X: Combating BDS: International Diplomacy

X: Combating BDS: International Diplomacy

by

Howard Adelman

Let’s begin by recognizing that while BDS advocates boycotts, sanctions and divestments, Israel actually appears to enforce boycotts and implement sanctions against both the PA and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. The latter is well known, the former less so. As a case in point, Israel refused in the first four months of last year to transfer tax revenues collected as customs duties on goods transiting Israeli ports destined for territory controlled by the PA. These are legally Palestinian funds. As a result of the 1994 agreement between the PA and Israel, Israel generally transfers tens of millions per month for these custom duties levied on goods transiting the Israeli port destined for the Palestinian market. On several occasions in the past, the transfers were stopped for a month or two. Last year, the boycott lasted four months and the PA had to reduce the pay of civil servants (200,000) to 60% of normal salaries.

There were two reasons offered to rationalize the sanction. The first was political, punishing the PA for using the international legal and diplomatic system against Israel. The cessation in the transfer of funds was allegedly because the Palestinians sought to join the International Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israel. A second reason was economic – a claim for non-payment of long-outstanding electrical and gas bills owed to those respective Israeli utility authorities. The PA sued the Israeli government in an Israeli court. Justice Menahem Mazuz ruled that the Israel government had breached the terms of a contract between the two parties. The duties collected could not be used to pay other debts owing. The ruling also undermined the legality of withholding the funds for political reasons.

After the court ruling, Israel made a large first installment payment towards the past debt by transferring the duties withheld in March and April 2015. Monies withheld from duties collected from December to February were transferred as soon as both parties agreed on the debt owed to the utilities and deducted those monies from the monies owed to the PA. In addition, a joint committee was set up to resolve other claims between the PA and Israel. The above and other issues must be understood within the terms of the Oslo Accords, more specifically, the 1994 Paris Protocol on Economic Relations. It established an effective customs union between Israel and the PA. In contrast, municipal, income and corporate taxes from Israelis and Israeli entities in the settlements were, in accordance with the agreement, collected by Israel and not transferred to the PA, but used to benefit those settlements.

Whereas Israel periodically for short periods sanctions the PA, it boycotts the Hamas government that is not a party to the agreement. Because of the Paris Protocol, most BDF information and efforts have focused on Gaza where the effects of the Israeli boycott are so harsh in reprisal for Hamas rocketing Israel and to prevent Hamas with being resupplied with materials that could be used in its offensive attacks against Israel. Hamas has an ideological determination not simply to tear up the Paris Protocol, but to eliminate Israel as a state.
From the other direction, the PA boycotts the import of settler-made goods primarily through an educational and witness campaign by government leaders. There is no legally sanctioned economic penalty on Palestinians importing, selling and using such goods. Nor are Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements (36,000) penalized. They earn three time what they would earn working in the West Bank but receive no health or pension benefits or unemployment insurance. Many of the 1,000 businesses established in the West Bank are partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis.

BDS has been mostly silent about the work force, but strongly critical of the “educational” and witness campaign of the PA, characterizing it as a meaningless publicity stunt – such as the Karama or Dignity Pledge to boycott settler goods. BDS objects to any normalization of arrangements with Israel and implementation of the Paris Protocol. As a result, the PA denounces the much broader BDS campaign. Abbas has said, “We are not boycotting Israel, because we have agreements and imports from it” and openly endorses the principle of “adherence to signed agreements.”

At the instigation of the PA, in March the United Nations Human Rights Council approved the creation of a database of companies that do business in areas under Israeli occupation by a vote of 32 in favor with 15 countries abstaining. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, slammed the initiative claiming that, “The Human Rights Council has turned into an accomplice of the BDS movement, and its conduct is both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.” BDS joined in the criticism, but for very different reasons. Such an action was not extensive and was not a boycott, just an information offering procedure. In November of last year, the EU itself passed a regulation that required an indication of origin label on goods from the occupied territories with enforcement left to the individual states. That regulation required labeling merchandise or food products originating in West Bank or Golan Heights settlements as: “product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)” or “product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement).”

BDS, on the other hand, pushes its boycott, sanctions and divestment strategy “on companies to cease doing business within Israel, to stop selling Israeli products, for international performers not to perform in Israel, for academics to refuse cooperation with Israeli institutions and for cultural institutions to boycott Israeli government-sponsored events aimed at prettifying Israel’s apartheid practices.” The BDS movement insists that it will continue its campaign until Israel ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab land [not just land in the West Bank], recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. This would mean the effective dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state. The return of refugees has never been imposed on any government in the world. The BDS campaign is clearly not just about settlements in the West Bank, but about the very nature and even existence of Israel.

This is not widely recognized as Palestinian sympathizers pick from the smorgasbord of moderate to extreme methods of confronting Israel through sanctions, boycotts and divestments. Israel, in turn, tries to brand BDS as an anti-Zionist movement and not just a critic of Israeli policies. Further, efforts are made to equate that anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and, most recently, with anti-Judaism. I will turn to this topic in my next blog.

I want to finish this blog by documenting the efforts of each side to either confront BDS (Israel) or to bypass BDS (PA) through diplomacy in the global arena, primarily in the United Nations. Like Russia and the U.S. engaged in a renewed lukewarm non-military war, Israel and the PA, whatever their differences on the international stage – and they are at loggerheads on many issues – are both opponents of BDS.

Recently, at the end of May, Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress joined together with a plethora of Jewish organizations in the diaspora in hosting a one day anti-BDS “summit” at the United Nations entitled, “Building Bridges, Not Boycotts.” A strong motivation for organizing the meeting was not just the efforts of BDS. Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, placed the UN Human Rights Commission in bed with BDS because the former, he declared, decided to blacklist anyone who does business in Judea and Samaria. And that is the Achilles heel of the anti-BDS camp. Instead of dividing those who criticize the settlements from those who would boycott Israeli goods, academic institutions and institute a cultural boycott against Israel, unsurprisingly he put relative moderates, including, in part, the PA, in bed with its enemy, the BDS movement. And he called them both anti-Semitic.

Yesterday evening, I watched the opening of the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The speech of Melania Trump, Donald’s wife, though lacking a few needed intimate anecdotes, and, as revealed quickly afterwards, in part plagiarized Michele Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech, was otherwise superbly crafted and extremely well delivered. Other speeches simply demonized Hillary in a world aflame with mostly extremist Islamicist violence. Speaker after speaker reiterated the theme of making America great and safe again. In contrast, Hillary was portrayed as the devil incarnate, pilloried for her alleged failures and reiterating Donald’s claims that she is a crook. “Lock her up,” they shouted.

“Building Bridges, not Boycotts” (BBnB) was like a Trump rally, a gathering of the converted, of anti-BDS forces of which the vast majority were Jews, 1,500 students, but without the advantage of a single star performer. Jewish reggae singer, Matisyahu, did perform in the morning in the General Assembly Hall. Matisyahu had been targeted himself by BDS and, for a short period in 2015, a Spanish organization cancelled his scheduled appearance before the cancellation was reversed under pressure from the Spanish government. What made BBnB most akin to the first night of the Republican Convention was the effort to totally demonize BDS and all boycotts against Israel as anti-Semitic. The principle of these exercises in a collective harangue seemed to be, keep it simple, paint only in black and white colours and, through repetition after repetition, drive home a single atrocious association with whatever and whoever is being targeted. Of course, it is ironic to compare BBnB to a Trump rally since Trump is bent on building walls not bridges.

Several months earlier, when Danny Danon denounced the UN effort at labelling goods originating in West Bank settlements, he did not differentiate between such efforts and the BDS much wider goals. Further, even these UN efforts were labelled as anti-Semitic. In his speech at the end of May at the BBnB, conference, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN and the main force behind the rally, gave the opening speech and characterized BDS as anti-Semitic. He recalled the passage of the Zionism is Racism motion at the UN forty years earlier and the victory in getting the UN to revoke that motion in 1991. He depicted BDS as a new threat to Israel and the Jewish people based on lies and distortions and hiding behind the mask of human rights and peace activism when it was just a global effort to delegitimize Israel. BDS’s campaign of hatred was the face of modern anti-Semitism, he declared.
Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, elaborated on the reasoning for this. He made the following points:

1. The United Nations was created 70 years ago out of the carnage of World War II. It was created on the broken bones of the Jewish people, with the pledge that the world would never see again the kind of human destruction that the Nazis forced on our people.
2. Today, the UN has singled out the only Jewish State in the world – Israel – with lie, after lie, after lie.
3. We chose to look at an equally dishonest campaign against the Jews – the BDS movement – right here at the United Nations.
4. Those who chose are no longer victims and no longer have to rely on others to protect us; we are no longer ghetto Jews, no longer willing to be quiescent, no longer timid, but new Jews. “And we are absolutely done being quiet! Enough is enough!!!”
5. Enticed by the seduction of fighting for rights, of fighting for justice, those who support BDS do not listen to the BDS chant: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!”
6. Expanding on the theme of BDS as not only anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic, he insisted that the current boycott against the State of Israel is no different from Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism of the 1920s or the Soviet bloc’s anti-Zionism of the 1950s and 60s.
7. BDS is not concerned about the rights of Palestinians, but denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination in the exclusive focus on Israel as distinct from all the other vicious states that abuse of human rights.

