This Week in Gaza: 'Operation Pillar of Defense' Revives Israel-Hamas Conflict

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

 

The latest violence in the Israel-Hamas conflict began on Wednesday with the Israel Defense Force's "Operation Pillar of Defense," a series of air strikes on the Gaza Strip. The first day of strikes saw the death of Ahmed al-Jaabari, the leader of the Hamas movement's military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Factions in Gaza have responded with rocket fire into southern Israel, with fears on both sides that the situation is about to escalate into another ground war.

 

Below is a summary of this week's reports from Mosaic on the conflict, as well as the various international responses to the violence.

Wednesday, November 14

Al Jazeera reported that in an air strike on Gaza City, Israel assassinated Ahmed al-Jaabari, the head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas movement, in an air strike on the Gaza Strip.  An Al Jazeera report looks at the most prominent chapters in the life of al-Jaabari, from his beginnings as a guerilla in the Fatah movement to his rise to power in al-Qassam, and the previous attempts on his life that killed his son and brother. It also looks at his role in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

IBA reported that the IDF stressed that the attacks are an ongoing operation, the IDF chief of staff is overseeing the operation, and al-Jaabari is not the only target. The purpose is to stop the constant barrage of rockets on the south of Israel. Meanwhile, the Iron Dome system was bolstered in southern Israel, in the Negev town of Netivot, to guard against missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Press TV reported that the United States defended Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip, while Egypt called on Tel Aviv to immediately stop the attacks. The Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's health minister are calling on President Mohamed Morsi to reconsider all treaties and ties with Israel. The acting chief of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, also condemned the attacks, and called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the Israeli aggressions.

Thursday, November 15

Saudi TV reported that Western reactions to the recent Israel-Hamas attacks varied from supporting Israel to considering the Israeli strikes a "disproportionate response" to the firing of rockets by Palestinian factions. Meanwhile, Arab nations unanimously denounced Israel, and held it completely responsible for the escalation. Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, said that the Israeli aggression on Gaza is as a test for the leaders of the Arab world, and called on Islamic and Arab leaders to change the rules of the game with Israel.

Press TV reported that the Palestinian prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, paid tribute to the late military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari, and said that his assassination will be avenged. He also hailed Egypt for its support in the decision to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv. In Lebanon, the leader of the Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, said the fresh Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip has once again shown the "true face" of the US and its allies.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza said a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip caused an explosion in Tel Aviv. Earlier, the Israeli army said a rocket fell on Rishon Lezion, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. This is the first time rockets launched from Gaza hit a Tel Aviv suburb. Three Israeli soldiers were injured after a shell fell in the western Negev. Israeli police also confirmed that three people were killed in the southern town of Kiryat Malakhi due to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

IBA reported that in Kiryat Malakhi, a direct hit by a Grad rocket on an apartment building killed Israeli civilians, including two women and a man who were trying to make their way into a fortified stairwell when the missile hit. IDF Spokeswoman Avital Leibovitch says that "all the options are on the table, including the possibility of a ground operation," and some reserve units have been alerted.

Friday, November 16

BBC Arabic reported that the Palestinian death toll has risen past 20, in addition to the over 250 people wounded in the more than 120 Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. Israeli police confirmed that a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip fell south of Jerusalem, and two rockets fell in an open area near Tel Aviv. This comes as al-Qassam Brigades said it downed an Israeli warplane with a surface-to-air missile.

Al Jazeera reported that Israeli air raids continued despite the Netanyahu government's commitment to stop them during the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil to Gaza. Meanwhile, during protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Hamas flags were raised, and chants echoed in support of the movement, in a scene that has been rare since the Hamas-Fatah split in 2007. Clashes erupted across the West Bank and Jerusalem during demonstrations that took place after Friday prayers against the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Press TV reported that there is worldwide condemnation of the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Demonstrators in several countries, including Turkey, Yemen, South Africa, Lebanon, Libya, and Greece, have taken to the streets in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Image: Jihad al-Masharawi, a Palestinian employee of BBC Arabic in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month-old son Omar, who according to hospital officials was killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

 
 

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The Second Coming, Cartoon Bombs, and Angry New York Mobs: Mosaic's UNGA Roundup

 Press TV / United Nations

 

The UN General Assembly's yearly get-together is a time for high-flying international diplomacy between world leaders. The General Debate, in particular, allows all world leaders who participate in the United Nations to deliver a public address to the General Assembly. As such, it has been used as a highly-visible platform by many countries' representatives to push their views.

