Palestinian factions hold dialogue talks in Moscow
The three-day intra-Palestinian meeting kicked off on Monday in Moscow and will last through Wednesday.
Twelve delegations attended the meeting, nine of which represent Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) factions, in addition to delegations from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements. The pro-Syrian regime’s al-Saiqa was also surprisingly present, especially after reports said it will not take part in the talks.
Monday’s dialogue session was opened with a welcome speech on behalf of Russia by Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vitaly Naumkin, who was tasked by the Russian Foreign Ministry to manage the talks.
He explained that Moscow seeks to play a positive role in bridging the divide between the Palestinian factions, stressing that his country does not intend to interfere in Palestinian affairs. It instead aims at providing a platform where all parties are free to discuss pending issues.
His statements seemed aimed at easing fears that Moscow is seeking to play a role parallel to Egyptian efforts to push forward Palestinian reconciliation.
This was confirmed by all the participating delegations, who pointed out that “the Palestinian dialogue in Moscow is an integral part of the Egyptian role, not a substitute for it.”
Head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)’s delegation Fahd Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the main purpose of the meeting is to dispel the hostile atmosphere and break the deadlock among various factions, especially Fatah and Hamas, especially since the last meeting in this regard was held in November 2017.
Suleiman stressed that holding the dialogue is in itself “a positive step,” noting that that all factions agreed to issue a joint document, the “Moscow Declaration”.
The statement outlines common issues of agreement and will help Russia bolster its involvement in political activity related to developments in the Palestinian file.
He also said that it requests Russia to “inform the international community, including the United Nations, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of the outcomes of the Palestinian meeting in Moscow.”
In addition, Suleiman stressed that the Russian role does not conflict with Egypt’s.
He said Russia will be able to play a more active role on the political level, while Cairo will go beyond that and focus on active mechanisms to implement agreements.
Abbas with his Austrian counterpart after their meeting in Ramallah on Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said no one can represent the Palestinians in negotiating their country’s cause and peace-making.
He stressed that the only way to move forward in a political process is through holding an international conference for peace in the Middle East.
In a joint press conference with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen in Ramallah, Abbas said it is necessary to hold an international conference and establish a multilateral mechanism to move forward in the peace route.
He also affirmed that Palestinians will not agree to participate in an international conference that is not based on international legitimacy.
Abbas’s remarks refer to the upcoming US-Polish conference in Warsaw, which is scheduled to convene later this month to discuss issues related to Syria, Yemen, Iran, terrorism, cybersecurity and missiles’ development.
Palestinian officials have called on Arab countries to boycott the conference because they say it is being held under the pretext of promoting normalization with Israel.
Abbas said that Palestinians have not authorized anyone to negotiate on their behalf.
“We have the first and last word on the Palestinian cause,” he stressed. “No one can represent us or speak on our behalf.”
At the press conference, Abbas said he was working to form a new PA government and prepare for long-overdue parliamentary elections. However, he did not say when the elections would take place.
“We hope everyone cooperates with us to hold the elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem,” he said.
The US is no longer qualified alone to act as a mediator because of its bias in favor of Israel and because of its decisions regarding Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and settlements, PA President noted.
“The European Union can play an important role [in the peace process], alongside members of the United Nations Security Council,” he added.
The Austrian President, for his part, said his country and the EU continue to support the two-state solution.
“The EU has given much for building institutions in Palestine,” he noted. “We will continue to do so.”
Austria and the rest of the EU countries are unhappy with the US administration’s decision to cut American funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), Van der Bellen noted.
General view shows houses in Shvut Rachel, a West Bank Jewish settlement near Ramallah October 6, 2016
Dozens of senior Israeli ministers and Knesset members from various right-wing parties signed a declaration pledging to settle 2 million Israelis in the occupied West Bank.
The declaration was formed by “Nahal” settling movement, which held over the past two weeks several protests in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home, demanding that the government establish basic guidelines for settlements in the West Bank and annul any declarations of a two-state solution.
