Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Egyptian FM in landmark visit to Israel/ Palestinian incentives for killing Jews

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Update from AIJAC

July 14, 2016

Update 07/16 #03

This weekend saw a visit to Israel by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. That may not ostensibly seem surprising given that Israel and Egypt have had full diplomatic relations for almost four decades, but in fact was a highly unusual step - the first such visit in nine years. As such it was a sign of the changing strategic environment and warming security ties between Jerusalem and Cairo - as the pieces in this Update discuss.

First up is Washington Institute scholar David Makovsky, who focuses especially on what Shoukry's visit indicates about Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts. In particular, Makovsky argues that  Shoukry was in Israel in large part to promote Egyptian President Sisi's own intitiative for promoting direct Israeli-Palestinian talks under his own auspices - something Israel favours in preference to French and US ideas such as international conferences and UN Security Council resolutions. The Palestinians prefer efforts in international bodies, but would have trouble resisting calls and pressure by Egypt to engage in direct talks, Makovsky notes. For more on the effects of the Shoukry visit on other peacemaking efforts, CLICK HERE. Interestingly, the visit ended with reports that Netanyahu promised Egypt that he would be prepared to participate in a summit in Cairo with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas under Sisi's auspices, as Makovsky implied he might.

Next up, former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel who notes that the Shoukry visit was only the latest in a series of signals from Egypt that it is thawing its relations with Israel. Mazel argues that Egyptian President Sisi is also signalling he wants to resume Egypt's traditional role as leader of the Arab world - and it is for this reason that he is making the Palestinian issue a key focus of his rapprochement with Israel so as to keep regional elite opinion on board. But, Mazel emphasises, there is a great deal more that Egypt hopes to gain from drawing closer to Israel - including security cooperation, especially against ISIS in Sinai, Israeli adherence to the tacit anti-Iranian alliance including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE, and economic cooperation across a variety of sectors. For Mazel's look at the larger regional context of the Egyptian effort to improve ties with Israel, CLICK HERE.

Finally, American foreign affairs correspondent Eli Lake looks in detail at the economic incentives being offered by the Palestinian Authority for the commission of anti-Israel terrorism. Using the recent case of a 17-year-old Palestinian who murdered a 13-year-old Israeli girl in her bed as his starting point, Lake notes that, for decades, not only have Palestinians who commit such acts been hailed as martyrs, but their families are materially rewarded from a "martyr's fund" administered by the Palestinian Authority. Lake notes that such payments remain popular among Palestinians, and Abbas, while he came to power opposing such terror attacks, has been unable or unwilling to stop the PA from rewarding such acts - though there is now a US effort to deduct such funds from aid to the Palestinians. For Lake's exploration, one of the first in the mainstream press, of this significant barrier to ending terror and making peace, CLICK HERE. More on how the PA celebrated the murder of the 13-year-old girl in her bed is here and here.

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Article 1

Egyptian Visit to Israel Could Preempt International Peace Initiatives

David Makovsky

Policy Alert, July 11, 2016

Egypt and Israel are exploring more overt consultation beyond the quiet security sphere, where ties are closer than ever amid shared threats.

On July 10, Egypt's foreign minister visited Israel, marking the first such trip in nine years. Sameh Shoukry's meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu comes during a period of warming security ties and strategic convergence between the two countries, including shared opposition to the Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai, to Hamas in Gaza, and to the prospects of growing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Yet security ties have been running ahead of diplomatic relations; it was only six months ago that Egypt sent its ambassador back to Israel after a long hiatus.

Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry

Shoukry stated that the trip was made in the context of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's "vision for establishing peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples -- bringing this long conflict to an end...This will have a far-reaching and dramatic positive impact on conditions in the entire Middle East." Indeed, reports have begun to surface that Cairo may host confidence-building talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with Egyptian and Jordanian officials in attendance.

As for why Israel would focus on peace talks now, Netanyahu has expressed concern that the Obama administration will consider supporting a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict at year's end. He views any such move as the equivalent of an imposed solution of the core final-status issues (borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, refugees, and mutual recognition), and he believes that neither Israel nor the Palestinians could accept that outcome. Netanyahu is also concerned that a French peace initiative could gather steam and feed into a Security Council resolution. He therefore seems intent on preempting such efforts by putting forward other options. For example, he reportedly discussed proposals for an alternative peace conference when he visited Russia's Vladimir Putin recently.  

Regarding the Shoukry meeting, Netanyahu is likely counting on the pressure it creates for Mahmoud Abbas. While the PA president has had no problem rejecting Netanyahu's call to resume talks amid disbelief that anything concrete will emerge from them, bringing Egypt into the picture raises the cost of any such rejection. Cairo has been the PA's traditional patron, so it would be no simple thing for Abbas to rebuff calls for a summit hosted by Sisi, especially after Shoukry visited Ramallah on June 29. Some reports have even speculated that Sisi may meet in public with Netanyahu himself, though no concrete evidence of such plans has emerged as of yet.

