Thursday, August 01, 2013



A serial loss of regional allies, serious financial difficulties, internal squabbling, and inability to build up its military capabilities have all weakened Hamas, leaving it vulnerable to potential unrest in Gaza.

As Hamas voices raise predictable objections to the just-announced resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, the group is in the throes of one of its most testing crises ever. Over the past year, all of its major pillars of support have eroded to one degree or another, while internally, the movement is split by acute policy differences. Concerned that their grip on power in Gaza may be at risk in the foreseeable future, many in the group's top echelon are pushing for immediate measures to mobilize local public opinion as a means of confronting potential challenges, and to repair fraying relations with Iran and other allies.

The latest and most painful loss for Hamas came next door in Egypt, where President Muhammad Morsi was ousted and the group's parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was defeated in the struggle for power. Hamas viewed the Brotherhood's rise in Egypt as a great asset, enjoying close relations with its leaders in Cairo and forging a de facto alliance with the group.

For example, top Brotherhood figure Khairat al-Shater -- a millionaire now imprisoned by the military -- made significant financial donations to the Gaza government, while Morsi allowed Hamas to open offices in Cairo and permitted several of its leaders (e.g., Mousa Abu Marzouk) to establish residency there. Egypt also opened its Rafah border terminal in a much more generous manner than ever before. More broadly, Hamas saw the Brotherhood-led Egypt as a guarantor of its hold on Gaza, a deterrent against Israel, an ally against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and a potential new sponsor in its bid to join the regional rise of political Islam.

Egypt's June 30 revolution brought a quick reversal, however. The new authorities in Cairo now treat Hamas as a hostile adversary, accusing it of undermining Egypt's stability and fomenting rapid security deterioration in the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian military has practically sealed the border with Gaza, limiting the Rafah crossing to intermittent, minimal capacity and effectively closing the hundreds of smuggling tunnels through which Hamas acquired many of Gaza's necessary goods (e.g., cars, cement, fuel). And for the first time since Hamas took control of the strip, Egyptian helicopters are gathering intelligence over Gaza's southern sector after receiving a quiet nod from Israel.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian media has adopted a fiery anti-Hamas tone, even spreading stories about the group collaborating with the Brotherhood to attack soldiers in the Sinai. For its part, Hamas claims that PA president Mahmoud Abbas ordered his intelligence officials to smear the group by providing Egypt with false documents. To prove its case, Hamas presented purportedly intercepted memos from the PA's Preventive Security service. Such tensions may grow if Morsi is belatedly indicted for arranging the 2011 Wadi Natrun prison break, in which armed Hamas operatives allegedly raided the facility and helped him and other detainees escape, killing several Egyptian security personnel in the process.

The loss of Egypt followed other important setbacks for the group, largely caused by the position it has taken on Syria's civil war. By siding with the uprising against the Assad regime, Hamas was forced to evacuate its large headquarters in Damascus, and Syria severed all ties with the group.

Next came a rift with Hezbollah, after Hamas leaders joined the wave of Sunni criticism over the Shiite militia's intervention in Syria this spring. Some Hamas commanders in charge of military cooperation between the two organizations were ordered to leave Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut, and all bilateral military arrangements -- including weapons supplies, training, intelligence exchange, and so forth -- are currently suspended. Thus far, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has rejected all Hamas requests to meet with him about the impasse, though some delegates have been permitted to speak with his lieutenants at the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

Even more devastating for Hamas is its strained relationship with Tehran, which for years served as the group's primary financial sponsor and main provider of long-range missiles (including advanced training by the regime's elite Qods Force personnel in Iran and Syria). Furious with Hamas's decision to join the anti-Shiite rhetoric of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guide Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Tehran has substantially reduced its monthly subsidy to the Gaza government. And even if the Egyptian military had not clamped down on the border tunnels, weapons smuggling into Gaza would still have stopped because of Iran's determination to punish Hamas. In any case, no new supplies are reaching Hamas's military wing (the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades) for the time being.

Other providers of assistance to Hamas are beginning to close their pocketbooks as well. Two key donors -- Turkey and Qatar -- have failed to comply fully with their past pledges. Ankara has switched its attention to the Syrian crisis, while Qatar has just undergone a leadership change, spurring Doha to reassess its role as the Brotherhood's banker and reduce its contributions to Hamas. Similarly, private donors from other Persian Gulf states -- especially the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait -- are now under pressure to stop funding Hamas as their governments wage a wider campaign to curb the Brotherhood's influence.

