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Week in Review: With Abbas Tightening His Grip, What Would a Palestinian State Look Like?

Elections For Me, But Not for Thee

The Palestinian Authority announced on Tuesday that scheduled municipal elections in May would only take place in the West Bank, thus excluding the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the West Bank government’s decision… amounts to reinforcing the split” between the terror organization and Fatah, the party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The elections were originally scheduled for last October, before being postponed due to “procedural problems.” With those problems presumably fixed by not running elections in Gaza, Abbas can continue to consolidate his power and suppress dissent.

This is only the latest move Abbas has made to sideline opposition groups, both inside and outside Fatah. He established a new constitutional court last May to be run by judges appointed by him, and was unanimously reelected Fatah leader in November after excluding all rivals from the party convention. The following month, Abbas lifted parliamentary immunity from allies of his exiled rival Mohammad Dahlan. Najat Abu Bakr, a lawmaker who spoke out against corruption within Abbas’s inner circle, was forced to seek sanctuary in the Palestinian parliament building last year after a warrant was issued for her arrest. Journalists who report on these and other issues are frequently harassed and intimidated.  As Voice of Israel Radio correspondent Gal Berger summarized in a tweet last September, “In the West Bank—there is only one law. His name is Mahmoud Abbas.”

In contrast, the Israeli government showed this week that it is accountable to the electorate, the judiciary, and other independent institutions necessary for a democracy to thrive. On Tuesday, the State Comptroller issued his long-awaited report on the government’s conduct before and during Operation Protective Edge, the summer 2014 war with Hamas. The report was critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

The following day, Israeli security forces evacuated and demolished nine homes near the West Bank community of Ofra on Wednesday after being ordered to do so by the High Court.

Agree or disagree with these actions, they show that Netanyahu and his government are ultimately constrained by and accountable to state institutions and the electorate. When Netanyahu stands for re-election, the electorate will have more information by which to judge his performance and determine if he deserves an unprecedented fifth term as head of government.

Diplomats have been trying to create an independent Palestinian state in the context of bilateral negotiations ever since then-President George W. Bush expressed in 2002 that “it’s in everybody’s interest that there be two states, living side by side in peace.” But Abbas’s lack of accountability raises questions about what a Palestinian state would look like if internal dynamics don’t change. Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warned in May 2016 that if the West fails to challenge Abbas’s ever-growing corruption and autocratic rule, it “could have a devastating effect on the long- prospects for a viable Palestinian state.”

Who’s to Blame for Failed Peace Talks? One Negotiator Breaks His Silence

In a December speech justifying the United States’ decision not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli activities in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, then-Secretary of State John Kerry placed most of the blame for the failure of peace negotiations during his tenure on the Jewish State. But in a tell-all analysis published in The American Interest this week, former Israeli negotiator Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog painted a much different picture.

Times of Israel diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren characterized Herzog’s criticism of Kerry’s conduct during the talks as “devastating,” elaborating that Herzog “cites instances where Kerry misrepresented Israel’s positions to the Palestinians, and suggests the US team led by the former secretary might have deliberately misled the parties.”

Aside from his (politely delivered) criticisms of Kerry, Herzog made observations about negotiations that were unnoticed by outside observers. For one thing, although Herzog criticized some of Netanyahu’s decisions, he also described him as being “immersed in the process,” praising him for his “seriousness, far more so than public accounts attest” in trying to get an agreement with the Palestinians.

On the other hand, he reported, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly complained that nine months was too long of a time to negotiate; “his statement succinctly reflects the Palestinian mindset I have witnessed for years,” Herzog assessed. He also noted that Abbas’s history of rejecting deals, including a 2008 peace offer from then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, suggested that Israel currently lacks “a willing and capable Palestinian partner” to make peace.

Herzog suggested that in the absence of such a partner, Israel can advance the prospects of peace by seeking “regional and international partners (which it is likely to find) and apply[ing] some constructive unilateral measures in coordination with these partners (including ceasing settlement activity beyond the blocs)—all the while leaving the door open to a future negotiated settlement.”

