Breaking the Impasse, a group of leading Israeli and Palestinian business leaders formed last year with the aim of pressing their respective political leaders to make peace, has been put on hold indefinitely because of emotions inflamed by the war and what some participants say is a failure to agree on basic principles and goals.
“We are frozen at the moment,” says Samir Hulileh, chief executive of Padico, a leading Palestinian conglomerate and Breaking the Impasse participant. “We were polarised during the war and we felt there was very little to be shared. We are now freezing the relationship, and looking for alternatives.”
The initiative’s apparent problems reflect a broader trend towards unilateralism and introspection among Palestinians after the failure of the latest round of peace talks, which many feel cannot be revived because of rightwing dominance in Israeli politics, Israel’s unwillingness to cede land and bitterness over this summer’s Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 2,100 Palestinians.
When it was formed, the initiative had raised hopes that executives would play a leading role in pushing political leaders to accept a two-state solution, much as South African business people helped build momentum for the political settlement that ended apartheid.
In a joint declaration made at a World Economic Forum regional meeting in Jordan in May 2013, about 200 Israeli and Palestinian business leaders urged their leaders to show “boldness” in making peace, saying the impasse in efforts to create two states “endangers the economy and the social fabric of both nations”.
The initiative was designed to run in parallel with US-sponsored peace talks and a $4bn plan to revive the flagging Palestinian economy and reduce its reliance on Israel. John Kerry, US secretary of state, said Breaking the Impasse’s backers were “a courageous and visionary group of people”.
Palestinian business leaders who supported the initiative had faced criticism at home from those who opposed normalising economic ties with Israel in the absence of an independent Palestinian state. Many see any such move as collaboration with an occupying power.
Now the initiative’s Palestinian participants are frustrated after failing to secure agreement from their Israeli counterparts on principles of an independent future state in the West Bank and Gaza, which the Palestinians want to create inside the 1967 borders between Israel and occupied Palestinian lands.
“We took a major risk by dealing with them against all concepts of normalisation, but they weren’t willing to take any risk on universal values, ’67 borders, refugees or Jerusalem,” says Zahi Khouri, chairman of the National Beverage Company, the Palestinian Coca-Cola business. “It just didn’t work.”
Yossi Vardi, an Israeli businessman leading the initiative, insisted it was still active.
“We will stick to the original paradigm,” says Mr Vardi. “All of us agree on three things: that time is of the essence, two states are imperative, and whatever the leaders agree, we will support. We will continue to work toward these three things.”
However, Palestinian business leaders are now backing a boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements and a “buy local” movement that burgeoned in the West Bank during the Gaza war.
“The discussion in town is, ‘Did X store remove all the Israeli products, and why did Y store not,’”, says Sam Bahour, a business consultant in Ramallah. “We are being introduced to new Palestinian products that had not been on the market before, such as yoghurt and milk.”
In a sign that the boycott is putting pressure on Israeli companies, some have slashed prices in the West Bank to keep goods on store shelves.
However, the biggest Palestinian companies rely heavily on Israeli raw materials, electricity and bureaucratic goodwill, [AKA blackmail -- RFS] so are in a delicate position regarding any call for a blanket boycott of Israel.
“You can reduce dependency on Israeli products,” says one leading Palestinian businessman, who asks not to be named because of the sensitivity of relations with Israel. “Can you pull the plug on Israeli electricity? No, you cannot.”
Rawabi, a large Palestinian real estate development being built on a West Bank hilltop, illustrates the dilemma. Although large parts of it are built, it has been unable to accept residents on schedule because it is still waiting for Israeli permission to build a water main.
The growing disconnect between business people reflects broader divisions between Israeli and Palestinian society in the wake of the second intifada a decade ago and the building of the separation wall that snakes through the West Bank.
At the time, Israeli firms relied heavily on Palestinian migrant workers, and many business leaders there identified with an openly “pro-peace” lobby. Since then common interests have ebbed.
“Palestinian businessmen now just have business relations – transactions – with Israel,” says Samir Abdullah, director of research at the Palestine Economic Research Institute in Ramallah. “There is no dialogue going on.”