It was a rallying speech, not an analytic one. It is not simply a distortion; it is a falsification to say that the UN was created on the broken bones of the Jewish people when the issue for the UN in the aftermath of WWII was not the Holocaust at all but what to do with 250,000 Jewish refugees in Europe that no one wanted. It may be true that the UN has disproportionately, and enormously so, singled out Israel for condemnation, but it is a distortion to suggest – though not actually assert – that Israel is the only state condemned for human rights abuses. Iran and North Korea have both been chastised, and Iran is the only state for Iranians just as Israel is the only Jewish state. Whether true or not – and no documentation was offered to support the thesis – there is the question whether equating UN activities with BDS was diplomatically astute? It would not likely win over strong UN supporters who are not particularly antithetical to Israel and who do not support the wider goals of BDS. The problem was multiplied when Lauder used the old canard that the old Jew was quiet and passive in the face of oppression. BDS may indeed be anti-Zionist as I contend, and possibly anti-Semitic, which I question, but assertion is not the same as argument.

Elyakim Rubinstein, Vice-President of the Israeli Supreme Court Justice and formerly the Attorney General of Israel, took a different path and provided a detailed account of the lawfare fight with BDS in the international legal arena. (See my previous blog.) Further, calling for a boycott of Israel was not protected as a right in the U.S. under the First Amendment. He also characterized BDS as “political terrorism under the guise of freedom of speech.” He came to the same conclusion, that BDS was out to destroy Israel, but did not confuse the labelling issue of goods from the West Bank with the BDS program.

The conference also evidently heard from Mosab Hassan Yousef, now living in the U.S., “The Green Prince” who worked undercover for ten years for Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, from 1997 to 2007. He was the son of Hamas leader, Sheik Hassan, and is credited with hunting down many militants. I could not find his speech on the internet, but in other settings he has excoriated Hamas and claimed BDS was a front for Hamas. On the other hand, a second Palestinian in attendance, Bassam Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, joined the chorus of Jewish speakers who criticized BDS and the Palestinian leadership without distinction.

This theme was echoed in the 30-page guidebook handed out to attendees, but was focused on BDS as a movement of hate accused of being anti-Semitic while characterizing BDS as “all-powerful” with tentacles everywhere in language usually characteristic of anti-Semitic rants against Jews. The booklet stressed the use of state legislatures to boycott entities that boycotted Israel. So if BDS works to delegitimize Israel, this movement headlined in the 31 May 2016 meeting at the UN was focused on delegitimizing BDS. Students were encouraged to contact legislators to make efforts at boycotting academics illegal. And, in contrast to the main thrust of the conference, students were advised to drive a wedge between critics of Israel and BDS delegitimizers of Israel. Label BDS as anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Turkey and Israel

Turkey and Israel

by

Howard Adelman

I want to begin by fitting Turkish-Israeli relations within the context of the recent 1 November election, domestic policy and the overall foreign policy of Turkey. I begin with the elections. I had suggested last week that the increase in the vote for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was partly due to a shift in conservative religious Kurdish votes in the south-eastern part of Turkey back to the AKP when the war with the Kurdish rebels (PKK) resumed after the June elections. The motivation – a fear of instability and/or a belief that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (HDP) was linked to the PKK and/or the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) that had been so active in constructing blockades in Kurdish urban areas when the Turkish army resumed the war against the PKK. That interpretation has since been strongly challenged by one of the leading polling firms in Turkey, Konda, and its CEO, Bekir Ağirdir.

If indeed that shift had really taken place, it could mean that Erdoğan .no longer needed a war against the Kurds and demonization of the PKK to rally support for the AKP. He might become more flexible. That, in turn, would mean that the close relationship developing between the Kurds and the Israelis would become less consequential. However, part of the increased support of 8.7% for the AKP may not have been due to a shift in support of the Kurds at all, even though the HDP vote declined by almost a million votes.

In addition to the explained shift in my previous blog of votes from Saadet (Felicity) and Büyük Birlik (Great Unity), two parties which did not run in the 1 November election, and from the AKP’s rival on the right, the MHP, whose thunder Erdoğan had stolen with his resumption of the war against the PKK, 4% of the increase in the AKP vote was attributed by Konda, not as a shift from the HDP, but from voters who did not vote in the 6 June elections and new voters. That would mean that Erdoğan had little incentive in terms of domestic political support to resume peace negotiations with the PKK and to cease its war also against the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, a party that receives a great deal of unacknowledged support from Israel. As stated in my blogs on Turkish domestic and foreign policy, Erdoğan’s greatest fear is the creation of a safe haven for Turkish Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. He has been more than willing to curtail his recent aggression against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria to concentrate most of his forces against the PYD.

In the aftermath of the IS terrorist attacks on Paris, will that policy shift as a result of the current G-20 meeting in Antalya with Erdoğan in the chair? After all, the recent aggression of IS, the refugees and the war in Syria threaten to overshadow the economic issues which were supposed to dominate the agenda. Further, Turkey has assured Hamas that Israel’s role in both Syria and the Gaza Strip will be raised in the discussions  Though the emphasis was mostly on the war and the refugees in the statement issued by the EU before the attacks in Paris – “Meeting in Turkey in the midst of a refugee crisis due to conflicts in Syria and elsewhere; the G20 must rise to the challenge and lead a coordinated and innovative response to the crisis that recognizes its global nature and economic consequences and promotes greater international solidarity in protecting refugees,” – the priority given to conflict in the region and the refugees means that IS will definitely be at the top of the agenda.

After all, Turkey, in both its actions and its words, had signalled that its war in Syria will concentrate more and more on IS as a priority, a priority very much likely to increase in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Turkey is a member of NATO. And in the aftermath of Paris, NATO is bound to have a much higher profile in the war against IS. Turkey will be pressured even more to play its part. Further, the EU badly needs Turkey’s cooperation in stemming the flow of refugees, particularly since Turkey promised to provide a safe haven for the refugees in northern Syria and invest there in container communities like those built so quickly in Germany.

Whatever the eventual policies, this shift in Turkish priorities will put a spotlight on Israel’s involvement in Syria. Just before the 1 November elections, IDF planes evidently bombed, not only IS sites on the Golan Heights and Hezbollah bases near Ras al-Ayn and Katifa along the Lebanese border, but also sent sorties towards the Damascus airport. Further, Turkey will have as much interest as Israel in driving a wedge between Iran and Russia. Russia and Iran may both be allies of Assad in Syria, but Russia focuses its energies on rebuilding the secular Syrian army while Iran tries to strengthen the religious Shiite (Alawite) irregular forces fighting for Assad, the parallel to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Numbering 200,000, with 20,000 volunteers from Iraq, Hezbollah from Lebanon and Taliban from Afghanistan, often led on the ground by seasoned Iranian officers – hence the almost 50 Iranian “adviser” casualties, most officers – Russia and Iran are setting the stage for the post war battle over succession, assuming Assad will be offered as a sacrifice for a deal with the West. But Iran, with boots on the ground, has the distinct advantage.

Israel is directly affected by this rivalry. Israel is the arch-enemy of Iran, and Iran has no interest in strengthening any force linked to Israel. On the other hand, Assad (assume the Syrian army) and Israel had established a modus vivendi over the last few decades. More recently, Israeli officials met with Russian representatives to ensure that Israeli and Russian warplanes do not clash over the skies of Syria. Further, Russia assured Israel that Hezbollah would not get Russian arms. This Israeli-Russian connection has been built on a foundation of increased trade between Russia and Israel, including advanced military equipment and military exchanges.

Of course, the primary source of friction between Israel and Turkey has been the Palestine issue, with the single main source of friction Israel’s attack against the Mavi Marmara in which Turks were killed. More particularly, Turkey has been a strong supporter of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So it should be no surprise that when the election results were approaching a clear win for the AKP, almost the first voice of congratulations delivered to Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was from Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau and the deputy chair of the political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh. Erdoğan, promised both that he would put Israel’s violations of its historical role on the plaza of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount on the agenda of the G-20.

However, Khaled Meshaal does not belong to the extreme wing of Hamas. Meshaal was the one who, in July 2014, aborted the planned attack by Hamas’ military wing using the tunnels that would have sent a seismic wave through the Middle East, perhaps as great as the recent IS attacks on Paris. Like Paris, the Hamas-planned attack was a highly sophisticated, coordinated and simultaneous one by three different 10-man teams from its elite force through three different underground tunnels, involving one detail infiltrating Israel to attack and kill residents of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom and return with civilian hostages, a second team to control the perimeter and a third to set a booby trap for the IDF when they rushed to the defence of the kibbutz. The goal was to trade Israeli hostages for Hamas members in Israeli prisons. Meschaal vetoed the plan in fear that the Israeli response would be so overwhelming, so much more even than the results of the 2014 Gaza War, that it would have left Gaza totally devastated with European voices silenced because the violence was triggered by such a daring Hamas initiative.

On the other hand, the link between Hamas and Erdoğan has become more important since the 4 November announcement that Hamas was seeking a unified Palestinian command in the current 3rd intifada against Israel that he hoped would facilitate Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. “Hamas believes in all of the resistance’s choices and in the importance of coordinating efforts under a united command to increase the intifada’s efforts.”

