Sep 01 2014

What is Abbas’ mystery proposal?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Israeli and international circles are searching for clues as to what the new Palestinian political initiative will contain. In a television interview with Egypt’s Sada al-Balad, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was planning a major political surprise that will be made known in the coming weeks. In his victory news conference in Doha, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, revealed that he was made privy to the Palestinian initiative, but refrained from revealing any details. The plan will be submitted to US Secretary of State John Kerry when Abbas meets him on Sept. 3 and will be also presented for approval to the Arab League in a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Sept. 7.

So, what is expected in this Palestinian diplomatic proposal?

It is clear that the Palestinian leader wants to take advantage of the newly discovered regional and international interest in resolving the Palestinian conflict. The 51-day war on Gaza created an international outcry, so the world is receptive to a Palestinian peace initiative that goes beyond the permanent cease-fire in Gaza. Continue Reading »

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Sep 01 2014

Mutual deterrence achieved between Israel, Gaza

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The extremely harsh way in which Israel executed its war on Gaza had one basic goal: deterrence. Although Israel might have partially succeeded in its deterrence strategy, an unexpected result was born during the war: mutual deterrence.

The strong and continuous Palestinian rocket response to the Israeli aggression did not cease until the very last moment before each cease-fire announcement. Israeli expectations that Hamas and the other resistance groups would simply run out of rockets or voluntarily refrain from firing them never materialized. On the last day of the war, Hamas broadened its attacks, using a new, previously unused element in its arsenal. The rockets fired from the Gaza Strip up until that point had not contained warheads. When Israel escalated its bombardments by bringing down 13- and 14-story buildings, the Palestinian fighters notched up their attacks by adding warheads to their rockets.

The birth of this mutual deterrence means that both sides, not just the Palestinians, will have to think long and hard before deciding to attack the other. It also means that the demands of the Palestinian people (not just Hamas), which will be negotiated after a month of quiet, cannot be brushed aside as before. In 2012, the Israelis had agreed to facilitate movement of people and goods, effectively lifting the siege, but once the attacks stopped, they reneged on their promises. Continue Reading »

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Sep 01 2014

Israel ignores calls to lift Gaza siege

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Indirect Palestinian-Israeli talks under the sponsorship of the Egyptian government have collapsed, but if and when negotiations resume, they will most likely pick up where the talks left off.

Despite Israeli arguments to the contrary, the 11-point Egyptian proposal appears to be closer to the Israeli point of view. The only real problem for Israel has been a public relations problem. They are afraid of any agreement that might give Palestinians the appearance of victory.

The main issues that remain to be resolved focus on Palestinian freedom of movement and the status of Palestinian seaports and airports. Other unresolved issues are the release of the recent Palestinian prisoners, including parliament members, and the timing of the lifting of some elements of the Israeli siege. Palestinians and Egyptians have not added the Rafah border crossing to the discussion because they plan to resolve that issue in bilateral talks. Europeans have come out strongly in support of the return to the 2005 arrangement where the Presidential Guard manned the crossing with supervision from the European Union Border Mission in Rafah.

Palestinians insist that the Gaza ports are guaranteed in the Oslo Accord and therefore are an already established right. The Palestinian delegation wanted at a minimum to continue working on preparing these ports. Israel destroyed the airport runway in 2002. Work on the seaport had not started. Palestinian experts have traveled to the Netherlands to learn how to take care of breaking waves, a potential problem that has historically been the reason why Gaza has not had a seaport. Israel is adamant in rejecting at present any work on the ports, making such an effort connected with proof of demilitarization by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and a commitment not to dig any tunnels toward Israel. Continue Reading »

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Sep 01 2014

Palestinians, Europeans support reopening Rafah crossing

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

One word has been missing from the Egyptian-sponsored indirect Palestinian-Israeli talks and the various leaks about them: Rafah. The town along the Gaza-Egyptian border has become synonymous with some of the worst examples of Arabs’ indirect contribution to the illegal siege on the Gaza Strip.