This year's debate theme was "Adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means," which seems a little tongue-in-cheek given the current situation in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

As BBC Arabic reported that Somali and African forces were closing in on the final al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali gave his remarks at the Assembly, saying that there was no place in Somalia for the "few ideological extremists" in the Islamist group's ranks.

Barack Obama's appearance at the UN was brief, which some say was to avoid tough discussions with other world leaders on Iran and Syria. He honored Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, and condemned the American-made film that criticized Islam's Prophet Muhammad and sparked anti-US riots across the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Libya's new president, Mohamed Yousek al-Magariaf, apologized for the attacks, and apologized to the world on behalf of Libya for Muammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule.

With regard to Syria, world leaders condemned the violence across the board, but their approaches to end the conflict varied greatly. According to IBA News, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II both called for Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that the Syrian president's ouster is vital to the success of peace efforts.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported the Syrian regime, and criticized the efforts by the Western world to interfere in what he sees as an internal conflict. Ahmadinejad, in his last speech to the Assembly as a world leader, also spoke of his belief in the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ and the twelfth imam, Imam al-Mahdi, whom Shiites believe will come at the end times with the prophet Jesus to help humanity. The United States and Israel were both absent from the General Assembly Hall when he gave his remarks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the United Nations with a long-anticipated bid to join the UN General Assembly as an observer. The Palestinian Authority previously asked the UN for full member status last year, but had been rejected by the Security Council, which has the Israel ally, the United States, as a permanent member with veto power. Press TV reports that Abbas also lambasted Israel for its "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. A UN report that came at the beginning of the week and before the General Assembly meeting echoed similar statements-- that Israel must do more to halt the abuse of Palestinian rights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stole the show by using a prop, which has not been done in the General Assembly since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pulled out a copy of the UN Charter and threw it in the air in 2009. Netanyahu used a picture of a cartoon bomb and drew a red line through it to illustrate how far Iran has come in enriching uranium, and how the United Nations must draw a red line for the country before it acquires enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Press TV analysts expressed concern over Netanyahu's mental health following this incident.

Outside of the Assembly Hall, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast captured the attention of the American channel Fox News after he was attacked by a group of "about 100" Iranian dissident protestors on a New York City sidewalk. He managed to flag down an NYPD police car, but according to Dubai TV, the cops appeared "uninterested."

 

Image: Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a bomb illustration at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012. Press TV / United Nations

 
 

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Does the Road to Jerusalem Run Through New York City?

In a May 16, 2011, op-ed published by the New York Times, de facto Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made the case for the "long overdue Palestinian state," explaining his intention to present a formal request for full UN membership for a state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

A chair with the word 'Palestine' embroidered on it stands next to the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 5, 2011, during a launch by Palestinian campaigners of a tour of the chair. The chair will be sent to the United States after making stops in other countries as part of a world-wide effort to gain support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' attempt to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the United Nations to statehood.

 

On September 4, a blue chair, dubbed the flying chair, started touring UN Security Council member states, before landed at the UN headquarters in New York ahead of the opening of the UN’s 66th general assembly. Citing failed peace negotiations with Israel and a right to self-determination, the Palestinian delegation's diplomatic efforts to rally votes for statehood were launched and continued unabated despite the US' threat to veto the bid and Israel's warnings of "dire consequences."

 

The US and Israel maintain the Palestinian Authority's unilateral move undermines negotiations towards a two-state solution, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressing for the resumptions of talks with no preconditions. On September 16, the PM's office tweeted: "When the PA will abandon its futile steps, such as going to the UN, it will find Israel as a partner for direct negotiations for peace."

 

The Palestinian Authority managed to unify Arab governments in support of its initiative, gathered the conditional support of a divided European Union, and the endorsement of Russia and China, but the reality is that nothing will change on the ground for Palestinians who will remain under the occupation and control of Israel as the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues.

