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.

Hamas Says It Won’t Even Discuss Giving Up Their Weapons: Only An Idiot Would Think They Would

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas says it won’t even discuss giving up weapons if PA takes over Gaza

Still, Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar says Muhammad Deif, Qassam Brigades terror chief, ‘strongly backs’ reconciliation with Fatah

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said on Thursday that the Gaza-based terror group is not prepared to discuss the dissolution of its military wing during talks with the Fatah party, as the two sides attempt to form a unity government.

At the same time, Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said the elusive commander of the terror group’s military wing, Muhammad Deif, supports the reconciliation attempt.

“This issue is not up for discussion, not previously and neither will it be in the future,” Abu Marzouk said in a long interview with the semi-official Turkish news agency Al-Andalous. “The weapons of the resistance are for the protection of the Palestinian people, and it is inconceivable that Hamas will lay down its weapons as long as its land is occupied and its people dispersed.”

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since Hamas violently took control of the Strip in 2007, with the two groups operating separate administrations.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has a reported  27,000 armed men divided into six regional brigades, with 25 battalions and 106 companies.

It has fought three conflicts with Israel since the terror group took control of Gaza.

Hamas announced earlier this month that it had agreed to steps toward resolving the split with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, announcing it would dissolve a body seen as a rival government — known as the administrative committee — and was ready to hold elections.

The statement came after Hamas leaders held talks with Egyptian officials and as Gaza faces a mounting humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by retaliatory moves by Abbas following Hamas’s decision to set up the administrative committee to govern the enclave in March.

While Abbas welcomed Hamas’s dissolution of the administrative committee, he didn’t commit to removing PA sanctions on the Strip.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is slated to travel to Gaza on Monday to begin reinstating the PA’s control over the Strip.

Reconciliation attempts between the two sides have failed numerous times, and one of the biggest sticking points has been who will control the border and security in the Gaza Strip.

(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

Abu Marzouk also said in his comments on Thursday that Hamas would not be willing to accede to the demands of the so-called Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations — that it renounce terrorism and agree to accept past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the largest Palestinian political umbrella group.

Despite refusing to give up its military, Hamas on Thursday reiterated that it is completely committed to the idea of a unity government.

“Hamas will not remain a party to the division in any way,” said Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar in remarks given during a closed meeting with journalists and later published by a Hamas spokesperson, adding that he won’t allow anyone to foil the reconciliation plans.

“The page of the previous stage must be turned over, and we must move into the future to build our national project,” he said.

Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif (courtesy)

In a surprising statement, Sinwar said that Deif, the leader of the Qassam Brigades, Deif, who Israel has tried unsuccessfully  to kill numerous times and whose condition has been unknown since the 2014 summer war with Israel, is “strongly supportive” of the reconciliation efforts.

US ‘withdrew veto’ against Palestinian reconciliation

In his statements on Thursday, Abu Marzouk claimed Hamas was informed that the US was ending its opposition to a Hamas-Fatah unity government.

“We received information from sources of our own, and other Western diplomats, confirming that the United States has lifted its veto on Palestinian reconciliation,” he said.

The Hamas leader said the removal of American opposition grants Abbas “the space to take a bold step to end Palestinian division, as America formed a primary obstacle.”

On Thursday the Quartet, of which the US is a part, welcomed the PA’s impending return to the Gaza Strip as part of renewed reconciliation efforts with the Hamas.

It said renewed PA control over Gaza “is critical for efforts to reach lasting peace.”

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

The latest reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas come as US President Donald Trump has sought to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and met separately with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.

In apparent contradiction of Abu Marzouk’s statement, last week, Trump’s Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt slammed Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip and called on the PA to retake control of Gaza and urged the international community to help this process come to fruition.

“Relief from the suffering in Gaza can only be found when all interested parties gather together to help the Palestinian people and isolate Hamas,” he said, accusing Hamas of using money meant for Gaza’s civilian population on terror infrastructure.