(Source / 22.09.2014)
Israeli forces detained 16 Palestinians in West Bank arrest raids overnight Sunday, Israel’s army and locals said.
In Nablus, Israeli forces detained Salim Bashir Mleitat, 29, in Beit Furik after raiding his home at 3 a.m. Mleitat was released from an Israeli jail several months ago.
In Burin, Israeli forces detained Abd al-Rahman Mashhur Muhammad Najjar, 19, Omar Muhammad Ali Qadus, 18, Mahmoud Nasser Jaber Asous, 21, and Muhammad Suheil Qassem Najjar, 22.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said seven Palestinians were detained in Hebron, six in Nablus, two in Ramallah and one in Jenin for “involvement in terror attacks, and riot planning and participation.”
Additionally, Israeli soldiers and intelligence officers raided the town of al-Khadr south of Bethlehem Sunday and questioned several civilians on the street, locals and the town mayor said.
Intelligence officers in plain clothes stopped several young men around noon under the protection of armed troops, witnesses told Ma’an.
Tawfiq Salah, the mayor of al-Khadr, told Ma’an he attempted to intervene to prevent the officers from questioning residents, but that soldiers forcibly distanced him.
Salah denounced what he described as “aggression” against the residents of al-Khadr, adding that Israeli forces had been storming the town on a near daily basis and harassing passersby in the streets.
An Israeli army spokeswoman told Ma’an she was looking into the incident.
(Source / 22.09.2014)
In a news conference on the rooftop of one of the al-Makased hospital buildings in the al-Tur neighborhood, the hospital’s director said the the hospital was suffering from a critical financial crisis after the PA failed to transfer 64 million shekels of its dues.
Rafiq al-Husseini said the dues amount to 40 percent of the hospital’s annual budget, adding that the shortfall makes it unable to buy medical supplies and pay employee salaries.
He warned of the day when “the Israeli flag is raised” on the hospital’s building, saying that the news conference was being held on the rooftop to show the al-Aqsa mosque and the Israeli flags flying on the settlement surrounding it.
The deputy secretary general of the hospital’s workers union said employees had not received their salaries for three months, and the hospital was unable to provide the needed medical supplies.
Our crisis today is more than just salaries, it is a crisis of not being able to provide medical supplies, medicine, and even food,” Adnan al-Masri said.
He added that officials have constantly called on the PA and ministers to fulfill their commitments but failed. He contrasted this with the Israeli government, which spends billions to entrench its presence in Jerusalem.
Al-Masri said the union will take step that will start on Sept. 22 and range from canceling and rescheduling appointments to transferring patients to other hospitals before eventually evacuating it.
The loss of over 2,000 lives during this summer’s Gaza war is tragic. Reports and images of innocent Palestinians losing their homes, loved ones, and lives stoked outrage around the globe. Yet this vast collection of personal and family tragedies may ultimately pale in comparison to the tragedy that could befall the Palestinian community should Hamas achieve a political resurgence.
A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy Survey Research suggests that Hamas is more popular with Palestinians today than it has been since 2006; that Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh would defeat Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas in a presidential race; and that a majority of Palestinians now view armed conflict as a more promising path to peace. Notably, these sentiments prevail in the West Bank as well as Gaza.
In the emotional wake of the recent war, and given Hamas’s modest gains in easing the economic blockade of Gaza, this surge in popularity is understandable. Certainly, the Fatah-led PLO has not helped its own cause. Hamas – not the PLO or the new technocratic “unity” government– is spearheading recovery efforts on the ground in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, President Abbas remains ensconced in his Ramallah offices preparing largely symbolic new initiatives to introduce at the United Nations and International Criminal Court – initiatives that are sure to prove ineffectual in light of America’s veto power.
If the Palestinian people truly wish to live in their own state in the foreseeable future, they must resist the impulse to embrace Hamas. Bolder moderate leadership must also step forward. Aside from Israel’s expansionist hardliners, Palestinian statehood arguably has no greater enemy than Hamas.