To be fair, Rafah is only one of six land crossings between Gaza and the rest of the world. All the others are controlled by Israel. Rafah was created as a passenger-only crossing, but the reasons for prohibiting the movement of goods there have to do with the larger Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If Rafah becomes an international border crossing for the movement of goods as well as people, it would weaken the pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Gaza and allow the movement of goods between Gaza and the West Bank.

One of the main features of state sovereignty is the ability to manage customs for incoming goods. Even if Gazans were able to freely move goods in and out through Egypt, it would not be allowed to do the same in regard to Israel or the occupied West Bank because of the significant differences in the tax and customs code. At present, as a result of the 1994 Paris Protocol, Israel collects customs fees on behalf of the Palestinians and delivers them to the Ramallah-based government. Continue Reading »

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Sep 01 2014

Palestinian unity scores concessions from Israel in Cairo

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The decision by the Palestinian delegation in Cairo to extend the cease-fire another five days and the statements by its head, Azzam al-Ahmad, that most issues for a permanent agreement have been resolved point to a breakthrough of sorts.

Gazans appear to be on the verge of seeing the gradual lifting of a cruel and inhumane siege that has been going on for seven years, leaving the question as to what made the Israelis change their position.

Palestinian unity, best articulated by what looks now like a smart decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to create a unified delegation headed by a PLO official, of all factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has made a major contribution. And while this unity has made a contribution, there was clear strength in the Palestinian negotiating team that was never seen during the nine-month political negotiations between chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.

The difference between the two sets of negotiations was certainly not the individuals or the parties involved, but the very fact that Palestinian negotiators were able to walk away from the talks if the Israelis didn’t take them seriously. Even though the Cairo talks were indirect, it was obvious from anyone following them that they were much more productive than the US Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored meetings. Continue Reading »

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Aug 27 2014

To Accomplish Liberation, Palestinian Unity Must Be Preserved

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By Daoud Kuttab

It was no coincidence that the announcement of the permanent ceasefire agreement was be made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters. While Abbas may have been battered in social media and in activists’ circles, it is clear that, in real terms, he emerged as a key player. Hamas’ enmity towards Egypt and Israel, the two countries neighbouring Gaza, played into Abbas’ hands. Sending a united delegation to the indirect peace talks headed by a Fateh leader cemented this newfound unity. It was ironic that the two men who negotiated for a long time the Fateh-Hamasagreement would be the leaders of the talks in Cairo. Fateh lead negotiator Azzam Al Ahmad and deputy head of Hamas politburo Musa Abu Marzouk worked together in Cairo and stayed together despite continuous Israeli attempts to sow rumours of major differences. However, that does not necessarily translate into the survival of Palestinian unity. Continue Reading »

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Aug 14 2014

Jerusalem Grandfather with Hope

Published by under Blogs

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By Daoud Kuttab

This week I became a grandfather.

My eldest daughter, Tamara, gave birth to a baby girl in Jerusalem; baby and mother are healthy and fine.

This piece of good news did not come so easily emotionally or politically, however.

For weeks, we have been hearing, seeing and talking to people about children in Gaza losing their lives not because of natural causes, to accidents or earthquakes, but because of a man made gigantic disaster that in the end was probably aimed at little more than improving some politicians’ standings in upcoming elections.

Sure, there is plenty of talk and pontification about the reasons for the war on Gaza, about some “moral army” that supposedly takes “precautions” to prevent civilian deaths. But the reality is that the occupying Israelis appear to consider every Palestinian in Gaza a member of the Islamic Hamas movement.

While our thoughts and prayers were with the children of Gaza, the weeks leading to the birth of my first grandchild also had discriminatory bureaucratic problems that no expecting couple should have to go through.

My daughter has an Israeli residency in Jerusalem. When Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian territory, it unilaterally passed Israeli law on East Jerusalem, giving its residents (including my family) permanent residency, but not automatic citizenship. Continue Reading »

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Aug 14 2014

Momentum grows for ICC action on Gaza

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

As the sounds of gunfire in the Gaza Strip begin to cease, international human rights organizations, legal experts and political activists are speaking up about the need for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate whether war crimes were committed during the Gaza conflict this summer.