READ MORE:

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

Opinion: The Miracle of Occupation Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘LEFT WING’ ISRAELI NEWS PAPER ‘HAARETZ’)

Opinion The Miracle of Occupation Nation

It’s easier to celebrate Independence Day when you blot out millions of disenfranchised people living right next door

Chemi Shalev May 03, 2017
Israeli children watch fireworks in the sky over Mount Herzl at the end of Israel’s Memorial Day and at the start of Israel’s 69th Independence Day celebrations, in Jerusalem late on May 1 2017. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Editorial This is how Israel inflates its Jewish majority
Opinion How an Israeli Arab marks Independence Day
Opinion Why I won’t fly the Israeli flag on Independence Day
In its editorial on Sunday, Haaretz railed against the annual population report issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics in honor of Independence Day. The editorial states that the CBS counts Jews who live in the West Bank as though they “reside in Israel,” even though they don’t, technically. By listing Israeli citizens who live in the West Bank but omitting the 2 to 3 million Palestinian non-citizens who reside there, the chief statistician is “erasing the Palestinians” and misleading the country about the size of the Jewish majority, the editorial says.
I can imagine Israeli readers of the article scratching their heads and trying to make heads or tails of it. What are these people at Haaretz on about? Israelis have been counting Jews and discounting Palestinians in the West Bank since time immemorial. We don’t need the chief statistician to “erase” Palestinians for us, because we erased them from our minds a long time ago, along with the military occupation under which they live. In Israel 2017, on the eve of the 69th Independence Day, a full five decades after the territories were captured, it’s become second nature.
And while older Israelis still have to make an effort to believe the occupation doesn’t exist, the illusion comes altogether naturally for younger Israelis. The Forward reported this week on a poll published in Fathom, the research journal of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, which showed that younger Israelis are increasingly unaware that the West Bank and the Jewish settlements aren’t actually part of Israel proper. Only 40 percent of those aged 18 to 29 knew that Israel had not declared sovereignty in the West Bank. Only 32 percent knew that the city of Ariel was not situated inside sovereign Israeli territory. One has to be over 50, it seems, and preferably over 60, to know even the most basic facts about the geography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After that, one can start to deny them.
But it’s not enough to be ignorant about the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. That’s one part of the equation. The other is to not hear anything about the Palestinians either.  The only news reports Israelis are likely to be exposed to concerning the millions of Palestinians living under their army’s military control are those linked to terrorist activities, real or suspected. Scour as many Israeli newspapers as you want – besides Haaretz – and monitor television newscasts 24/7, you won’t pick up a word about economic hardships, nightly military raids, the absolute dependence on the Civil Administration, the need for a permit for everything under the sun, the roadblocks, the humiliation, the frustration, the feeling of impotence or any of the other thousand and one indignities that go along with living under occupation. It’s going on right under their noses, but none of these things are ever brought to the attention of most Israelis. And if they are, they go in one ear and come out the other.
Even the word occupation – in Hebrew “kibush,” which also means conquest – is rarely mentioned outside of Haaretz and unabashedly left wing circles. It is politically toxic, because it implies that Israel’s presence in the territories is alien, foreign, even temporary. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once endorsed the establishment of two states, his coalition partners view the territories of Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank, as a divine birthright and an integral part of Israel, other than in the most tactically expedient terms. Anyone who utters the word “occupation” is automatically branded as suspect. NGOs such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence that try to point out the injustices that are the inevitable byproduct of any military occupation are marked and targeted as traitors.

Israeli border policemen detain a Palestinian protester during clashes at a rally in support of prisoners on hunger strike, Bethlehem, West Bank, April 27, 2017. AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