 

Furthermore, Abbas admitted that even more "difficult times" await the Palestinians with possible financial retaliation and punitive action expected from both the US and Israel, with the latter threatening to annex parts of the West Bank.

 

However, state-run media across the Middle East has shied away from discussing opposition to the PA's gamble with the Palestinian people's rights but the online community has vehemently expressed its dismay at what it views as the irresponsible action of an illegitimate authority. 

 

The Palestinian Youth Movement issued a harsh statement against the proposal, accusing it to be "a mechanism for rescuing the faulty peace framework and depoliticizing the struggle for Palestine by removing the struggle from its historical colonial context."

 

 

A Palestinian scout marching band plays at Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

On Facebook, a page titled "Palestinians against the so-called September Statehood" garnered almost 3,500 supporters while the "Palestine poster" page featured pleas to stop the "State of September," since Abbas was "going to the UN to demand [his] right and relinquish what remains of yours."

 

On Twitter, critics of the UN initiative lashed out using hashtag #fakestatehood. Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah expressed pride for having "been one of the first to expose the Abbas PA #fakestatehood bid for the anti-Palestinian deception and fraud that it is." 

 

A Palestinian law student equated the occupation and its collaborators. She tweeted: "We will never end the Israeli occupation if we cannot revolt against the local authorities that enforce it. While the Alan Dershowitz parody account promised his "100,000th follower will get a relatively new blue swivel chair signifying nothing and representing no one."

 

Across different online platforms, the recurring theme was objection to an initiative whose content has not been disclosed to the people it impacts, likening it to the Oslo Accords that were reached without public knowledge of the agreement's terms. 

 

Another essential issue was raised by many, including a blogger in the UK, who used hashtag #IOpposeSeptemberBid to send the message that "Palestine is not just Gaza & the West Bank - but all those living in the 'Diaspora' & refugee camps."  This raises the question of who is entitled to represent the Palestinian people. 

 

A legal opinion by Oxford University professor, Guy Goodwin-Gill, challenged the legitimacy of the PA and warned that the interests of the Palestinian people are at "risk of prejudice and fragmentation."

 

A report from the International Crisis Group titled "Curb your enthusiam: Israel and Palestine after the UN", describes the path to the UN as "a tale of collective mismanagement," indicating that if the Palestinians "choose to rise up, it will be because of the entrenched and seemingly unmoveable realities of occupation, not because of what happens or not as a result of a UN vote," pointing to the irrelevant if not "counterproductive" bid. 

 

So without a unified national strategy and with pending questions about the future of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the refugees' right of return, will the PA's symbolic action jeopardize the Palestinian people's struggle and rights? And in the aftermath of the Palestine Papers that unveiled how quickly the PA is willing to simply give away its people's rights, are Abbas' political theatrics an attempt to hold on to his own chair in light of the popular intifada rocking the region?

 
 

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Israel Opposes Palestinian Reconciliation Deal

(Euronews: 0410 PST, April 28, 2011) Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza have been celebrating the news of a provisional agreement with the rival Fatah group to end their bitter feud. But reaction in Israel has been less positive, due to fears the more militant Hamas will take control of the West Bank.

 

 

 
 

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Palestinians Rally for National Unity as Syrians Demand Political Reform

(Mosaic Video Alert: March 15, 2011) The BBC reports on pro-democracy protests in Syria in which hundreds of Syrians took to the streets of the capital Damascus, chanting slogans and demanding political reforms. Protestors marched from the Hamadiyah Market to the area of Hariqa calling for freedom. This unprecedented mobilization in Syria was organized on Facebook. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of protestors gathered in response to a call made by youth groups on Facebook. Dubai TV reports that demonstrators called for an end to internal Palestinian division between Fatah and Hamas. They chanted slogans demanding national unity and appealed to both Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

 

 
 

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Egyptian Military Tries to Assert Control

(Al Jazeera English Headlines: 0635 PST, February 14, 2011) The opening of Egypt's stock exchange has been delayed until the economy stabilizes. The new military rulers are trying to assert their control over the country, and have warned they will act against chaos and disorder. Meanwhile transportation workers are striking in the capital, demanding better pay and an end to corruption.

