Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Dilemmas of hopes for a future Palestinian state

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Update from AIJAC

May 13, 2016

Update 05/16#03

While a two-state solution remains the only realistic hope for long-term resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this Update features some recent pieces highlighting some of the barriers to creating a Palestinian state that will both be humane toward its inhabitants and able to exist in peace alongside Israel. It also includes a new article highlighting how the Israeli military is shaping Israel's approach to conflict management until serious peace negotiations can resume.

First up is American analyst Grant Rumley, who highlights a worrying trend toward growing authoritarianism in the Palestinian Authority (PA). Rumley highlights a series of developments showing how  PA President Mahmoud Abbas is cracking down hard on critics, journalists, alternative power sources, and even unions - and even creating an apparently entirely unconstitutional hand-picked "Palestinian constitutional court" to reinforce his ability to rule by presidential decree. Rumley argues that the US and other international players are too invested in Abbas to challenge anything he is doing - even though it is threatening the viability of any future Palestinian state. For all the details, CLICK HERE

Next up, noted Palestinian affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh highlights the evidence that Iran remains determined to control any future Palestinian state - presumably to make sure it continues violent confrontation with Israel. He highlights the secession of Palestinian groups Iran has created or supported - Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and recently, Al-Sabireen - and the changing fortunes of each over time as Teheran sought to find the perfect client to achieve its goals. Abu Toameh argues that the apathy of the international community to these Iranian efforts, especially in the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran, risks a likelihood that Iran "will puppeteer any Palestinian state that is created in the region" for its own ends. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE

Finally, Washington Institute scholars David Makovsky and Gabrielle Chefitz offer analysis of how the IDF is playing a key role in shaping how Israel is relating to the Palestinians on a day-to-day basis today. Noting the controversy in Israel over the manslaughter trial of a soldier who shot dead an already disarmed Palestinian attacker in March, they also discuss how the IDF has been urging policies designed to improve the lives of Palestinians in a variety of ways - including increased work permits, easing restrictions on imports to Gaza and opening a new crossing there, improving security coordination with the PA, etc.  They argue this may even be of political use to Israeli PM Netanyahu, who has to deal with political forces to his right in his own cabinet and coalition, and can thus use IDF recommendations to institute policies he would otherwise have trouble implementing in the face of political opposition. For this important article in full, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Shmuel Rosner writes in the New York Times about how the unifying role of the IDF in Israel may arguably be eroding in the wake of the controversy over the arrested soldier and other recent political controversies over statements by senior IDF officers.

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Article 1

Barack Obama’s West Bank Strongman: Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas Obama Israel Palestinian Territories West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations, New York, November 29, 2012.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Amid all the preparations for a French-led conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace in the next year, Western officials continue to turn a blind eye to the increasingly autocratic tendencies of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

In the past year alone, Abbas has cracked down on journalists, teachers, and political rivals without serious rebuke from Europe or the U.S. Indeed, Western leaders have only two apparent demands for the Palestinian leader: continue to maintain security coordination with Israel, and pay lip service to the moribund peace process. So long as Abbas continues to check these boxes—and his recent interview on Israeli television confirmed he would—his Western flank is secure.

Abbas knows this all too well. Since the collapse of the U.S.-led peace negotiations in 2014, he has tested the limits of Western leniency. As the Obama administration withdrew from the day-to-day slog of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, Abbas gradually tightened his hold on Palestinian civil society. He is now 11 years into a four-year term, with no sign of stepping down. And now, he’s set up an entirely new judiciary body to reinforce his rule. Earlier this month, Abbas issued a presidential decree forming a Palestinian constitutional court that would, naturally, confirm his own presidential decrees. The nine members of the court are all hand-picked by Abbas.

His rivals say the move was illegal. They allege that the new judiciary body is simply a vehicle to muscle his edicts into law and circumvent a parliament that has been defunct since a political stalemate with the terrorist group Hamas first began in 2006. In bypassing the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) parliament, Abbas’s rivals say he seeks to ignore the clause in Palestinian law that states power is to go to the speaker of the parliament—currently a member of Hamas—in the event of a sudden vacation of his post. One critic called the move “uspicious” and an attempt to replace one institution with another; a member of Hamas called it an attempt to “liquidate” his political rivals. Their complaints fell on deaf ears: Within days of issuing the decree, Abbas swore in the new judges at the PA’s headquarters.