This willful blindness is convenient for everyone – and by everyone, I mean most Jewish Israelis. It absolves us of the need to reckon with 50 years of disenfranchisement. It allows those of us who might otherwise be bothered to sleep well at night. And it allows us to celebrate Independence Day as if we were as innocent and just as the righteous few against the malevolent many – just like we were in 1948, 1967 and 1973, and at Entebbe, in Lebanon and in Gaza. Even if we weren’t.
Denial of the occupation is a godsend for the right wing. It allows firebrands and rabble-rousers to whip up hostility toward Israelis who, if there is no occupation, are making a big deal about nothing, blaming Israel for crimes it could not have committed and spreading blood libels about innocent Jews, like the worst anti-Semites. It allows Netanyahu to constantly stir resentment against a hostile if not anti-Semitic world, which singles out Israel unfairly, it is alleged.
All this, despite the fact that the 50-year occupation of the West Bank and control over the Palestinians are, in the real world, quite unique. No other Western democracy holds millions of foreigners under military rule, no other enlightened nation keeps another people permanently disenfranchised, no other country seems to think that this situation can go on forever, because the Palestinians can’t be trusted or must be punished or are incapable of being independent.
Because if there is no occupation, then what in God’s name does the world want from us? If there is no occupation, then the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is definitely anti-Semitic. If there is no occupation, The New York Times is peddling fake news and Haaretz is an agent of Hamas. If there is no occupation, Europe has learned nothing since the Holocaust. If there is no occupation, any Palestinian resistance – from terror attacks, stabbings and throwing stones to peaceful demonstrations, calls for boycotts and op-eds in Western newspapers – are all unjustified and worthy of punishment. If there is no occupation, there is no reason for German foreign ministers to meet with Breaking the Silence, nor for the United Nations to obsessively deal with Israel. This is exactly the way the Israeli government and most of the public regard these phenomena. They have repressed awareness of the occupation for so long, they cant remember its existence anymore.
There are many other benefits to erasing the occupation. If there is no occupation, one doesn’t have to deal with its lingering effects on Israeli psychology or behavior. If there is no occupation, one can’t claim that it is eroding democracy, promoting brutishness, fueling intolerance or nurturing racism. If there is no occupation, then all of the illnesses that are plaguing Israeli society are not the outcome of 50 years of imposing military rule over another people, but forces of nature, which the government – of course – can do nothing to stop.
There are many people, groups and organizations that contribute to the erasure of the occupation. We have many willing accomplices in maintaining the no-occupation facade. Besides the politicians, the settlers, the religious establishment, the media and the civil service, even the leaders of the opposition – who are afraid to say “kibush” lest they be castigated as wishy-washy leftists – much of the U.S. and most of the American Jewish establishment are in on the act. At AIPAC conferences, 99 percent of the deliberations are about Israel’s enemies, including the Palestinians-as-terrorists, and only 1 percent are about the occupation and Palestinians-as-occupied – and that’s only on good years. The Republican Party never mentions the occupation, nor does our new superhero, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who may not be aware that there are millions of people who have been deprived of their rights for decades. At least, she never seems to mention them.
When you think about it, it’s nothing less than a miracle, even if it is a malignant one. We are the perfect Occupation Nation precisely because we don’t even notice it exists. It’s an occupation without all the nasty side effects, a medical marvel that ranks right up there with making the desert bloom, beating five Arab armies in the Six Day War, ingathering exiles from Russia and Ethiopia and, the most recent of our marvels, Start Up Nation. Even though Jerusalem is less than 10 miles from Ramallah and Tel Aviv is only 30 miles from Nablus, the Palestinian cities might as well be on the North Pole. Israelis have no choice but to notice the wall that separates them from the other side, but they have no idea and show no interest in finding out what’s going on there. The Palestinians are like the residents of the science fictional town of Chester Hill, who are living under the dome. Unlike the TV program, however, no one is trying to break in from the other side to set them free.
This miracle of Occupation Nation is made possible, of course, by virtue of some of the other miracles that Israel is associated with. Its stellar army, which devotes so much time and energy to keeping Israelis safe and Palestinians subdued; its unparalleled security services, which manage the population from inside and out in order to prevent it from getting too restive; and of course, our technological whiz kids, who provide the surveillance and intelligence abilities to locate dangerous elements and neutralize them before they do harm. The Israeli army’s requirements seed Start Up Nation, and Start Up Nation returns the favor by enabling the See-No-Occupation Nation.
The relative quiet in the West Bank, which is occasionally marred by violence that is quickly contained, theoretically gives a rational Israeli government an opportunity to try and achieve peace. It’s easier to make concessions and reach an agreement when you can convince your own people that the other side is also seeking a diplomatic solution, and it is much harder to do so when violence makes nationalist feelings run wild. But it’s a vicious circle, because when there is no violence, there is no impetus for the government to do anything, especially when said government, like the current one, prefers to keep things just as they are.
No one wants to encourage violence, of course, but it is a historical fact that the first intifada paved the way to the Oslo Accords and the second intifada led to the disengagement from Gaza. Years of relative quiet, in which Israelis were happy to erase the occupation from their consciousness, have never led to anything except, eventually and inevitably, heartache and bloodshed.

