by Amos Harel 28 September 2014 Haaretz
The agreement between Fatah and Hamas – which allows a government of Palestinian Authority technocrats to assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip and administration of the Rafah crossing – is supposed to make the rehabilitation of the Strip easier after this summer’s war there.
Based on past experience, when Fatah and Hamas treated signed agreements as merely recommendations, it is hard to predict whether the new accord will be honored. However, at least one positive outcome can be expected: the internal Palestinian agreement will extend discussions on an indirect agreement between Israel and Hamas. In so doing, it places the danger of a new eruption in the Strip farther away.
Reports of the agreement appeared first in the Egyptian media, not Palestinian, and details were spare. According to reports, the agreement brings back the government of technocrats – under the authority of PA President Mahmoud Abbas – that was established as part of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas last spring. That never took effect because of the disagreements that broke out between the parties, and later because of the military conflict with Israel.
The new government is ostensibly to replace the Hamas government in Gaza and oversee the PA’s security apparatus, whose presence Egypt demands at border crossings in the Strip as a condition for easing movement at the crossings.
The announcement reflects Hamas’ accession to the Egyptian dictate. But its implementation is still unclear and involves many difficulties. For example, will Hamas see the PA security organizations as merely a cover needed for contacts with the hostile Egyptian government? Or will they have a real presence at the crossings and renewed influence in the Strip, seven years after Hamas forced Fatah out of Gaza? That is an issue the parties have yet to clarify between themselves. But meanwhile, it seems the announcement reduces the immediate threat of renewed violence between Hamas and Israel.
The brief meeting between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Cairo last week dealt with setting an agenda for continued talks. Now it seems that significant talks will only be renewed after the annual meeting of donor states to the Palestinians – that is, after the middle of next month. Until then, Hamas has an interest in continuing to hold its fire because a future road map for rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip is being sketched. If no localized incidents disrupt this, it may be presumed that the temporary cease-fire will hold at least until talks start again on a detailed and longer-term cease-fire, in about another two and a half weeks.
Although Hamas spokesmen are conveying the opposite in their statements, it can be gauged that the organization prefers breathing space for the civilian population in the Strip at the moment, instead of facing off again against the Israel Defense Forces. Hamas is also presently taking steps to rein in possible shooting by other Palestinian factions.
The problems will start when it becomes clear how long the delay will be in efforts to repair all the devastation in Gaza. Long and exhausting negotiations without clear results in the battle to ease the strategic distress of the Gaza Strip – particularly the blockade of the Strip by Egypt, and even more so by Israel – will eventually increase the risk of renewed hostilities.
Although Israel is showing no sign at this point of a more flexible policy toward the Palestinians (the statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a diplomatic horizon at the end of the war has long been forgotten), it has taken at least a few steps to ease things on the ground.
On the instructions of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, an arrangement has been made with the United Nations regarding monitoring of merchandise entering the Strip, and the easing of other restrictions at the crossings.
Israel has already allowed UNRWA and additional international aid groups to bring in food, generators and tents to ensure minimal levels of sustenance for hundreds of thousands of new refugees, whose homes were demolished or damaged in attacks by the Israel Defense Forces. The number of trucks moving daily through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza now stands at about 350, double the number before the war.
During the fighting in Gaza, UNRWA received $180 million in donations to help repair damage. However, even a month after the end of hostilities, the renovation of damaged houses and construction of new homes to replace those completely destroyed has not begun.
Much more money will be required for comprehensive rehabilitation. The various estimates – coming from the PA and Hamas – cite figures ranging from $4 billion to $6 billion. This money has not yet been raised. At a time when the world’s attention is moving back and forth from Syria to Iraq because of the international coalition against Islamic State, the raising of the funds could turn out to be particularly difficult, despite promises made by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries.
Abbas' UN speech gives West another chance to pressure Israel
by Amira Hass 27 September 2014 Haaretz
The words and phrases selected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (or his speechwriters) for his United Nations General Assembly speech on Friday made one thing perfectly clear: The Palestinian President has given up on the Israeli public as his audience. Packaged inside words such as "colonialist occupation," "racism," "a war of genocide" undertaken by Israel, massacres, a nation above the law and so forth, it is easy to overlook the actual content of Abbas' message, which is the reason he rose to the UNGA podium.