The serial loss of allies and aid has produced a severe split within the Hamas leadership. Khaled Mashal, who was chosen to continue as head of the Executive Committee (formerly the Political Bureau) in April, insists that Hamas had to adjust itself to the policies of the Brotherhood's "International Organization," the movement's worldwide top body. Yet other leaders disagree, causing Mashal to lose most of his authority.

For example, in contrast to Mashal's Egypt focus, Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh has emphasized the need to defend Hamas control over the strip. Although he accepted the position of deputy Executive Committee chief after failing to win the top Hamas post in April, he no longer heeds orders from Mashal.

Other leaders have urged speedy reconciliation with Iran, emphasizing that Hamas cannot afford to divorce itself from the "resistance axis". The most adamant proponent of this view is Imad al-Alami, the group's former permanent envoy in Tehran and head of the "Intifada Committee," now returned from Damascus to Gaza. He is supported by military figures such as Muhammad Deif and Marwan Issa, and by politicians such as Mahmoud al-Zahar. In contrast, Mashal received heavy criticism for attending a much-publicized May sermon in Qatar in which Qaradawi railed against Iran and its partners. His response was that he did not have prior knowledge of what Qaradawi would say.

In recent weeks, Hamas has sent delegations to Beirut and Tehran in order to reach new understandings with Iran and Hezbollah. Although both parties replied that they will keep their doors open to Hamas, they also noted that they cannot normalize relations until the group modifies its position on Syria's war and Iranian/Hezbollah involvement there.

Internally, recent Hamas leadership meetings in Doha and Istanbul have failed to produce compromise between rival factions. The discussions have also shown that power is quickly shifting from veteran leaders to the   Hamas members released from Israeli jails last year in exchange for hostage Gilad Shalit. Yahia al-Sanwar is becoming the ultimate arbiter in the group's internal affairs, while Saleh al-Aruri, based in Turkey, has taken sole control of the movement's activities in the West Bank. (Although the Turks are allowing Aruri and his staff to pursue the rebuilding of Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, there is no evidence that they are turning a blind eye to terrorist operations planned from Turkish soil.)

Hamas's current weakness -- amply demonstrated by its serious financial difficulties, internal squabbling, growing isolation, and inability to implement a military buildup program -- means that the group's leadership could face growing challenges in Gaza as economic conditions worsen. For the first time in years, opportunities might present themselves to encourage Gazans to publicly protest Hamas's authoritarian regime and harsh Islamist measures. Local resentment toward the group has been building for a long time, leading the government to expand its internal security apparatus.

Although encouraging active popular opposition to Hamas would not be easy, it is not in the realm of fantasy. For example, it could be one of the topics discussed in upcoming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. One important  question is the shape and scope of the PA's financial aid to Gaza -- namely, whether it helps Hamas maintain its $890 million annual budget, or whether it can be restructured to assist anti-Hamas forces in the strip, who are now deprived of any meaningful aid.

*Ehud Yaari is a Lafer International fellow with The Washington Institute and a Middle East commentator for Israel's Channel Two television.

Racism complaint filed against Australian Academic

Israeli civil rights group filed a class action racism complaint against Australian Associate Professor Jake Lynch, over Israel boycott activities, including Sydney University academic boycott.

July 31, 2013: Israeli civil rights group, Shurat HaDin, has filed a class action complaint under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 with the Australian Human Rights Commission over a Associate Professor Jake Lynch's participation and public support of  boycotts of Israel including an academic boycott of  Israeli universities.  

Recently, faculty and students at Sydney University called for the severing of links with Israeli institutions, actions that would be deemed racist and in violation of Australian Federal anti-discrimination laws.
The complaint filed by Shurat HaDin's Australian solicitor Alexander Hamilton is the first time that a Racial Discrimination Act action has been launched in Australia against those promoting boycotts, sanctions and divestment (BDS) against the Jewish State. It is the first time that Australia's anti-racism laws have been utilized against those seeking to harm Israeli academics or businesses because of their national origin.    
In its letter sent to the Australian commission, Shurat HaDin pointed out that the Federal Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 made it unlawful for anyone "to do any act involving a distinction, exclusion…or preference based on race…or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose…of nullifying or impairing…fundamental freedom in the…economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

