Archive for the ‘Hamas’ Category


In this week’s column at Souciant, I do a rundown of the winners and losers in the so-called “Operation Pillar of Defense.” I examine a number of different actors, not just Israel and Hamas, as well as some of the regional implications. Hope you find it interesting.

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In my latest piece for Souciant, I look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s ineffectual “threat” to cut off the negotiations to nowhere with the Palestinian Authority if they reunify with Hamas.

Bibi clearly wants a situation where the US will back an Israeli refusal to continue negotiations, and Hamas joining a unity government gives him that. But in the longer run, that strategy might well backfire and, ironically, offer the best hope we have left for a peaceful resolution that both sides can live with.

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I’ve pasted below the full text of what is, according to the Palestinian National Initiative (Mustafa Barghouti’s organization), the new Palestinian unity agreement. My thanks go to independent journalist Jared Malsin for alerting me to this translation, and to Ma’an News’reporter and English Editor George Hale for the list of signatory organizations.

Palestinians clearly want unity, but will this text bring it?

The translation is rough in some places, and there is a distinct lack of clarity in some areas, making me wonder if the former hasn’t led to some of the latter. But on the whole, this agreement doesn’t say much that hasn’t been reported already. I’ll just make a couple of points.

There is a good deal here about healing the rift that has developed between Gaza and the West Bank. It’s unclear how that can be accomplished while Israel lies between the two territories, and is not likely to be disposed to allowing passage between them. Elections could be a problem as well, although Israel did allow Hamas to campaign in 2005. Still, given that experience, it’s hard to count on such “largesse” again.

There are two passages that seem to be key, but are very vague in their wording.

Section 2 seems to indicate that Hamas is agreeing to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to continue to be the representative of the Palestinian people in negotiations, primarily of course, with Israel. We should recall that, despite a blurring of the line between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, the two are different, albeit overlapping, bodies, and the PLO is still the only recognized representative of the Palestinian people (so recognized by Israel, the US and the international community, and at one time by the Palestinian people. Whether this remains true for Palestinians is problematic at best). This is what allows Hamas to straddle the line between dealing with Israel and its refusal to recognize the “Zionist entity.” It would seem this reaffirms Hamas’ stated position of years past that they would abide by an agreement negotiated by Abbas is it was approved by a popular referendum. (more…)

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Many things are going to be overshadowed at least for a few days by the big news of Osama bin Laden’s death. One of them, though in the headlines in Israel, was already getting less attention than it deserved.

The scandalous announcement by Israel’s Minister of Finance, Yuval Steinitz (Likud) that Israel was going to stop payment of taxes levied on behalf of the Palestinians as punishment for the Fatah-Hamas unity dealis nothing short of grand larceny.

Israeli Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz

On the surface, it might seem to make sense, even if one disagrees with it as a tactic. The argument would be that the PA now encompasses a terrorist organization and Israel would be within its rights to block the funds flowing to that government as they might be diverted for militant uses. After all, doesn’t the US freeze assets of terrorist groups? What’s the difference?

Well, there’s a big difference.

The funds that Israel is withholding are comprised of Value Added Taxes (VAT) and other levies which Israel collects on behalf of the PA, under the Oslo Accords. Sounds like Israel is doing the Palestinians a favor, doesn’t it?

But when you think about how this state of affairs came to be, a different picture emerges.

When Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, it obviously assumed responsibility for basic services in that area. No one was praising the job they did, to be sure, but services were delivered throughout the Occupied Territories. That was the case until 1994.

In that year, the Palestinian National Authority was formed, and the West Bank was divided into four sections: Areas A, B and C and East Jerusalem. Basic civil services in Areas A and B as well as in Gaza were handled by the Palestinian Authority, and this is true to this day.

But the PA’s ability to collect taxes is severely limited. The VAT on imports to the West Bank is collected at Israeli ports. Israel is also supposed to send back the value-added tax that Palestinians pay for Israeli goods, as well as any excise taxes that Palestinians have to pay for fuel, cigarettes, and alcohol. (more…)

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The announcement today of a deal for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas certainly caused a great stir. It’s worth examining what it means.

Is This For Real?