Chemi Shalev
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.786679

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.

THE TRUTH ABOUT ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

THE TRUTH ABOUT ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS

SETTLEMENTS ARE NOT THE MAJOR OBSTACLE TO PEACE

While settlements can be a source of conflict, they are not the major obstacle to peace. From 1948-1967 no Israeli settlements existed, yet the Palestinian leadership and the Arab World still sought Israel’s annihilation.

Ma'ale Adumim
As a result of the resounding Israeli victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel gained the “West Bank,” “Gaza,” ”Golan Heights” and “East Jerusalem.” Less than a week after the war ended, the Israeli unity government under PM Levi Eshkol affirmed – and then told the Americans — that Israel would return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria in return for signed peace treaties. Separate negotiations would then be conducted regarding the future of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the refugee issue. While Egypt accepted the Sinai offer, Syria rejected the Golan Heights offer. Negotiations over the West Bank and Gaza failed.

SETTLEMENTS DO NOT JEOPARDIZE FUTURE “LAND FOR PEACE” DEALS

In the meantime, some Israelis took up residence in areas around Jerusalem that were across the 1967 armistice lines. These Israeli developments, known as “Settlements,” only take up around 2% of West Bank land. Over time, US Administrations recognized that Israel would retain some of these towns in any peace agreement.

Israel has uprooted other settlements such as those in the Gaza Strip. In 2005 Israel evacuated all the Jewish families living in Gaza—a total population of 8,000. However, instead of making peace, Hamas—a terrorist organization—took over the Gaza Strip and responded by firing thousands of rockets at Israeli cities in the ensuing years.

THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT IS NOT BUILDING NEW SETTLEMENTS

For years, the only legal construction allowed by the Israeli government has been within existing communities to accommodate the natural growth of resident families. Illegal outposts, which do not conform to Israel’s policies, do exist. Some critics fault the Israeli government for not dealing with them more forcefully, but the government works to resolve the issue peacefully or by court order.

ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS MAY NOT BE ILLEGAL AT ALL  [1]

Many legal scholars question whether Settlements are illegal at all. Eugene V. Rostow, one of the authors of UN Security Council Resolution 242—written after the 1967 war to create a framework for peace negotiations—stated, “The Jewish right of settlement in Palestine west of the Jordan River, that is, in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, was made unassailable. That right has never been terminated and cannot be terminated except by a recognized peace between Israel and its neighbors.” Moreover, Rostow contended that “The Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the existing Palestinian population to live there.”

Others contend that the Geneva Convention, passed after WWII, makes the Settlements illegal. The December 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2334 Vote—passed due to the US government’s abstention—declared them illegal and opened the door to future international actions against Israel.

PALESTINIANS ARE BUILDING ILLEGALLY AROUND JERUSALEM [2]

All of the governments and international bodies that criticize Israel for building what many claim to be legal communities are silent about the construction of new Palestinian developments surrounding Jerusalem. According to a detailed article by Bassam Tawil of the Gatestone Institute, the questionable construction is primarily in Zone-C, which under the Oslo Peace Accords should be territory controlled by Israel. According to Tawil, Palestinians estimate that in the past few years they have built more than 15,000 illegal housing units in areas surrounding Jerusalem as part of a plan to encircle the city. These are not single family homes, but massive apartment complexes without proper licenses, not built to code, and some without proper sewage. The article claims that many of the “contractors” are land-thieves and thugs who are building without permission on private Palestinian-owned land or on lands whose owners are living abroad.

THE MAJOR OBSTACLE TO PEACE IS PALESTINIAN LEADERSHIP

The Palestinian leadership’s refusal to give up the conflict, recognize Israel as a Jewish State, and renounce the “right of return” for most Palestinian refugees, is the real obstacle to peace. The so-called “right of return” would allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to flood Israel. No Israeli leader would ever accept the “right of return,” since it would mean the end of the world’s only Jewish state. Yet, the Palestinian leadership has never told its own people that they must forfeit this claim in order to achieve peace.

