Abbas Again Defies the White House on Peace
As he has done for much of his career, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is again being an intransigent obstacle to peace.
Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, visited Jerusalem and Ramallah this week to pursue, in the words of the White House, “President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that enhances stability in the region.”
Kushner and Greenblatt met first with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and later with Abbas. They asked the Palestinian president to stop paying salaries to some 600 prisoners imprisoned in Israeli jails for murder, a practice Abbas refused to end and subsequently called a “social responsibility.” (The Associated Press reported that a preliminary meeting between Greenblatt and Abbas on Tuesday was “tense” due to Abbas’ refusal to abide by the American request.)
None of this is new. Abbas has made a career of saying “no” to peace prospects.
In 2008, Abbas famously failed to respond to a peace proposal made by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In November 2015, Abbas admitted publicly that he rejected Olmert’s offer. He was also identified by former Israeli peace negotiators Tzipi Livni and Michael Herzog as the party most responsible for torpedoing American-sponsored peace talks in 2014.
Hamas Is Still Keeping Gaza Down
Hamas has significantly suppressed economic growth in the Gaza Strip during its decade-long rule, to the detriment of the territory’s residents.
According to new data released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), per capita GDP in Gaza grew by 19.9% between 2008 to 2015, while that same figure rose by 31.2% in the West Bank. Moreover, while unemployment in the West Bank increased from 15.8% to 18.8% between 2007 and 2017, in Gaza the rate jumped from 26.4% to 41.1%. Daily wages in Gaza also dropped by 8.4%, but rose 13.2% in the West Bank.
After violently overthrowing Fatah and chasing it out of Gaza in 2007, Hamas launched three wars against Israel and devoted significant resources to attacking the Jewish state, all at the expense of its civilian population.
Unsurprisingly, Gazans have much less confidence in the governing institutions of Hamas than residents of the West Bank have in those of the PA, according to a 2015 PCBS survey. That poll showed that some 48% of Gazans wish to emigrate, compared to 24% of West Bank residents.
All of this comports with observations made earlier this month by longtime Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff, who faulted Hamas for the manufactured power crisis in Gaza and described it as “the same cynical organization that exploits the distress of Gaza’s residents for political gain.”
Another veteran reporter on Palestinian affairs, Khaled Abu Toameh, similarly observed in February 2016 that the expense and effort that Hamas puts into building attack tunnels while Gaza is mired in poverty shows that “the last thing Hamas cares about is the welfare of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”
While ordinary Gazans may suffer due to Hamas’ wars against Israel, the terrorist group’s leaders are doing quite well. Moussa Abu Marzouk and Khaled Meshaal are believed to be billionaires, while recently appointed Hamas head honcho Ismail Haniyeh and his family reportedly live in million dollar homes.
Why is Europe Squeamish About Anti-Semitism?
Three recent news items raise questions about Europe’s commitment to confronting worsening anti-Semitism.
On Wednesday, Germany’s public broadcaster finally aired a documentary on anti-Semitism in Europe, which it had previously refused to release over accusations of pro-Israel bias. Days earlier, Germany’s prominent tabloid Die Bild Zeitung leaked the documentary and made it available on its website for 24 hours to protest the boycott.
Julian Reichelt, Bild’s editor-in-chief, raised the suspicion that the documentary was being withheld to hide inconvenient truths about modern-day anti-Semitism in Europe. “It is suspected that the documentary is not being shown [on television] because it is politically unsuitable and because the film shows an antisemitic worldview in wide parts of society that is disturbing,” Reichel wrote on Bild’s website.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Jerusalem Post last Thursday, after the decision was made to show the film, that “Israel believes the film should be shown and we find the decision not to show it very disturbing. … The European public opinion should know the truth.”
This past Sunday, despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s pledge that he would have zero-tolerance for anti-Semitism, around 1,000 protesters were permitted to march through the British capital in honor of Quds Day, a holiday established by the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran to call for Israel’s destruction. Some of the participants waved the flag of the terrorist group Hezbollah, which has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction, while a speaker blamed the recent fire at the Grenfell Tower apartment building on “Zionists.”
These developments came days after a member of the European Parliament and 17 prominent French intellectuals blamed the French government for covering up the anti-Semitic motive behind the killing of a French Jewish woman in April. Sarah Halimi—a retired kindergarten teacher and widow—was murdered by Kada Traore, a 27-year-old immigrant from Mali, who broke into her home and viciously beat her. Traore previously called Halimi a “dirty Jew,” according to witness testimonies, and could be heard yelling “Allahu Akhbar” before throwing her out of the window of her third-floor apartment.
There is a common thread in these stories. Authorities in all these nations were hesitant to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism, a failure that only encourages the problem to fester and grow.
Quds Day was established in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to Robert Wistrich, the late scholar of anti-Semitism, Khomeini’s explicit goal in creating the holiday was to encourage oppressed nations to “rise up and dispose of this source of corruption [Israel].” (Khomeini’s successor and current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, uses similar rhetoric against Israel. On Wednesday, he tweeted, “fighting Zionist regime is fighting hegemonic arrogant system.” A day later, he added, “there is no doubt that we will witness the demise of the Zionist entity.”)
Despite this, London authorities allowed Quds Day protesters to march through London on Sunday while waving Hezbollah flags and chanting for Israel’s destruction. While the organizer of the rally, the so-called Islamic Human Rights Commission, portrayed it as a chance to defend the oppressed, “it was nothing other than an opportunity for anti-Semites to rally behind the flag of a terrorist organization and engage in a hate fest on the streets of London with impunity,” Julie Lenarz observed.
The open display of Hezbollah flags was troubling. The group’s so-called “military wing” is proscribed in the UK, though its “political wing” is not. In reality, the distinction “is a fantasy, one that is even mocked by Hezbollah itself,” Lenarz noted. In the words of the group’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem, Hezbollah does not “have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other. … Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
Therefore, displaying Hezbollah’s flag violates section 13 of the UK Terrorism Act, which clearly states, “A person in a public place commits an offence if he wears an item of clothing, or wears, carries or displays an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s failure to take a stand against the Quds Day march prompted criticism from Lenarz, who observed that Khan recently vowed to enact a zero-tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism.
“His promise is difficult to bring in agreement with what unfolded in London on Sunday,” Lenarz wrote. “While Hezbollah sympathizers marched through the streets without interruption, police demanded that anti-terrorist protesters move out of the way. The extremists were rewarded. The terrified public punished. Evidence of a truly broken moral compass.”
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Three Big Questions
Israel came under intense criticism for announcing the construction of new apartments in eastern Jerusalem during then Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in March 2010. Do those who blasted Netanyahu then—yet remain silent about Abbas now—mean to suggest that apartment blocks pose a greater threat to peace than a longstanding policy to financially reward terrorism?
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley just called on the Security Council to designate Hamas as a terrorist group. Given the growing isolation of the Gaza-based Islamists and the recent sanctions imposed on its backers in Qatar, could she possibly be successful?
Israel has asked the UN Security Council to take action against Hezbollah for operating in southern Lebanon. While Hezbollah’s activities violate two Security Council resolutions, the world body has previously refused to act against the group. Will the council finally take action against the Iranian proxy, or continue to allowing it to flout its authority?
[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90 ]