The Shurat HaDin complaint also noted that any boycott of Israeli “settlement products,” such as SodaStream and Ahava, harms Palestinian economic interests due to the fact the factories employ many Palestinian workers and provide an important source of income for local families and villages.
This past semester, the university's student body endorsed Associate Professor Jake Lynch's academic boycott of Israel. Lynch had publicly announced his refusal to work with Dan Avnon, an Israeli professor from the prestigious Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which promotes Israeli-Arab coexistence, and also called for a boycott of Technion University in Haifa.
Last month, Lynch refused to heed the Tel Aviv-based rights group's warning that he must cease participation in unlawful, and racist, boycott activity. Although widely condemned by mainstream politicians and community figures, Lynch has also been publically supported by notorious Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben.

The European Union's Working Definition of Antisemitism includes the following:
Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:
·           Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

·           Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
·           Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
·           Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
·           Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel...."
An EU conference on antisemitism also inspired famous Soviet dissident and then-Israeli-Government Minister, Natan Sharansky to devise his "3D Test" to distinguish antisemitism from legitimate criticism of Israel. The BDS movement fails that test on all three counts.

Furthermore, the BDS movement has been recognized as anti-Semitic by leading authorities such as the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, and in a report recently released by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

According to solicitor Andrew Hamilton:
"The BDS movement is racist by its own definition because it seeks to discriminate and impose adverse preference based on Israeli national origin and Jewish racial and ethnic origin of people and organisations. It does nothing to help Palestinians and indeed harms them. It is merely an excuse for the vilest public anti-semitic campaign the western world has seen since the Holocaust."
According to Shurat Hadin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner:

"Lynch and his ilk seek to boycott Israeli and Jewish national products, whether its goods, services, performers or professors. By singling out Israel and no other country the BDS extremists expose the anti-Semitism that motivates them. We are hopeful that this historic proceeding against the BDS movement will serve as a model for battling it in other jurisdictions worldwide."

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wishing thinking ...for an Iranian moderate

