September 3, 2014
Abbas rejects Egyptian offer to settle refugees in Sinai
PA leader tells Fatah gathering it is ‘illogical’ for Palestinian refugee problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense
The Times of Israel
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected an Egyptian proposal to resettle Palestinian refugees in a large tract of land in the Sinai Peninsula to be annexed to the Gaza Strip
Speaking to a gathering of his Fatah party in Ramallah Sunday, Abbas said that an unnamed senior Egyptian official recently approached him and suggested settling Palestinians in an area 1,600 square kilometers (618 square miles) large adjacent to Gaza, reviving an idea originally proposed by former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland.
“They [the Egyptians] are prepared to receive all the refugees, [saying] ‘let’s end the refugee story’,” Abbas was quoted by Ma’an news agency as saying.
The Palestinian leader noted that the idea was first proposed to the Egyptian government in 1956, but was furiously rejected by Palestinian leaders such as PLO militant Muhammad Youssef Al-Najjar and poet Muin Bseiso who “understood the danger of this.”
“Now this is being proposed once again. A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it,” Abbas said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses journalists as he meets with
members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on July 22, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah
(photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Abbas told the crowd that if Israel had its way, Gaza would become the Palestinian state while the West Bank would remain just an autonomy.
This was not the first time Abbas rejected an offer to solve the plight of Palestinian refugees living outside the West Bank. In January 2013, the Palestinian leader told an Egyptian newspaper that he had requested the Israeli government to allow refugees in Syria to enter the West Bank and Gaza.
According to Abbas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the refugees waive their “right of return” to Israel proper as a condition for crossing the border, a condition Abbas rejected out of hand.
Abbas confirmed the report to the Times of Israel in a meeting with Israeli journalists at his presidential compound in April.
August 17, 2014
Analysis: Fixing Gaza’s broken clock
Israel believes that it already twice tried to create conditions for normal economic life in Gaza, only to be met with violence.
Pix: Hamas operatives in Gaza. Photo: REUTERS
For Israel, Gaza’s clock stopped in June 2007, when Hamas threw Palestinian Authority presidential guards off a tall building in Gaza City and shot at them in street battles as the terrorist group tossed Fatah out of the Strip in a bloody coup.
A terrorist group at Gaza’s helm with the stated aim of destroying the Jewish state was a crushing end to dreams of peace with Gaza, spun just two summers earlier, when Israel unilaterally pulled its citizens and soldiers out of the area.
Israel blamed Hamas for reaping war where it had sowed peace. Hamas, in turn, has charged that this peace involved restrictions that locked its 1.8 million people into a 360 sq.km. area bordering Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
In Cairo, both Israel and Hamas want to rewind Gaza’s clock, at the very least to the point prior to the coup. For Israel this means removing the terrorist group from Gaza’s helm or at the very least demilitarizing it.
Hamas wants Israel to make good on its pledges to the PA to open its borders for travel and trade.
I the past, Israel twice tried to create conditions for normal economic life in Gaza, only to be met with violence that has grown in scope and severity. Where Israel once faced only suicide bombers, it nows defends itself against rocket attacks and infiltration tunnels.
So Israel is cautious about any cease-fire offer that empowers Hamas, particularly in light of the terrorist group’s ties to other terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Hezbollah.
Israel’s first overtures to Gaza came under the 1993 Oslo Accords, an interim agreement that set up the terms of Israeli- Palestinian relations in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel turned over civil control of most of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, just as it did in the West Bank, save for areas where Jewish settlements existed.
Forer PA president Yasser Arafat was allowed to return from exile in Tunisia and set up his first official headquarters in Gaza City.
Under Oslo, the Palestinians opened an airport in Gaza in 1998 and began work on a modern commercial harbor in the summer of 2000. Separately, in 1999, a safe corridor for cars, vans and buses was opened from the Erez crossing to the West Bank checkpoint of Tarkumiya.
The overtures ended in the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, after the Oslo peace process collapsed.
Israel in response bombed the airport and the seaport construction site and closed the safe passage.
In 2005, Israel made a second attempt to quell violence by focusing on change in Gaza.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon tested Palestinian demands that ending the “occupation” would be met by peace with a limited territorial withdrawal. Sharon unilaterally pulled soldiers and civilians out of Gaza.
In the lead up to the disengagement, the Right warned of disaster while the government and the Left built for a rosy future.
That summer, Israel worked to renovate Erez, the sole pedestrian crossing between Gaza and Israel, to handle 20,000 people a day.