At the same time, taking confidence-building steps would be difficult for Netanyahu as well. The last time Sisi publicly offered to broker movement between Israel and the Palestinians was in mid-May, when Netanyahu was talking with Labor/Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog about broadening the government. Those discussions collapsed in the end, mainly because Netanyahu did not want to commit in writing to a formula that would prohibit settlement construction activity beyond the West Bank security barrier and allow Palestinian economic access to largely unpopulated swaths of "Area C." It is therefore uncertain how he could muster the political will to make such commitments today under his current coalition, which veered further to the right after the Herzog talks failed.

If Netanyahu is in fact willing to pursue such a path, he would likely need to engineer the departure of the Jewish Home party led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. He could then either bring in Herzog or wait until the Knesset goes on summer recess in a couple weeks. While no-confidence votes are theoretically possible during these extended summer breaks, a recess is usually the time that an Israeli premier can take more controversial policy steps without worrying too much that a vote will be held and actually topple him.

Beyond the Palestinian issue, Shoukry no doubt had other matters that he wanted to discuss with Netanyahu firsthand. For one, Israel recently reached an accord with Turkey to fully restore diplomatic ties, yet the bitter rivalry between Ankara and Cairo continues. Shoukry likely wanted to make sure that Netanyahu understands Egypt's redlines on Gaza, where Ankara is seeking greater influence. Israel's agreement with the Turks will not allow them to run a port in Gaza or anchor electricity-generating vessels off its coast, in part because Netanyahu believes Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan would exploit such concessions as a major political victory.

Shoukry was probably also curious about Netanyahu's trip to Central Africa last week. Among other states, he visited Ethiopia, which is planning a Nile dam that could hurt Egypt's access to Nile River water. Cairo seems to believe that Netanyahu's visit could impact whether Ethiopia agrees to a water-sharing formula with Egypt.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.

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Article 2

Egyptian Foreign Minister in Israel – Something Positive at Last


Amb. Zvi Mazel

JCPA, July 11

Visits by Egyptian foreign ministers to Israel are few and far between; in the past, a succession of Israeli foreign ministers and heads of state made the trip to Cairo for consultations.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 10, 2016 (GPO)

The visit here of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry during these troubled times in the Middle East is encouraging, the third significant step taking by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toward thawing the cold peace.

The first was returning an Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv six months ago, and the second was his speech in May, in which he declared his desire to assist Israel and the PA in reaching a peace agreement.

Visits by Egyptian foreign ministers to Israel are few and far between. In the past, a succession of Israeli foreign ministers and indeed Israeli heads of state made the trip to Cairo for consultations with their Egyptian counterparts. But Shoukry’s visit also speaks to the improved security cooperation between the two countries, especially in the field of intelligence.

Sisi would like to extend that cooperation to sectors which sorely need it, such as economy, science, hi-tech, and agriculture.

However, he is proceeding cautiously in order not to stir the anger of the old elites of his country – essentially the Islamic establishment on one hand, and the nationalist circles still faithful to Nasserist pan-Arab ideology – who after 37 years of peace have not forgotten their hatred of the Jewish State.

In order to develop relations with Israel, the Egyptian president is taking a circuitous route by tackling the Palestinian issue.

After all, Sadat and Mubarak had already invested considerable efforts in the matter.

Sisi Message to the World – and to the Arabs

There is no doubt that by sending his foreign affairs minister, Sisi is flexing his muscle and showing that he is fully in charge after two years in power.

The visit is intended to show the world – and especially the Arab world – that Egypt is reclaiming its leading position in the Middle East. The country is now relatively stable: economic growth in 2015 was 4.2 percent, and similar numbers are expected for the current year.

This economic progress is not enough for a country of 91 million inhabitants, where too many live under the poverty line, and where the economy suffered for five catastrophic years followed the fall of Mubarak.

Sisi can also boast of his relative success in fighting Islamic terrorism in the north of the Sinai Peninsula.

More than 1,000 terrorists have been killed, but the battle is not yet over.

Shoukry has stated that it is both imperative and possible to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and that it would be a game changer for the region – something that world and local leaders are apt to say on various occasions.

Unfortunately, they are all well aware that such an agreement would not deflect Jihadi organizations from their goal, which is to impose a caliphate first on the Middle East and then on the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, the fact that a country of the stature of Egypt is ready to throw its weight behind finding a solution cannot be ignored by Israel and the Palestinians.

Can the abyss between their respective positions be bridged? That would require serious work.

Shoukry was at pains to underline that he was not bringing a specific proposal, and he mentioned the French initiative which Israel rejects.

His visit also testifies to the resurgence of the pragmatic alliance comprised of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Jordan to fight Islamic terrorism and Iranian subversive attempts.