From Israel Hayom, 25 July 2013, by Clifford D. May*:
...A letter sent last week by 131 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging President Barack Obama to "pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran's recent presidential election." What "potential opportunity" is that?
Hasan Rouhani, the new president-elect, they say, "campaigned on the promise to 'pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace' and has since promised 'constructive interaction with the outside world.'"
Should we not expect American politicians (of all people!) to demonstrate a little skepticism when it comes to "promises" made by an Iranian politician? much research is required to figure out that Rouhani has said nothing even to suggest that he opposes Iran's support for terrorism abroad (including past attempts to blow up airplanes and restaurants in the U.S.), gross violations of human rights domestically, threats of genocide against Israelis and, of course, illegal nuclear weapons program?
There is a lot we don't know about Rouhani but this much ought to be obvious: He is a political clergyman, a loyal acolyte of Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and self-proclaimed "shadow of God upon Earth." Were that not so, Khamenei would not permit Rouhani to become Iran's president. Remember: There were 686 registered candidates for the last election. Only eight were allowed to run. Loyalty to the supreme leader and adherence to his ideology/theology were required. Khamenei also made clear to the lucky finalists that under no circumstances are they to "make concessions to the enemies."
There are ways in which Rouhani is different from your run-of-the-mill Iranian jihandist/apparatchik: He speaks our language. He studied in Scotland. He certainly has insights into the peculiar psychology of the Westerner which may explain why, when he served as Iran's lead nuclear negotiator a decade ago, he consistently ate the lunch of those on the other side of the table.
Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has taken the trouble to read what Rouhani has written over the years. He tells me that Rouhani has candidly stressed that "one of the goals of his nuclear diplomacy was to create a wedge" between the United States and its European allies so that Iran could import nuclear technology without incurring Western penalties. By contrast, the antagonistic approach of Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, raised Western hackles and brought painful sanctions upon Iran.
...Rouhani's "moderation" has been stylistic, not substantive. The evidence indicates that to him "constructive interaction" means persuading the enemy to let down his guard.
Which is essentially what the congressmen propose -- right after telling the president that Rouhai has "publicly expressed the view that obtaining a nuclear weapon would run counter to Iran's strategic interests."
No, actually Rouhani has expressed the view that Iran's strategic interests are best served not by obtaining "a" nuclear weapon but by developing an industrial-size nuclear capability to manufacture dozens of them. Achieving that requires spinning centrifuges and stocking up on enriched uranium until there is enough for "undetectable breakout" -- the ability to make weapons-grade uranium (or sufficiently reprocessed plutonium) so quickly that neither U.N. inspectors nor foreign intelligence agencies are aware it's happening.
This approach is not new. Alfoneh tells me it was spelled out by Abdollah Ramenzanzadeh, a spokesman for Muhammad Khatami, Iran's president from 1997-2005. Defending Khatami's record on the nuclear portfolio in 2008, Ramenzanzadeh said: "We had one overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities…" meaning advancing toward a nuclear weapons capability.
Ramezanzadeh concluded: "Today, in the field of confidence building, Japan is the most advanced country in the world, but Japan can produce a nuclear bomb in less than a week…" Exactly: The minute politicians give the command.
The congressmen advise the White House that "it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani's election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran's nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon." Quite right but, perversely, no test of Rouhani is then proposed. What they recommend instead is more like a test of the United States. Washington, they say, must be "careful not to preempt this potential opportunity by engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected president and weaken his standing relative to hardliners within the regime…"
How in Heaven's name would it "delegitimize" Rouhani if American negotiators were to make clear that he'll be judged by his actions, not his rhetoric, and that the offers we've put on the table -- most recently during negotiations in Kazakhstan in the spring -- will remain on the table, but will be neither weakened nor sweetened in exchange for his smile?
Is it so difficult to comprehend that if we backpedal now, signaling our eagerness to appease, Rouhani will say to the hardliners: "You see how simple this can be? Do you finally understand why it is more effective to attract flies with baklava than with vinegar? And do you further grasp that, when you do it my way, the flies become calm and easier to swat at a time of our choosing?"
If last week's letter is bad advice, what should the congressmen be telling Obama instead? To stay on track -- as they should be, too. Of the 131 signers of the letter, 86 also are co-sponsors of legislation authored by Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, establishing a de facto oil embargo against Iran as well as a significant reduction in non-humanitarian commercial trade.
The impact of sanctions is hard to gauge with precision because Tehran conceals basic economic facts. For example: If the current level of Iran's accessible foreign exchange reserves is north of $100 billion, the regime can soldier on for a long time. If, however, as some analysts believe, the Iranians have only between $20 billion and $30 billion in their coffers with a rapid rate of depletion, they could be facing imminent economic collapse.
Rouhani will have more influence on the supreme leader -- not less -- if he can warn that an oil embargo is coming and will hit Iran hard. After that, as economist Nouriel Roubini and Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyst John Hannah recently wrote, "Time is running out on peaceful options to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons."
Rouhani needs to be convinced that force is a credible option.
Remember that in 2004, he did persuade the supreme leader to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment in response to American soldiers pulling Saddam Hussein out of a spider hole in neighboring Iraq.
In the coming months (not years), American leaders will have to decide whether, on their watch, the world's leading sponsor of terrorism, a self-proclaimed revolutionary jihadist regime that calls America "Satan incarnate," will be permitted to acquire the nuclear weapons it needs to dominate the Middle East and reshape the world order.
How wonderful it would be if, within Iran's ruling elite, there were a moderate eager to avoid this confrontation and establish amicable relations. But that is not reality. If wishes were horses, 131 members of Congress would be galloping down Pennsylvania Avenue this week. It's their job to dismount, and plant their feet firmly on the ground.
*Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.

Release of prisoners sends the wrong message

From Ynet News, 29 July 2013, by Yoaz Hendel:

Of the 1,005 Palestinian prisoners who were released as part of the Shalit deal, 44 have already been arrested for involvement in terror. The prisoners are cultural heroes on the Palestinian street.
...Whenever a new round of talks with Israel begins, the Palestinians ask for the release of prisoners as an entrée and, if possible, for dessert as well.
As far as [the Palestinians] are concerned, the release of prisoners has been the only achievement of the peace negotiations since the Oslo days.
...From Israel's perspective, the message is problematic.
A justice system that regularly acts in contradiction to its own rulings is hard to explain. Prisoners who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms are released following diplomatic decisions. Someone has to be wrong here – the judges who send the Palestinians to such long periods in prison or the system that releases them before they have completed their terms. The list of prisoners who are slated to be released next as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority includes some who had been sentenced to multiple life terms. 
The Americans pressured Israel to release the prisoners. Washington calls it a "tolerable price" - prisoners in exchange for renewed peace negotiations. Netanyahu, for his part, asked once again that the US release Jonathan Pollard, but he was denied. The "tolerable price" demanded of Israel is not applied to the Pollard case. 
Those who will not be released from prison will wait for the next opportunity; for the next Gilad Shalit.
The release of prisoners creates motivation.
Despite the revolving door in Israel, the government still lacks a clear policy regarding who is released, who isn't, and when. The result is that the government is not in charge of the prisoners issue; it is being controlled according to the developments.
One example is the Shamgar Commission, which was established to examine ways to deal with cases of kidnappings of Israelis, civilians or soldiers. Following the release of terrorists as part of the Shalit deal, the government pledged to adopt the commission's recommendations in order to stop the mass release of Palestinian prisoners. But nothing ever materialized.
The same stagnation can be seen with regards to the to prisoners' comfortable conditions behind bars: Academic studies, satellite TV and family visits.
Nothing has changed. The judges judge, the prisoners walk, and the politicians do not make decisions- with or without a referendum.

"Palestine must be Judenrein"

From Reuters, 29 July 2013, by Noah Browning:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (not seen) at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

(Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laid out his vision on Monday for the final status of Israeli-Palestinian relations ahead of peace talks due to resume in Washington for the first time in nearly three years.
Abbas said that no Israeli settlers or border forces could remain in a future Palestinian state and that Palestinians deem illegal all Jewish settlement building within the land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
The forceful statements appeared to challenge mediator U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's hopes that the terms of the talks, scheduled to begin Monday night over dinner, be kept secret.
"In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands,"  Abbas said ...

..."We've already made all the necessary concessions,"  he said.

"East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine ... if there were and must be some kind of small exchange (of land) equal in size and value, we are ready to discuss this - no more, no less," he said.

Before agreeing to return to talks last week, Palestinian officials were adamant that negotiations should have three main prerequisites: the release of veteran Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, a full settlement freeze and an acknowledgment of the 1967 lines as the basis for future borders.
Israel has publicly granted only one of those demands when its Cabinet on Sunday voted by a slim margin to approve the phased release of 104 Arab prisoners.
...Asked if the Americans may try to get Israel to agree to a de facto settlement freeze, the president made a broad smile and declined to answer: "I don't know... Israel has not yet agreed to a state on the 1967 lines, but it will go to the talks on that basis."

Last hurrah for a fake "peace"?

From The New York Times, 29 July 2013, by Michael R. Gordon  and Isabel Kershner*:

WASHINGTON — For all of the intricacies of issues like the shape of future borders, security arrangements and the status of Jerusalem, the Middle East peace talks that resumed Monday night are dominated by two simple questions: If it took Secretary of State John Kerry countless phone calls and six trips to the Middle East just to get Israeli and Palestinian officials to the negotiating table, how will it be possible to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement? And what will happen if his herculean negotiating efforts fall short?
...In making the revival of the Middle East talks his top priority, Mr. Kerry is not only challenging the status quo in the region but also taking on the conventional wisdom in much of the American foreign policy establishment...      
Some experts argue that it may be risky even to try.
“The existence of talks can have a calming effect while they continue...But I see no realistic possibility that a final status agreement can be reached now,” Mr. Abrams said.
“I just hope there are two State Department teams: one to work on the talks, and the other to start planning for what to do when they fail...."  

...While the talks are initially expected to focus on procedural issues, like the location, schedule and format of negotiating sessions, they are already beginning to take on a last-ditch quality.       
One area Mr. Kerry and his critics appear to agree on is that having made Middle East peacemaking his top priority, the secretary of state has raised the stakes so much that if this effort collapses, it will be a long time before anybody tries again.
...Hussein Agha, a senior associate member of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, said ... “If it is not done now, it will not be done for a long, long time.”
*Michael R. Gordon reported from Washington, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

Kumbaya: all aboard the "peace train"...