After the withdrawal, Israel had planned to eventually hand the administration of Erez from the army to the Interior Ministry, just as if it was any other international border crossing.
On a sunny July day in 2005, Shimon Peres, then a vice premier and Labor head party, optimistically spun a fantastical vision of peace.
One could almost hear the futuristic flapping of dove wings as he spoke. There would be a joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial park, including spaces for joint businesses meetings, he said.
A railroad linking Gaza, Israel and the West Bank would stop at Erez, the Ashdod port, Kiryat Gat, Hebron, Tulkarm and Kalkilya, Peres hoped.
As a step toward that vision, in November, just a few months after disengagement, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a complex document, the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which set out the terms by which Gazans would travel and trade in this new era of peace.
It included Israeli pledges, once again, for an airport, a seaport, fishing rights for Gaza fishermen and a safe passage corridor between Gaza and the West Bank.
The agreement also detailed the operation of the crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt. Under its terms the Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Guard were to be stationed at those crossings on the Gaza side. The EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) would be at the Rafah crossing to monitor movement between Gaza and Egypt.
But that agreement was suspended after the 2007 coup.
The Presidential Guard was to leave the Gaza crossings. Even EUBAM fled and retreated to Ashkelon. Since then, Israel and Egypt have heavily restricted Gaza travel, so that less than one percent of the population can leave the Strip on any given day.
It prevented the passage of Gazan goods to Israeli and Palestinian territories, which once made up 85 percent of the Strip’s market. It has also at times restricted the influx of goods into Gaza, particularly dual-use items that could be used as weapons.
According to the Israeli NGO Gisha – the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Gaza unemployment is now at 45%.
Israel had hoped that a harsh economic reality in Gaza would force the Hamas government to collapse.
The measures, however, were not the first but the latest in a series of restrictions on Gaza in the last 23 years, which have slowly whittled away the rights of Palestinians in the Strip to trade and travel to non-sustainability.
Initially, when Israel captured Gaza during the Six Day War, the Strip had no immediate boundaries. It was part of a larger territory, including the Sinai Desert, that was under Israeli military and civil control, but which allowed freedom of movement and trade.
For security reasons, Israel maintained control of Gaza’s sea and skies, but there were no land borders.
Gazans were not citizens of Israel, but shared the same currency and customs envelope.
Most importantly, they could travel inside and outside the pre-1967 borders.
Gaza’s first physical border was with Egypt, not Israel. It was built through the town of Rafah in 1982, when Sinai was returned to Egypt.
The Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt was operated by the Israel’s Airports Authority and was open round the clock for pedestrian travel.
From 1994 to 2005, goods also passed in and out through its gates.
The rest of the Strip had no physical barrier separating it from Israel with the Green Line for almost another decade.
In 1991, in response to the first intifada, Israel mandated a system of individual permits for Palestinians who wanted to leave Gaza.
In 1995, Israel built an electronic fence along the pre-1967 borders separating it from the Strip, with two crossing, Erez for people and Karni for goods, and a sea route through the Ashdod port. There were also some minor passages, Nahal Oz for fuel, Sufa for gravel, and Kerem Shalom as a backup option should Karni be closed.
But there were minimal restrictions on travel or the transfer of goods.
When the second intifada broke out in 2000, angry Palestinians tore down the Gaza fence. Israel rebuilt a stronger barrier that could not be destroyed. It also bombed Gaza’s airport and the construction site of its harbor, and closed the secure passage of cars from Gaza to the West Bank.
In April 2001, Palestinians in Gaza fired their first mortars and rockets against Israel’s southern city of Sderot, located just kilometers away from the Gaza border. The rockets continued, as did a small number of suicide bombings against Gaza settlements and crossings, and, in 2003, terrorists from the Strip attacked a convoy with US diplomats.
Israel, in response to the second intifada and the Gaza rockets, imposed even harsher restrictions.
In 2000, prior to the second intifada, for example, half a million people left Gaza monthly through Erez to work in Israel, according to Gisha. But that number had dropped to 31,424 people exiting Gaza monthly by 2005, Gisha co-founder Sari Bashi said.
By March 2006, Gazans were no longer allowed to work in Israel. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, unemployment in Gaza rose from 31% to 41% in the year that followed the disengagement.
On paper, Israel signed the Agreement on Movement and Access, but in practice, it never truly got off the ground.
First there were the January 2006 elections, which gave Hamas a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council in the West Bank and Gaza. That was followed in June with the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit.
He was taken from the Gaza border by a terrorist group and held by Hamas for five years until a deal was secured for his release.