Turkey is also changing tack, and is seeking to make peace with Israel and with Russia. Can Jerusalem help Ankara to restore good relations with Cairo? It is doubtful. Can Cairo’s efforts bring Israelis and Palestinians closer? Time will tell.

But Shoukry’s visit is a hopeful sign. If the cold peace thaws further, it will be a significant achievement.

Amb. Zvi Mazel served as Israel's Ambassador to Sweden between 2002-2004. From 1989 to 1992 he was Israel's Ambassador to Romania and from 1996 to 2001, Israel's Ambassador to Egypt. He has also held senior positions in Israel's Foreign Ministry as Deputy Director General in charge of African Affairs and Director of the Eastern European division and head of the Egyptian and North African department.

A version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Analysis-Something-positive-at-last-460041

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Article 3

The Palestinian incentive program for killing Jews


By Eli Lake

Bloomberg View,  Published July 11, 2016

Whoever said crime doesn't pay hasn't talked to the family of a Palestinian terrorist. For the Palestine Liberation Organization and the related Palestinian Authority, the killers of Jewish Israelis are considered "martyrs." And as such, their families are paid for the service these murderers have done for the Palestinian cause.

This has come to light after a Palestinian, Mohammed Tarayra, stabbed Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a 13-year-old Israeli girl, as she was sleeping in her bed. The stabbing was part of a wave of attacks by Palestinians who have for nearly eight months been shooting, stabbing and running down Jews with the encouragement of social media and popular songs.

According to the latest report of the Russian, European, U.S. and U.N. group known as the Quartet, there have been 250 of these kinds of attacks since October. It says, "These terrorist attacks, which have been carried out mostly by young, unaffiliated individuals, contribute to the sense among Israelis of living under constant threat."

But this misses important context. The Quartet's report, which is even-handed to a fault, makes no mention of the "martyr's fund," through which the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization pay the families of all Palestinian prisoners and the families of martyrs. So while there is no evidence that the Palestinian government plans these killing sprees, it encourages them as a legitimate act of resistance.

As Commentary's Evelyn Gordon writes, the prisoners and the families of the prisoners themselves are actually paid a higher wage than what most Palestinians earn for nonviolent work.

The origins of these payments goes back a long way. Before the Palestinian Authority was established in the 1990s through the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization paid the families of "martyrs" and prisoners detained by Israel. That practice became standardized during the Second Intifadah of 2000 to 2005. The Israelis even found documents in the late Yasser Arafat's compound that showed payments to families of suicide bombers.

For years the Israelis and the Americans didn't do much on this issue. The Israel Defense Forces work closely with Palestinian security services to keep the peace in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Bush and Obama administrations have pressed both sides to restart negotiations over a final status.

This is starting to change. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that he would begin withholding part of the tax revenue that Israel sends to the Palestinian Authority -- equal to the amount paid to "martyrs."

Frank Lowenstein, the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, told me the U.S. government has recently started withholding funding for the same reason. "We have robustly complied with legislation passed in 2014 that requires us to deduct from development assistance to the Palestinian Authority for Palestinian payments to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism," he said. The amount of development assistance that has been withheld is classified.

The Palestinian Authority seems to be aware of this and has figured out ways to hide these payments to the families of murderers, by creating new accounts. Sen. Dan Coates, a Republican from Indiana, has introduced new legislation aimed at closing this loophole.

One problem is that the payments to terrorists' families are exceedingly popular these days. Ziad Asali, the president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, told me that in recent years the media and politicians have elevated these payments to something "sacred in Palestinian politics."

Asali said the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and others are too weak to stop it. "This is where we find ourselves now. The vast majority understand there has to be an end to violence; it's not serving the Palestinians in any way," Asali said. "But I think nobody really has the stature and clout to confront these issues publicly."

Asali is getting at one of the many tragedies today for the Palestinians. Abbas came to power initially after he condemned suicide bombing and terrorism during the Second Intifadah. His bravery at the time to confront Arafat earned him a reputation as a peacemaker and is one reason President Barack Obama has never publicly criticized him with the same ferocity he reserves for Netanyahu.

But today Abbas is in the 11th year of a four-year term as president. He has made some vague statements opposing the recent wave of violence. But he never condemns the murderers by name. Meanwhile, his own Fatah Party glorified Tarayra on its official Facebook page.

No wonder the killer's family is so proud of him. His mother told a local news outlet: "My son is a hero. He made me proud. My son died as a martyr defending Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque," according to a translation from Palestinian Media Watch.

Israel's alleged peace partner appears to agree. If the past is precedent, she will receive a steady check to honor her son's murder of a 13-year-old Jewish girl in her sleep.

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about politics and foreign affairs. He was previously the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast. Lake also covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI, and was a contributing editor at the New Republic.

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