 

In other news, the Taliban says it was behind an attack on a hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul that killed at least two people. Anti-government protests in Yemen enter their fourth straight day. The entire Palestinian cabinet has resigned and President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to form a new government. And, in Indonesia, cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has gone on trial over weapons terror charges.

 

 

 
 

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The Making of a Virtual Palestinian State

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell has been frantically shuttling between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in order to salvage the month-old direct negotiations. The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has also been recruited to throw the weight of the EU behind the peace efforts. Even President Obama himself has been personally involved, trying to find "common ground between the parties."

In fact, in order to secure Israel's support for a sixty-day settlement building moratorium extension, the Obama Israeli Settlements in the West Bankadministration, in a draft letter, has offered a string of assurances to Israel ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached. The details of the letter were published on the Washington Institute for Near East Policy website by senior researcher David Makovsky. According to Haaretz, The United States is reportedly incensed over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rejection of the draft letter.

Equally incensed is the head of the Palestinian negotiation team, Saeb Erekat, who said on Wednesday that "there are no half-way solutions on the settlements issue." Erekat and other PA officials have been recently hinting at a Palestinian walk out on the negotiations if Israel refuses to stop building settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This decision could happen as early as Saturday when the Palestinian leadership meets, and be officially announced at the Arab League meeting in Cairo next week.

To make matters worse, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement, revived his plan for "population exchange" before the UN General Assembly.

Lieberman, who heads the second largest party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, called for an "intermediate" accord with the Palestinians because it will take "a few decades" to establish the trust needed for a so-called final-status agreement. He suggested ceding parts of Israel with large Arab populations to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israel keeping large settlement blocs in the West Bank, a proposal which has been part of his party's platform.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has distanced himself from the speech, but many Palestinians believe that this is part of a well-coordinated 'good cop, bad cop' strategy. They also regard the remarks as incitement and advocacy of ethnic cleansing.

A recent poll released by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center revealed that fifty-four percent of respondents said that the direct talks serve the national interests of the Palestinians. However, 58% said they believed the Palestinian leadership agreed to hold the talks because of external pressure, and more than 55% said they did not expect the talks to produce major changes in the status quo.

But there are rapid changes happening on the ground. Israeli building crews have already resumed work the day after the settlement freeze expired at several settlements, such as Ariel, Oranit, Tekoa and Adam. The building has actually never stopped in many other settlements. In the West Bank, there are more than 300,000 Jewish settlers living in around 100 settlements built adjacent to Palestinian towns and villages and are protected by the Israeli army. Approximately, 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Jewish settlers account for just one percent of the population of the West Bank, according to Dutch cartographer Jan de Jong, but are claiming 60 percent of the land.

"They are just one percent of the whole West Bank population, but they are claiming 60 percent of the land. The settlements are actually just built-up pockets, but the settlers include huge tracts of land around them by laying down barbed wire. So in effect it's more like estates, containing just a few houses."

De Jong who has been monitoring changes on the ground through satellite imagery and other means, says that construction was going on in the settlements even during the 10-month building moratorium which has just expired. "There was building work every day, except on Jewish holidays. That's why I call it a virtual moratorium."

The way things are progressing now, should the "direct talks" continue, a virtual Palestinian state might be the end result.

 

Article originally published on the Huffington Post
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Direct Talks: Five Myths

Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis are scheduled to commence in Washington on September 2, a decade after the last real final-status talks, and nearly two years after the last direct talks. Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu will come face to face for dinner and talks in Washington as guests of President Obama after 18 months of shuttle diplomacy and indirect "proximity talks" headed by Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell.

 

President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, along with Tony Blair, the special representative of the Middle East Quartet are also due to join the inaugural session in Washington.

 

While much hope has been placed on these

talks culminating in an agreement within a year, most Palestinians and Israelis remain skeptical of their success. More importantly, hopes and expectations have been inflated in some media reports, adding confusion and creating myths about what might turn up only to be yet another photo op in DC.

 

Here are some of the myths:

 

Myth No.1- They're not talking


Although Abbas and Netanyahu have not sat face to face for the past eighteen months, contacts and cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government have not ceased on several fronts, most notably in commerce and security.