Abbas’s critics should know by now that resistance to his rule is futile. When a member of his own Fatah party accused one of his ministers of corruption last month, Abbas issued a warrant for her arrest. The parliamentarian, Najat Abu Bakr, then sought refuge for two weeks in the parliament building until senior party leaders intervened. Similarly, when a member of his own Fatah party challenged him over peace process tactics in 2013, Abbas simply replaced him with his intelligence chief. When the No. 2 official in the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) challenged him last summer, Abbas fired him and appointed his long-time peace negotiator Saeb Erekat to the position. When two other political parties in the West Bank—the U.S.-designated terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—challenged him earlier this month, Abbas slashed their funding. And when the governor of Nablus criticized the PA’s leadership earlier this week, Abbas fired him.

Political rivals aren’t Abbas’s only targets. The largest West Bank protest in years occurred in February when approximately 50,000 teachers marched on Ramallah. The protests accompanied a large-scale teacher strike—which shut down classes for months—over the PA’s refusal to honor previous agreements between the government and the teacher unions regarding salaries. In an attempt to prevent the teachers from marching on the capital, PA security forces arrested the heads of the union, set up checkpoints to restrict travel to Ramallah, and threatened legal action against the teachers if they didn’t return to work. The PA’s blatant assault on the protestors caused one prominent Palestinian journalist to write that the PA, “really should not continue to exist.”

Meanwhile, a Palestinian watchdog group found that 60 percent of the nearly 200 violations of media freedoms in 2015 occurred in the PA-controlled West Bank as opposed to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Since the start of 2016 alone, Abbas’s security forces have arrested journalists for reporting on security coordination with Israel, television presenters for criticizing Abbas, and photojournalists for unknown reasons. When a German news channel grilled PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on the dismal state of press freedoms last month, Hamdallah conceded merely that, “mistakes can happen anywhere.” Yet it seems “mistakes” are becoming standard practice for Abbas and his camarilla.

Abbas clearly sees a window of opportunity in the last year of Obama’s term. The previous two U.S. administrations made pushes for peace in the last year of their terms, but the Obama administration shows little eagerness to seriously reinvest in bilateral talks. This tacit withdrawal from peacemaking is fueling Abbas’s consolidation of power at home and his belief that he can further isolate Israel, particularly given Obama’s animosity toward Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the willingness of European allies to support his campaign of “internationalizing” the Palestinian issue. Indeed, Abbas knows that now is the time, as the next American administration might not be so indulgent.

The failure of the U.S. and Europe to address Abbas’s autocratic tendencies could have a devastating effect on the long-term prospects for a viable Palestinian state. As one former Bush administration official remarked in 2013, Palestinian self-governance—with free and fair elections—were “a powerful argument that it was time for Israel to stop governing Palestinians.” In other words, Abbas’s increasingly tyrannical government in the West Bank does not only handicap political expression—it also sets back the very legitimacy of the Palestinian national project.

Grant Rumley is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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Article 2


  • The Iran nuclear deal, marking its first anniversary, does not appear to have had a calming effect on the Middle East.

  • Iran funnels money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad because they share its desire to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic empire. The Iranian leaders want to see Hamas killing Jews every day, with no break. Ironically, Hamas has become too "moderate" for the Iranian leadership because it is not doing enough to drive Jews out of the region.

  • More Palestinian terror group leaders may soon perform the "pilgrimage" to their masters in Tehran. If this keeps up, the Iranians themselves will puppeteer any Palestinian state that is created in the region.

The Iran nuclear deal, marking its first anniversary, does not appear to have had a calming effect on the Middle East. The Iranians seem to be deepening their intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general and in internal Palestinian affairs in particular.

This intervention is an extension of Iran's ongoing efforts to expand its influence in Arab and Islamic countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon and some Gulf states. The nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers has not stopped the Iranians from proceeding with their global plan to export their "Islamic Revolution." On the contrary, the general sense among Arabs and Muslims is that in the wake of the nuclear deal, Iran has accelerated its efforts to spread its influence.

Iran's direct and indirect presence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon has garnered some international attention, yet its actions in the Palestinian arena are still ignored by the world.

That Iran provides financial and military aid to Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad has never been a secret. In fact, both the Iranians and the Palestinian radical groups have been boasting about their relations.

Iran funnels money to these groups because they share its desire to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic empire. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed to play the role of Tehran's proxies and enablers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

Iran used to funnel money to Hamas and Islamic Jihad because they share its desire to eliminate Israel and replace it with an Islamic empire. Relations between Iran and Hamas foundered a few years back, when Hamas leaders refused to support the Iranian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad. Pictured above: Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (left) confers with Iranian "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei, in 2010. (Image source: Office of the Supreme Leader)

But puppets must remain puppets. Iran gets nasty when its dummies do not play according to its rules. This is precisely what happened with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Relations between Iran and Hamas foundered a few years back over the crisis in Syria. Defying their masters in Tehran, Hamas leaders refused to declare support for the Iranian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad. Things between Iran and Hamas have been pretty bad ever since.

