Palestinian Politics

Could UNHRC’s settlement report put the ‘S’ back in BDS?

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The UNHRC-sanctioned International Fact Finding Mission’s report on Israeli settlements is by no means the harshest UN document on Israel. But its last paragraph introduces one element that previously existed only in small pro-Palestinian and human rights activist circles. Namely, it puts the “S” back in BDS.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has had mixed, but limited, success since its official launch in its current iteration nearly seven years ago. Divestment and boycott campaigns have claimed small victories after targeting educational and labor pension investment funds, transportation companies serving Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories, academic conferences and musical and cultural events. But many “big-picture” observers will admit that its successes have led to little if any change in Israeli policy, and subsequently, in the Palestinian reality.

While former international officials have called for limited sanctions against Israel should it fail to cease its settlement enterprise, and current officials have hinted at limited travel sanctions against violent settlers, the notion of sanctions against Israel has largely taken a back seat to the more constricted and arguably less impactful boycott and divestment campaigns.

Last week’s UN report, however, advanced the prospects of – and possibly laid the beginnings of (more…)

Gaza: New rules in an old war

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There’s something different about the most recent flare-up between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians’ modus operandi appears to have changed, and Israel seems to be unsure of how to respond.

In the past month, armed Palestinian groups in Gaza launched a string of three, seemingly well planned and ultimately successful attacks against IDF forces along the border. Planted explosive devices, a massive and unprecedented tunnel detonation and an anti-tank missile left a total of eight Israeli soldiers injured, some seriously.

Already there was something strange. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, has declared for some time that it was focusing on military targets, a change from its rocket attacks on Israeli civilian centers. Nevertheless, to have nearly a month go by without rocket attacks on civilians is almost unheard of in recent years.

The IDF’s responses to the attacks were also uncharacteristically restrained considering the Israeli casualties, limited to immediate defensive fire and late-night airstrikes on empty buildings and tunnels. Following the (more…)

Why Netanyahu is wrong about Fatah-Hamas unity

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“You can either have peace with Hamas or peace with Israel,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a public statement Monday, hours after Abbas signed an agreement to form an interim government with Hamas ahead of Palestinian elections. The ultimatum, however, is fundamentally flawed; even if peace with Israel was around the corner, it would not be possible for the Palestinian president to reach a deal with Israel before mending ties with Hamas.

The only solution to the conflict currently on the table – although many others are lurking in the background – is the two-state solution, which by definition necessitates one unified Palestinian leadership. The goal of the two-state framework is the establishment of the State of Palestine, not two separate states in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But there are other more important issues involved. Mahmoud Abbas is not Yasser Arafat. Abbas’s credibility on the Palestinian street has been consistently waning. Currently entering the seventh year of a four-year (more…)

Taking the ‘peace’ out of the process

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The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been dead for years, but a revival of talks between the two sides this week in Amman proved that ‘the process’ still serves a purpose. For Israel, even topical engagement in the process is necessary to maintain its aura of righteousness – that the Palestinians are to blame for a perpetual state of conflict – thereby allowing it to continue presenting the status quo as the only viable option. For the Palestinians, returning to the table justifies the revitalization of a stalled push for statehood by pointing to the futility of negotiations, and in a way, also helps maintain the status quo that serves the Ramallah political elite.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak took to the Israeli airwaves to discuss the upcoming talks a day before the two sides met in Amman this week. He discussed the various strategic advantages for Israel in resuming contacts with the Palestinians and at the same time made clear he had no expectations from them. But most notably, never in the 15-minute interview did he once say the word “peace.”

Perhaps feeling the need to justify to a domestic audience the simple act of sitting at the (more…)

The Shalit Deal: Israel and Hamas vs. Abbas

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Following the announcement of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas Tuesday night, Israeli television displayed a split screen showing crowds simultaneously dancing in both Jerusalem and Gaza City. One anchor on Channel 2 News commented, “It’s not often that you see people celebrating the same deal in Israel and Gaza.”

It would be wrong and skewed to suggest that the primary goal in reaching the prisoner exchange deal was driven by any motivation greater than the actual release of prisoners. But after five years of negotiations and amid the PA’s UN bid, the timing and alternative considerations involved are significant and potentially of great consequence.

As with everything in the Middle East, there is more to the prisoner exchange deal than what is immediately obvious. In the midst of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s statehood bid in the United Nations, it is in the interest of both Israel and Hamas to undermine the PA president, something that was likely accomplished Tuesday.

Although Abbas’s bid for statehood is a bold move that excites Palestinians, most are aware that the diplomatic maneuver is unlikely to deliver any of the tangible results Palestinians demand, the least of which is technical statehood.

