Terrorism in Israel and the West Bank

Terrorism in Israel and the West Bank


Howard Adelman

(My apologies in advance if I failed to get Schneeweiss’s comments accurately.)

Yesterday evening, CIJA organized a conference-call across Canada to discuss the current state of terrorist attacks in Israel. DJ Schneeweiss, originally an Australian who made aliya to Israel in 1987, was introduced by the CIJA representative.  DJ took up the post of Consul-General in Toronto in 2012 as the most recent posting in a long and distinguished career in the Israeli Foreign Service. After obtaining his masters degree from Hebrew University, he served as Policy Assistant to Foreign Ministers Ehud Barak (1995-1996) and David Levy (1996-1998). He was the Press Secretary at Israel’s London Embassy from 1998-2002 during which time he was recognized by Diplomat as the most effective Embassy spokesman in London. From 2003-2006, DJ served as Policy Advisor to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. From 2006-2009, he was Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to China. Before coming to Canada, DJ was Director of Civil Society Affairs in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

DJ offered the initial briefing and then opened the presentation to questions. His talk as well as his answers to questions were precise, clear and avoided any obfuscation. At the same time, in such a context, one could not consider alternative characterizations of the situation than the one he depicted, so I will have to fill in that gap.

DJ did not give a specific designation to the terror that has been going on in Israel since Rosh Hashanah, but it has been variously described as the “Third Intifada,” “The Wave of Terror” or the “Knife Intifada.” The latter seems a misnomer since some of the attacks have been shootings and others car rammings, though most have been knife attacks. Nevertheless, it seems to be the one favoured in yesterday’s Ha’aretz. “We are looking for a name for this intifada as well, which has already claimed 23 victims. It’s time to stop the foolishness which keeps calling it a ‘wave of terror.’ Those who really insist on avoiding the word ‘intifada’ can choose ‘a war of terror.’ But it’s an intifada, and there is no reason not to adopt the term which is repeating itself for the third time, even if there is no name to define this type of intifada, as the weapons range from a knife and scissors to cars and firearms.” For example, the initial attack that set off this spate of violence was a shooting by Hamas operatives that killed Eitam and Na’ama Henkin on 1 October.

According to DJ, there have been 72 stabbings, 10 shootings and 12 car rammings thus far.  Contrary to a belief that this was a new outbreak of violence, DJ characterized it as part of a pattern that will continue further, well beyond yesterday’s phone call. DJ held that, although these attacks, certainly near the beginning after the Hamas initial deliberate one, seemed to be the product of lone-wolf-initiated violence. He did not concur at leaving the depiction this way. He contended that, although not perhaps centrally organized and controlled, the violence was manipulated and used for propaganda purposes that almost certainly celebrated that violence and lent it some political and moral authority.

The attackers all denied that Jews had rights to the land. The effect of the campaign is like listening to the horror of a dripping tap, a sound which you cannot get out of your ears. The metaphor seems inappropriate because this tap cannot be simply repaired. Further, one cannot know where the next drip will hit. The attacks, though random and seemingly all over the place, according to DJ, seem to have been exacerbated if not orchestrated by social media that have played such an important part in this wave of violence and used to whip up and incite Palestinians.

Part of the stimulus has been the repeated lies and misrepresentations, such as the calumny that the Israeli government is intent on changing the arrangements for governing the Temple Mount. Instead of Israeli responses being portrayed as self defence, they are misrepresented as intentional cold-blooded murder. Thus, yesterday a piece appeared in Al-Monitor written by Aziza Nofal. Farag Ibrahim Abdul Rahman who owns an antique store in the Old City, noted that after Muhannas al-Halabi stabbed two Jewish settlers and injured another in October, the Old City market has been almost empty. He, and East Jerusalem youth, all saw the responses as efforts to terrorize and intimidate Jerusalemites. He accused Israeli police and the IDF of shooting and attacking women and children in response to a call on their Facebook pages to quietly and peacefully protest the increased police and military presence. Israeli soldiers are using extreme measures, he said, “shooting directly and killing anyone they suspect.”