Herzog’s advice to seek regional partners sounds rather similar to the ideas for a “regional approach” suggested by Netanyahu and President Donald Trump during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington two weeks ago. (Abbas expressed his opposition to such an approach during an address to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.)

Iran and North Korea: The Fifth Nuclear Path

There is increasing evidence that Iran and North Korea are collaborating on developing a nuclear weapon, Lt. Col. (ret.) Dr. Refael Ofek and Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham wrote in a paper on Tuesday for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. (North Korea has already carried out five known nuclear tests, despite a 1994 agreement that then-President Bill Clinton called a “first step on the road to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”)

Ofek and Shoham outlined the two rogue nations’ various areas of scientific and technical cooperation, including on ballistic missile design and nuclear warhead design. They noted that the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran ratified a 2012 agreement between the two countries on scientific partnerships. It is also believed that Iran sent a delegation to North Korea’s 2013 nuclear test.

When global powers agreed to the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, the Obama administration said the agreement would cut off Iran’s four pathways to a nuclear weapon. Questions have already arisen about the deal’s effectiveness in cutting off the four pathways, but the deal never even addressed the possibility that Iran would continue its nuclear work in a different country. The evidence laid out by Ofek and Shoham suggest that Iran may be exploiting a fifth pathway to a nuclear weapon, and that that road passes through North Korea.

Feature: Israeli Sculptor’s New Exhibit, Displayed at UN, Examines Refugees and Their Possessions

Matthew Schultz profiled Israeli sculptor Orna Ben-Ami, whose exhibit highlighting the plight of refugees is on display at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. The exhibit is entitled “Entire Life in a Package,” and focuses on the items that people take with them when they leave their homes and head toward uncertain futures elsewhere.

The exhibit combines historical photographs of refugees with iron-welded sculptures. While the images come from numerous countries in the past two decades, the “the works highlight their universality.”

Ben-Ami said that her exhibit aims to show the “sameness” of the refugee experience regardless of location. “The idea is not to show where these people are coming from,” she said. “It’s the same situation. It doesn’t matter what part of history. It’s the sameness that interests me.”

Ben-Ami relates to the plight of refugees because of her own family’s experience: “My parents used to move every year. They immigrated to Israel when they were children. Wandering and moving is something that really belongs to us as Jews.”

Schultz described Ben-Ami’s exhibit as bringing “awareness to this loss of perspective” that comes from the sheer numbers of refugees that have emerged in recent years, noting that “we see refugees as a mass, impersonal phenomenon until a vivid reflection suddenly forces us to see individual lives, faces, and names.”

This Week’s Top Posts

Report: Hamas Built At Least 15 Terror Tunnels Inside Israel
Palestinian Ambassador: “I Pray to Allah That Iran Will Produce 1,000 Nuclear Bombs”
Abbas Dismisses U.S.-Israeli Proposal for Regional Peace Talks

Three Big Questions

Erin Barclay, the State Department’s envoy to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), blasted the council in a speech on Wednesday for its “obsession” with Israel. The UNHRC commissioned six reports on alleged Israeli malfeasance, which, as the watchdog organization UN Watch observed, “is six times more than the amount of reports it will present on Syria, where state-sponsored genocide has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions; three times more than the amount of reports on human rights in North Korea, and on human rights in Iran; and six times more than the amount of reports on Afghanistan.” If the UNHRC gave up its Israel obsession, what would it do all day?

Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, who visited Israel this week, was impressed by the Christian historical sites he saw there, especially the tomb of Jesus. Do nations realize that when Palestinians deny the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem, they are also denying the history of Christianity?

Rasmeah Odeh was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of killing two Israeli university students in a 1969 grocery store bombing, before being freed in a prisoner swap. She is scheduled to speak later this month at the national convention of the activist group Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. She is not Jewish, and, having been convicted of murder, not peaceful. Does Jewish Voice for Peace see her presence at the event as possibly being off-message? Or, in an even more troubling possibility, do they think that her story is worth promoting?

[Photo: Flash90 ]