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June 9, 2014

Hamas-Fatah Unity Deal Raises Many Questions

On Monday June 2nd, a transitional Palestinian unity government was sworn in based on an agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas. The government, which is headed by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, consists of representatives from Fatah and so-called independent “technocrats” who appear to be not directly affiliated with Hamas. The agreement requires elections to be held within six months.

Although the US administration rushed to publicly say it “would work with” the new government, even they have acknowledged there are many questions regarding the practical implications and viability of this unity government. After all, similar past reconciliations, including the 2011 Cairo Accord and 2012 Doha Declaration, both of which are cited as a basis for parts of the current agreement, quickly fell apart.

Hamas Flag

Hamas Flag

At this very early stage, it is foolish to predict how the arrangement will work in practice, and especially whether free and fair Palestinian elections will indeed be held in six months. In fact, in the days since the agreement was signed, there have been public disputes over financial issues between Hamas and Fatah, and security forces of both parties have detained and arrested officials from the other. Hamas retains its control over a highly trained and well-armed terrorist paramilitary force, and an arsenal of rockets and missiles which it has used to target Israeli civilians. Will the Palestinian Authority security forces be deployed in Gaza and will Hamas lay down its weapons? If not, how can the pledge by President Abbas to adhere to the Quartet conditions be taken seriously?

Middle East analyst Ehud Yaari argues that by entering into the unity agreement, Hamas is following the so-called Hezbollah model. Similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas gets political legitimacy and maintains its intimidating and brutally effective military force through their Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade. Indeed, Hamas’s security forces are larger and better equipped than the Palestinian Authority’s, and the unity agreement makes no mention of Hamas disarming the al-Qassam Brigade.

Other difficult questions about the unity agreement that remain murky include what role the so-called technocrats will play in setting policy for the new government, how much influence Hamas’s leadership will actually have in the Palestinian Authority’s policy making, and if or how financial support to the PA from the US and other international donors will be applied in Hamas’s stronghold over Gaza.

Regarding the independent technocrats, there are likely two reasons why Palestinian President Abbas decided to include them as opposed to actual Hamas officials. First, Abbas calculated that the US and others in the international community would almost certainly reject a Palestinian government which included Hamas, a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. And second, there are internal Fatah concerns about granting Hamas significant influence within the Palestinian Authority, and how it could undermine Abbas and Fatah’s standing among Palestinians.

Yet even without its direct participation, Hamas’s backing of the new government raises serious questions about President Abbas’s desire and ability to pursue a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite Palestinian Authority claims that Hamas’s acquiescence to the unity government is sufficient to establish its acceptance of the international community’s criteria for engagement – which includes renouncing terror against Israel, acknowledging Israel’s right to exist and accepting existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements – no senior Hamas official has ever made such a public pronouncement. In fact, when asked recently about the unity deal, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stated emphatically that Hamas would continue its “resistance” efforts against Israel, even in the face of an agreement.

Thus far, the US administration has little or nothing to say about all of these open questions.

One last big question remains – what if new elections are held in the next six months and Hamas wins again, just as it did in 2006?

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May 22, 2014

Palestinians Welcome Pope Francis To Bethlehem With Anti-Semitism

On Sunday, when Pope Francis celebrates mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, he may be confronted with billboards depicting Jesus being attacked by Israeli soldiers.jesus-palestinian-pope-israel

This not-so-subtle modern day version of the deicide is transparent classical anti-Semitism in the guise of criticism of Israel.  The posters are a product of The Palestinian Museum, which announced that at the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Supreme Presidential Committee for Church Affairs, it had prepared special billboards to decorate Manger Square which “combine recent media photographs of the Palestinian landscape and its people with Western baroque paintings of biblical scenes.”

The posters, some of which depict Jesus suffering at the hands of Israeli soldiers, will highlight “the tension between the popular image of the Holy Land and Palestine’s ongoing history of suffering under occupation and oppression,”  according to the Museum.

Palestinian efforts to present themselves as the direct descendants of Jesus are nothing new.  Nor is the manipulative and anti-Semitic comparison of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Jews just as they claim Jews were responsible for suffering and death of Jesus.

The message carefully chosen by an official Palestinian body to publicly welcome Pope Francis demonstrates how deeply intermingled anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes are in the Palestinian public sphere.

At the weekly meeting of Israel’s cabinet, Prime Minister Netanyahu decried Palestinian incitement, citing the ADL Global 100 Survey findings about the high level of anti-Semitic attitudes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While the PA regularly complains that incitement is an Israeli-manufactured excuse, there is no denying that extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messaging appears routinely in official Palestinian publications and institutions.

Earlier this week, the May 21st edition of the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, featured an op-ed by one of its frequent writers, Yahya Rabah, entitled “No One Believes Shylock,” featuring the denial of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, comparisons of Israel to the Nazis and other outrages.   Rabah writes:

“… Israel lives on a broad and extensive system of laws from the British Mandate, on illusionary Torah maps, as well as on hallucinations from the Babylonian captivity or from the Roman, the existence of neither has no single evidence. (It also lives) on practices borrowed from the Nazis, currently imitated by the Israelis against the Palestinian people, as clearly established by a number of intellectuals, authors and historians in Israel these days.”

The issue of Palestinian incitement, and the PA’s chronic failure to prepare the Palestinian public for peace with Israel was on ongoing concern cited by Israeli officials during the recent cycle of US-brokered peace negotiations.

And with these egregious examples appearing almost-daily, it is certain to continue to alarm all those committed to true Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

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January 30, 2014

The Media’s Coverage of Palestinian Incitement Towards Israel

Recently, the New York Times ran an informative piece on the proliferation of Hamas training camps in Gaza, where impressionable Palestinian teens are taught to hate Israel through participation in military-style boot camps, where they are trained to fire guns and build bombs in order to attack the Jewish State.

While the article itself was interesting, the timing seemed to suggest that Palestinian incitement was something of a new phenomenon. The reality is that this type of violent indoctrination equipping children with the skills and motivation to kill Israelis, as well as other forms of Palestinian incitement, are nothing new.

A recent Israeli government report highlights how Palestinian government officials, media outlets and educational institutions are engaged in an ongoing incitement campaign towards Israel. Hitler is quoted on school Facebook pages, Jews are described on TV as “barbaric monkeys” and the “murders of Mohammed,” and Palestinian President Abbas has repeatedly embraced released Palestinian terrorists as “heroes.”

Perhaps one of the most infamous instances of Palestinian incitement occurred in 2007 with Mickey Mouse “Farfour” episode, where Mickey was shown on Hamas TV being beaten to death by an actor posing as an Israeli agent trying to buy land. Young viewers of the TV program were than told that “Farfour was martyred while defending his land” and was killed “by the killers of children.” The Hamas TV episode was so horrific it even merited a spot on The Daily Show.

With Israel and the Palestinians currently engaged in an intense and protracted period of negotiations over the potential for a future Palestinian state, the need to highlight and counteract the dangers of incitement is even more pressing. The issue has been repeatedly raised in recent weeks by Israeli political leaders in meetings with international leaders, public speeches and other forums, but hasn’t received as much international media attention as it should.

In order for peace to be achieved, the Palestinian Authority must end the incitement campaign against Israel. It is the task of responsible media outlets to continue to draw attention to the issue, and not allow incitement to continue existing under the surface.


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