But to really understand Turkey’s actions and policies, it is necessary to shift from Gaza, which is a sideshow in the conflicts in the Middle East, to Israel’s relations with the Kurds (Ofra Bengio “Surprising Ties between Israel and the Kurds,” Middle East Quarterly Summer, 21:3, 2014), and Turkey’s response to that connection. Historically, the Kurdish move to separatism had been labeled the New Israel. As Christians and other minorities are cleansed first from Iraq and then other Middle Eastern countries, one stream of the Muslim response was to label the tendency of Kurds to seize independence and create a “Yahudistan” as another naqba. The slander went beyond defining a parallel, but suggested that Israel had a more nefarious role. The very recent effort of the Kurdish offensive to retake the city of Sinjar from IS should be read with this in mind.

Ironically, there is some ground for suggesting a connection between Israel and the movement towards independence. There are also many historical differences. After WWI, while the Balfour Declaration in 1917 promised a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, dividing up the Middle East in the Versailles Treaty after WWI denied granting the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey the status of an independent state for 30 million Kurds. In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, Kurds, beginning in the autumn of 1961, once again saw their chance to rise up in Iraq. The Kurdish activist, Ismet Sherif Vanly, went to Israel to meet Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres, with a result that Israel and the Kurds exchanged permanent representatives, an arrangement that secretly survived that crushing of Kurdish aspirations. The Kurdish leader, Mulla Muṣṭafa al-Barzānī, visited Israel both in 1967 and 1973. As a result, in 1967 he Kurds opened another front against Iraq, thereby preventing Iraq from joining the other Arab states in the Six Day War. Kissinger and the CIA blocked a similar attempt in 1973. (Hasan Kösebalaban (2011) Turkish Foreign Policy, Nationalism and Globalization, 181)

Only in 1980 did Prime Minister Menachem Begin disclose the humanitarian and subsequent arms support and dispatch of military advisers that Israel had given the Kurds during the 1965-75 Kurdish uprising. In the aftermath of the Kuwait War in the beginning of the 1990s, once again the Kurds rose up in Iraq to set up an independent state, an initiative that was totally crushed by Saddam Hussein as the West refused to come to the aid of the Kurds, even though Prime Minister Shamir of Israel made a plea to the West on behalf of the Kurds. Israelis became even more convinced that they could only rely on themselves.

What survived was an Israeli-Kurdish Friendship society which worked diligently to reinforce relations between Iraqi Kurds and Israel. A Kurdish-Israeli journal was even started – Israel-Kurd. The Kurds, unlike the Arab world, even invited Israelis to conferences in Kurdistan. In spite of these links, there have never been any formal relationships between the Kurdish leadership and Israel, partly so that the relationship would remain under the radar and not attract even more attention to the Kurds. American Jews also tried to serve as intermediaries between Kurds and the American government through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its links with the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI).

Israel’s relationship with the Iraqi Kurds was one thing, with the Turkish Kurds another, partly because Turkish and Israeli foreign policy had been aligned in the latter half of the twentieth century, at least until Erdoğan was elected Prime Minster, and the Kurdish PKK was viewed as a radical terrorist organization allied with Syria and the PLO. In Lebanon in 1982, volunteers from the PKK fought against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and, with the defeat and departure of the PLO from Lebanon, the PKK were given a safe haven in Syria. Netanyahu, when he was first Prime Minister, publicly supported Turkey in its fight against the PKK. The Israeli government was even accused of capturing Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK in 1978. Israel was accused of turning him over to the Turkish authorities, especially since Israel regarded him as a persona non grata after his anti-Semitic remarks. In fact, his capture in Nairobi in 1999, was a combined effort of the CIA and Turkish military intelligence. (Victor Ostrovsky, “Capture of Kurdish Rebel Leader Ocalan Recalls Mossad Collaboration with Both Turkey, Kurds,” Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, April/May 1999)

When the war of the Kurds in Turkey resumed against Erdoğan in the 21st century and Erdoğan had become an outspoken critic of Israel, a rapprochement took place between the PKK and Israel. By 2005, Barzani openly defended Kurdish relations between Kurdistan in Iraq and Israel and Jalal Talabani, the President and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and President of Iraq at the time, openly shook the hand of Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, in front of Mahmoud Abbas in Greece in April of 2008. It seemed clear that the two men had met before. Seymour Hersh even claimed that Israel had been arming and training the Kurds in Iraq, a claim echoed by Yedi’ot Aharonot which insisted it had evidence of Israeli military advisers training the Peshmerga.

Once the peace process initiated by Erdoğan in 2013 had been ended by him in June 2015, the relations between Israel and the PKK, and between Israel and Syrian Kurds, went up several notches. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) had close ties with the PKK and operated in both Iran and Kurdistan; Israeli ties with the PJAK deepened. For the first time, Israeli relations with the four very different parts of the nationalist Kurdish movement in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey had become, more or less, aligned. How much was Israel willing to antagonize Turkey further by realigning its relations with the PKK? How willing is Erdoğan to bury the hatchet with Israel and perhaps even re-establish an exchange of ambassadors with Israel to give him a freer hand in fighting both the PKK and the Kurds in Syria? How willing are Putin and Obama to push Erdoğan towards such a reconciliation?

Not enough, evidently. On 24 October, Erdoğan claimed that the PYD in Syria remained an existential threat to the unity of Turkey, even while the U.S. was lending increased indirect support to the PYD and direct support to Iraqi Kurdistan’s Peshmerga in the fight against IS. The militant arm, the YPG (People’s Protection Units) of the PYD, collaborated with both the Free Syrian Army in the fight against both Assad and IS. However, Turkey was critical of American support for Syria’s Kurds and took umbrage at American concerns about human rights and freedom of the press in Turkey as four thugs, three of them open members of Erdoğan’s AKP, beat the popular columnist of Hürriyet, Ahmet Hakan, to a pulp. Erdoğan not only escalated the war against the PKK, but against the YPG as well.

But Erdoğan is now fighting a five-front war, against the secularists within Turkey, Güllenists within Turkey, and a more militant war against the PKK and the PYD, and, now against IS as well, the latter especially since two police were killed on 26 October in the raid against an IS hideout in Turkey. The West really only identifies with the latter war, but Turkey failed to take advantage of that when IS allegedly bombed the Kurd-dominated rally in Ankara and over 100 were killed. But the outpouring of sympathy for Turkey from the West was subdued compared to the response to the over 130 dead in Paris following the IS attacks there. Virtually no one takes Erdoğan’s claims seriously that the PKK and IS were allied in perpetrating the Ankara bombing.

In conclusion, as much as the West needs Turkey’s cooperation in the fight against IS, Turkey’s antagonism towards the Kurds in general and the PYD in Syria in particular, will keep any rapprochement with Israel at bay, especially since Israel is continuing to provide ammunition and arms, military training and diplomatic support to the PYD and, indirectly, the PKK. Where will Turkey end up now that the West is, or soon will be, in an all out war against IS? If Turkey aligns its policies more with the West and Israel reconciles to some degree with Turkey, will the West and Israel, more particularly, sacrifice their relations with the Syrian Kurds to rebuild its relations with Turkey? As long as the West has no troops on the ground, as long as Turkey continues to see the Kurds in Syria and the PKK as its main foe, in spite of joining the fight against IS, as long as the West needs Turkey in its fight against IS, then Israel will continue to be left out in the cold and will also likely continue strengthening its ties with the Kurds.

I suspect now that IS will be defeated in Syria, but that IS will also go underground more extensively in both Turkey and Europe. With the open battles between the police and IS terror cells in Turkey in October when Davutoğlu pronounced IS as ungrateful, presumably for all of Turkey’s previous covert support to IS, IS terrorists will continue to infiltrate Turkey as well as European states engaged in supporting the fight against Assad. However, because of Turkey’s resumption of war with the Kurds in both Syria and Turkey, Israel will continue to support the Kurds and Turkey’s animosity against Israel will remain intact. This is especially true since the public in Turkey still refuses to see IS as a mortal danger in contrast to the militant Kurds. Only about 15% of Turks believe that IS is a real danger to Turkey. And almost 60% of Turks believe that, even if IS was at the bottom of the two suicide bomber attacks in Turkey in October, IS is not a real threat to Turkey. 20% (see Gezici Research) even believe that the Turkish military intelligence was really behind the October suicide bombings, even if the perpetrators were from the IS.

Further, Turkey even denies the existence of significant numbers of Kurds in Tell Abyad, 5% instead of 40%. Of 250 Armenian families that escaped to Aleppo, only 50 have returned to Tell Abyad compared to the almost total return of the Kurds. Yet Erdoğan in October 2014 still claimed that, “I don’t want to argue whether Kobani is Kurdish or Arab. But its real name is Ayn al-Arab.” “Tell Abyad,” he recently added, “belongs to Arabs and Turkmen.” With such mindblindness, any effort to deepen relations between Turkey and Israel seems highly unlikely.