That’s the first question to be asked and only the coming days will provide an answer, but the early indications are that it seems like this will finally happen. The announcement of the deal was met with no small amount of cynicism, as these agreements have been said to be coming about in the past, but have always evaporated over some dispute or other.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (left) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

This has a different feel. Probably the biggest reason for that is the proposed vote in the UN in September on recognition of Palestinian statehood. The proposition is problematic, even for supportive countries, as long as the Palestinians themselves are split. Also, while Egypt has been the broker of these agreements in the past, this time the Mubarak regime, and particularly his aide Omar Suleiman, are not involved. The new faces may have had ideas that the former mediators would not have broached. Finally, the Arab Spring has unleashed a wave of democracy. Neither of the Palestinian factions want to wait until such a thing happens in their own territory. But more importantly, the increasing weight of Arab public opinion will be a boon to the Palestinian cause, both in new Arab regimes and in the current ones that survive. A unified Palestinian government will be in a much better position to take advantage of that.

The deal apparently will mean a sharing of power between Hamas and Fatah in the broader PA government, while getting around the question of control of security forces (which has been the main sticking point in previous attempts at an agreement) by keeping the status quo, where Hamas will control security in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank. Ultimately the PA will be reconstituted by elections within a year.

If this does happen, it’s a game-changer. The changes are not entirely predictable; nothing ever is, especially in this conflict. But there is no doubt that it will mean changes for the Palestinian Authority and will present new dilemmas for Israel and the United States, as well as the larger Middle East and the international community in general. (more…)

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It is not easy being the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. It is impossible for them to issue any statement that doesn’t become instantly politicized. And, like many NGOs, their reports are often put in less than ideal contexts by the media.

Much like their counterparts — such as al-Haq in the West Bank and groups like B’Tselem and Gisha in Israel — their attempt to report on human rights and, to act as a watchdog on their own government while operating in an atmosphere where the Israeli occupation causes overarching human rights violations creates a difficult balancing act.

Logo of the Palestine Center for Human Rights, located in the Gaza Strip

But PCHR still is the best NGO source for the state of human rights in Gaza. True, it has little competition (though there is some, including B’Tselem’s fieldworkers in Gaza), but its reports have generally proven reliable—so much so, that their releases are often used by the Israeli right.

Today, the New York Times reported on a recent PCHR release, which criticized “members of the Palestinian resistance” for “stor[ing] explosives or to treat such explosives in locations close to populated areas.”

It is important to note that PCHR did not identify the “members of the resistance.” The Times, while scrupulously avoiding any statement that the PCHR statement is referring to Hamas, does say that “Israel has long accused Hamas and other groups of endangering Palestinian civilians by carrying out militant activities in densely populated areas.”

A PCHR spokesman also noted that the Hamas government tried to shift blame for injuries to Gazan civilians that were clearly caused by Palestinian rockets onto Israel.

An unwitting reader of the Times article might infer that PCHR was implicitly accusing Hamas of being responsible for the weapons storage. The distinction there is an important one.

Storing weapons in civilian areas, or dangerously near civilians, carries two threats, both of which the people of Gaza have become intimately familiar with. One is that the weapons will accidentally discharge or misfire when used. The second is that Israel will target the area. (more…)

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[This piece was originally published at the Meretz USA blog]

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear, as if it needed clarifying, that he is uninterested in finding peace with the Palestinians. He did this by issuing an ultimatum to Fatah and its leader, PA President Mahmoud Abbas: you can either reconcile with Hamas or make peace with Israel, not both.

More than once on my blog, I’ve been criticized by commenters for my view of Hamas. I see them as a reactionary religious-nationalist movement. They have no

Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' Khaled Meshal share an uncomfortable handshake

compunction about attacking civilians, are appropriately called terrorists, have a poor human rights record in Gaza (a score on which anyone who has read my work will know I have been at least as critical of the Israeli occupation record as well as the PA), and are legitimately mistrusted.

But Hamas is, like it or not, also a part of the Palestinian body politic. In the early 1980s, when Israel tacitly permitted the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood to organize in the hope that it would provide a religious, but much less threatening, counterweight to the PLO, they surely did not have any idea what they were doing. Hamas grew out of that, and it is a regrettable development, in my view for both sides.

And, again like it or not, they control the Gaza Strip. All efforts to shake their rule there have failed, and if elections were held today among all Palestinians, all polls indicate they would have significant, albeit clearly minority, support. Put simply, the option of being able to reach a deal with the Palestinians without Hamas just does not exist.

And we can thank ourselves for that. In 2006, the United States insisted on Palestinian elections, and Hamas, as the main party in the List of Change and Reform, won the most seats, 74 of 132. Before the newly elected PA could form any sort of policy on anything, Israel and the Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russian Federation) instituted a regime of economic sanctions on it. These actions reverberated around the Arab world, sending the message that America supports democracy as long as it produces outcomes we approve of. (more…)

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