From the Wall Street Journal Editorial, 29 July 2013:

Gathering at John Kerry's home in Washington, Israeli and Palestinian officials on Monday relaunched peace negotiations.
Syria is burning, Egypt is in turmoil and Jordan's king is under siege, but the Secretary of State will try to push this stone up the hill one more time.An independent Palestine must not pose a threat to Israel's security and survival, and that means that a defensible border won't match Israel's pre-1967 frontier.
The biggest obstacle as ever will be the inability of the Palestinian leadership to compromise.

Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority for nearly a decade, inspires little confidence as a negotiating partner. His chief accomplishment has been to lose control of Gaza to Hamas, the terrorist group that denies Israel's right to exist.
The U.S. role should be as an honest broker, not as a backstage arm-twister of Netanyahu.

Peace isn't possible if Palestinians aren't ready to make it on terms Israelis can live with.

Major Palestinian party rejects Mideast peace talks

 From Ynet News, 29 July 2013, by AFP:

A major faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization rejected new peace talks with Israel just hours before their scheduled resumption in Washington on Monday after a three-year break.

The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said that talks' resumption was a unilateral move by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas which did not have the backing of the PLO as a whole.

"The PFLP is against a return to negotiations," said one of the party's leaders, Khaleda Jarar. "It is an individual move," she said, in allusion to Abbas. ..."We went to the UN precisely to take our case out of US hands."

...Washington was to host preliminary talks later on Monday between Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni .

The last round of direct negotiations between the two sides broke down in September 2010 just weeks after they started.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region six times in as many months to broker the resumption of negotiations.

Iran Enters the "Peace Process"

From the Gatestone Institute, 29 July 2013, by Khaled Abu Toameh:
Hamas is so desperate following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that it is now seeking to mend fences with Iran.
The honeymoon between Hamas and Iran is about to resume...
Relations between Hamas and Iran became strained after the Palestinian Islamist movement decided to support the rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Both Syria and Iran have since been boycotting Hamas, which until recently enjoyed political, financial and military aid from the two countries.
For some time, Hamas did not appear to be very worried about the loss of its allies in Tehran and Damascus.
Hamas leaders believed that the support of Qatar and Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood was enough to keep it in power in the Gaza Strip.
But now that Hamas has lost the backing of the largest Arab country, Egypt, its leaders realize that they can not depend only on Qatar's support.
...Beleaguered Hamas officials revealed this week that they have contacted the Iranians with the hope of patching up differences between the two sides.
Iran's then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warmly greets Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at a Sept 13, 2009 meeting. (Source: Fars News Agency)

Ahmed Yusef, a senior Hamas official, was quoted as saying that his movement recently held two meetings with Iranian government officials in an attempt to achieve reconciliation between the two parties.
"Iran and Hamas have a common interest and we are keen on not losing anyone," Yusef said in an interview with Asia News...
Hamas's apparent rapprochement with Iran is paving the way for Iran to play a major role in the Palestinian arena.
This does not bode well for the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, especially on the eve of the resumption of the peace talks with Israel.
...Iran's support for Hamas means that the Islamist movement means renewed financial and military support. It also means that Iranian military experts could soon arrive in the Gaza Strip to train members of Hamas and other radical groups.
With the support of Iran, Hamas will step up its efforts to foil any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to regain control over the Gaza Strip. And with Iran's backing, Hamas and other Palestinian groups will do their utmost to foil any attempt to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
Some Palestinian Authority officials expressed fear that Hamas, on instructions from Tehran, would try to initiate a confrontation with Israel in an attempt to embarrass Abbas and thwart US Secretary of State John Kerry's effort to resume the peace negotiations.
Without dealing with the new Iranian threat, it is hard to see how the Palestinian Authority would be able to move forward with any peace process with Israel. The presence of the Iranians in the Gaza Strip will scare Abbas and his aides and make them think twice before reaching any deal with Israel.