The commitment was signed Tuesday, the eve of the Likud party primaries to elect the party’s candidates for the Knesset.
The document states that the government will immediately begin implementing the settlement plan initiated by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in the early 1990s.
The declaration states: “I pledge to be loyal to the land of Israel, not to give up the land of our grandparents and parents.”
“I also commit myself to work towards the plan of settling 2 million Jews in the West Bank in accordance with the plan of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.”
It added: “I pledge to work to abolish the declarations of a two-state solution and replace it with an official statement: The Land of Israel – One State for One People!”
Likud party chair of Raanana, Rachel Ben Ari, said she was surprised by the rapid response of ministers to the commitment against the two-state solution and the implementation of Shamir’s plan.
Senior officials who signed the declaration include Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, ministers Israel Katz, Yariv Levin, Ze’ev Elkin, Gilad Erdan, Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Miri Regev and Tzachi Hanegbi.
The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank today amounts to 450,000 and 300,000 in occupied East Jerusalem.
A Palestinian protester holds a Palestinian flag as others take cover during clashes with the Israeli army at Qalandia checkpoint near occupied West Bank city of Ramallah
Israel’s Diplomatic-Security Cabinet will convene on Wednesday to discuss major slash in the tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), claiming that PA pays to terrorists and their families.
The meeting comes amid disagreements over the issue, as far-right ministers demand a large cut up to $140 million a month, while intelligence and military leaders warn that such a move would have repercussions on Israel.
The funds are estimated at $350 million a month and Israeli Ministry of Finance and its tax and customs authorities collect them from businessmen and other sources.
Israel receives up to 3 percent of the collected money for doing it on behalf of PA.
Since far-right took office, the government considers these funds as an Israeli grant, and thus deducts from it as it pleases. Sometimes it deducts to pay Israeli companies’ debts, and others to pay fines to Israeli courts, which do not fairly try Palestinians.
Recently, the government has been trying to withhold taxes and tariffs collected for the PA which disperses payment to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, injured citizens, and families of martyrs.
On the eve of the Israeli elections, there is a growing demand for cutting funds, especially within right-wing parties.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter expressed satisfaction at the law’s expected implementation, saying that “every shekel the PA transfers to terrorists will be deducted. This is how we create deterrence against terrorism.”
In his capacity as defense minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a report containing precise data to determine the amounts paid by the Palestinian Authority to the families of prisoners and martyrs.
Sources close to the matter in Tel Aviv said the army and intelligence were not keen about deducting funds. They fear that the money cut will create a second economic blow to the Authority after the United States stopped its financial aid, which could lead to a comprehensive economic crisis in the West Bank, thus reflecting a political and security crisis on Israel.
These sources stressed that Netanyahu understands the position of his security services. The PM shares their concerns and worries it will destabilize the PA, as he seeks a way to find balance between the two elements.
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in closed-door talks that the deduction will go ahead, although he expressed concern that the reduced tax funds would hurt the stability of the PA; he also said he would look for a way to carry out the demands of the law while ensuring that the PA remains stable,” sources reported.
Based on recent Israeli media reports, the PA paid out some 502 million shekels to families of martyrs and detainees. However, Palestinian sources estimates that no more than 230 million shekels had been paid.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, January 15, 2019
A visit by a delegation of Arab Knesset members to Istanbul and its meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sparked a wave of heated debates among right-wing parties.
Some accused Erdogan of interfering in Israel’s elections, while others said the Arab-Israeli lawmakers are a “fifth column,” and should be stripped of their Israeli nationality and expelled to Ramallah.
“The time has come for Israel to openly stand by the Kurdish people suffering from violent oppression and brutal persecution by his (Erdogan’s) regime against them,” said former minister Avigdor Lieberman.
“Their place is in Gaza and not in Jerusalem,” Israel’s Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said of the Arab-Israeli lawmakers.
