Sep 28 2014

Why is Abbas playing hardball with Hamas?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

On paper it looks like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his counterparts in Hamas need each other. Abbas will be unable to carry out Gaza’s reconstruction or even talk convincingly to the world about the future of Palestine without the acquiescence of the Islamists. On the other hand, Hamas cannot get a hammer or nail into Gaza or pay the 40,000 workers it has employed without the approval of the Palestinian president. If both sides so badly need each other, why is the Palestinian leader playing hardball with Hamas?

According to leaked transcripts, Abbas was extremely tough with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during a private meeting with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, during the last days of the recent war with Israel. Abbas’ anger with Hamas was alsomade public after the cease-fire agreement in interviews he gave to a Palestinian television station.

The Palestinian president has paid little attention to Gaza issues in the last few weeks, focusing instead on European and UN visits to promote his peace plan, which calls for the international community to demarcate the borders of Palestine and for a three-year transition to total independence.

Abbas’ displeasure with Hamas had been apparent in a meeting he held in Ramallah Sept. 17 with a group of some 30 businesspeople from Gaza. In the two-hour meeting, during which, attendees said, Abbas appeared unhappy, he insisted that all building materials will enter Gaza under the supervision of UN representative Robert Serry, a sign that he accepts this Israeli condition. Abbas’ tough position stems from his mistrust of Hamas and concern about potentially angering moderate Sunni states. His stance is unlikely to change even after the signing of an agreement Sept. 25 in Cairo that allows the Palestinian unity government to operate in Gaza but fails to strip Hamas militants of security control. Continue Reading »

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Sep 23 2014

Najwa Najjar’s Film Reflects Palestinian Humanity

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By Daoud Kuttab

The 700-seat Ramallah Cultural Palace, on whose premises is the grave of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, was overcrowded on September 9. Over 850 people packed the cinema hall to watch Najwa Najjar’s premiere of her second long feature film,Eyes of a Thief.

The Palestinian filmmaker’s film follows her successful Pomegranates and Myrrh,which opened the Dubai Film Festival in 2008 and has racked up a huge number of awards.

The name of the film (in Arabic Eun al haramieh) refers to a rather desolate location on the valley between Nablus and Ramallah.

The location used to witness robberies, which made the British mandatory government build a police station to protect travellers.

The British barracks that still stand in the area have long been abandoned, but the Israelis used the location to set up a permanent checkpoint.

In 2002, at the height of the second Intifada, a lone Palestinian sniper gunned down 10 Israelis including seven soldiers.

Israeli experts at one time thought the sniper might be an older Palestinian who had participated in World War II, or a fighter from the Balkans who infiltrated the occupied territories or possibly an IRA connection to the PLO. Continue Reading »

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Sep 23 2014

New Palestinian film shuns stereotypes

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The common saying that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist well describes how the world is often divided over the Palestinian resistance.

One of the continuous and often angry arguments between Palestinians and Israelis concerns the form of Palestinian resistance. Israelis showcase cherry-picked acts of Palestinian violence in which Israeli civilians are killed as proof that all Palestinian resistance efforts are criminal and terrorist.

Palestinians often respond, without much success, that armed resistance is an internationally guaranteed right, that reserve soldiers and armed civilian settlers who often vandalize Palestinian property are fair game in a population fighting to rid itself of an illegal occupation that has spanned decades. The argument goes on at regional and international venues, with audiences taking whatever side they are already predisposed to sympathize with.

But while the arguments go on on university campuses and among activists, popular culture has often painted Palestinians along stereotypical lines. To be fair, the stereotyping of Palestinians is not always negative. Palestinians are also often portrayed by their supporters in a heroic light. Watching Arab and pro-Palestinian portrayals of Palestinians, one gets the impression that Palestinians are supermen. Continue Reading »

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Sep 23 2014

Jewish extremists try to change status quo at Al-Aqsa

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, set foot in Al-Aqsa Mosque around 10 a.m. Sept. 14, he was on more than a tourist visit. His venture to the mosque and short prayer in the area was seen as an attempt to declare Jewish sovereignty over the Islamic holy place. It violated agreements not to change the status quo and cast doubt on an assertion by the Israeli prime minister’s office that the status quo at Al-Aqsa would not change.

The rebellious parliamentarian walked barefoot in the courtyard of the Haram al-Sharif, an act meant to pay reverence to the area that what Jews believe was once the site of the Jewish temple. In 2013, an Israeli court barred Feiglin from ascending to the mosque area for fear that his uncoordinated visit might spark protests. Feiglin is so controversial that the United Kingdom refused him entry in 2008.

That Feiglin would go to the Haram al-Sharif was known for days and required a large contingent of Israeli police. The visit proceeded after Palestinian men and women worshipers under the age of 40 were barred from the area and all except one of the gates to Islam’s third-holiest mosque were closed.

While insisting that all Jews have a right to visit what they call the Temple Mount, Israeli security officials have in the past refused such provocative visits, citing the potential for violent opposition and thus denying access for security reasons. In recent months, and under pressure from the right-wing Israeli government, including Feiglin himself, Israeli security has changed its position. Instead of banning such visits, it has undertaken unprecedented actions to bar Palestinian Muslims from their own mosque hours before them. Protests from Jordanian Islamic waqf officials, who are entrusted as guardians of the mosque, have fallen on deaf ears. Continue Reading »

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Sep 11 2014

Abbas’ new initiative

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

“I have had it up to here,” said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the emir of Qatar and the head of Hamas.

“I have had it with Hamas, with Arabs with Israel and even with Fateh.”

Abbas’ words and the minutes of the meetings of the three on the eve of the ceasefire agreement were made public by the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar recently.