Hamas Cannot Lead the Palestinians Forward
Hamas’s use of violence and its continued resistance to a permanent two-state solution feed the Israeli security narrative. Using this narrative as a pretext, Israel’s own ideological maximalists press ahead with settlement expansion in the West Bank. Meanwhile, a delusional Hamas claims victory in the recent conflict in Gaza.
In 1982, the PLO’s Isam Sirtawi expressed with clear exasperation: “Our defeat in Lebanon and our evacuation of Beirut has been described as a ‘victory.’ One more ‘victory’ like this one, and we will have the next meeting of the [Palestine National Council] in the Seychelles Islands!”
In fact, the West Bank – the heartland of a State of Palestine – has continued to devolve into a disjointed island chain of Palestinian-controlled territories. The recent designation of nearly a thousand acres of West Bank territory as Israeli state land underscores this trend. The West Bank – not Gaza – is the true battleground between Israel and the Palestinians. It is the reclamation of “Judea and Samaria,” as Israel refers to the West Bank, that religious Jewish hardliners primarily seek.
While Hamas celebrates its perceived ability to win a war of attrition in Gaza, Israel continues to win the war of attrition in the West Bank via settlement building. Frustratingly, talks have failed to stem the tide of construction and bring the parties closer to a final status agreement. It is understandable, therefore, that many Palestinians would see violence as the only alternative, but this would be a very dangerous path.
Israel is a potent military power, with only limited military objectives in Gaza. The notion that it can be militarily defeated in the West Bank is born of desperation from a failed peace process and poor analogical reasoning. In addition to religious reasons, the West Bank is far more significant to Israel from a security perspective than Gaza or southern Lebanon.
Hamas’s attitude toward Israel is riddled with irony, hypocrisy, and contradiction. While Hamas decries the Jewish State’s menacing power and monstrous behavior, it does not seem to believe (or perhaps care) that the inevitable escalation of its zero-sum war could lead to Palestinian deaths in the hundreds of thousands. Moreover, it seeks the very recognition and beneficence that it refuses the Israeli people through its platform of ultimately eliminating the Jewish State.
Like the Zionist movement, Hamas faces a fundamental choice: does it primarily seek the liberation of a People or the liberation of a Land? The maximalist Hamas platform suggests that the liberation of Land takes precedence. Hamas’s failure to formally and credibly accept a permanent two-state solution will undermine the effectiveness of any further violence it perpetrates in the name of Palestine. Israel will continue to invoke self-defense.
The United States – the country with the greatest potential influence over Israel – will continue to accept its security narrative and withhold pressure on settlement building and the peace process. Tragically and ironically, Israel will go on establishing facts on the ground, and the Palestinian people will drift further from realizing the liberation of both Land and People. Jewish nationalist and religious hardliners will ultimately prove the greatest beneficiaries of Hamas violence and intransigence.
The 2+1 Solution
So what is to be done? Pro-peace Palestinians should do everything in their power to convince Hamas to embrace the two-state model, as Arafat did more than two decades ago. Offers of a multi-year truce are a non-starter; Israel will never grant the Palestinians a state on the basis of a truce. No state would assent to the sovereignty of a new nation that vows to one day destroy it. Should these efforts to structure Palestinian unity around the concept of a permanent two-state solution fail, pro-peace Palestinians in the West Bank should be prepared to make a separate peace with Israel.
A few months ago, I published an article in the scholarly journal Digest of Middle East Studies extensively delineating an admittedly-provocative alternative to the standard two-state solution that I call “2+1.” Under 2+1, pro-peace Palestinians would cooperate with the United States, Arab allies, and other members of the international community to pressure Israel to proceed with final status talks and grant statehood to the Palestinians in the West Bank, with the accession of Gaza to the State of Palestine delayed until a time at which Hamas has credibly accepted a permanent two-state peace or declined as a relevant party.
During this intervening period, Gaza’s humanitarian needs would be assured by Israel, the State of Palestine, the United States, and the international community. The new State of Palestine would include in its constitution a provision prohibiting government participation by any party that seeks the further reclamation of land or the destruction of Israel, thereby preventing Hamas or a similar anti-peace party from legally seizing power and renewing hostilities.