Up until today, Hamas has failed to actually improve the lives of Palestinians, both in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Although its resistance ideology has preserved its credibility, electorates (more…)

Palestinian statehood and strategic perceptions of time

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What exactly will Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas bring back with him when he returns from the United Nations in New York later this month? In today’s world of 24-hour news cycles and in a conflict where reality can and does change by the minute, most speculation and analysis tends to focus on what will happen the day after statehood is declared. But while such a short-term analysis is appropriate from the Israeli perspective, looking at the latest diplomatic move from the Palestinian side requires a much longer view.

“We don’t want to raise expectations by saying we are going to come back with full independence,” Abbas said in his much-anticipated speech last week describing his foray in the United Nations. Even if the statehood bid in the UN is successful, he cautioned, it will not “end the occupation.”

Abbas, a protégé and ideological successor of late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, shares the primary strategy of the iconic Palestinian leader and the current move should be understood in the context of (more…)

Flotilla 2011: Dueling narratives of the Gaza blockade

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The blockade on Gaza is oversimplified by those most active in supporting and protesting against it. Public relations branches of the Israeli government argue that the land and sea blockade on the coastal strip is necessary to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza that would threaten Israeli civilians living near the Strip. Those protesting the blockade, including participants in the upcoming flotilla, say that the blockade on Gaza is an illegal form of collective punishment on the citizens and civilians who live there, unnecessarily and painfully harming every aspect of life in the Strip. Both sides are correct, but neither is willing to allow the entire picture to enter their narrative.

From the time that Israel first occupied the Gaza Strip in 1956 and for more than three decades after its continuous occupation began in 1967, there was near freedom of movement for Palestinians and goods between the Strip, Israel and the West Bank. In 1991, that started to change as Israel implemented (more…)

What drove Hamas and Fatah into each others’ arms?

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Various commentators have speculated that a soon-to-be-signed Palestinian reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah was spurred by a fear shared by both Palestinian leaderships that they’ve lost all legitimacy among their constituencies. Others have suggested that the deal represents a Hamas willingness to support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s (Fatah) efforts to achieve de jure statehood in the United Nations this September. But the fact of the matter is that nobody outside of the two parties’ leadership circles knows what the deal actually entails, let alone what prompted it.

The lack of available information combined with the steady flow of new developments prevents any authoritative analysis of what the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation means. Therefore, here are several key points to be considered when attempting to make sense of the new unknown reality, without any authoritative conclusions.

Part I of this post will focus on possible causes and catalysts for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Part II will deal with the possible consequences and implications of the move.

Fear of the Arab Spring – Hamas’ forceful takeover of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority’s (Fatah) subsequent decision to cancel elections have left both parties without traditional democratic legitimacy. Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, where popular movements have demanded and to some extent succeeded in ousting non-representative governments, neither Fatah nor Hamas can or should be compared (more…)

Cairo in Ramallah: A disaster scenario?

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With popular uprisings pushing for democracy and an end to oppression sweeping their way through the Middle East, many Israelis are pondering if the democratic fever will reach Palestine. The general fear is that – especially in the wake of the Palestine Papers, which destroyed whatever faith Palestinians ever had in Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority – the people of Ramallah will oust Abbas. This would create a power vacuum, in which Israel is left without a Palestinian tool for implementing its security demands, and someone with whom it can maintain the illusion of a peace process. By focusing on this scenario, however, Israelis are overlooking the greatest danger the regional trend poses to its far-too-comfortable status quo and to prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.

The popular uprisings and ensuing overthrow of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt were about self-determination (not nationalistic), ending violent oppression and demands for personal, political and economic freedoms. If the popular street-level movements sweeping the region do play out in Palestine, it’s not the PA that should be worried – it does not have the suppressive stranglehold on power that Tunisians, Egyptians, Algerians and Yemenites are fighting to fell.

The occupation is the primary source of (more…)

A ‘day of rage’ in the Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine

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A new, but anticipated type of instability began sweeping through the usually-unstable Middle East on Tuesday. Mass protests across Egypt followed the inspirational people’s uprising in Tunisia, Lebanese Sunnis protested a Hizbullah power grab across their country, and anger built in the Palestinian territories as details of what the Palestinian Authority was willing to concede in negotiations with Israel were released in the “Palestine Papers.” Even if the civil unrest does not continue on Wednesday, the day’s events were anything but inconsequential both in the Arab world and to the West and Israel.

In Egypt, the people have long been dissatisfied with their quality of life and lack of freedom (more…)

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