The ICC, created by means of the 1998 Rome Statute with the aim of prosecuting individuals for war crimes and amended a few times, became legal in 2002. Legal experts and the ICC’s own bylaws say that it is a court of last resort. This means that the ICC will only intervene when a country is found to be unwilling or unable to carry out its own investigation.

At present, neither Israel nor the state of Palestine are members of the ICC. A total of 122 countries have signed up for the Rome Statute, and Jordan is the only Arab country to have done so.

Fayez Abu Eita, a spokesman for the Palestinian Fatah movement, said the Palestinians need an international party to investigate the war crimes committed by Israel in its offensive on Gaza. In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Abu Eita said that a Palestinian committee has been formed and the issue has been reviewed from all angles with the conclusion that the ICC should be joined. “There is a huge desire among the Palestinian people to hold the Israeli occupiers responsible for the war crimes they committed against Palestinian children, women and senior citizens,” he said. Continue Reading »

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Aug 10 2014

War on Gaza a ‘Tie’ With Hamas

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By Daoud Kuttab

The images were different, but two words were repeated in most TV graphics announcing the start of the ceasefire. “Gaza victorious” (Gaza tantaser) were the words superimposed on images of Palestinian fighters, rockets and scenes of destruction in the background. So was Gaza really victorious? The destruction, the nearly 1900 Palestinians killed and the 7,000 injured do not seem much of a victory. But in this region, everything is relative. Compared to the powerful Israeli military machine that is considered among the best equipped and trained in the world, the mere fact that the ceasefire was imposed while Palestinians were standing is seen as a huge victory. Palestinian resistance announcements stressed an important news item: in the last 10 minutes before the start of the 72-hour ceasefire, some 27 rockets aiming at various Israeli locations had been launched from Gaza, a message that Hamas, Islamic Jihadand others in the resistance were not entering the ceasefire defeated. In strategic terms, however, it is hard to consider the result of the war on Gaza as anything more than a tie. Neither Israel nor Hamas or Islamic Jihad was able to accomplish their goals during the fight. Israel was unable to stop the rockets and may not have destroyed all the tunnels. Nor is there any guarantee that tunnel digging has not started anew. On the other hand the Palestinians failed to gain any commitment, prior to the ceasefire, that the crippling seven-year-old siege on Gaza will be lifted. Continue Reading »

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Aug 10 2014

Israel’s Gaza offensive resurrects Hamas

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

While the war on Gaza is still not officially over, it is possible to draw some early conclusions.

At this moment, the two protagonists, Israel and Hamas, seem to have reached little more than a draw. Neither side has accomplished what it publicly set out to do. Israel said its aims were to stop the rockets and later added the goal of destroying the tunnels. Until the very last minute before the beginning of the cease-fire, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were clearly not ready to permanently halt their rocket launches. Twenty-six rockets were launched 10 minutes before the cease-fire and a statement by Hamas’ military wing vowed to continue rocket attacks if Israeli aggression continues. And while Israel says it destroyed all the “known” tunnels, few in Israel believe that the tunnel issue has been adequately addressed. There is also no reason to expect that Hamas and others will not dig new ones.

Despite its rhetoric, Hamas can’t declare victory yet, either. The cease-fire might stop the Israeli shelling, but ending the Israeli siege on Gaza has not been accomplished. Hamas was forced to accept an Egyptian proposal it had rejected a few weeks earlier.

If neither Israel nor Hamas accomplished their objectives, who were the winners and losers in this monthlong war? No doubt the innocent hundreds of Palestinians, entire families who perished, were the true victims. The Palestinian Health Ministry estimates that nearly 1,900 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed and over 10,000 injured. Homes and schools were destroyed. While the latter can be rebuilt, the lives taken are gone. Continue Reading »

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