 

Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, spoke at the Herzliya Conference in February alongside Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a time when his boss, President Mahmoud Abbas was insisting on a

total halt to settlement construction before peace talks could resume. Also, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces senior officials have made several visits to Ramallah for meetings with senior PA officials and members of the Palestinian security services. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin recently spent a day in the West Bank city of Jenin as a guest of the Palestinian Authority's security service.

This is Diskin's second visit of this kind to Palestinian Authority territory in recent months, the aim of which is to coordinate security ties between Israel and the PA. The first visit was to Ramallah.


Myth No. 2- Settlement Freeze


Settlement construction is "business as usual" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Although a few projects were pushed back, construction on existing projects continues unabated. Close to half a million Israeli Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More importantly, settlers have accelerated their activities taking over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, in Arab neighborhoods in Sheikh Jarrah, Shu'fat, and Silwan. Furthermore, in 2010, more than 240 Palestinian homes have been destroyed in Area C of the West Bank compared to 182 in all of 2009.

Myth No. 3- Security Fears


Israel's concern over security in the West Bank is exaggerated. Today the Palestinian Authority is policing the West Bank on behalf of the IDF. Very few Israeli deaths, only two in 2010, have been registered due to attacks in the West Bank. In comparison, far more Palestinians have been killed and injured by settlers and the IDF in 2010. Rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip have also subsided. Israel's main security concern these days is Iran.

 

"The threat that Iran poses is very grave for the state of Israel, for peace in the Middle East and the whole world," Netanyahu said in November 2009, repeating variations on this statement on several occasions.

 

Myth No. 4- Abbas & Netanyahu can deliver peace


Neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor President Abbas have the mandate to deliver a peace agreement. Netanyahu would face strident opposition from within his Likud party and fierce opposition from his own foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has the ability and influence to unravel his fragile coalition.

 

Abbas also faces a complex problem of legitimacy. His term as President has expired, and under his watch, Palestinian unity was fractured when Hamas managed to route out his forces from Gaza.

 

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said recently that Abbas was too weak to stand up to Israel and negotiate a just deal at the talks in Washington.

 

"If the talks succeed they will succeed to Israeli standards and liquidate the Palestinian cause. They'll give us parts of 1967 lands. They'll draw the borders as they want and they'll confiscate our sovereignty," said Meshaal

 

Myth No. 5- No preconditions


Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted for many weeks that he was ready to come to the negotiating table in Washington, but without "preconditions." In fact both he and President Mahmoud Abbas have already announced preconditions, raising expectations and laying the groundwork for failure.

 

Among the preconditions laid out by Netanyahu for peace with the Palestinians is recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians consider this condition as a non-starter, instead they'd like to delve into sensitive areas such as the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied territory, the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the right of return, issues that will be difficult to overcome.

 

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will withdraw from negotiations if settlement activity resumes. The settlement moratorium is due to expire on Sept. 26. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems unlikely to extend it.


Article originally published on the Huffington Post

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Palestine 1001 Nights

"Hamas is negotiating with Israel": this is what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas confidently said to a BBC-Arabic reporter in an exclusive interview. How does he know? Abbas asserted that there are "no secrets in Israel."

If things could only be this simple in the Middle East, Mr. Abbas would have known from the get-go that the Oslo Accords were a disaster for the Palestinians, Bush's Road Map for Peace was just another road to nowhere, the Annapolis Peace Conference was dead on arrival, and Obama's promises for "change" do not mean squat when it comes to Israel.

The president of the Palestinian Authority added that the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for January will be postponed and that he would not seek a second term as president. Abbas looked frustrated...he looked like a beaten man.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government in recent days has been scrambling for yet another distraction to offer the beleaguered Palestinian Authority president: an interim accord that would include a Palestinian state with provisional borders. This way he'll have a quasi-state with temporary borders to show for all the endless negotiations. What a brilliant idea!

The reasoning behind this brilliant idea is that it would remove contentious issues that have prevented an agreement in the past, such as the Palestinian refugee issue and Jerusalem, from the negotiating table. No big deal, really!

This is starting to sound like another chapter from One Thousand and One Nights.

In another development, the Israeli government has recently approved the construction of 900 new housing units in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood built on lands captured by Israel in 1967. The announcement has caused an uproar in the international community and has drawn sharp criticism and "dismay" from the White House.