First, the Assad government closed down Hamas offices in Damascus. Second, Assad expelled the Hamas leadership from Syria. Third, Iran suspended financial and military aid to Hamas, further aggravating the financial crisis that the Gaza-based Islamist movement had already been facing.

Islamic Jihad got it next. Iranian mullahs woke up one morning to realize that Islamic Jihad leaders have been a bit unfaithful. Some of the Islamic Jihad leaders were caught flirting with Iran's Sunni rivals in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Even worse, the Iranians discovered that Islamic Jihad was still working closely with their erstwhile allies in the Gaza Strip, Hamas.

Iran had had high hopes for Islamic Jihad replacing Hamas as Tehran's darling, and major proxy in the Palestinian arena. But here were Islamic Jihad leaders and activists working with their cohorts in Hamas, in apparent disregard of Papa Iran.

The mullahs did not lose much time. Outraged by Islamic Jihad's apparent disloyalty, Iran launched its own terror group inside the Gaza Strip: Al-Sabireen (The Patient Ones). This group, which currently consists of several hundred disgruntled ex-Hamas and ex-Islamic Jihad members, was meant to replace Islamic Jihad the same way Islamic Jihad was supposed to replace Hamas in the Gaza Strip -- in accordance with Iran's scheme.

Lo and behold: it is hard to get things right with Iran. Al-Sabireen has also failed to please its masters in Tehran and is not "delivering." Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip say that Iran has realized that the investment in Al-Sabireen has not been worthwhile because the group has not been able to do anything "dramatic" in the past two years. By "dramatic," the sources mean that Al-Sabireen has neither emerged as a serious challenger to Islamic Jihad or Hamas, and has not succeeded in killing enough Israelis.

So Iran has gone running back to its former bedfellow, Islamic Jihad.

For now, Iran is not prepared fully to bring Hamas back under its wings. Hamas, for the Iranians, is a "treacherous" movement, thanks to its periodic temporary ceasefires with Israel. The Iranian leaders want to see Hamas killing Jews every day, with no break. Ironically, Hamas has become too "moderate" for the Iranian leadership because it is not doing enough to drive Jews out of the region.

That leaves Iran with the Islamic Jihad.

In a surprise move, the Iranians this week hosted Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah and senior officials from his organization, in a renewed bid to revive Islamic Jihad's role as the major puppet of Tehran in the Gaza Strip. Islamic Jihad officials said that the visit has resulted in the resumption of Iranian financial aid to their cash-strapped organization. As a result of the rift between Islamic Jihad and Iran, the Iranians are said to have cut off nearly 90% of their financial aid to the Palestinian terror organization.

Some Palestinians, such as political analyst Hamadeh Fara'neh, see the rapprochement between Iran and Islamic Jihad as a response to the warming of relations between Hamas and Turkey. The Iranians, he argues, are unhappy with recent reports that suggested that Turkey was acting as a mediator between Hamas and Israel.

Other Palestinians believe that Iran's real goal is to unite Islamic Jihad and Al-Sabireen so that they would become a real and realistic alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Whatever Iran's intentions may be, one thing is clear: The Iranians are taking advantage of the nuclear deal to move forward with their efforts to increase their influence over some Arab and Islamic countries. Iran is also showing that it remains very keen on playing a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- one that emboldens radical groups that are bent on the destruction of Israel and that share the same values as the Islamic State terror group.

Iran's latest courtship of Islamic Jihad is yet another attempt by the mullahs to deepen their infiltration of the Palestinian arena by supporting and arming any terror group that strives to smash Israel. For now, it seems that Iran's scheme is working, largely thanks to the apathy of the international community, where many believe that Iran has been declawed by the nuclear deal.

But more Palestinian terror group leaders may soon perform the "pilgrimage" to their masters in Tehran. If this keeps up, the Iranians themselves will puppeteer any Palestinian state that is created in the region. Their ultimate task, after all, is to use this state as a launching pad to destroy Israel. And the Iranians are prepared to fund and arm any Palestinian group that is willing to help achieve this goal.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.

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Article 3

The Israeli Defense Forces Fill the Void

The Military Steps Into the Diplomatic Vacuum With the Palestinians

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