Hamas patches up ties with Hezbollah, Iran

From Times of Israel, 28 July 2013, b

Two senior representatives of Gaza terror group meet with Shiite organization in Beirut

In an attempt to to return to the fold of Iranian patronage, the Gaza-based terror group Hamas has been holding meetings with representatives of its Lebanon-based, Tehran-sponsored counterpart Hezbollah.
According to a report from Asharq Al-Awsat, cited by Israel Radio on Sunday, two representatives from Hamas met with Hezbollah members at the Iranian embassy in Beirut  last month. The meeting, attended by Hamas senior official Moussa Abu Marzouk, focused on increasing Iranian support for Hamas.        
According to a Hamas source in Gaza, there have been other meetings, all of which stressed that Hamas is a strategic partner to Iran.
Relations between Hamas and Iran soured over Syria’s civil war. Whereas Tehran and Hezbollah back the Assad regime, in February 2012 Hamas’s Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh openly called for support of the rebels, aligning himself with other Sunni groups that have struck out against the Alawite Assad and his Shiite backers.
As the civil war in Syria has deepened, most of the country’s half-million Palestinians have championed the rebels, while some groups — such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command — have been fighting on the government’s side.
Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal has never publicly taken sides, but in early 2012 slipped out of Syria for Qatar, drawing an angry response from Damascus.
In June, Hamas scolded Hezbollah for fighting alongside the Syrian Army against the rebels and told the organization to go back to fighting Israel.
“We demand of Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from Syria and call on it to leave its weapons directed only at the Zionist enemy,” read a statement by Hamas, posted on the Facebook page of its deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouq. “The entry of [Hezbollah] forces to Syria has contributed to increasing the sectarian mobilization in the region.”

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The crimes of the prisoners to be released for ‘peace talks’

Today, Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams met in Washington to talk for the first time in three years and have reportedly agreed to a nine-month timeline for final-status negotiations.
For peace talks to resume between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority insisted on a number of preconditions, one of which was the release of Palestinian prisoners.
It is a sad reflection on the realities of the Middle East that for the Palestinian leadership ‘peace talks' could only resume with the injustice of freeing duly convicted murderers and kidnappers, many of whom will no doubt receive a hero's welcome when they return home.
The Israeli Cabinet approved the measure (13 to 7, with 2 abstentions) to release 104 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords in phases over the nine-month planned period of negotiations.   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an open letter to the Israeli public said it was "an incomparably difficult decision; it is painful for the bereaved families and it is painful for the entire nation and it is also very painful for me".  Hundreds of people gathered outside Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence to protest against the decision.
Israel's decision to release the prisoners is a good faith gesture that reflects the difficult price it is willing to pay for progress towards peace.  That price can be seen more clearly when you look at the list of horrific crimes committed by the prisoners who are likely to be released. The list of prisoners was published by the Palestinian Prisoners' Club (PPC) and reportedly leaked to Israeli websites by Israeli officials. Ben Hartman of the Jerusalem Post looked at the terrorist activities of some of these prisoners:
"Deep within the list are the names of two Gaza Strip natives, Yusef Said al-Al and Ayman Taleb Abu Sitteh, who late at night on December 31, 1993, broke into the Ramle house of David Bublil after he and an acquaintance, Haim Weitzman, had turned in for the night. They stabbed the two men to death as they slept and then mutilated their bodies, cutting off their ears as souvenirs.
That Ramle murder came a few years after 48-year-old Haim Taktuk disappeared without a trace in the central Israeli city. Five months later, investigators made their way to the Ramle home of Bashir Abdallah Khatib, where they found Taktuk's body buried inside the recently poured concrete floor of a storeroom.
Khatib, No. 23 on the PPC's list, is one of more than a dozen Israeli Arabs on the list, all of whom Israel expressed strong reluctance about releasing. These prisoners are typically seen as a greater security threat than their Palestinian counterparts, because their blue ID cards allow them the ability to travel freely across Israel.
Collectively, the small number of Israeli Arabs on the list are responsible for some of the most grisly crimes of the pre-Oslo years.
They include the four men from Wadi Ara - all members of the Islamic Movement - who took part in the infamous 'Night of Pitchforks.'
On the night of February 14, 1992, the four men infiltrated an IDF training base next to Kibbutz Galed and attacked a group of teenage Nahal recruits, hacking three of them to death with hatchets, knives and a pitchfork. The three men were sentenced to three life sentences each.
Othman Abdallah Bani Hasan and Haza'a Mohamed Sa'di, Nos. 9 and 10 on the list, have both been in Israeli prison since July 1985 for the murders of Afula school teachers Leah Elmakayis and Yosef Eliyahu, who were hiking in the North when they were ambushed and murdered.
Their bodies were found in a pasture in the Gilboa area.
The prisoners also include two West Bank men responsible for one of the most infamous attacks of the first intifada. Juma'ah Ibrahim Adam from Ramallah and Mahmoud Salem Kharbish from Jericho were arrested in October 1988 shortly after they threw a Molotov cocktail at an Egged bus north of Jericho, which burst into flames killing Rachel Weiss and three of her young children, including an infant boy. The bombing also took the life of soldier David Delarosa, who ran on board in a failed attempt to save the family.
In a similar incident, Mohamed Adal Daoud threw a firebomb at a car driven by Ophra Tal, killing her and her son Tal in December 1987.
The list also includes a number of men arrested for the murders of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians accused of being collaborators with Israel, including Yusef Abdel Hamid Irshaid, who killed five people suspected of collaborating as well as two men charged with the murder of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agent Haim Nahmani, found stabbed and beaten to death with a hammer in Rehavia in west Jerusalem in January 1993.
The list also includes men who murdered neighbors and co-workers, employers and acquaintances.
Nablus-native Sharif Hasan Abu Dhailah will be set for release, after he, in May 1992, stabbed to death Avraham Osher, his employer of 15 years at Moshav Bakat. Osher was found stabbed to death in the date field he managed at a nearby moshav. Abu Dahila also worked at the date field, and the two men were reportedly longtime friends, with both visiting each other's families on a number of occasions.
Najeh Mohamed Muqbel of Hebron will be released after a little over two decades for the 1990 murder of attorney Ya'acov Shalom, the owner of the cafe where Muqbel worked as a cook.
Some of those on the list were terrorists who took part in more elaborate attacks.
Muayad Salim Hijja of Nablus has been in prison since May 1992, after he swam from the port of Aqaba in Jordan to the beach in Eilat, where he made his way to the Institute for Marine Sciences and shot to death the institute's guard, Yosef Shirazi, who was unarmed and 62 at the time of his death.
The list also includes Mahmoud Musa Issa, the head of the Hamas cell that kidnapped Border Police officer Nissim Toledano from his hometown of Lod in December 1992, and dumped his stabbed, beaten body in a field in the West Bank two days later, after a failed attempt to use him as a bargaining chip to secure the release of then Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
In another kidnapping in August 1990, Mohamed Yusef Shamasneh and Abdel Jawad Yusef Shamasneh of east Jerusalem forced teenagers Lior Tubul and Ronen Karmani into a truck near the Ramot junction and took them to a dry creek bed near Beit Hanina, where after a short struggle they stabbed both of them to death. Those two are toward the end of the list, Nos. 90 and 91, respectively."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