UNHRC Report 2014 Gaza War.II.The Commissioners

The UNHRC Report on the 2014 Gaza War

Part II: The Commissioners

by

Howard Adelman

In my last blog, I wrote, “Who investigates, how they investigate and the intellectual frame they use to conduct that investigation will determine, in large part, the outcome.” In that blog I also indicated that the intellectual frame of any commission set up by the UNHRC, quite aside from whether it followed standards of objectivity and impartiality, would be one which endorsed the universal sovereignty of human rights over all other international norms. That this frame would govern the examination of the conduct of the belligerents in the 2014 Gaza War. However, the degree of impartiality and objectivity of the commissioners themselves will certainly be important.

My friend Bill Schabas has been the first one named to head the commission. The fact that he had already pronounced himself on finding Israel guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and had insisted that his dream would have been to see Prime Minister Netanyahu in the dock before the International Criminal Court, did not seem to deter the UNHRC from making the appointment or Bill from accepting it. I personally wrote Bill and then spoke to him to ask him to recuse himself. I was far from the only one. There were a plethora of human rights experts worldwide that gave the same advice. These included Aryeh Neier, founding director of Human Rights Watch and another friend of Bill’s (Bill and Aryeh both lecture at the Paris School of International Affairs), Mordechai Kremnitzer who works with the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, and Joseph Weiler, President of the European University Institute in Florence, who holds the European Union Jean Monnet Chair at New York University School of Law and is Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law. There were many others.

The appointment seemed to indicate an even worse outcome than the Goldstone Report. Bill insisted that he could maintain his objectivity in spite of his previous pronouncements, and that added to my concern rather than alleviating it. However, when it was revealed that Bill had accepted a small consultancy retainer with the PLO in 2012 to offer a legal opinion, that did him in. He was forced to resign, but only after he had run the inquiry for over six months.

A fellow commissioner, an American jurist, took over. Mary McGowan Davis became chair. Davis had been a member of the 2010 Committee of Independent Experts that was in charge of reviewing whether and how Israel (and the Palestinians) had behaved in response to the Goldstone recommendations. Israel was required to investigate about 400 suspected incidents of breaches of humanitarian law. In the conclusions of her inquiry, Davis criticized Israel for not opening investigations into those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead as called for by the Goldstone Report. She criticized Hamas for not investigating the launching of mortars and rockets into Israel. She criticized Israel again for taking too long in conducting its investigations while acknowledging the enormous scale and challenge to Israel to completing its work. She did commend Israel for the resources and the effort devoted to the task. The results of her committee’s work evidently were a key factor that influenced Richard Goldstone to withdraw his claim that Israel deliberately targeted civilians, though that only meant he was now anathema to both Israel and the supporters of the UNHRC which allowed the report to stand.

Davis’ modestly claimed that her responsibilities as chair of the post-Goldstone commission work were simply to implement the mandate of the Committee to “monitor and assess the investigations by both sides and to report back to the Human Rights Council.” It was not to make recommendations about what should be done with the findings. However, she did express the belief that if her committee embraced the principles of an impartial and fair investigation, that in itself would push forward the notion of a peace agreement based on transparency, accountability and justice. To that end, she insisted, the committee had to be seen to be delivering justice, especially by the victims on both sides. This perspective in itself was a considerable contrast to the evident partiality of Bill Schabas on the substantive issues of the conflict.  On the other hand, if she had already accepted to serve beside Bill on the Commission of Inquiry and had not insisted that Bill recuse himself as a condition for her taking up her post, one is forced to question how strongly she upholds the principle that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

Davis honed her legal skills in a tough jurisdiction as a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She had risen to become an Acting New York Supreme Court Justice. If I were even a half-decent journalist and not an ersatz one, I would have been able to find out why she had not been made a full member of the New York Supreme Court, why she retired from that position when she was clearly relatively young and full of energy. I would at lease have been able to analyze her judgements or her earlier role as a federal prosecutor. But I am not a journalist, let alone a good one, so I have no new information even on her beginnings as a defender of human rights. Because of my own previous work, I did know that she had been a consultant to the International Criminal tribunal in Rwanda, but I have no clue on how she performed except that she had also served to mentor criminal defense lawyers appearing before that court. That in itself is some measure of respect for her impartiality and her commitment to due process. Nevertheless, I was still bothered by her willingness to sit on a commission subordinate to Bill who should have unequivocally recused himself long before the issue of his consultancy emerged, especially important because Bill ran the inquiry for so many months before he resigned and Davis took over for the final almost 5 months.

I was wary on other grounds. After all, Davis had agreed previously and again this time to work under UNHRC auspices in spite of its record of a totally deformed focus on Israel in disregard of any reasonable standard of impartiality. She had said nothing about why the UNHRC had failed to launch an investigation into Hamas for reigning missiles and rockets against civilian targets in Israel and only launched an investigation once Israel once again invaded Gaza. Further, she had been congratulatory to the Palestinian Authority for cooperating with her 2010 investigation. This stood in contrast to Israel’s non-cooperation. Israel had only just initiated its self-examination. She ignored the views of Melanie Khanna, who served under Hilary Clinton, and who presented the American view that the UNHRC had an overwhelming record of a disproportionate focus on Israel and that Israel had at least demonstrated an ability to engage in self-scrutiny. Contrast this to the PA, which, while it offered full cooperation with Davis’ previous investigation, had shown no record of promptness or ability at critical self-scrutiny. Contrast this with Hamas, which also did not cooperate with Davis’ investigations and certainly never publicly investigated its own conduct.

Beyond these obvious considerations, there is the dilemma of the role of such reports, even as that of the Davis investigation into compliance. This certainly was true even with the Goldstone recommendations. After all, reports are useful tools of propaganda by all those states, ostensibly in favour of transparent impartial justice but, oblivious to those standards in the behaviour of their own states. Further, these Arab and Muslim countries   were exclusively interested only in those aspects of her investigation that focused on Israel as the culpable party. Even Amnesty International seemed to see its task as demonstrating impartiality, not by carefully weighing the faults and shortcomings of the respective parties, but ensuring that AI condemned Hamas and Israel equally. How does one operate within such a partial context of both the international community and the UNHRC more specifically? Davis has chosen to try to advance the cause of impartiality from within the auspices of the UNHRC while Israel is committed to non-cooperation with a body that has an almost perfect track record of bias.

All of this is beside the much deeper bias of the intellectual framework of the imperial sovereignty of human rights in contrast with the view of overlapping as well as competing international norms of human rights versus humanitarian law. Is Israel better off boycotting the whole proceedings or should Israel have chosen to cooperate with the investigation in spite of the record of biases of the organization under which it was operating? Did the second (originally third) commissioner tilt the balance towards greater impartiality or towards reinforcing the inherited biases of the UNHRC?

Doudou Diène (Senegal) earned his first degree in philosophy from Senegal’s Concours Général from which he graduated with the top prize. (As a philosopher, I am already predisposed, at least initially, to a favourable attitude towards him.) Diène holds a law degree from the University of Caen (France), a doctorate in public law from the University of Paris, and a diploma in political science from the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris. After a long career at UNESCO, including two years as UNESCO’s Deputy Assistant Director-General for External Relations and subsequently as Acting Director of the Bureau of Public Information, he served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance for six years from 2002 to 2008. From 2011 to 2014, he served as the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire. The fact that he worked for 6 years for the discredited UN Commission on Human Rights, the predecessor to the UNHRC, does not work in his favour. Further, there is no evidence from his background that he had any expertise in international humanitarian law however much an expert he was on intercultural and interreligious cultural dialogue. One might expect him to be fair-minded and impartial, while not expecting him to think outside the imperial role of human rights.

The report itself should prove to be very interesting reading.

Part IX: Application of Just War Norms to the Gaza War

Part IX: Application of Just War Norms to the Gaza War

by

Howard Adelman

On 23 July, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations set up the Schabas Commission (A/HRC/RES S-21/1 which can be found at A-HRC-S-212-I_en-1(1).doc) The resolution was not set up just to look into the possibility of war crimes committed in the conduct of the 2014 Fifty Day Gaza War between Hamas and Israel. The war would not end for another month. The Report was entitled, “Ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.

Though Bill Schabas insisted to me that the preamble was just UN boilerplate, the mandate clearly biases the inquiry in at least four ways:
a) presuming that Gaza is occupied by Israel – the preamble explicitly emphasized “the obligations of Israel as the occupying Power to ensure the welfare and safety of the Palestinian civilian population under its occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip (my italics), and noting Israel’s wilful abdication and rejection of its obligations in this regard;
b) inclusion of the West Bank and East Jerusalem where no war took place;
c) exclusion of Israel where thousands of rockets fired from Gaza landed;
d) a clear lack of balance between the overwhelming focus on Israeli actions and the few sideline references to actions of Hamas in Gaza without once mentioning Hamas.

But clashes did take place over the war in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On Thursday evening, 24 July, just after the Inquiry Commission was set up, protests took place in East Jerusalem. 20 protesters were arrested for throwing rocks. The Border Police prevented men over 50 years of age from attending the al-Aqsa Mosque just as Ramadan was ending.