The 2+1 approach faces many challenges, first of which is the risk of a permanent schism in the Palestinian community. While it may strike some as unfathomable or even offensive, the Palestinian people must recognize that what is possible or strategically wise does not always align with deep-seated feelings of what is wholly just.
Undermining Israel’s Security Narrative
In the face of a strong occupier that enjoys the support of the world’s superpower, Palestinians must recognize the tradeoff between what is possible and what is just – as well as the need for shrewd statecraft. A chief benefit of the 2+1 approach is its potential to critically undermine the Israeli security narrative – a narrative that is widely accepted in the United States. According to this narrative, Israel cannot grant statehood to the Palestinians because they pose a security threat.
An independent Palestine in which parties like Hamas and Islamic Jihad can continue their war to reclaim all of the Land of Palestine is an easy argument used by Israel to delay peace and pursue an agenda of territorial expansion in the West Bank. The Israeli security narrative has to be discredited before an independent Palestinian state can be achieved. The very existence of a State of Palestine in the West Bank is at stake, as well as the character of that state.
A second major benefit of the 2+1 approach is that it would enable secular, pro-peace Palestinians to structure and define Palestinian civic nationalism. Beyond the fight for independence, what does it mean to be a Palestinian? This question is obscured by the conflict with Israel. Were statehood to be achieved tomorrow, an ugly new battle may well begin between Palestinian secularists and Islamists to answer it. If implemented, the 2+1 state-solution would provide a context for Palestinian political and economic development largely free of the secular-Islamist schism seen elsewhere in the region.
The principled assertion of unity may bolster Palestinian spirits, but it makes for poor strategy. Raw emotion and poor Fatah leadership are driving the popularity of Hamas and leading the Palestinians down a road to an even more tragic future. Fatah and the PLO must remain focused on the core objective: a Palestinian state centered on the West Bank. To achieve this, it must make undermining Israel’s security narrative a priority.
The best outcome of this summer’s conflict would be a realization by all parties to the conflict that such loss of life should never be repeated. To ensure a more peaceful future for all, Hamas would use this moment of strength to unite the Palestinian people around the concept of a permanent peace between two states. Final status negotiations would once again proceed, and Israel would be unable to credibly invoke the Hamas menace as reason to dither on granting freedom to Palestine.
Given Hamas’s past actions, this scenario is sadly unlikely. As such, pro-peace Palestinians must not let themselves be held hostage by the extremists within their ranks. Only by breaking ties with their own extremists can Palestinians critically undermine extremists in Israel and liberate both Land and People.
(Source / 22.09.2014)
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)– Israeli Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved a bill restricting release of those convicted in murder and sentenced to life.
According to the bill, Israeli courts are not allowed to reduce prisoners’ sentences to less than 40 years.
The prisoner has no longer the right to ask for reducing his sentence until after spending 15 years in jail.
The bill was submitted for second and third readings in the Knesset. The bill applies to homicide and security prisoners.
MK Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party said that this bill will put an end to the release of Palestinian prisoners during “controversial swap deals”.
(Source / 22.09.2014)
NEW YORK — The sudden rise of the well-armed, well-financed and media-savvy Islamic State militant group could not have come about unless unscrupulous companies and individuals slipped money to the group or did business with it, said founders of a new, private research and advocacy group that will seek to expose such dealings and apply pressure to stop them.
“They’ve taken great advantage of modern communications and modern financial techniques” to promote themselves, recruit followers and amass money and weapons, said Mark D. Wallace, a former Bush administration diplomat and lawyer heading the new organization, which will formally launch Monday. “There’s been an absence of people operating to counter that.”
President Obama and other world leaders are making the extremists, who have seized control of large areas of Iraq and Syria since May, a central theme of next week’s annual United Nations General Assembly.
The group, called the Counter Extremism Project, is modeled on United Against Nuclear Iran, the hawkish investigative and advocacy group Wallace also runs here. The two nonprofit groups share some prominent advisers, including former Bush administration Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend and former Obama administration diplomat Dennis Ross.