In the article, reference was made to the shooting of 1-year old Marah Bakir as she was leaving school on 18 October in Sheik Jarah. According to the article, she was shot directly because Israelis suspected that she was involved in an armed attack. Mohammad Majid al-Zaghl, 14, was also arrested on 28 October on his way back from school in the town of Salwan for carrying a wooden ruler. Jerusalemites know, he claimed, that their presence in the Old City is their means of confronting Israel. Jerusalemites refuse to be forced to leave their homes.

This narrative does seem to turn the Consul-General on its head while seemingly confirming his contentions, Yuval Aviv wrote that the efforts to build the Third Temple will destroy the Jewish state while DJ was adamant that the Israeli government insisted on maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and was not trying to make any changes whatsoever. He did not mention that a group of Israeli extremists believed that the rule of the priests and kings would be restored while ultimate authority remained in the hands of God.

At the opposite end of this extremist Jewish rhetoric is a dovish one. The violent actions of the Palestinians must be understood as, if not justifiable, at least comprehensible responses to years of frustration and upset over the years of occupation and a genuine fear of settlement expansion making the West Bank too disfigured to make self-determination feasible. DJ did not acknowledge or criticize this alternative opposing narrative from the dovish side that claims that the Palestinian violence has been provoked by Israeli insensitivities to justifiable grievances. However, if the terrorism of the Parisian suicide ISIS militants and the activities of Hamas and Hezbollah all stem from the same root, then such an argument is at least partially undercut. However, like DJ’s story, the dovish story of the oppressed resorting to violence because of the heavy weight of oppression is also a universal tale told from Mumbai to Paris, Israel to Mali and Nigeria.

One may think that the term “oppression” is totally inappropriate in depicting Israeli control over the West Bank. Control is the correct term. This is omitted from DJs narrative, which suggests that the PA is an independent power in total control of the situation on the ground, whereas the PA has only very limited administrative control and Israel is the de facto sovereign, certainly in terms of security and financial self-determination. The Israeli shekel is the monetary unit used by Palestinians. Israel controls the external borders and air space. Further, though Israeli Palestinians have most of the rights of any Israeli citizen – and produced only three knife terrorists – most Palestinian residents in Jerusalem (300,000) only have residence cards. Palestinians in the West Bank are ultimately subjects, not citizens.

DJ did accuse the Palestinian Authority (PA) of being unwilling to stand up and fight the upsurge in violence and, in fact, was playing a double game by supplying a degree of covert coordination with winks and nods rather than direct commands. The PA had chosen not to confront the upsurge in violence and had to be held accountable for its actions and inaction. Moral accountability was needed instead of the West absolving the PA of any responsibility. Israelis were to be commended for their fortitude and perseverance. The IDF and border police were to be congratulated for the steps they have taken to stem the violence. Included in those steps have been house demolitions, restrictions on work permits and resistance to the militant pressure. Most of all, Israelis were to be praised for adopting an attitude that, “Life goes on.”

The violence, DJ contended, was not the result of Israeli untoward political or otherwise militant responses, let alone initiatives, or even a role of tit for tat as depicted in some media. The issue was not one of inappropriate Israeli actions and reactions. Israeli responses inhibit violence in the first instance and then prevent it becoming lethal in the second sense. What Israel would not do was offer concessions that would be perceived as rewarding violence or that Israel would remain passive in the face of violent confrontation and deliberate misrepresentations.

This interpretation ignores the fact that the IDF had strongly recommended that a number of steps be taken to ease restrictions on the West Bank to decrease the tensions building up, but the government did not act on them, and now will not act lest the government be perceived as giving in to terror. However, when Israel does respect Palestinian rights to due process, freedom of movement, representation on zoning decision-making bodies, Israel earns considerable goodwill. This was the conclusion of both the IDF and the intelligence services, but the government did not act on that evaluation. Of course, those who refuse to accept the Palestinians as having any sovereign or self-governing authority, those so-called “concessions,” simply straightforward recognition of a partnership between two people sharing and dividing a piece of land, with the Palestinians still only netting 22%, those gestures are simply perceived as another step in the surrender of Israeli authority over all of Palestine – which, of course, they are.