The message, aimed primarily at the West, is this one: The negotiations with Israel, as they have been held until now, are over; forget about the Palestinians returning to them. Forget about the Palestinians continuing to meet and discuss while Israel continues to construct settlements and ignore even the simple commitments it agreed to, such as the release of prisoners. The central headline that emerges from Abbas' speech is this: The Palestinians will not return to any negotiations that do not take as a starting point the final objective of a Palestinian state to stand alongside Israel, based on the '67 borders, and a binding timetable for its establishment.
Abbas' declarations belay an attempt to amend the bad impressions his recent speeches have made upon his people. This time, he used language that reflects the true reality facing Palestinians', as they perceive it.
Language used by Palestinians who oppose the renewal of negotiations with Israel also found its way into Abbas' speech; words heard spoken by demonstrators and by non-governmental organizations who participate in international conferences. For example: "We will not agree to be those who are always called to prove their good intentions through forsaking their rights, and to be silent when they are killed and their land stolen from them, and understand the conditions of the other side and the importance of keeping the coalition government from collapsing."
But make no mistake: Abbas did not use these words out of tactical considerations meant to improve his standing among his people, which has long been diminishing. Abbas truly is fed up of the futile negotiations with Israel, negotiation which have for many years now placed him, his belief in a two-state solution and the Palestinian Authority itself in a ludicrous light.
How great the distance between the Abbas who now extols the achievements of the BDS movement and its work against "Israel's occupation and apartheid policies" and the Abbas who once expressed his opposition to boycotts directed against Israel (as opposed to those directed against settlement-made products), and several times referred to it as "a neighbor."
A wide gulf divides the speaker who on Friday said Palestinians "will not forget or forgive and won't let war criminals go unpunished" and the one who in 2010 blocked the passage of the Goldstone report – which investigated allegations of war crimes committed by Israel and the Palestinians during "Operation Cast Lead" – to the hands of the UN Security Council.
Whoever remembers Abbas, in his office, describing to a group of young Israelis the security coordination with Israel as "holy" will have a difficult time believing that it is the same person who said on Friday that "such destruction as was caused by the recent offensive in Gaza has never been seen before in the modern era." The security agencies responsible for this destruction are, of course, the same ones the Palestinian Authority are in "holy" contact with.
The speech clearly rebukes Hamas, as well, although implicitly: Abbas frequently mentioned the unbearable destruction and suffering of Gaza, but he implied that his opponent organization did not need to undergo said destruction and suffering to prove the occupation's existence. He additionally spoke of Palestinian rights to struggle, yet set limits to this struggle: humanity, values, ethics, international law.
In recent weeks, there were some rumors that Abbas planned to announce in his speech that he would dissolve the Palestinian Authority if the Security Council would not accept his proposal to set a three-year schedule to end the occupation. Not only did a Hamas news site (Risala-Net) report this, but Palestinian government officials believed Abbas intended to announce this plan. A senior Fatah official said in the same breath, however, that Abbas could not prepare for an international conference on rebuilding Gaza while threatening the liquidation of the Palestinian Authority, designated as the main contractor in the reconstruction.
And that is exactly what was missing from the speech: A pointed message about what the Palestinians should do if and when Abbas' demand for a timetable to end the occupation and a new framework for negotiations would be rejected. "This is not Mahmoud Abbas' way to convey a pointed message," a senior Fatah official told Haaretz. "He works through creating a sequence."
This time, he declared a cap of three years, then sent Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majdi Faraj to the United States on a fumbling journey to the U.S. government. When it was apparent that Barack Obama would not support setting a deadline to end the occupation, Abbas announced in his speech that he would stick to his demand and continue on this track. When the Security Council vote fails, he will return to the General Assembly. Afterwards, he will intend to sign international treaties (including the Rome Statute), to call for the implementation of the Geneva Convention in the West Bank and Gaza, and to ask for the deployment of an international force. In between every declaration and actions within the UN framework, Abbas creates a respite period. In these intervals, Abbas still gives the Western countries an opportunity to pull themselves together and exert political pressure on Israel.