Week in Review: The Pragmatic Murderer; Hamas’s Continued Human Rights Crackdown

The Pragmatic Murderer

Former Iranian president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died on Sunday at the age of 82. A New York Times editorial published after his death praised him and called him a “pragmatist.” This is an odd description of someone who has been implicated in planning terror attacks on foreign soil while he was president. The Times‘s own obituary mentioned that a German court found that Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had approved the 1992 killing of four Iranian dissidents in a Berlin restaurant, and that Argentinian investigators tied him to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people. The 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 American service members, was also planned by Rafsanjani, according to Louis Freeh, who was the FBI director at the time.

Despite all this, Rafsanjani was considered by many to be a “moderate.” This shows, as Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy observed when Hassan Rouhani (another reputed moderate) won the presidency in 2013, that “the Islamic Republic’s history indicates that ‘moderate’ or ‘reformist’ presidents do not translate into moderation of Iran’s terrorism sponsorship.”

The Times editorial also portrayed Rafsanjani as someone who “felt that establishing relations with the United States was the best way to ensure the future of Iran’s theocratic system.” This outreach, which his protege Rouhani expanded upon, led to the 2015 nuclear deal, which absolved Iran for its past violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and freed up billions of dollars that Iran would eventually use to build up its military. Despite this, the Times wrote that nuclear deal is worth keeping as an encouragement to Iran’s moderate forces. But Rafsanjani was an ideologue not a pragmatist, and the nuclear deal was not a triumph for Iran’s moderation, since any true reformers, such as Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the likely true winner of the 2009 presidential election, have been barred for running for office. The Iranian regime still views the United States as its enemy and will likely continue violating the nuclear agreement, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly admitted that it has done. Rafsanjani’s death changes nothing in Iran, and it doesn’t damage the standing of Iran’s moderates, as all moderates have effectively been purged from the ruling class.

Hamas’s Continued Human Rights Crackdown

Hamas continued to crack down on dissent in the Gaza Strip while trying to contain fallout from its decision to limit the amount of power delivered to homes to just three or four hours a day.

The electricity limits prompted local comedian Adel al-Mashwakhi to produce a one-minute video called “It’s enough Hamas,” in which he lamented the power shortages and said, “(Take) everything, but electricity, Hamas.” The video garnered over 300,000 views. Al-Mashwakhi was subsequently arrested.

Al-Mashwakhi was not alone in his dissatisfaction; thousands took to the streets to protest the power cuts, in what the Associated Press described as “one of the largest unauthorized protests in the territory since the Islamic militant group took power a decade ago.” During the protests, journalists were prevented by Hamas security from filming the protests and an Associated Press reporter was briefly detained at gunpoint until he surrendered his mobile phone to Hamas security personnel. A photographer for Agence France-Presse was beaten badly by uniformed police officers when he initially refused to give up his camera.

Contempt for freedom of the press has been an ongoing issue in Palestinian territories. In August, Human Rights Watch condemned the treatment of journalists by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, stating that their tactics led to a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in the Palestinian territories.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which was passed last month amid great controversy, proclaimed the UN’s “vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.” It is hard to see how governments that disregards basic freedoms like freedom of the press and freedom of speech can properly be considered democratic.

The PA Keeps Rewarding Terror

Last Sunday’s truck ramming attack in Jerusalem, which left four young soldiers dead, was hailed by both Hamas and Fatah, the dominant political party in the Palestinian Authority. Their declarations of support for the attacker were in marked contrast to the nearly-unanimous condemnations coming from the rest of the world.

The PA’s official media dubbed the terrorist who drove the truck a “shahid,” or martyr. This designation has the force of law, meaning that the terrorist’s widow and family are entitled to a monthly stipend of $760 for life.

Again, it is hard to square verbal and financial support for terror with the Security Council’s vision of “two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace.”

Feature: I Fought ISIS with the Kurds In Syria. This Is What It Was Like.

Robert Amos was a graduate student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2014 when he heard about ISIS’s genocidal attacks against the Yazidi people in northwestern Iraq. When he saw images of the Yazidis’ plight on the news, he quit his studies and made his way to Syrian Kurdistan to fight alongside Kurdish rebels against ISIS. After meeting his Kurdish comrades-in-arms, Amos observed that Jews and Kurds possess “shared values and historical connections, as well as the common enemy of Islamist terror.”

Foreigners who came to fight alongside the Kurds generally broke down into three categories, Amos noted: those who had previous military careers, those like him who were motivated by the Kurds’ bravery in protecting the Yazidis, and socialist and anarchist dreamers inspired by Abdullah Öcalan, a Kurdish leader currently imprisoned by Turkey who advocates a self-created philosophy called “communalism,” which is based on the idea of autonomy and cooperation of local communities with little central authority. After learning more about communalism and interacting with Kurdish acolytes of Öcalan, “Everything began to make sense—the equality between the sexes in the community and on the battlefield, the sharing of everything in common, and the local autonomy of the community. It was all strangely reminiscent of the ideology of the early kibbutzim.”

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Three Big Questions

In an op-ed published this week in Haaretz, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault advocated for the Middle East peace conference scheduled to begin on Sunday in Paris, which Israel is not attending. Ayrault wrote that the conference was necessary because “peace cannot wait” and “a two-state solution will, in time, bring stability to the region and enable Israel to live in security.” The two-state solution is officially supported by both the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is growing more unpopular with the Palestinian people, as Grant Rumley of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in Foreign Affairs this week. Abbas has named no successor, which will likely lead to a crisis when the 81-year-old Abbas leaves power. “To compensate for his weak position,” Rumley wrote, “Abbas has lashed out at public dissent, further alienating Palestinians from his government. A majority now wants Abbas to resign.” How can an effective peace agreement be reached, in Paris or anywhere else, when one of the major parties has little domestic political legitimacy and no ability to guarantee that future governments will hold to any agreement?

FDD senior fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in The Weekly Standard this week about a a recent conversation he had with a PA official. “When I finally tired of his urgent demand that America rectify Israeli transgressions or see violence rip the West Bank, I asked him how long he thought the Palestinian Authority could survive if Israel yanked its support to Fatah’s security apparatus,” Gerecht recounted. “I suggested one month. He remonstrated: ‘We could probably last two.'” How can Ayrault insist on an agreement now when the Palestinian Authority’s ability to protect its citizens from anarchy (or a Hamas coup) rests on such shaky ground?

Earlier this week, Hamas arrested senior Fatah official and spokesman Fayez Abu Aitah, the latest example of the schism between the two main Palestinian parties. Is now the best time for a peace conference, considering that the future state of Palestine is currently being run by two warring groups?

In sum: How can Ayrault claim that he “cannot wait” to engender a two-state solution that will “bring stability to the region and enable Israel to live in security,” when the current Palestinian leadership is so manifestly unprepared for statehood?

[Photo: Mehr News ]