And yet another brilliant idea: according to the Jerusalem Post, in an attempt to lure the PA back to the negotiating table, in private discussions, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear he was prepared for a moratorium on new settlement construction, as long as it did not include Jerusalem and did not preclude construction of public buildings needed for normal life in the settlements.

Translated, this means construction will continue as usual in E. Jerusalem along with expanding current Israeli settlements.

Meanwhile, with all this happening, media reports have been surfacing that a final deal has been reached for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Some Arab media outlets have been reporting that Shalit might be released as early as the Muslim Eid holiday in exchange for 1000 Palestinian prisoners. Should this happen, it will be a major victory for Hamas and another blow to Abbas.

Last month Hamas handed Israel a video of Shalit in exchange for 20 female Palestinian prisoners, something that was widely seen as a major victory for the organization by many Palestinians.

According to a poll published in Haaretz, 57 percent of Israelis support the idea of talking with Hamas. The poll was taken in the wake of a statement by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who last week unveiled a plan that includes negotiations with Hamas and an interim Palestinian state on 60 percent of the West Bank in a year.

"If Hamas would be elected and would want to negotiate and accept the Quartet's conditions, from that moment, it is no longer Hamas," said Mr. Mofaz. He also added: "Responsible leadership in Israel would sit with those who changed their agenda."

So if Hamas is no longer Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority is no longer an authority, what options do the Palestinians have?

To be continued on another night...

 

**This article was published on the Huffington Post

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The Vichy Government of Palestine

It is not the first time Palestinians have called for the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas. When Hamas swept to victory in the Palestinian Parliamentary Elections in January 2006, angry mobs from the defeated Fatah party staged rallies in the Gaza Strip, calling for his resignation. Many gathered outside the parliament in Gaza City, setting fire to government cars and firing shots into the air.

2009-10-09-abbasposter.jpg

Today, the anger is more subtle, but more poignant. Palestinians from all wakes of life have been stunned and disappointed by Abbas, who withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to have the Goldstone report sent to the U.N. General Assembly for possible action, the first of many steps towards possibly establishing war crimes tribunals to investigate Israel's alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Just a few days before Abbas suspended action on the Goldstone report, a poll showed the Palestinian president with a 55 percent approval rating compared to 32 percent for Gaza's Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. A new poll has not been conducted yet, but one thing is certain, Abbas today will be lucky to receive double digits. Across the board, Palestinians have been calling for his resignation.

"He is a traitor. He sold the land [to the Israelis] ... now he sold our blood," says Abed M. from Qalandia Refugee Camp just outside of Ramallah.

Abed's sentiments are not unique. Posters which first appeared in Gaza showing Mahmoud Abbas with a black X across his face and the words, "To the trash heap of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas," have made their way to West Bank and even to East Jerusalem.

A few days ago, Gaza professors threw shoes at his defaced image and Hamas has called Abbas' decision "a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs."

Meanwhile, rumors have been spreading like wildfire in the West Bank and Gaza. A news segment aired on al-Aqsa TV, a Hamas-controlled satellite station broadcasting out of Gaza, featured a guest analyst who claimed that Israel threatened to release a video tape showing Palestinian leaders urging Israel to be tougher on Hamas during the Gaza offensive unless the PA backed down over the Goldstone report. Another story circulating on the Palestinian street is about Abbas' children and their investments with Israeli partners. The Israeli government has reportedly threatened the PA that it would refuse to license a new Palestinian mobile phone company, partially owned by one of Abbas' sons, if the PA pushed for the adoption of the Goldstone Report in Geneva.

On Wednesday one senior Palestinian Authority figure, Yasser Abed Rabbo, conceded the move was a "mistake."

"A mistake?" fired back former Knesset member Azmi Bishara on Al Jazeera TV. "A mistake is when I press the wrong floor on the elevator."

Just an hour after the Goldstone debacle erupted, when I called a colleague of mine (who shall remain anonymous) working in Ramallah as a stringer for a foreign news agency to ask him whether this issue will have a lasting damage on the Palestinian Authority, he quickly corrected me and said, "You mean the Vichy Government of Palestine."

 

Article first published in Huffington Post.

 
 

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