered the transfer, few hours before leaving the White House.

On January 20, and just few hours before Trump’s inauguration, Obama informed the congress that he will send the money. The money was frozen after the Congress’ recommendation as a punishment for the authorities’ attempts to join UN organizations and for instigation.

Though it is not legally binding, the White House abode by the Congress’ decision. Hours before Trump’s arrival, former US secretary of state John Kerry informed the Congress of the transfer.

Trump’s administration then announced it had frozen the grant in order to make adjustments to ensure it complies with the new administration’s priorities.

The relations between Trump’s administration and the Palestinian authority are not exactly strong, despite the few meetings made. Major conflict rose when Palestine stated it won’t accept any solution other than the two-state solution, while Trump declared it is not the only solution available.

Palestinians are afraid Trump will transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, warning that this will be an admission that Quds is Israel’s capital, thus ending any US role in the peace process.

Yet, Palestinians are seeking better relations with the US. Chief of Palestinian Intelligence Majid Faraj met with US security officials.

Then, US Director of CIA Mike Pompeo met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. But, till now, no contact has been established at the level of the White House or the State Department.

Fatah Deputy Chief: We Accept A One-State Solution—Where Israel Does Not Exist

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

Interviews

Fatah Deputy Chief: We Accept a One-State Solution

Ramallah – Since I met him a few months ago, nothing has changed in Mahmoud el-Aloul’s entourage even though he has been elected the deputy party chief of Fatah, which means he could become leader of the movement in case of any surprises, and consequently president of Palestinian Authority.

On our way to his office for an interview, we were not questioned once and we were received by his office manager who delayed our interview several times due to unorganized appointments. Many members of Fatah believe this is a “creative chaos”.

Before the interview, I asked Aloul about his few security guards. His answer was that he didn’t like the fuss they create and wished he could carry out his duties without any assistants.

The first question was about US President Donald Trump and his numerous statements about Palestine and Israel.

Aloul acknowledged that it’s the question asked by everyone. No one can understand Trump’s policy, which he said is “mysterious and confusing.”

“As soon as he got into office, he created problems with the US and international community including Europe, China, and Japan. His policies are completely different from all his predecessors, so we are faced by a mysterious case. We have to wait and we are doing our best,” Aloul said.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Fatah is trying to contact the Trump administration and has sent direct messages and via Arab leaders.

He said Fatah advised Trump not to rush into any decision concerning the region. But, regardless of anything, Abbas’ deputy stressed that Fatah holds onto the people’s rights and will defend them.

When asked if the movement received any response to its demands, Aloul said a number of Fatah figures had met with senior officials at the US administration and confirmed that discussions touched on both political and security matters.

Concerning what Trump had stated about moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Aloul said there might be some changes in the president’s stance, but, like the rest of the world, nothing can be predicted.

Trump retracted from the two-state solution, which Aloul is not entirely against given that it protects Palestinians’ rights and grants them freedom, independence and sovereignty.

Whereas, he added, a one state democratic solution has been proposed by Palestinians.

Concerning Trump, Aloul said that negotiations are an inevitable part of any war or conflict in the world and the Palestinian conflict with Israel has been ongoing for years.

The VP said that resistance is legitimate, as Fatah has said in its political declaration that resistance is a right. But, Aloul, didn’t deny that each phase has its own requirements and the current stage requires public resistance.

Such resistance is necessary as long as there are crimes and there is occupation, he said, adding that it should be a way of life for all Palestinians.

When asked about his position of Fatah deputy chief, Aloul said the position has certain authorities in line with the movement’s bylaws. He also mentioned that this post is up to review a year after it was created.

He said his main goal is to move forward with the movement and reconcile with the Palestinian people in order to create a state of unity within the movement itself and between the movement and the society.

He added that choosing him for this position put an end to a number of foreign interventions that had been going on for a long time.

Certain observers expected Marwan al-Barghouti to be chosen for the position of Abbas’ deputy. Aloul expressed his pride in everything Barghouti has done and confirmed that Fatah will continue battling for his freedom. He did however explain that not choosing Barghouti for the post was due to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to perform any executive duties from his prison cell.

He criticized the people trying to create strife out of this issue.

When asked about Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) elections, he said a committee is preparing for the polls but negotiations are ongoing on where they should take place.

Concerning the elections, Aloul explained that the election of a PLO deputy chief is under discussion. However, Hamas announced that the head of council can be the head of authority, to which Aloul said that Hamas has to determine first if it wants to be part of the Palestinian Authority or not.

Aloul said Fatah is a national liberation movement that hasn’t achieved its goals and will remain active until it does.

He also expressed his lack of interest in what Israelis think about his statements.

Finally, the Fatah deputy leader ruled out an Arab Spring in Palestine, saying the people are not against the government, they are all against one enemy: the occupation.