The group has compiled detailed financial information about the Islamic State that will be released next week, Wallace said.
It has begun building what it claims will be the best publicly available database of information about extremist groups and their supporters. The information will be provided to governments as well as the private sector, media and other outlets, organizers said.
Many Western diplomats are worried about the group’s apparently flush bank accounts and arsenals, a senior State Department official said. Some of the weapons were seized from the fleeing Iraqi Army, but many others are presumed to be provided to the group by supporters or purchased on the black market. The Islamic State is smuggling oil from seized facilities in northern Iraq and selling it in Turkey, the official said. Turkey has pledged to clamp down on that lucrative traffic, as well as the flow of weapons and foreign fighters across its porous border with Syria.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss U.S. intelligence and other assessments of the militants on the record.
Gary Samore, formerly Obama’s top adviser on arms control and weapons of mass destruction, said although it has no power of enforcement, the new group has significant leverage over terror financiers or enablers. The threat of public exposure, with the resulting damage to professional reputations or the risk of prosecution, can stop businesses from making illicit deals or lessen the chances that foreign governments will look the other way, Samore said.
Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, all U.S. partners against the Islamic State, are among the governments that have failed to prevent private individuals from making donations to the group, current and former U.S. officials said.
“Frankly it’s not that easy to stop these financial transfers. It’s very, very difficult even if the government makes a sincere effort,” said Samore, now executive director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is on the advisory board of the new organization.
Wallace would not disclose donors for either United Against Nuclear Iran or Counter Extremism Project. He said support for the new group comes from nonprofit entities and private individuals in the United States and elsewhere, and includes no U.S. or other government money such as foreign sovereign wealth funds.
United Against Nuclear Iran has strong ties to many pro-Israel groups, but the extent of its affiliation is unclear. It has worked alongside the Obama administration in identifying potential sanctions violations but also became a prominent and well-funded skeptic of the current strategy of rolling back sanctions in exchange for negotiated nuclear concessions.
The Justice Department took the highly unusual step of intervening in a civil defamation lawsuit against United Against Nuclear Iran earlier this month. Although the group has no known access to classified government information, the Obama administration argued that a Greek shipper’s subpoena request for the group’s files would jeopardize national security. The shipping magnate seeks its donor lists and financial information gathered about him. The Justice Department cited no precedents for using what is commonly called the state secrets privilege.
The new Counter Extremism Project group is nonpartisan, Wallace said, and is advised by both Republicans and Democrats. It will not seek to supplant the Treasury or State departments or foreign governments in tracking potential sources of support for the Islamic State and other violent extremist organizations, but will supplement and sometimes critique that work, Wallace said.
“The focus of our attention now is ISIS,” said Joseph I. Lieberman, a former senator from Connecticut and another Counter Extremism Project adviser. “They are getting money in different ways, some of it unfortunately by the own means of brutality and criminality, but some of it is dependent on business deals they are making.”
(Source / 22.09.2014)
Israeli forces, with the so-called “Nature Authority”, on Sunday, demolished 20 Palestinian tombs in occupied East Jerusalem’s Yousufeya Cemetery.
The cemetery is located in the area of Lions’ gate, according to the Palestinian News Network (PNN), right next to the eastern wall of Al Aqsa Mosque, and were demolished under the pretext that the tombs were built on confiscated land.
Head of the Islamic cemetery welfare committee in Jerusalem, Mustafa Abu Zahra, condemned the actions, saying that the Martyrs’ Cemetery was an extension of Yousufeya Cemetery, in the Lions’ Gate, and that it purely qualifies as Islamic property.
Mr. Abu Zahra noted that the cemetery is a historical site in which hundreds of Palestinian martyrs are buried, and where a monument was clearly set. He added that the demolished tombs were built several months ago, but were as of yet unused.
Abu Zahra refuted Israeli claims, saying that the land is Palestinian property and does not need any licensing.
East Jerusalem is a part of the officially recognized Palestinian territories, illegaly occupied by Israel since 1967.
(Source / 22.09.2014)