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

HuffingtonPost-Logo

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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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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