Israeli ministers approve ‘Facebook bill’ to restrict online ‘incitement’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PALESTINIAN NEWS PAPER MA’AN)

 

Israeli ministers approve ‘Facebook bill’ to restrict online ‘incitement’

DEC. 27, 2016 5:38 P.M. (UPDATED: DEC. 29, 2016 1:21 P.M.)

Picture of the homepage of Facebook website. (AFP Photo / Juan Mabromata)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israel advanced the so-called “Facebook bill” that would allow Israeli officials to force the social media giant to remove certain content through a court order if there are suspicions of “incitement.” after an Israeli ministerial committee approved the bill on Sunday.

According to the Israeli media outlet the Times of Israel, the bill, proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — members of right-wing Israeli parties Jewish Home and Likud respectively — would “only be invoked in cases of suspected incitement, where there is a real possibility that the material in question endangers the public or national security.”
Despite Facebook complying with 95 percent of the Israeli government’s removal requests in recent months, members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, have consistently expressed their indignation that Facebook has not taken enough action to remove content inciting “acts of terror against Jews.”
The Times of Israel reported that Erdan said on Sunday that France, Germany, and other European countries already have adopted similar legislation. However, critics have accused the Israeli government of utilizing “terrorism” discourse in order to justify and further entrench the Israeli military’s half-century occupation of the West Bank and near decade-long siege of the Gaza Strip.
Erdan also defended the bill’s application to Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory, using the Israeli term “Judea and Samaria,” and underscored his concerns that Facebook did not recognize Israeli military control over the West Bank.
“If someone writes something problematic and they live in Judea and Samaria, [Facebook] won’t cooperate with us and they say it’s outside of Israel and therefore they can’t cooperate,” the Times of Israel reported Erdan as saying.
In recent months, Israel has detained scores of Palestinians for social media activity, alleging that a wave of unrest that first swept the occupied Palestinian territory last October was encouraged largely by “incitement.” The violence has left 245 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and settlers, as well as some 34 Israelis killed by Palestinians.
Palestinians have instead pointed chiefly to the frustration and despair brought on by Israel’s decades-long military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as reasons for the rise of unrest.
Israel has responded to the perceived threat of social media incitement by blaming Facebook for not doing more to censor posts promoting “terrorism” against Israelis.
Following a series of deadly incidents, Erdan reportedly said that Facebook chairman and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg had “blood on his hands” for not adequately cooperating with Israel to remove content.
In July, an Israeli lawyer filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Facebook Inc., claiming that the social media platform allowed members of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas to plan and carry out attacks against Americans and Israelis.Commenting on the suit against them, Facebook referenced its community standards, and highlighted its ‘report’ tool, which allows and encourages Facebook users to flag content that they deem as encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech.
Facebook also cited its track record regarding incitement, referencing a case in March when the company took down a page promoting a Palestinian uprising against Israel because it made “direct calls for violence,” in violation of company policies.
In September, Erdan and Shaked met with Facebook executives to discuss the matter, reportedly looking to having the terms “intifada,” “Nazis,” “stabbings,” “shahid” (martyr), and “death to Jews,” censored as incitement against the state of Israel.
Shaked and Erdan also allegedly included the phrase “death to Arabs” — a slogan often heard in protests and mobs of extremist Israelis — saying that it too, led to incitement in general.
In response to incitement claims against Palestinians, PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat condemned the current Israeli government for its failure to “entrench a culture of peace and coexistence within Israeli society” in July, holding Israel responsible for incitement, saying “official Israeli discourse entrenches hatred, racism, and discriminatory attitudes against Palestinians. The discourse is only further entrenched by the institutional protection that is given to those who commit or incite violence against Palestinians.”
Shaked herself has used Facebook in the past to advocate for the killing of the mothers of slain Palestinians, referring to them as ‘snakes.’
“They should follow their sons. Nothing would be more just. They should go as should the physical houses in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise more little snakes are raised,” she wrote on the social media platform in the summer of 2014, just one day before a group of Israeli settlers attacked, beat, and burned alive Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager from occupied East Jerusalem