To each action, Israel responded with further restrictions, until the 2007 coup rendered the agreement obsolete. Since then Israel condensed the number of crossings, closing Karni, Sufa and Nahal Oz, leaving the Strip with only Kerem Shalom as its sole commercial crossing point.
The problem was not just on the Israeli side. On the Egyptian side, under former president Hosni Mubarak, travel out of Rafah was restricted and the transfer goods through that crossing was never resumed.
When Mohammed Morsi was president of Egypt he eased some of those travel restrictions.
To make up for this, Gazans vastly increased the number of smuggling tunnels that had existed since the 1990s for weapons, using them for everything from cement, washing machines and cars.
But when former field marshal President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ousted Morsi he shut down the smuggling system under Rafah by closing the tunnels and destroying homes to create a 3 km. buffer zone by the border.
During the first half of 2013, before the tunnels were closed, some 12,500 truckloads of goods and humanitarian aid entered Gaza each month, according to Bashi. The goods entered the Strip through both the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings and the smuggling tunnels.
In the first five months of 2014, that number dropped to a monthly average of 3,584 truckloads of goods entering Gaza, solely through Kerem Shalom, Bashi said. The statistics do not include fuel.
The difference, she said, was mostly construction material and other items necessary for Gaza businesses.
The closure of the tunnels, coupled with continued Israeli restrictions, helped fuel the latest conflict, known to Israelis as Operation Protective Edge. But even with the tunnels, the closures at the crossings were also factors that led to the last two conflicts: Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and Operation Defensive Shield in 2012.
Although Palestinians have consistently launched rockets and mortars against Israel since 2001, the range and level of destruction have grown, to that they can reach Tel Aviv and beyond.
Earlier this month, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon gave an emotional speech in New York, in which he said, “Do we have to continue like this: build, destroy, and build, and destroy?” The challenge for Israelis and Palestinians in Cairo is to find a way to break the pattern of violence and restrictions. But Israel is unlikely to end its blockade, while Hamas forcibly controls Gaza. And Hamas is unlikely to renounced violence, particularly without ending the blockade.
With one day left to go until the cease-fire expires, it’s unlikely that either Israel or Hamas will rewind or fix the Gaza clock. The most likely outcome is not an end to the cycle, but rather a more livable alternative for both sides that will maintain temporary calm, until the next outbreak of violence.
Israel has never kept humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza. to the contrary, it has ensured the shipment of humanitarian goods, even during its war against Hamas in 2008, when it delivered 59,280 tons of aid. between June 2010 and June 2011, over 6,000 tons of goods were transported each day. international agencies, including the international red cross and the world health organization, have confirmed there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. and, despite Hamas’ repressive rule, Gaza has experienced remarkable economic growth over the past two years, with new luxury hotels and malls as well as a glut of consumer goods, according to major news outlets, including the Palestinian ma’an news agency.
Every discussion about Gaza must begin with the hard fact that Hamas is engaged in a genocidal war against Israel. The world’s leading democracies regard the blockade as legal precisely because Hamas is in a state of armed conflict against Israel. its charter calls for the murder of Jews and Israel’s “obliteration,” and Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets into Israeli communities since 2005, when Israel completely withdrew from the area. nor does the blockade impose collective punishment. tons of goods have been transported into Gaza every year since the blockade began. The blockade only has the reasonable requirement that Israeli officials inspect all shipments to ensure that Gaza’s terrorist groups are not importing weaponry. when Hamas ends its war against Israel, there will be no need for a blockade. viewed this way, Hamas is the one inflicting collective punishment on Gaza’s and Israel’s civilians.
Every discussion about Gaza must begin with the hard fact that Hamas is engaged in a genocidal war against Israel. Control of air space, water, and borders is essential in any war, especially a war of genocidal intentions led by fanatical leadership like Hamas. Israel has had no presence in Gaza since august of 2005. Gaza is governed solely by Hamas with support from Iran. Israel imposed border, air, and naval controls to ensure that Hamas does not import weapons for terrorism. The Gaza strip is on the same beautiful Mediterranean coast as Tel Aviv. Imagine what a prosperous tourist spot it could be if Gaza’s government focused on state-building and peace instead of rocket building and war.
(from Stand With Us)
Hamas: We are Not Terrorists; We Just Want to Destroy Israel
Khaled Abu Toameh
March 18, 2013
Hamas wants be dropped from the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations not because it has changed, but because it feels that the world has changed, and that many naïve Westerners are now willing to tolerate its radical ideology and terrorism.
Hamas leaders are working hard these days to have their movement removed from the U.S. State Department list for Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The Hamas leaders are hoping to persuade a number of European Union countries to support their bid.