She described them as “Trojans who seek the evil of the State of Israel.”
Erdogan received on Saturday the delegation of Arab-Israeli lawmakers, including Ahmad Tibi, Taleb Abu Arar and Masud Gnaim along with some of the Islamic movement activists in Israel.
The delegation returned on Sunday.
Tibi said the meeting with Erdogan tackled a number of issues, including his support for the Palestinian cause and his willingness to provide university scholarships in Turkey for Arab-Israeli students.
Abu Arar, for his part, said the delegation discussed critical issues related to the Arab community. The most important of which was Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque, the rise of Jewish incursions into Al-Aqsa, the Judaization policy and the importance of Turkey’s intervention to prevent Israeli actions against Arab-Israelis.
Turkey’s role in the Palestinian reconciliation efforts was also raised in addition to lifting the siege off the Gaza Strip and the enactment of the national law by Netanyahu’s government in the Knesset.
Gnaim said the delegation also talked with Erdogan about the arrests and detention of three Arab-Israeli citizens, who arrived in Turkey for an illegal kidney transplant.
He affirmed that Erdogan ordered the termination of legal proceedings against them and released them from prison.
They stressed that the Turkish President praised the role played by Arab lawmakers to serve the interests of the Palestinians from within the Knesset.
Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank, December 29, 2016
Israeli political sources circulated reports about “improvements” made by the US Administration to the initial text of the Middle East peace plan, including “amendments that allow the Arabs to agree to negotiate”. The reports noted that while the Americans considered these amendments “necessary to guarantee balance” between the two sides, Israelis believed they were in favor of the Palestinians.
Although the US presidential envoy for the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, said the reports were inaccurate, the Israeli sources replied that they relied on “a senior US official in the negotiating staff at the White House” and that there were “US bodies involved in the blackout on the plan on the eve of the Israeli elections.”
The Israeli sources gave the exclusivity of broadcasting the news to Israeli Reshet TV.
The channel revealed that the amended US plan was based on documents entitled, “The Century Deal to Consolidate Peace in the Middle East.” It talks about the establishment of a Palestinian state on 85-90 percent of the occupied West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its Arab neighborhood as the capital, excluding the city’s old town, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Resurrection and other holy places are located. The old town will be under Israeli control, but with a joint administration of Jordan and the Palestinian state.
The report refers to a solution to the settlements based on dividing them into three categories: the first, including large blocs such as Gush Etzion (located on occupied Palestinian land stretching from Bethlehem to Hebron) and Ma’aleh Adumim (south of occupied East Jerusalem), and Ariel (in the Nablus area), and will be annexed to Israel in full, according to the US deal.
The second includes a number of remote settlements, such as Itamar and Yitzhar, which accommodate a group of settlers of American origins known for their extremism and attacks on the Palestinians. They will remain in Israeli hands, even though they will be part of the Palestinian state.
The third category of settlements, which include illegal outposts, will be evacuated.
In exchange for the annexation of the settlements, Palestinians will be compensated by giving them land of the same size and value in the Triangle area – inhabited by Arab citizens (the Palestinians 1948) – adjacent to the West Bank.
The reports noted that the US official did not address items in the US plan relating to the Gaza Strip and the refugee issue, and did not elaborate on whether the plan itself ignored the two issues or did not tackle them.
In a Tweet, Greenblatt said the reports were inaccurate. He warned against issuing false or distorted information that would harm the peace process.
For his part, Palestinian Presidential Spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said in response to Israeli leaks that any peace plan “that does not include the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders will be doomed to failure.”
Outgoing Israeli Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot called for the need to fight Jewish terror like any other form of terrorism.
He said those who stand behind Jewish terror are “a small minority who are racist to their religion and whose activity targets Arabs and challenges the Israeli army, police, state institutions and law.”