DJ’s main thesis concerned the identification of the violence in Israel with the wave of extremist violence around the world rooted in an ideology of the supremacy of Islam, the exclusive rights of Islam, and the repression or even elimination of infidels. The immediate terrorist acts were intended to sew fear, wreck havoc and spread that fear through the population using, not simply violence, but the slick use of social media. DJ contended that the Iranians were complicit in this terrorism as Shia fought Sunni, as old regimes contended with new and younger challengers, and as the West refused to put boots on the ground to confront the scourge. In contrast, Israeli security forces, police and intelligence were on the front lines. For DJ, it must be understood that Palestinian terrorists and ISIS or al-Qaeda all drank from the same ideological well. Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and ISIL, were at their foundations similar in glorifying death as a presumed moral ideal.

Amjad Iraqi wrote that, “Suggestions that terrorism springs from the same well as terrorism in Israel are misleading and dangerous. Erasing complexity may be a comfort in difficult days like these, but conflating the varying causes of violence won’t help us end it.” He went on to decry the comparison further. “Under the guise of attempting to arrange the current wave of global violence into some kind of cohesive narrative, and with the debate on terrorism at saturation point, many observers of the Israel-Palestine conflict have seized on the opportunity to situate the bloodshed here as springing from the vaguely-defined, amorphous phenomenon of ‘global jihad’ or ‘militant Islam’. This line of reasoning posits Islamic State, Hamas and lone-wolf attackers on the streets of Israel-Palestine within the same nexus of expansionist religious fanaticism and has been adopted enthusiastically in Israel, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downward.”

In the case of Israel, the nationalist-political dimensions were ignored in the equation. The killings were simply attributed to Islamist extremism. Peace talks may not be on the agenda for a number of reasons, but whitewashing the occupation does not help tackle the problem. Further, it allows Israeli leaders to position the settlements as the frontline in the fight against terror instead of attempts at expanding the territorial acquisitions by Israel. Saying this does not mean one condones or justifies the killings or even blames the killings on the so-called oppressors. On the other hand, the equation of various types of terrorism in this way allows us to forget George W. Bush’s war against Iraq that played such an important part in destabilizing the Middle East.

Context is important. Different trajectories are important. To sweep everything up into an overarching grand simplistic narrative leads us, not only to bad explanations, but to ill-fitting solutions. It is certainly true that the successes of Israel and Western governments in countering these threats cannot simply be based on dealing with direct challenges. Many plots and attacks have been thwarted. Look at the list in Israel alone – over 100 attacks and attempted terrorist initiatives by over 100 Palestinians and even three Israeli Palestinians. Just yesterday, a Palestinian male was shot after stabbing an Israeli man in the West Bank in the latest incident in a two-month spate of attacks that has left 19 Israelis, 1 American and 89 Palestinians dead. However, only 57 of those deaths were reported to be attackers; the rest were allegedly killed in clashes with police, suggesting that some innocent Palestinians have also been killed.

In the meanwhile, as DJ contended, Israelis are determined to go on and not only survive, but to live well. They will continue to do so as the government attempts to balance the protection of individual rights with measures needed to be taken to protect its citizens. Israel continues to have a thriving democracy. We are all in for the long haul, DJ insisted. The terrorists will not be defeated either easily or quickly. More assets and resources need to be put into this battle by all democratic governments. However, the peace process will not proceed until the violence ceases.

Even concessions, such as raising restrictions on road access, easing travel and work permits or releasing prisoners will not be contemplated as long as the violence continues. In any case, there is no silver bullet and DJ rejected suggestions by at least three callers that Israel take more forceful actions against Palestinians in general as advocated by Naftali Bennet. This possibility was firmly and unequivocally rejected. All actions have both intended and unintended consequences that all have to weighed lest the decisions made increase rather than decrease insecurity.

Thus, generally, there are two basic conflicting narratives, and two versions of each. All four have their own corresponding response strategies. For the right, the violence is totally the fault of extremist, unrepentant violent killers propelled by an ideology of both death and triumphalism (Naftali Bennett). Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joined Bennett in launching a campaign to initiate “Operation Defensive Shield 2.” They argue that the only appropriate response is the one akin to that launched by Former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, after the attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed 30 Israelis. In six weeks, that violent insurrection was totally smashed. Use overwhelming force. Crush the insurrection. Netanyahu, they claim in an appeal to their settler backers, is weak and ineffectual.

Other right-of-centre proponents, like DJ, moderate their responses and do not opt for an all out war and extermination of the scourge. Rather, they advocate managing the problem rather than exacerbating it by an approach that insists on a dramatic and much more robust military response.