Israel to re-assess U.N. ties after settlement resolution, says Netanyahu

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Israel to re-assess U.N. ties after settlement resolution, says Netanyahu

U.S. abstains from UN vote to end Israeli settlement building
01:40
Israel will re-assess its ties with the United Nations following the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

The vote was able to pass the 15-member council on Friday because the United States broke with a long-standing approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power as it had on many times before – a decision that Netanyahu called “shameful”.

“I instructed the Foreign Ministry to complete within a month a re-evaluation of all our contacts with the United Nations, including the Israeli funding of U.N. institutions and the presence of U.N. representatives in Israel,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks.

“I have already instructed to stop about 30 million shekels ($7.8 million) in funding to five U.N. institutions, five bodies, that are especially hostile to Israel … and there is more to come,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

The Israeli leader did not name the institutions or offer any further details.

Defying heavy pressure from long-time ally Israel and President-elect Donald Trump for Washington to use its veto, the United States abstained in the Security Council decision, which passed with 14 votes in favor.

Israel for decades has pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing a biblical connection to the land.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

U.S. abstains from UN vote to end Israeli settlement building
01:40
Israel will re-assess its ties with the United Nations following the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

The vote was able to pass the 15-member council on Friday because the United States broke with a long-standing approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power as it had on many times before – a decision that Netanyahu called “shameful”.

“I instructed the Foreign Ministry to complete within a month a re-evaluation of all our contacts with the United Nations, including the Israeli funding of U.N. institutions and the presence of U.N. representatives in Israel,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks.

“I have already instructed to stop about 30 million shekels ($7.8 million) in funding to five U.N. institutions, five bodies, that are especially hostile to Israel … and there is more to come,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem December 11, 2016. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

The Israeli leader did not name the institutions or offer any further details.

Defying heavy pressure from long-time ally Israel and President-elect Donald Trump for Washington to use its veto, the United States abstained in the Security Council decision, which passed with 14 votes in favor.

Israel for decades has pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing a biblical connection to the land.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Palestinian UN envoy threatens US if Trump moves embassy to Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PALESTINIAN NEWS AGENCY MA’AN)

Palestinian UN envoy threatens US if Trump moves embassy to Jerusalem

US President-elect Donald Trump (AFP/File)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — In response to a pledge by US President-elect Donald Trump to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour threatened to “[unleash] all of the weapons that we have in the UN” against the United States, Israeli media reported on Sunday.On Tuesday, Trump won the presidential election in a victory which came as a surprise to many after a grueling and controversial presidential campaign.Trump’s victory was greeted with enthusiasm by Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu calling him “a true friend of the State of Israel.”In comments during his campaign, Trump had pledged to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial move given Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem since 1967 and similar Palestinian claims to the city.While many countries have consulates in Jerusalem which cater to citizens residing in the occupied Palestinian territory, embassies to Israel are majoritarily located in the Tel Aviv area.However, members of Trump’s team were seemingly evasive or backpedaling on the issue, leaving observers in the dark as to whether Trump would indeed enact such a change once sworn into office.Meanwhile, during the annual conference of the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., Mansour threatened to “make life miserable” for the United States at the United Nations should Trump move the embassy, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Sunday.Mansour said that an embassy move would represent a violation of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 regarding the status of Jerusalem, and constitute “belligerency” towards Palestinians.“If the US administration wants to defy international law they are doing something illegal. I hope they will do nothing,” Mansour said. “Many candidates gave the same election promise but didn’t implement it because what you do when you are campaigning is one thing but when you have to deal with the legal thing it is something else.”“If they do that nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves, and we have a lot of weapons in the UN,” Mansour added.He stated that the Palestinian Authority (PA) could force the US to use its veto in a Security Council over the PA’s admission as a member state, or “reopen the whole Pandora’s Box” with regards to International Criminal Court rulings regarding Israel’s illegal settlements and separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territory.The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the ‘Judaization’ of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.