Hamas wants to be removed from the list without changing its strategy or charter, which call for jihad [holy war] and which do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas is also not prepared to dismantle its armed group, Izaddin al-Kassam, as part of its effort to persuade the US and EU to drop it from the list of terrorist groups.
Nor is Hamas prepared to stop smuggling weapons or give up thousands of rockets and mortars that it possesses in various parts of the Gaza Strip.
And of course Hamas is not prepared to renounce violence in the context of its effort to seek legitimacy in the international community.
The Hamas initiative comes at a time when senior officials of the movement, including Khaled Mashaal, continue to talk about their dream of replacing Israel with an Islamic state. In addition, they are continuing to call on Palestinians to abide by the “armed resistance” as the only option for achieving their goal.
Ironically, the Hamas request to be removed from the list of terrorist groups coincides with reports about the Islamist movement’s involvement in terror activities in neighboring Egypt.
According to these reports, Hamas was behind the August 2012 killing of 16 Egyptian border guards in Sinai. Hamas has also dispatched thousands of its men to Cairo to protect Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi against his political opponents, the reports revealed.
Although Hamas has denied the reports, there are increased signs that the movement is cooperating with other Islamic fundamentalist groups in Sinai to turn the peninsula into a base for jihadists from different parts of the world. Some of these jihadists are believed to be linked to groups that are affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Hamas claims that it has won the secret backing of a number of EU governments — a claim denied by the EU.
The Hamas demand was first raised by the movement’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, during a meeting with European supporters in the Gaza Strip last month.
Ghazi Hamad a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, says that his movement is putting pressure on several countries to change their position toward his movement. He believes that there has already been a “positive change” in the minds of Western and Arab societies toward Hamas.
It is not clear what Hamas bases its optimism on. But sources close to Hamas revealed that some Arab leaders, including Egypt’s Morsi and Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, have promised to work toward convincing the Americans and Europeans to remove Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations.
Both Morsi and al-Thani, according to the sources, have raised the issue with US and EU officials over the past few weeks.
The two Arab leaders have argued that removing Hamas from the lost would actually have a moderating effect on the movement and boost the prospects of peace in the Middle East. They have also claimed — according to the sources — that removing Hamas from the list would pave the way for unity between the movement and Fatah.
The Hamas campaign to be removed from the list of terrorist groups also coincides with growing cooperation between the movement and other radical groups in the Gaza Strip, primarily Islamic Jihad.
During the last war in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Islamic Jihad militiamen formed a joint command to coordinate rocket attacks against Israel. More recently, it was revealed that Fatah’s armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, also helped Hamas fire rockets at Israel in recent years.
The Americans and most EU countries are opposed to Fatah’s efforts to achieve unity with a movement that remains on their list of foreign terrorist organizations.
In private, however, Fatah leaders say they are also opposed to removing Hamas from the list out of fear that such a move would legitimize the movement and pave the way for the creation of a separate state in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas wants to be dropped from the list not because it has changed. Rather, Hamas wants to be removed from the list because it feels that the world has changed, and that many naïve Westerners are now willing to tolerate its radical ideology and terrorism.
Anyone who supports Hamas’s bid should also vote in favor of removing Al-Qaeda from the same list.
The Truth About Gaza
I was wrong to support Israel’s ‘disengagement’ from the Strip in 2005
By Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal
Sometimes it behooves even a pundit to acknowledge his mistakes. In 2004 as editor of the Jerusalem Post, and in 2006 in this column, I made the case that Israel was smart to withdraw its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. I was wrong.
My error was to confuse a good argument with good policy; to suppose that mere self-justification is a form of strategic prudence. It isn’t. Israel is obviously within its rights to defend itself now against a swarm of rockets and mortars from Gaza. But if it had maintained a military presence in the Strip, it would not now be living under this massive barrage.
Columnist Bret Stephens on the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Photo: Associated Press
Or, to put it another way: The diplomatic and public-relations benefit Israel derives from being able to defend itself from across a “border” and without having to get into an argument about settlements isn’t worth the price Israelis have had to pay in lives and terror.
That is not the way it seemed to me in 2004, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to pull up stakes, reversing the very policy he had done so much to promote as a general and politician in the 1970s. Gaza, I argued, was vital neither to the Jewish state’s security nor to its identity. It was a drain on Israel’s moral, military, political and diplomatic resources. Getting out of the Strip meant shaving off nearly half of the Palestinian population (and the population with the highest birthrate), thereby largely solving Israel’s demographic challenge.