Similarly, the left or dovish narrative also has a more moderate position than the views of those dubbed “grievance freaks” by the right. It suggests combining gestures, both symbolic and real, with initiatives that will enlist Mahmoud Abbas more actively in suppressing the violence in recognition that Abbas is not complict in abetting the violence. This interpretation is endorsed by many if not most in the IDF leadership and the intelligence corps. Instead, Abbas is only hanging onto his diminishing authority by a thread and refuses to take initiatives that would sever that thread altogether. Demolishing homes of families of attackers, shooting to kill, a greatly increased military presence in the lives of the Palestinians, only enhance rather than calm the raging waters. The response must be appropriate to the type of terrorism, for it is violence without a central address or a central headquarters by youth bent on killing or wounding Israelis on their, the attackers’, path to self-destruction. No known intelligence system can anticipate such acts, making them all the more frightening.

Certainly, the killers are greeted as heroes and martyrs after they die, even as the Palestinian leadership ostensibly disagrees with the tactics. For their cause is applauded, not the specific action. On the other hand, in Israel, DJ was correct in saying that the majority of Jewish Israelis have no stomach for further negotiations with the Palestinians without some real movement from the other side. Any concessions would benefit the Palestinians and reduce the power, authority and influence of Israel over territories without anything concrete in return, for piecemeal concessions do not bring peace. So Israelis elect a leader who promises to do everything to see that nothing is done on this front.

The result: ignoring IDF advice and building up explosive pressure that erupts in a really violent outbreak which, unfortunately, is akin to the first intifada which resulted in Oslo, and the second which resulted in withdrawal from Gaza. Failing to take small preventive steps ends up requiring much larger ones. We know that from the treatment of diseases. The lesson also applies to social maladies.


VII Samantha Power: Machinations on the 31 December 2014 Jordanian Resolution

VII Samantha Power: Machinations on the 31 December 2014 Jordanian Resolution


Howard Adelman

In the maneuvers to prevent passage of the Palestinian resolution put forth by Jordan at the end of December, at least two questions arise. First, who? Who did what and how did they succeed in preventing passage of the resolution? In particular, was the UN American delegation headed by Samantha Power instrumental in the failure of the resolution to pass? Second, why? Why did the Palestinians push for a vote when they were virtually guaranteed passage after January 1st when Rwanda and Australia, countries which abstained or voted against the resolution, left the Security Council and countries which supported the resolution, including Venezuela and Malaysia as well as Jordan, joined the Security Council? The two issues are interrelated. But first the question of Palestinian motives.

Two facts are clear. The Palestinians aggressively pushed for a vote before the end of December. Second, they were blindsided by the Nigerian vote to abstain; they expected Nigerian support almost right up to the hour before the vote. Here are a number of propositions vying to explain the situation:

  1. They expected to win and just miscalculated;
  2. They calculated that the risk of losing was very low, but even if they lost, they could simply have a second vote in the New Year, which they would win and thereby double the publicity and triple the exhilaration that came with a win;
  3. They were indifferent to the results since the whole point of the exercise was to deepen the rift between Europe and Israel, and even a loss would do that;
  4. They did not care whether the resolution passed or was vetoed, or even lost, because, ironically, they wanted to help Netanyahu win the March election in Israel, lest the Palestinian Authority (PA) be faced with an Israeli government strongly committed to a two-state solution and, therefore, putting the PA on the defensive internationally for not being able to conclude a deal, and on the defensive domestically against those critical of any deal;
  5. Given the pressure John Kerry as Secretary of State put on President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, they wanted to lose because they would win their case in the world of public opinion, particularly in Europe, without alienating the U.S.A. significantly by provoking a veto that in turn might then even lead to the cancellation or reduction of foreign aid from the U.S.

The first proposition is feasible given the aggressive campaign the Palestinians waged, but, if true, revealed the weakness of their diplomatic intelligence. Further, the loss makes the PA subject to ridicule by its critics. However, it does not explain the rush given a guarantee of success only weeks later. The Palestinian explanation that further delay would have led to a loss of momentum does not initially appear credible. The loss not only weakens the PA in terms of its domestic critics, but wearies the diplomatic UN delegations from other states given that the UN spends a huge disproportionate time on the Palestinian issue, a situation particularly troubling when there are so many other urgent and far more horrific situations on which to focus. This is especially true since, even those who supported the resolution are firmly convinced that, in the final analysis, the only route to peace is through direct negotiations between the PA and the Israeli government.