The Israeli army’s first task in the West Bank should be providing security, foiling terrorist operations and protecting Palestinian citizens from the terrorists and their grave attacks, said Eisenkot.
He warned that Jewish extremist violence could spark intense unrest in the West Bank, noting a significant rise in what he called “nationalistic crime.”
He strongly criticized the Israeli leadership and law enforcement agencies, including the judiciary, because “they do not take a firm stand against violence against Israeli military and security elements during the evacuation of random outposts.”
Military sources explained that Eisenkot’s choice to tackle this issue in his last statements before his retirement Tuesday acts as “evidence that Jewish terror attacks now pose a threat to the army’s authority and security and stability in the West Bank in general.”
Moreover, Israeli intelligence sources warned of Jewish terrorism after 2018 witnessed a spike in such activity and violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank compared to previous years.
They warned that the extremist settler gangs could adopt an even more extreme ideology that they could translate into large-scale terrorist attacks.
The same sources cited with concern a court decision to release four out of five suspects linked to the killing of a Palestinian mother Shadia Mohammed al-Rabi on October 13. The release took place amid investigations that speak of the existence of a new secret Jewish terrorist organization that can be added to other groups that are active on Palestinian territories.
An Israeli security official said that these gangs feel that they are above the law, warning that “everything could end in bloodshed.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has approved a series of harsh measures against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to restrain the movement’s authority or force it to handover the sector.
Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinian president said that the “game was over” and informed his Egyptian counterpart, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, of his decision, including his intention to withdraw Palestinian Authority members from the Rafah border crossing.
The two leaders had met in Cairo last week.
The PA has ordered its staff to withdraw from the Rafah border with Egypt, effectively closing the main exit for Gaza residents. Hamas took over the crossing and tried to persuade Egypt to pressure the PA to back down on its decision.
But the sources confirmed that the PA was committed to its measures, which also include halting the financing of the sector.
This coincided with the Israeli government’s decision to freeze the transfer of the third installment of the Qatari grant to the Gaza Strip, worth $15 million, after the launch of a rocket from Gaza.
Meanwhile, an official in Ramallah told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt “does not deal with Hamas as a legitimate entity.”
He added that Sisi expressed “great support” for Abbas, stressing that Cairo “deals only with the Palestinian leadership as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
The PA has repeatedly accused Hamas of refusing to implement reconciliation. Their relationship worsened last week, with the Gaza-based movement preventing Fatah from celebrating its 54th anniversary. Abbas described Hamas leaders as “spies”.
Fatah accused Hamas security services of summoning and arresting of around 500 of its members in the Gaza Strip.
“The Hamas militia has arrested more than 500 of its leaders and sons in Gaza … because of their insistence on commemorating the anniversary,” the movement said in a statement.
A statement issued on behalf of the prisoners in Israeli jails warned against the implementation of a plan by Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan, to reduce the water allocated to the prisoners and other measures of torture.
The statement described the plan a declaration of war and threatened that it would be met with a massive uprising inside the prisons.
It added that the “Zionist government” was using this plan as part of electoral propaganda and as a tool in “the permanent war against us as Palestinian people.”
“We, as prisoners, in response to Erdan’s declaration, will stand united to face this attack, armed with a sense of true national unity. We call upon our people everywhere and the forces of national and Islamic action to back our movement and support us on the ground,” the statement read.
Five Palestinian factions, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, signed the statement.
Erdan announced on Wednesday several new procedures that could worsen the conditions of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
The tough measures include rationing water supply, blocking Palestinian Authority funds, banning prisoners from cooking food for themselves, reducing autonomy given to Palestinian prisoners and ending separation of prisoners belonging to rival Palestinian factions Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine.
But the Israeli minister’s comments were not met with seriousness in Israel. In a leaked statement, the Israel Prison Service said Erdan’s declaration was “unrealistic and mere electoral propaganda.” Sources within the Service said that “most of the things that Erdan is talking about are impossible to implement.”