EU's partisan meddling in Israel

From Daily Alert, 26 July 2013:

New EU Restrictions on Israel Are about Foreign Policy, Not Law - Eugene Kontorovich*
The European Commission has published administrative guidelines that severely restrict its dealings with any Israeli company, municipality or NGO based in, or even involved in, activities east of the 1949 Armistice line, including most of Jerusalem. European officials claim international law and a concern for Palestinian self-determination demand such action. The rules also bar funding of any organization connected to the Golan Heights, which has nothing to do with "settlements" in the West Bank.
    The Europeans regard Israel as an occupier in the West Bank, despite the illegitimacy of the previous Jordanian presence there. They also see Jewish communities there as violating the Geneva Conventions prohibition on the "occupying power...transferring its civilian population," despite the fact that Jews living in the West Bank were not "transferred" by Israel in any meaning of the word; they just moved themselves.
    Article 15 of the EU guidelines exempts groups that "promot[e] the Middle East peace process in line with EU policy." The exemption reveals the true purpose of the rules: to promote European foreign policy, not to vindicate international law. Indeed, the essence of the rule of law is about applying general rules to similar cases, regardless of one's sympathies. The application of unique rules to the Jewish state is the opposite of lawful.  

*The writer is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, specializing in international law. (Times of Israel)

The EU Tightens Economic Restrictions on Israel - Daniel Hannan
In its latest guidelines, the EU in effect restricts its economic dealings with Israel to the pre-1967 border. It's a bizarre decision, even by Brussels standards. By blundering in, the EU risks repeating the mistake it made in Cyprus and disincentivizing serious bilateral talks. No one seriously expects that a deal can be reached on the basis of an unaltered 1967 line (or rather, unaltered 1949 line). By putting that idea back on the table, the EU is making compromise more difficult. 

This isn't really about peace, though. It's about the EU's natural inclination to one side of the dispute.