In addition, there were a number of protests in the West Bank where Palestinian civilians were killed. On Saturday 26 July, one of the last days of Ramadan, Eid Fdilat from the al-Aroub camp near Hebron and 14-year-old Nasri Mahmoud in Beit Faijar near Bethlehem, who were killed in clashes the day before, were buried. In Beit Omar, two men aged 27 and 47 were killed in protests. In Hawara south of Nablus, two young men aged 21 and 22 were killed. In total, 10 Palestinians were killed and 200 wounded in those Friday protests following prayers in which protesters threw both rocks and Molotov cocktails at police and, according to Israel, even used live ammunition. Fearing a third intifada and determined to suppress it at once, Israeli Border Police fired stun grenades, and both rubber and live bullets at the protesters.

The main catalyst for the protests was the killing by an Israeli missile on Thursday 24 July of at least 10 civilians who had taken shelter along with 3,000 other Gazans in an UNRWA facility as described in an earlier blog, though, as I said there, the depiction has been challenged as a staged event following a misfired Hamas rocket but with only prima facie evidence and insufficient proof.

This time it was not only mullahs giving sermons in mosques that had stirred up the protests in a “day of anger” against the almost 1,000 Gazans (BBC reported 800) killed in the Gaza War in just over two weeks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heretofore had been silent and acquiescent concerning Israel’s reprisals, first against Hamas in the West Bank and then against Gaza, now called for demonstrations, demonstrations which were organized mainly by Hamas supporters if the number of Hamas flags held up in the protests offered any indication.

However, the commission covering the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Gaza was set up before the clashes and deaths of Palestinians in the West Bank. Further, these killings were not part of just war international law but only human rights law. The effect, at the very least, explicitly conjoined human rights and international just war law into a single inquiry. The preamble to the inquiry affirmed “the applicability of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

However, one clause in the preamble could have referred to Hamas behaviour in Gaza – the reference to the fact that “the deliberate targeting of civilians and other protected persons and the perpetration of systematic, flagrant and widespread violations of applicable international humanitarian law and international human rights law in situations of armed conflict constitute grave breaches and a threat to international peace and security.” However, the clause immediately following referred only to Israel; Hamas is never explicitly mentioned.

Deploring the massive Israeli military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since 13 June 2014, which have involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks and resulted in grave violations of the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population, including through the most recent Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, the latest in a series of military aggressions by Israel, and actions of mass closure, mass arrest and the killing of civilians in the occupied West Bank.

It would appear that the Human Rights Council had already prejudged the outcome of an inquiry by pronouncing in advance that Israeli actions in the Gaza War were disproportionate in its use of firepower and did not properly discriminate between militants and civilians. If the preamble indicated bias, the singular focus on Israel in the mandate clauses pulled no punches. The Human Rights Council in its 23rd of July resolution in its second clause,

2. Condemns in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 13 June 2014, particularly the latest Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, by air, land and sea, which has involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law, and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes, directly resulting in the killing of more than 650 Palestinians, most of them civilians and more than 170 of whom are children, the injury of more than 4,000 people and the wanton destruction of homes, vital infrastructure and public properties;
The prejudgement in advance of the inquiry and in setting up the inquiry is as explicit as one could make it. It is as if a trial of an alleged criminal began with the explicit condemnation of guilt not just by the prosecutor but by the court. The UNHRC assumes its role to be one of prosecutor, judge and jury rolled into one entitled to draw conclusions of guilt before a truly independent investigation had been held and certainly before any trial.

The mandate may appear to be balanced when the next clause condemned “all violence against civilians wherever it occurs, including the killing of two Israeli civilians as a result of rocket fire.” But the mandate no sooner makes this brief and indirect reference to Hamas rocket fire than it implicitly restricts the inquiry to the very few situations in which civilians in Israel were killed. The mandate takes away even an appearance of balance by immediately subsuming Hamas’ actions within the same clause by referring to the obligations of “all parties” concerned to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Another clause of the preamble reaffirmed the findings of the Goldstone Commission and placed this new inquiry clearly as a continuation of that previous one, especially in the context of the Commission making statements on the Gaza War that Israel was deliberately targeting civilians, in spite of Goldstone’s own retraction of that finding..
Gravely concerned at the lack of implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2009, and convinced that lack of accountability for violations of international law reinforces a culture of impunity, leading to a recurrence of violations and seriously endangering the maintenance of international peace,
The preamble even made reference to Israel’s construction of the security barrier and the Council’s conclusion that this was a violation of human rights. For the Human Rights Council, “systemic impunity for international law violations has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action, including accountability for international crimes.”

The mandate does not call for a cessation of rocket fire from Gaza but does call for “an immediate cessation of Israeli military assaults throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians.” Clause 6 of the mandate explicitly “Demands that Israel, the occupying Power (my italics), immediately and fully end its illegal closure of the occupied Gaza Strip, which in itself amounts to collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population, including through the immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from the Gaza Strip, in compliance with its obligations under international humanitarian law.” Of course, this was precisely the objective of Hamas in initiating the war. One would never have a clue that humanitarian aid continued to flow across the crossing points into Gaza throughout the war or that Egypt had closed the crossing into Rafah completely.

There is no reference to the three Israeli Yeshiva teenagers abducted and murdered, but the mandate does explicitly refer to the murder of one Palestinian boy by extremist Jewish thugs, for the mandate “Expresses grave concern at the rising number of incidents of violence, destruction, harassment, provocation and incitement by extremist Israeli settlers illegally transferred to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, against Palestinian civilians, including children, and their properties, and condemns in the strongest terms the resulting perpetration of hate crimes.”

If the mandate was really serious about investigating the use of civilians, it would not only call on Israel to protect civilians as much as possible, but would call on Hamas, the governing authority in Gaza, to ensure civilian protection. The mandate explicitly ignores this fact and makes no reference to the possible use by Hamas of “human shields”.

So when the Human Rights Council

Decides to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults, and to report to the Council at its twenty-eighth session;
one can only sigh and despair at the total surrender of principles of neutrality and impartiality. One can only raise one’s eyebrows in wonder at the use of the word “independent” when the commission of inquiry is to operate under the auspices of the Human Rights Council and to be conducted by individuals appointed by the President of the Council.

When the only party to vote against this overtly totally biased and disreputable resolution was the United States, and when pusillanimous states, such as Austria, Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Korea, only abstained along with a few other small countries, it is little wonder that Israel has virtually no trust in the procedures of the UN. When the countries supporting the resolution and ensuring its majority include Algeria, Cuba, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam, one has to ask how and why Bill Schabas would accept such an appointment. The mandate and the process exceed any decent norms of fairness. Why Latin American countries — such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica — also supported such a resolution has to be of concern to Israel and those who believe in a UN run as much as possible, especially in the area of human rights, on as impartial a basis as possible.

The appointment of Bill Schabas to head the commission also has to be regarded as a serious disappointment, He is certainly an excellent scholar and expert on international law, but when it comes to Israel, he had already pronounced on the illegality of Israeli actions in Gaza. He should have recused himself as a scholar given our commitment, however imperfectly, to the academic values of impartiality, objectivity, detachment, disinterestedness and open-mindedness, especially when charged with an inquiry into such a contentious area. Now it is clear that there can be no objectivity in an absolute sense since objectivity is itself a value commitment and is to be understood against a background that defines and enjoins neutrality in approaching contentious issues. This approach requires judgement, so there is no absolute neutrality and impartiality. There is, however, a big difference between the effort to maximize neutrality and impartiality both in appearance and substance and the virtual absence of these criteria. There is very little sense of neutrality and judgement in the terms of reference of the Commission or in its appointees.

Neutrality and impartiality are the key ingredients with respect to any adjudication, particularly when there is a conflict between two parties. These two qualities are especially important if the “neutral” party is to influence the actions and behaviour of the belligerents. However, the Commission seems obsessed with scoring points against Israel, countering “impunity” and holding Israel “responsible” rather than enhancing the rule of international law to truly protect civilians, especially in times and places of war.

What could have been done? A three person commission made up of a very respected Israeli academic on international law, an equally highly respected Palestinian academic or jurist with expertise on international law, and a third appointment drawn from the international community with an equally stellar reputation and agreed to by both the Israeli and the Palestinian appointee could have been charged with looking into specific alleged charges of possible breaches of international just war laws. Any of the three would have to recuse him or herself if they had made any public pronouncements on the illegality or immorality of the case. This may be akin to finding precious gems or locating a fair jury in a highly publicized murder trial where the depiction of the alleged murdered was widely distributed, but it is difficult not impossible. And it is the first principle of ensuring justice. But “justice’ seems to be a word unfamiliar to the Human Rights Council.

The human rights of Palestinians in the territories should not have been merged with a just war inquiry if only because there is already a debate among international law experts on whether just war theory is merely a sub-category of universal human rights or whether it has to be understood in conjunction with the reality of war which in its very essence is not an activity primarily concerned with human rights, though, in my view, and that of many others, going to war and conduct in war should be bounded by certain limitations governed by just law principles, but these are neither subordinate to nor subsumed under human rights principles.