Withdrawal also meant putting the notion of land-for-peace to a real-world test. Would Gazans turn the Strip into a showcase Palestinian state, a Mediterranean Dubai, or into another Beirut circa 1982? If the former, then Israel could withdraw from the West Bank with some confidence. If the latter, it would put illusions to rest, both within Israel and throughout the Western world.
Finally, I argued that while direct negotiations with the Palestinians had proved fruitless for Israel, Jerusalem could use its withdrawal from Gaza to obtain political and security guarantees from the United States. That’s just what Mr. Sharon appeared to get through an exchange of formal letters with George W. Bush in April 2004.
Things didn’t work out as I had hoped. To say the least.
Within six months of Israel’s withdrawal, Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Within two years, Hamas seized control of the Strip from the ostensible moderates of Fatah after a brief civil war.
In 2004, the last full year in which Israel had a security presence in Gaza, Gazans fired 281 rockets into Israel. By 2006 that figure had risen to 1,777. The Strip became a terrorist bazaar, home not only to Hamas but also Islamic Jihad and Ansar al-Sunna, an al Qaeda affiliate.
In late 2008, Israel finally tried to put a stop to attacks from Gaza with Operation Cast Lead. The limited action—Israeli troops didn’t go into heavily populated areas and refrained from targeting Hamas’s senior leadership—was met with broad condemnation, including a U.N. report (since recanted by its lead author) accusing Israel of possible “crimes against humanity.”
Nor did the reality of post-occupation Gaza do much to dent the appetite of the Obama administration for yet another effort to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace. That included a settlement freeze in the West Bank (observed by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, to zero benefit) and calls by President Obama for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 lines “with mutually agreed swaps.”
In 2009, Hillary Clinton disavowed the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters, saying they “did not become part of the official position of the United States government.” Even today, the Obama administration considers Gaza to be “occupied” territory, a position disavowed even by Hamas.
Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.
Now Israel may be on the cusp of purchasing yet another long-term strategic failure for the sake of a short-term tactical success. The Israeli government wants to bomb Hamas into a cease-fire—hopefully lasting, probably orchestrated in Cairo. That way Israel gets the quiet it seeks, especially on the eve of elections in January, and the Egyptians get the responsibility for holding the leash on Hamas.
That is largely how it played out during Cast Lead. But as one leading Israeli political figure told me in January 2009, just as the last cease-fire had been declared, “Notwithstanding the blows to the Hamas, it’s still in Gaza, it’s still ruling Gaza, and the Philadelphi corridor [which runs along Gaza’s border with Egypt] is still porous, and . . . Hamas can smuggle new rockets unless [the corridor] is closed, to fire at Israel in the future.”
That leading political figure was Benjamin Netanyahu, just before he returned to office as prime minister. He might now consider taking his own advice. Israel can afford to watch only so many reruns of this same, sordid show.
February 13, 2013
The government demolishes some houses, saying that they were illegally built on public land. There is an international outcry. True or false?
Here’s an account from 2010:
Hamas police expelled Palestinian Arabs from perhaps three dozen houses along the border of Sinai, and demolished them. Hamas said those houses were illegal, being erected on government property in Rafiah. Masked Hamas policewomen beat fellow Arab women and children with clubs, until they evacuated the houses.
Here’s a story from this week:
Members of the Abu Amrah family in Gaza City demonstrated Tuesday in front of offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council protesting a decision by the Hamas-run government to demolish 75 houses belonging to the family in the al-Rimal neighborhood.
I am unaware of any outcry across the globe.
The government of Israel sometimes demolishes homes, saying that they were illegally built on public land. And of course, it is a member state of the United Nations, not a terrorist group. But when it does, one can expect various governments to condemn the action and can expect action in the UN Human Rights Council, perhaps even a debate in the UN General Assembly or Security Council in New York. It’s no surprise that Baroness Valerie Amos, the UN under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, has said that “Palestinians are utterly frustrated by the impact of Israeli policies on their lives….They are evicted from their homes. Their homes are regularly demolished.” In Israel there is actually an NGO fighting such demolitions, the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions, a group that takes some rather extreme political positions and has chapters in the UK, Finland, and Norway. And who pays for this–who supports this organization financially? Directly and indirectly, the EU, Norway, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Denmark, the World Bank, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UN Development Program. Of course, this comparison between actions taken by Hamas and actions taken by the government of Israel will annoy some readers, and I do not mean to suggest that all such actions are the same. I mean to suggest that all those international bodies that are outspoken about home demolitions should turn their attention to Gaza as well as to Israel and the West Bank.