The second thesis is also possibly true, and we soon may be easier to tell. However, the situation is not as simple as it might appear given the rules of procedure of the Security Council and an understanding of the issue of momentum. There is no prohibition against resubmitting a resolution that has not passed. But the Palestinians had floated the motion in October. It had been worked on and re-worked and had to be approved by the Arab League at each change. Look how much time it took to get a resolution in writing put before the Security Council in a form that would not attract amendments, since amendments are voted on first.  Further, Rule 32 in the procedures and practices of the UN Security Council requires that resolutions be placed in the order of their submission, unless the UNSC itself deems the issue a matter of great urgency, which this resolution is not. Therefore, since a new session starts the clock again, and since there are always other resolutions being put before the Security Council, a vote on a re-tabled Palestinian motion would not take place immediately.

The UNSC deals with an average of two resolutions per week not counting the even more numerous presidential statements brought before the UNSC. For example, when Nigeria, a subject of this blog, was president of the UNSC for the month of April – the presidency rotates month-to-month – 7 resolutions and 11 presidential statements came before the UNSC. The UNSC dealt with topics ranging from Western Sahara to South Sudan, Central African Republic, Darfur, Cote d Ivoire, Syria, Ukraine and genocide. But if you google UNSC resolutions, and even specify 2015, 90% of the items that come up are about the resolution on Palestine that failed to pass at the end of 2014.  And what else comes up is usually historical – an old debate on South Africa or on reforming the UN Security Council. One has the impression that the Palestinian issue is the overwhelming preoccupation of the United Nations.

However, yesterday, the UNSC took up the issue of the horrific attack by Islamic militants in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which twelve were killed. The day before, Mali was the main subject on the agenda that also dealt with Syria and MINUSMA, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Today, the UNSC has on its agenda an update report on the situation concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) to be followed by a closed session on UNOWA. In the rest of January, the UNSC will deal with UNFICYP (the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus), UNOCI (the United nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire) and sanctions against that state, CAR (Central African Republic), as well as many others that I will not bother to spell out – UNFICYP, UNMIK, DRC, BNUB, TCC, UNRCCA, MONUSCO, UNIOGBIS, UNFICYP, UNAMI. In addition, full debates will take place on thematic topics: sanctions in general, post-conflict peacebuilding, the whole of the Middle East, maintenance of international peace and security, and the protection of civilians. One has to be in love with the alphabet soup of international relations to follow the workings of the UN Security Council alone. Yet, if your knowledge of the UN comes simply from the media or from google, you might swear that the Israeli-Palestinian issue took up 90% of the UNSC’s time.

In a calculation of gains and losses among various scenarios interpreting the failure to pass the UNSC resolution on Palestine, Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman’s claimed that the failure “must teach the Palestinians that the provocations and attempts to force Israel into unilateral moves will not lead them to any gains – only the opposite.” This is sheer rhetoric. Because, whatever the alternative scenarios, none of them was intended to advance the cause of peace, only to advance the position of the Palestinians, in particular, of the Palestinian Authority, in the esteem of their own people and in the international game of diplomatic jockeying. For no deal is on the horizon with this Israeli government or its possible centre-left successor unless three issues are resolved: the status of the Old City; clarification that refugees will largely be compensated and how that compensation process will work, and, most importantly, on how security will be assured for Israel, an issue which has reached the highest in importance given what happened in Gaza after the Israelis withdrew and given the disintegration in general in the Middle East following the Arab Spring.

So gains sought are strategic, most importantly, relative to the shifting sands in the international community, particularly in Europe. That suggests that the third to fifth propositions appear on initial examination to be most relevant. However, since all Palestinian efforts were so strenuous and the Palestinian and Arab delegations expected to secure a majority of nine votes needed for passage of the resolution at the UN Security Council on 30 December 2014, all three are actually implausible because it would mean all the Arab delegation members were superior actors. Not one of them, let alone each and every one, is a Sadat. This pushes us back to proposition1 and possibly 2.