With angry words, Abbas accused Hamas of lying. He said Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal’s commitment to limit the resistance in the West Bank to non-violent action has proved to be wrong. Proof, the capture by Israel of 93 Hamas supporters allegedly plotting to start a violent Intifada and try to overthrow Abbas.

While Mishaal vehemently denied and belittled the Israeli allegation, Abbas said he had evidence that Hamas had arms in the West Bank from an intelligence officer.

“Almost daily we catch them with weapons,” he told the two.

“I tell Farraj to take away their weapons and release them after a short imprisonment.”

Abbas also accused Hamas of creating a shadow government in Gaza, despite the agreement on the unity government, and of irresponsibly prolonging the war by refusing the initial Egyptian offer, which was later accepted.

Abbas did not give details about his dissatisfaction with Fateh, but one can easily assume that he is referring to the constant bickering and internal fighting among the Fateh leadership over petty issues and personal interests.

The most important part of the Palestinian leader’s efforts appears to focus on obtaining the support of the Islamic Hamas movement and fellow Arabs for his new strategy aimed at ending the Israeli occupation. Continue Reading »

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Sep 09 2014

Will Abbas carry out threats if his peace plan is rejected?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and the head of Palestinian intelligence Majed Farraj walked into the offices of US Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry on Sept. 4, they were prepared for all eventualities.

For the first time in modern history, the Palestinian leadership had produced a time-based political initiative that was not dependent on the approval of the Americans or the Israelis. The Palestinians are applying the concept that to improve your negotiating position you must have credible alternatives.

President Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative is linked to a series of actions that Palestinians can take if their immediate counterpart says no or attempts to derail the plan. The Abbas plan calls initially for a three-month window to negotiate simply on the borders of the Palestinian state. Israel, in hundreds of negotiating hours, has refused ever to discuss or present a map of what they see as their expected borders with the Palestinian state. If the idea is rejected, the Abbas plan then includes presenting the peace initiative for a binding vote at the UN Security Council.

Palestinians believe that President Barack Obama’s administration, which has favored negotiations on borders and security, will have a hard time rejecting a reasonable proposal submitted at the UN. Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid has publicly asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show the Cabinet a map of the future Palestinian borders. The current tensions between Israel and the United States have led Israeli officials to express concern that the United States might not veto a future UN Security Council resolution on the issue. Continue Reading »

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Sep 07 2014

After Gaza, Hamas and Fatah back to bickering

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

It seems as simple as pushing a button. Palestinian-Israeli politics have shifted from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, as if the 51-day war against Gaza never happened. One week after the announcement of the permanent cease-fire by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel is back to confiscating Palestinian lands for settlements, Jewish religious zealots are infiltrating Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and Palestinian internal bickering is back to its prewar level.

How did the situation change so fast? What happened to all the rhetoric about the need to double down and find a political solution to the Palestinian conflict? How can Israel get away with making the biggest land grab in 30 years? Does the fact that US-Israeli relations are at an all-time low allow or encourage such behavior?

Israeli officials have said that the West Bank appropriation was related to the June kidnapping and killing of three Israelis near the area. It is more likely, however, an attempt to improve the political standing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sees realthreats from the right flank of his Likud Party and other settler-loving politicians. Continue Reading »

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Sep 07 2014

Israel’s land grab endangers Abbas’ peace plan

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

No sooner did the war on the Gaza Strip disappear from the headlines, all the old headlines appeared. More Israeli confiscation of West Bank land reminds the Palestinians of the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: land.

The largest land grab in 30 years announced Aug. 31 covers nearly 4,000 dunums (1.5 square miles) south of Bethlehem. Despite the fact that a brutal 51-day war on Gaza nominally resulted from the deaths of three Israeli settlers, Israel radio said that the land grab was revenge for the killings back in June.

This time, it’s different. The order issued by the military’s civil administration unit declares the confiscated land “state land” and therefore destined for the expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territories. Speaking on Palestine TV, Palestinian land expert Khalil Tawfaqji said that if the area is indeed state land, the UN-recognized state of Palestine should be the party to claim it and not the Israeli occupiers.

It is not clear whether this massive land grab is some kind of payoff to right-wing Israeli officials or a response to the as yet undeclared Palestinian initiative. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that his government will present a “surprise” plan to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 3 and the Arab League’s foreign ministers meeting on Sept. 7. Little details have emerged, but Abbas said in a TV interview that the Oslo-declared idea of Areas A, B and C will no longer be tolerated in the state of Palestine. Continue Reading »

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Sep 04 2014

Coalition for Peace Must Be as Strong as Coalition to Stop Gaza War

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By Daoud Kuttab

After 51 horrible days, the people of Gaza, Israel and the world breathed a sigh of relief when a ceasefire agreement was announced by the Palestinian president on August 26. The impressive regional and international coalition that worked on putting a stop to this war went back to dealing with other pressing issues. Israelis went back to their illegal settlement activities at a much larger scope. Even Palestinian factions, who witnessed an unprecedented period of national unity forged in blood, went back to their normal bickering and media wars. This is a huge mistake. If we have learned anything from this uneven and unjustified war, it is that wars happen when there is an enabling political environment. Producing peace will most probably require an even greater effort by all parties. So what is required now to get a serious peace process back on track? One thing is certain: Peace and occupation cannot live side by side. The continuation of the Israeli occupation of 1967 and supporting it is tantamount to supporting the continuation of war. Occupation and its manifestations, including the internationally declared illegal settlement building and land appropriation, cannot be condoned by anyone. The world should not merely condemn occupation in speeches and well-prepared press statements. There must be a price for Israel’s continued rule over the Palestinian people. Israel will not end its occupation of Palestinian land as long as it does not have to. Continue Reading »

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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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