This alludes to a much larger issue – the effort of cosmopolitan international philosophers and legal theorists to subsume all international ethical and legal issues under a human rights rubric versus those who consider that human rights law is not a monotheistic secular religion but exists and lives among various overlapping constellations of ethical principles — such as those governing the conduct of war or those regarding the treatment of refugees. The irony is that it seems to be the cosmopolitan theorists who are most likely to allow bias and partiality to infect their analyses whereas ethicists or lawyers, for example, conjoined to the military in th United States, for example, seem far more capable of a detached approach when examining specific cases in which accusations have been made about abuses of the norms of just war.

Tomorrow: Part X Reconciling War Strategy and International Law

The Integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority Government

The Integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority Government

by

Howard Adelman

The latest assault in the blame game is well under way as a secret document, allegedly of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has been released that was circulated by Israeli National Security Adviser, Joseph Cohen, on 22 April 2014 when Fatah announced its reconciliation agreement with Hamas. He accused the PA of planning the reunification with Hamas long before the peace talks broke down. The letter attached a document allegedly written by chief PA negotiator, Saeb Ekrat, and dated 9 March even before Abbas met with President Obama on 17 March. The document is a policy paper giving Ekrat’s interpretation of the talks thus far, and recommends a unilateral strategy  both with respect to submission of requests of accession to Geneva Conventions and reconciliation with Hamas. The purpose of Cohen’s letter was to show that PA actions had not been a response to the failure to release the last tranche of 26 prisoners but had been planned long beforehand.

I myself thought that was self-evident. The agreement to plan for the re-inclusion of Hamas in the PA in the last week before the talks were ended came too swiftly to be a response to the prisoner release issue. Such an agreement had to have been under negotiation for weeks if not months. However, it does not indicate that Abbas was negotiating in bad faith, only that he had a second track under development if the first track failed, as both he and Netanyahu expected it would. Putting contingency plans in motion in most quarters would be regarded as good politics.

The letter is a distraction as is the whole blame game. The key issue is whether the proposed reconciliation will work and what its effects will be on peace. I have already indicated the motives each side had for concluding such an agreement, stressing particularly the actions of the new governments in Iran and especially Egypt and the effects on Hamas, and, on the other side, Abbas’ fears of his rival and challenger, Mohammed Dahlan. Since I have already suggested that the peace process will no longer be advanced through negotiations between the parties but by unilateral actions by each side, the issue is how this unilateral initiative by the Palestinian Authority will play out. What are the terms of the deal that Azzam al-Ahmad (Fatah) and Mahmoud al-Zahar (Hamas) negotiated and how will the agreement affect the issue of peace?

On the one hand, Hamas refers to the reconciliation of Israel and Hamas as well as participation in the government as a precondition of the reconciliation going forth. On the other hand, others point to the more obvious conclusion of most observers that a reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah makes peace now much more remote since Israel cannot be expected to take steps towards peace, either negotiated or unilateral, when the government on the other side includes a party explicitly dedicated to the elimination of Israel altogether and to the continuation of terrorism. How can these two such opposite positions be reconciled – first, that the most extremist factions in Hamas have agreed on reconciliation with Israel and its opposite, the totally incongruent position of Hamas’ continued insistence that its goal is to eliminate Israel. As Hamas has repeatedly said, “There is no future without jihad and resistance.” As Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chair of Hamas’ political bureau has said, unequivocally, “Hamas will not recognize Israel.”

On Israel Independence Day, Hamas released a new video entitled “The End of Hope”, the end of “Hatikva”, the Israeli national anthem. Hatikva means “hope”. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsDVUVwbtfE) The video open with full orchestral and violin accompaniment and a map of Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean with a Jewish Star of David on top. As Hatikva plays, a young Palestinian boy as a cartoon figure is seen running and throwing a rock at a wall. We then view stock footage of bombed buses and wounded young children wrapped in white sheets and soaked in blood The video emphasizes the use of terror and the rejection of Israel. In the two-minute clip released by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Israeli Jews are warned to emigrate or be killed for the latter will be the consequence of Jews who choose to remain. Cartoon caricatures of Jews with kippas are seen boarding a large passenger ship, presumably in Haifa. Jews praying at the Western Wall are viewed running for their lives as masked members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades with rifles guard the Golden Dome in Jerusalem. The IDF is portrayed as a defeated army. The video ends with a burning Israeli flag inscribed in Arabic, “Israel will inevitably be eliminated”.

But the real issue, on the one hand, is whether Hamas will permit a Palestinian government to recognize and make peace with Israel. I do not believe there is any reason to think that Hamas has changed its position vis a vis Israel or Jews in Palestine. That is why this issue is the most significant aspect of the agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Evidently, and paradoxically, the agreement does permit peace initiatives..

Second, each party would be represented in Parliament in proportion to existing allocations in the National Council from areas where elections cannot be held (Syria and Jordan), but otherwise in proportion to the votes received in the upcoming elections that will be held not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but hopefully in Lebanon. Third, a technocratic government of specialists would be created before the elections with adjustments to allow for inclusion of technocrats working for Hamas. Fourth, six months afterwards, elections for parliament and for the President will proceed. 

As per previous agreements between the parties, Hamas would retain control of security forces in Gaza. Hamas would be assigned a Deputy Minister in the new government. Public prosecution staff and judges employed by the PA who fled Gaza after the Hamas coup would return to their positions in Gaza.. To reconcile with Egypt, the PA presidential security forces would take charge of the Rafah crossing and would be armed only with light weapons. Clearly, to reduce tensions with Egypt in the Sinai, Egypt has backed the reconciliation agreement and allowed Abu Marzouk to travel to Gaza to negotiate and sign the deal. Three days ago, Abbas expanded on the agreement and, as a confidence measure between the two parties, permitted newspapers published by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to be distributed in the West Bank not under Israeli control.

One aspect of the agreement important for mollifying the 20,000 employees that Hamas hired to replaced ousted PA people is that they will either be provided with jobs or pensions (retirement age was set at 55 with an incentive to retire if they are 50 or over) as adjudicated by a special committee with Hamas as an organization paying 40% of the costs of such pensions.

One candidate in the presidential elections in Israel scheduled for June  has stood out in welcoming the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, Meir Sheetit of Hatnua, a strong supporter of Tzipi Livni. What about Hamas well-known stand that it does not support past agreements resulting from Oslo, does not support peace negotiations with Israel and does not recognize Israel? There is no reason to expect those positions to change, but factions in Netanyahu’s government disown a two-state solution or any negotiations with the Palestinians yet the Israeli government engages in such negotiations pursuing a two-state solution. Further, the point is moot since peace is unlikely to be advanced in the near future through formal peace negotiations. Dealing with a government that includes Hamas for some brings closer the possibility that Hamas will reject terrorism and recognize Israel just as the PLO did several decades earlier while for others it brings forward the possibility that the ideology of terror will once more dominate in the halls of power of the central Palestinian Authority.

Whatever the inevitable outcome, the immediate prospect of a more peaceful PA is more a hope rather than an immediate prospect, and a hope that can be characterized as very unlike the dream of Hatikva. The reconciliation agreement just sets a process in motion, a process with a plethora of landmines. Hamas rejects placing the Izz ad-Din al Qassam Brigades under any unified security command structure. There is not even a provision for such a unified command structure in the 23 April agreement whatever Abbas implies. Further, Hamas insists on retaining its weapons and will not even subordinate its security forces to a Higher Security Committee. Hamas uses the Lebanon model as an example. It is the PLO government that will recognize Israel and reject violence, not Hamas.

If this is a formula simply for Hamas saving itself when in dire circumstances or even a formula for Fatah saving face, it is a very dangerous one, that if given substance, will dynamite any moves towards peace from either side, including unilateral ones.

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

by

Howard Adelman

By fallout, I am not talking about the post-apocalyptic scenario envisioned as a result of a nuclear war that is the backdrop of the videogame of that same name. Fallout need not be so drastic but can initiate a widespread piecemeal catastrophe. I am referring to the fallout Barack Obama predicted that would result if the peace talks failed. At the beginning of March, Obama warned Israel that the United States would have more difficulty defending Israel if the talks faltered let alone failed. Both Barack Obama and John Kerry have warned both sides that the window of opportunity for a deal was closing. “Seize the Day,” was the message. Rephrasing the Jewish sage, Rav Hillel, Obama told Netanyahu directly, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” The negotiating parties did not for some of the reasons I outlined in previous blogs seize the day or the hour.

ALL failures have consequences. Those consequences are now upon us. The peace talks did not result in an agreement. They did not result in a watered down framework agreement. They did not even result in an agreement to continue the talks. Now is the time to observe the fallout.

Economic – Israel

At then end of January, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a strong supporter of the peace negotiations, predicted that Israel was approaching a tipping point in the BDS movement in Europe based on a Finance Ministry study. The Israeli economy was already jittery in response to an anticipated failure. If a European boycott movement expands, not only in the number of parties engaged in the boycott, but in the breadth of the sanctions movement beyond products produced in West Bank settlements and businesses operating in the West Bank, as is expected, the Israeli economy, that sailed through the international downturn of the last few years, will now contract. This downturn will be exacerbated as the BDS movement spreads its tentacles, including to the southern sphere, especially Australia, where a recent court case against BDS was lost. The decision of Dutch asset manager PGGM, which manages 150 billion in euros in investments, to halt investments in Israel’s five banks is but a foretaste. It is but the tip of the iceberg of shifts in patterns of investment that have fuelled Israel’s tremendous growth over the last decade as private investors, pension funds and foundations begin to shift resources away from Israel, even if they do so only in anticipation of the economic effects of others shifting their investment priorities. Thus, Obama’s warning in early March that Israel could expect sanctions and international isolation should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to support a framework peace agreement was totally consistent with results of the Israeli Ministry of Finance own study and may result even though, in the end, Netanyahu ended up saying yes to a framework agreement.