The plausibility of accepting proposition 1 as the correct explanation, that is, the failure to pass the proposed resolution was simply a Palestinian miscalculation, increases because the Palestinians waited to actually table the resolution until both France and Luxemburg had been persuaded to vote in favor of the final version of the resolution. The PA had then clearly calculated that they had the necessary nine votes to win. After all, their claims for momentum is plausible given the wind behind their sails as a result of European developments. Europe had become increasingly feisty about the inability of the USA to push forward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition to the EU itself passing a strong resolution by a very large majority in support of a two-state solution (498 to 88, with 111 abstentions), Sweden, the British Parliament, Ireland, Spain, Denmark and France had also passed such resolutions. These parliamentary votes on foreign policy issues are not binding on a country’s stance, hence Britain’s abstention. However, such votes do change the political climate.

Further, Israeli delegates at the UN indicated repeatedly that they were expecting the vote to pass by the minimum vote required and that the resolution would be vetoed by the U.S. Was this a feint to hide the knowledge that Nigeria would switch from the approval to the abstention column? It appeared that the Nigerian delegates did not know of the switch until the delegation received last minute instructions directly from Afula, the capital of Nigeria, to abstain. Why did the Palestinians not take this possibility into consideration? Had the Israelis played them to at least deliver a temporary and symbolic defeat?

That takes us to the other half of the story – the backroom manoeuvres to get Nigeria to change its vote. Here Avigdor Lieberman, so at odds with his clumsy rhetorical posturing and exercises in self-promotion, looms large. The Foreign Ministry of Israel in general and Lieberman in particular had targeted African states for diplomatic attention.  Back in September 2009, Lieberman traveled to Africa and visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. In June 2014, Lieberman returned to Africa and visited Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya, but, interestingly enough, not Nigeria. For by then, Netanyahu had established a personal relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. The latter had visited Israel twice in 2014 alone, the last time in October 2014 when he flew in his private plane to join 3,000 Nigerian Christian pilgrims to Israel. At that time, he placed his own personal note in the Western Wall.  Netanyahu went out of his way to offer Jonathan a gracious welcome and the two, among other things, discussed Nigeria’s votes in the Security Council. Once Netanyahu knew that a vote was immanent in the Security Council, he phoned Jonathan personally to request that Nigeria abstain from supporting the Palestinian resolution in contrast to the usual pattern of Nigeria routinely voting for Palestinian resolutions.

So although Israel had been doing poorly on the diplomatic front in Europe, it had been developing friends and supporters in Africa, in particular in Rwanda, Nigeria and other African states facing the rising threat of radical Islam. Israel had been first off the mark to offer Nigeria help in combatting Boko Haram, President Jonathan’s most lethal internal domestic threat. Though John Kerry also phoned  President Goodluck to convince him to instruct his UN delegation to abstain in the UN Security Council vote on the Palestinian resolution, evidence suggests that he was not successful, not because John Kerry lacked persuasive powers, but because the U,S, has been so up-and-down in assisting Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.

A very brief background first. In 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (SOP), opposed Shell Oil Company’s polluting the Niger Delta, Saro-Wiwa, along with eight others, was executed by the military rulers of Nigeria. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth and an arms embargo was imposed by the EU and the USA. It was just after that suspension that we (a consortium of university research units and the office of the UN secretary-general) sent our first pilot early warning team to gather information on the struggle between the pro-democracy movement and the military rulers in the belief that the internal tensions might result in a civil war. To our surprise, we learned that the military rulers were strongly entrenched. More important, we learned of a nascent conflict, about which none of our Nigerian experts had any knowledge. A low-level conflict between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria was not only brewing; it was underway and was far more serious than all the inter-ethnic conflicts in that country (there are well over a 100 tribes and language groups). However, out exclusive funder, the government of Canada, decided that the information produced was not “actionable” and discontinued support. We would later revive the early warning effort in other African venues backed by American money.