Economic- Palestine

Any dramatic economic turndown in Israel will have even more dire consequences for Palestine since the West Bank is so dependent for its economic health on trade with Israel. Parallel to the Israeli Ministry of Finance study, a separate study by the Palestinian Authority adumbrated the negative economic consequences of failed peace talks. 

The economic consequences for the Palestinian Authority will be even worse than the consequences for Israel.

An IMF study prophesied that a breakthrough in the peace negotiations would result in a 6.5% growth rate in the West Bank, but its failure would result in a significant economic contraction, increasing the already fraught situation and undermining efforts to forge a non-violent political effort. Instead of the projected 4.5% growth, there would be a significant economic contraction. Even if talks just continued, even if inconclusive, the growth rate would be 2.5%. Given the termination of the talks, expect a decline in growth rate of at least 2%.  If Israel resorts to economic pressure tactics against the PA, that decline will be even worse.

Political – Israel

With all her experience in leading the negotiations under Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzip Livni has been the widely respected chief negotiator for the Israeli side who has been clearly and unequivocally committed to a two-state solution. Though she was undercut by a number of decisions: 1)  the decision to postpone the release of the 26 Israeli Arabs from prison until the Palestinians agreed to continue the talks beyond the end of April deadline, a decision contrary to the agreement on entering the negotiations; 2) Livni was then undercut by the decision of the PA to apply for membership in 15 of 63 international organizations by becoming a signatory to those international conventions, but explicitly excluding the International Criminal Court, though Mustafa Barghouti held out the promise that this graduated approach will end with joining the ICC as the final step. The move to join fifteen rather innocuous conventions was, in itself, a move contrary to the agreement about the negotiating process, all on top of the decision Housing and Construction Minister, Ariel of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party to announce the building of 700 more housing units in Gilo in Jerusalem, a move, though not contrary to what was formally agreed in the conduct of the negotiations, but was a de facto understanding in  proceeding with those negotiations. Livni’s political wisdom is now undermined. Setting aside her rival within the party, Shaul Mofaz, who had his own plan for advancing the peace negotiations but was ignored even though he was the initiator of the previous interim security agreement, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, who backed her controversial move to join the Netanyahu government even with the strong presence of right wing parties, may now enact their calls for their Hatnua party quitting the coalition. The party is in danger of splitting. If it does not leave the coalition, a move unlikely since Livni has been adamant in placing the bulk of the blame on the Palestinians and has defended Netanyahu as having backed her fully in the negotiations in spite of twice being sideswiped by her cabinet colleagues. 

Political – Fatah/Hamas Reconciliation

If Livni blamed the Palestinians, Saeb Ekrat blamed the Israelis. “To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation,” Ekrat  explicity labelled the Netanyahu government an apartheid regime. Abbas went out of his way to insist that East Jerusalem is an Islamic and Christian Arab city and will be the capital of a Palestinian state, a capital that will include ALL of Arab East Jerusalem including at the very least the Arab arts of the old city.

Contrary to many, I think the PA/Hamas negotiations will come to an agreement to set up a technical government and to schedule elections. It is in the interest of both parties to do so and instigates an end run around Israel’s complaints that Abbas was not a spokesman for all Palestinians while, at the same time, solidifying Abbas’ position against his rivals. Whether the two parties will be able to go further and unify their competing administrative organizations, given the radically different culture that inform both, is a very different question. But political unity does not require administrative unity. The latter can be postponed.

In the meanwhile, Abbas has stacked up credits by calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the twentieth century in direct refutation of the way he downplayed the Holocaust in his PhD thesis written in Moscow years ago. Israelis may dismiss the comment as empty rhetoric, but you cannot call his other denials of the extent of the Holocaust themselves heinous and be unwilling to offer credit when he reverses himself. All this positive payoff is in spite of Abbas’ explicit unwillingness to go ahead with a framework agreement, when Netanyahu approved it, Abbas timing the announcement to sign fifteen international conventions, contrary to the terms of the peace negotiations, on the precise day before the prisoner release was to go ahead in return for America’s release of Jonathan Pollard. Abbas further undermined the initiative to cede control of part of Area C to the Palestinians for building homes in areas slated to be part of Palestine according to previous negotiations, an initiative that in turn was blown up by the announcement of the PLO-Hamas agreement.

One important fallout of the PLO/Hamas reconciliation is an emerging split between the USA and Israel. After all, the USA deals with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah characterized as a terrorist organization. As long as the merged government adheres to the three principles of not resorting to violence, accepting a two state solution and recognizing Israel, America sees no obstacle to negotiations with the new government any more than America refusing to negotiate with Israel because its cabinet includes a few from the hard right who still reject Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. Israel, thus far, has rejected such a possibility, but as in the case of negotiations with Iran, Israel’s resistance may simply drift into the byways of history as once did its refusal to negotiate with the PLO.

Political – Israeli Unilateralism

In spite of the negative lessons of the past critical of unilateral moves, it is more rather than less likely that Israel will not sit back passively as the PLO pursues broadening its international recognition and status and consolidates unification. Israel is already on the road to consolidation of its settlements. Whether Israel will actually annex the settlements scheduled for the swap, move the 100,000 or so settlers outside the consolidation areas or, at the very least, offer them compensation to relocate at a cost of up to $US10 billion, and, more problematically, whether it will enact the swap and transfer jurisdiction to the PA over the territory scheduled to be swapped, would require a bold conjecture. Michael Oren, Dan Meridor and Amos Yadlin have been advocating bold moves along these lines. Even bolder still, would it be for Israel to offer Palestinians within the annexed territories – an estimated 150,000 – citizenship in Israel, or offer them the houses of the settlers evacuated from the rest of the West Bank? Naftali Bennet, of all people, has proffered such an offer.

But there are moves underway in that direction. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the termination of the negotiations, Netanyahu scheduled a cabinet meeting to discuss future Israeli unilateral moves.  There are even more solid moves to transfer more control over Area B to the Palestinians that could be used as a trade off for Palestine slowing down its own moves towards self-determination. One does not necessarily need a peace agreement to advance the two-state solution and avoid the “apartheid” state Kerry anticipated as one possible outcome. Abbas has been asking for a firm delineation of borders. Israel is free to create them – excluding Jerusalem – thus saving both Abbas and Netanyahu the embarrassment of coming to an agreement on Jerusalem that, depending on its contours, would hurt either or even both parties.

Political – USA

The flak over Kerry’s expression of fear that Israel might in future become an apartheid state, a prediction engaged in freely by Israeli politicians on the left, is only a glimpse of the squabbles sure to erupt as America approaches its mid-term elections in November. of what actually happened. But emerge they will. Kerry may launch a grenade himself by publishing the framework agreement he offered both sides. Martin Indyk is going to go back to the United States and will resume his post in Brookings, putting the final stamp and seal on the failed process. I am unable to imagine what will emerge about the process of negotiations that will shift our perceptions.

Military

Will some of that fallout include increased militancy by Palestinians? We have already witnessed an increase in tensions on the Temple Mount with a resumption of rock throwing by the Palestinians and provocative moves by Jewish zealots who dream of rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple. The root of the militancy is not likely to come from Hamas in the immediate future given both the pressures upon it and its agreement with the PLO, but from other more militant outliers. How much leeway they will be given by the PA or Hamas is a matter of debate, but given Abbas’ international approach and his need to shore up his peaceful modus operandi, it is likely he will continue to cooperate with Israeli security in squelching such developments. Similarly, Hamas, if it is to secure a place at the table given its current weakened state largely as a result of what is happening in Egypt, is also unlikely “to stir the kasha”. So I do not believe that Kerry was correct, at least in the immediately foreseeable future that there will be a significant upsurge in violence. This, in itself, will favour the Palestinians and undercut the rhetoric of the Netanyahu government.

Parallel Tracks

It is here that I betray the hoots of my Owl of Minerva still sitting on the branch of my front tree and engage in prophecy. The Palestinian Authority and Israel will both operate now on unilateral tracks, cooperating when it is in their common interest to do so, and working to undermine one another when that is in each party’s interest. But both sides will be moving towards a de facto two state solution since no other solution is feasible for either side. Each will both help strengthen its rival while trying to undermine the rival in the realm of world public opinion. My suspicion, given that Palestine is the weaker party, it will win this public relations war but Israel will advance and solidify its position on the ground. Israel, in contrast to its previous initiative in Gaza, has had lots of time to work out the logistics of these unilateral moves with careful planning and coordination with not only the USA, Egypt and Jordan but with the PA as well. These moves will be both pressure tactics but also de facto additional moves to instigate Israeli separation from occupation and Palestinian self-determination towards full statehood.

Kerry was right. The status quo is unsustainable. But the alternative is not necessarily the two options he adumbrated. Obama’s prediction that if Israel did not support the framework agreement – which Netanyahu actually eventually did and Abbas did not – then the US would no longer be able to effectively defend Israel, is a threat rather than a prediction. Obama, in particular, cited the Israeli settlement construction efforts. “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama went onto claim that, “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Very true! But Israel and Palestine will now have to manage the pursuit of a two-state solution now on parallel tracks rather than through mediation. The consequences of the loss of American leadership could be terrible. But it could also be beneficial. Recall that the Oslo process got its start when America had dropped into the background and other avenues opened up in the pursuit of peace. The USA was a Johnny-come-lately in the Oslo process. 

So there is hope even though Hope is Barack Obama’s middle name and even if he has given up hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Abbas’ Current Goals

Abbas’ Current Goals

by

Howard Adelman

In South Korea, President Barack Obama signaled that America is abandoning – at least for the time being – its efforts to mediate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As John Kerry told a Senate Committee last week, the negotiations just went “poof”. Interestingly, Obama focused on Abbas’ proposed Fatah-Hamas deal as the final straw that necessitated a pause in the peace process which he, in his usual mild use of language, called “unhelpful”, thus echoing Netanyahu’s suspension of the talks because of the deal with Hamas. But Obama noted it was but the latest move. Further, he also made the point that he was not referring only to the PLO because he explicitly said that neither side had demonstrated the political will to make a deal, a reference perhaps to Netanyahu’s refusal to release the last group of prisoners unless the talks were continued, a factor that Obama had cited earlier as “unhelpful” as well as the initiation of 700 new housing tenders in Gilo, Jerusalem, though often referred to as West Bank permits.

The emphasis is important because, in a hearing before a Senate committee earlier this month, John Kerry seemed to pin the blame primarily on the Israelis. Though Kerry did the usual and asserted that both sides bore responsibility because of “unhelpful” actions, he suggested that the precipitating catalyst for what was then the possible breakdown of the talks was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units in an area of Jerusalem across the 1967 lines. By describing the permits as being for Jewish settlement and referring to the area as territory the Palestinians claim for a future state, he suggested that Israel was taking even more land from the Palestinians. These permits were for homes in Gilo, a Jewish part of Jerusalem, although indeed on the other side of the old Green Line. By omitting both that the fact that this was an area Israel had excluded from the freeze in re-embarking on the peace talks and/or that it was an area to be counted against the territory to be transferred to the Palestinians as a quid pro quo, the link with expansionist illegal settlement activity had been made.

Further, as a result of remarks Kerry made on Friday in a closed meeting to the Trilateral Commission, Kerry was reported in Haaretz yesterday by Barak Ravid as having considered making his own proposal for a two-state solution. Kerry warned that if Israel did not move quickly towards a two-state solution, it risked being more widely branded and becoming an ‘apartheid’ state – a very exceptional term for an American statesman to use in application to Israel and in conflict with the Obama doctrine on Israel. The use of the word was so toxic that Kerry was forced to swallow that word and said yesterday that he had chosen the “wrong word”. Kerry insisted – and I agree – that “a two-state solution is the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Further, Kerry, fearless about the difficulties of prognostication, predicted that a freeze in the peace talks could bring about violent conflagration in the West Bank. He based his predictions on a psychological-political analysis: “People grow so frustrated with their lot in life that they begin to take other choices and go to dark places they’ve been before, which forces confrontation.” But his “apartheid” remark was a prediction and not a description of the present state of affairs.

Kerry, like Obama, blamed both sides for the negotiations coming to a dead end but he mentioned Netanyahu specifically for announcing plans to build 14 thousand (sic!) new housing units in settlements. Kerry suggested a change of leaders on either side might allow a breakthrough, but unlike Obama, he clearly seemed to lean towards blaming Netanyahu. This is in spite of the fact that the political leadership in Israel was, in an unprecedented way, united in blaming Abbas. Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were at one with Housing Minister Uri Ariel in placing the blame squarely on the head of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his advisers.

Do we blame Abbas primarily, as Obama suggested, or do we primarily blame Netanyahu, as Kerry implied? Could (not would) a change in either leader possibly lead to a breakthrough? There is a prior question. Why did neither party get past the obstacles to make a deal? What really happened and why was Abbas (tomorrow, Netanyahu) unwilling to engage in serious negotiations?

Abbas made four different moves in the lead up to the terminal date for the initial deadline on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks mediated by the United States:

  • 1 April – he applied to join 15 international agencies on behalf of Palestine, an initiative in breach of the agreement but the applications specifically excluded the International Court and claimed to do so in response to Israel’s failure to release the prisoners as per the agreement
  • 19 April – he threatened to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, give the keys to the West Bank back to Israel and allow Israel to administer the West Bank directly
  • 23 April – he Palestinian National Reconciliation Agreement was signed between Fatah and Hamas implementing two prior agreements negotiated and signed respectively in Cairo in May 2011 and in Doha signed by Mahmoud Abbas himself and Khaled Mashal on February 2012; the new agreement provided for an interim technical government after five weeks with legislative and executive elections to follow within six months.
  • 28 April – n advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day yesterday, Abbas issued a statement calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the modern era, a stark      contrast with Hamas that went out of its way to declare the Holocaust as a made-up lie..

The application to join the fifteen international organizations, but excluding the international court, was intended to tweak both the Israeli and American noses without putting either so totally out of joint as to risk the financial support coming from either party. The threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and give the keys to the West Bank back to Israel was just grandstanding and was so characterized by Saeb Ekrat, the PA chief negotiator. However, the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas was a step of a wholly different order because Hamas has not renounced violence as required by the Oslo Accords, still refuses to recognize Israel and refused to enter into negotiations with Israel for a permanent peace. Finally, Abbas would not only reject many of the conclusions of his own PhD thesis on the Holocaust, but would further differentiate his position from that of Hamas by his remarks because Hamas claims that the Holocaust is a myth.

How could Abbas suck and blow at the same time? If he was sincere about wanting to negotiate a peace deal with Israel, why reconcile with Hamas at this time? Abbas argued that the agreement permits only the PA to negotiate international treaties. Hamas may opt for violence in principle but as part of the agreement would have to surrender any resort to practice. Hamas would not be forced to recognize let alone negotiate with Israel but would not denounce or undercut such negotiations. Further, this was no different than the Americans meeting with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah that Washington dubs a terrorist organization.  If Washington could deal with a unity government in Lebanon, Israel and the United States could deal with a unity government for Palestine. In any case, any agreement would have to be endorsed in a referendum. So the agreement, rather than undermining continued talks, actually strengthened Abbas’ hand because he could be seen as speaking on behalf of all Palestinians.

Hamas had strong reasons for implementing a unity agreement at this time. It was being outflanked on the terrorist front by Islamic Jihad. The situation in Gaza was becoming more precarious every day. With Cairo enforcing the closure of the tunnels ruthlessly as it continued to oppress Hamas’ allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was being forced to reach out. Besides, its main sponsor, Iran, was negotiating now with the Americans and seeking to open Iran up somewhat to the West. Hamas could no longer afford its stubborn isolationism.

This did not mean that all Hamas or Fatah supporters endorsed the new efforts to forge a united front. Ibrahimi Hamamai, the writer and supporter of Hamas, continued to denounce the PA and Fatah as “Israel’s agents” and insisted that reconciliation with either was treasonous and the PA was just a collection of collaborators. Jibril Rajoub, Deputy Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee and Chair of the PA Olympic Committee backed Hamami rather than Abbas and called the Israeli government a racist and fascist regime worse than Hitler in its oppression and use of concentration and extermination camps. 

This is the main explanation why Abbas could not continue the talks at this time. He had to outflank his rivals, particularly Mohammad Dahlan who was waiting in the wings. He needed to strengthen his domestic position and what better time to do so but when he was standing up to both the Americans and the Israelis. He had already conceded that he would bend on the issue of Palestinian return. The last and greatest sticking block was East Jerusalem and the Old City. Already, throwing of stones and unrest on the Temple Mount had heated up over the last week. If he has to walk the fine line between not alienating the Americans lest he forfeit their financial support and rebuild his support among the Palestinians, then he had to appear strong in facing down both the Americans and Israelis but not in such a way as to cut the material support beneath his feet.

This was in preparation for three very different future possible scenarios: 1) an historic deal in which he agrres to make a deal over Jerusalem by taking East Jerusalem in exchange for internationalizing the Temple Mount and possibly conceding the Old City to Israel, a deal not possible with Netanyahu in power and one he does not seem likely to make; 2) a final push to get Israel to concede both the Old City, excluding the Jewish Quarter, in return for a final peace deal; 3) further procrastination since he recognizes no peace deal is possible for which he could get sufficient support.

Abbas’s demand for the right of return had scuttled the Camp David talks. Olmert offered him more than anyone befor he left office and Abbas could still not agree. Abbas is still not in a position to make a deal that woud win sufficient support. So he shows he can be resolute and helps scuttle the talks. This could be read as deceptive practice or not negotiating in good faith or else as negotiating as best he can with a very weak hand while clearly leaving the door open to future negotiations, but, from his perspective, hopefully with a stronger foundation.