Since that time, democracy was restored in Nigeria and sanctions were lifted by the beginning of this century, but the new focus in the last six years has not been on arms supplies, but on reinforcing democracy, integrity and good governance.  However, the religious conflict, largely propelled by an anti-Christian insurgency led by radical Muslims, grew. The most famous were attacks by Boko Haram founded in 2002. An estimated 5,000-15,000 civilians have been killed, mostly Christians, by Boko Haram. That terrorist organization reached its greatest infamy this past year with the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls. After all its infamy, the UNSC finally, on 23 May 2014, imposed sanctions against Boko Haram to close off funding, travel and weapons to the group after attacks against two villages in Boro State killed 30 and twin blasts compounded their heinous crime of kidnapping the 200 girls by killing at least 118 people in a market in the central city of Jos. Samantha Power was a leading voice in pushing for sanctions in the Security Council against Boko Haram. After the unanimous vote, she boasted that, “Today, the Security Council took an important step in support of the government of Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities.”

However, at the beginning of last month, the Nigerian government ended its U.S.-sponsored military training program in response to a decision by Washington not to sell Nigeria Cobra attack helicopters which Nigeria said it needed for its battle against Boko Haram. The U.S. explanation for its action: “concerns about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain this type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram and ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.” James Entwistle, the American ambassador to Nigeria, added that complaints about human rights violations by Nigerian troops in the north-east of the country also were reasons. The United States blocked Nigeria’s ability to purchase any weapons for its military; the U.S refused to even consider the Nigerian military’s request for arms.

Yet in the spring, Samantha Power had said that, “The sanctions designation [for Boko Haram] is the latest step in the international community’s long-term effort to help Nigeria counter this terrorist threat.” SP continued, “We will continue doing everything we can to help the people of Nigeria bring back their girls, and we will work with the government of Nigeria to eliminate Boko Haram, including refuting their [Boko Haam’s] backwards and bloodthirsty ideology, because no child anywhere should ever be afraid to pursue a brighter future.” Helping in a rescue effort, refuting a militant ideology, but not supplying weapons to the government best equipped to fight Boko Haram. This was SP’s and the Obama administration’s strategy.

U.S. Ambassador Entwistle told the Nigerians that U.S. support was “unwavering”. Americaa’s interpretation of its unwavering support for Nigeria was bound to make Israel even more sceptical of America’s unwavering support for Israel. Support for the battle against Boko Haram takes many forms: military training, information sharing and supplying military equipment. Except re the latter, sometimes not. A part of Ambassador Entwistle’s rationale for the cancellation of the helicopter deal is worth quoting at length.

Over the years, the United States has always been willing to share appropriate military equipment with Nigeria.  That remains the case today but must be understood in the context of our global policy on arms transfers.  The U.S. government undertakes a rigorous evaluation process before proceeding with the sale of military equipment to any country, including Nigeria.  The U.S. Departments of State and Defense review all potential arms transfers for their consistency with U.S. policy and interests, as detailed in the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.  This includes any requests from a country that we have sold or donated weapons to resell or donate those same weapons to another country, such as Nigeria.  We examine whether an arms transfer makes sense for the needs of the prospective country.  Part of our review considers whether equipment may be used in a way that could adversely affect human rights.

SP had traveled with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to Nigeria, as well as Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad just two weeks before the 31 December vote, but the agenda did not include Nigeria’s vote on the Security Council on the Palestinian resolution which had been tabled on the day SP left for Africa. Instead, SP focused on promoting human rights and good governance as well as coordinating regional security. On the Security Council, SP clearly supports the Obama administration position of watching Israel’s backside while remaining critical of the front. But SP’s real heart is not in how to deal with state power or how to use diplomacy to win state support, but on rhetorical support for ideals – human rights, democracy, good governance.

So, in the end, the explanation is the simplest one available. The PA miscalculated and the Netanyahu administration, of all parties, outmaneuvered them.  The Palestinian offensive and the Israeli defense were synergistic. The US was totally sidelined in its preoccupation with human rights, democracy and good governance, all the issues dearest to my heart. But unless you also know how to play hardball, you are bound to be impotent even in advancing these ideals.

The emphasis on ideals is not just SP’s. It is that of the Obama Administration.

Tomorrow: Samantha Power on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)


The Nigerian military is reported to be short of adequate munitions and ammunition. This past week, after capturing a military base in northeast Nigeria and using gasoline bombs and explosives, Boko Haram destroyed Baga, the last town in northern Borno under federal control, and burned down 16 villages. Estimated death toll – 2,000. Thousands of other Nigerians are trapped without food and water.

The Integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority Government

The Integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority Government


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.