Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Paris Conference/ Hamas' Mentality

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Update from AIJAC

June 10, 2016

Update 06/16 #02

This Update deals with analysis of the French-organised international conference on promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace that took place, without either Israeli or Palestinian participation, last weekend. In the end, the conference issued a fairly unremarkable communique re-asserting the importance of advancing a two-state peace - you can read it here. As Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post reports, the fairly uncontroversial outcome was the result of intense Israeli and US diplomatic efforts to get France to water down language that Israel would have found much more unpalatable. 

This Update also contains a revealing report from inside Gaza demonstrating the mindset of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists there as they prepare for another round of fighting with Israel  - and Hamas claims responsibility for the murderous terror attack in a Tel Aviv cafe on Wednesday, which left 4 people dead.

We lead with former Israeli diplomat Zalman Shoval, who notes that the reason the Paris conference was, in the words of the New York Times, "little more than an extended photo opportunity" was in fact pointed out by French President Hollande in his opening remarks. Hollande stated that the world is no longer the world of the Oslo process of 1993, or Annapolis conference of 2007, but "We are in 2016, with the war in Syria, with the war in Iraq, with terrorism and fundamentalism." Shoval says most states now recognise that the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most urgent problem in the Middle East is today ridiculous, while, the US, in the midst of a Presidential election, is not prepared to let France seize the reins of the process. He says that the Palestinians were pleased by the conference, but as originally planned it was an invitation for them to dig in their heels and refuse to negotiate. To read his argument in full, CLICK HERE. For a different Israeli perspective on Paris, have a look also at leading columnist Nahum Barnea.

Next up, American think tanker Grant Rumley looks at why the Palestinians were so pleased with the Paris conference idea - though likely disappointed with the outcome. Essentially, it fits in with a conscious strategy to attempt to move away from peace negotiations and toward an "internationalised route" which would involve getting the international community to force concessions and parameters of peace on Israel without Palestinian participation. Rumley says the Iran nuclear negotiations are being specifically cited as a model by Palestinian strategists, because they involved an international conference being able to impose a solution over Israel's strenuous objections. For more on how Paris fits into current Palestinian diplomatic strategy, CLICK HERE. Also, here is veteran American Middle East mediator Aaron David Miller on why he expected the Paris gathering would not achieve much.

Finally, this Update offers a look inside Gaza into the mindset of the militant leaders there, from reporter David Patrikarakos. He notes that most Gazans fear another round of conflict, but that the evidence is clear that Hamas is in firm control with armed Hamas operatives reportedly every 200 metres. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives Patrikarakos speaks to offer religious bravado about how they do not fear death, a willingness to sacrifice civilians by hiding amidst the general populace, antisemitism against Jews generally and a strong belief that the Jews can be forced out all of the land between the Jordan river and the sea. For their words, which are revealing of the sort of mentality that went into the terror attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, in more detail, CLICK HERE

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The aftermath of the Tel Aviv cafe attack on Wednesday, which left 4 people dead.
 

Article 1

A flood of Gallic gall in Paris

 

Zalman Shoval

Israel Hayom, June 6, 2016

Paris almost drowned in the floodwaters of the overflowing Seine River, and the French initiative for peace in the Middle East appears to have met a similar fate. As The New York Times described it, the meeting -- of 29 foreign ministers who paddled to the French capital at the invitation of President Francois Hollande -- "which lasted only about three hours, amounted to little more than an extended photo opportunity."

The irrelevance of the highly publicized meeting was expressed in Hollande's opening remarks: "We are no longer in the situation of 1993, with the Oslo Accords, or of 2002, with the Arab Peace Initiative. We aren't in the situation of 2007, with the big international conference in Annapolis. We are in 2016, with the war in Syria, with the war in Iraq, with terrorism and fundamentalism."

The very fact that the speech presented a backward agenda proved that more and more international officials have started to realize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't the main, and certainly not the only, contributing factor to Middle East instability. It's the chaos spreading in the region due to Islamic fundamentalism, the collapse of the states formed under Sykes-Picot, and the ascent of Iran. In the meantime, a decision was taken to meet again -- this time with Israel and the Palestinians, who were not invited to the Paris event -- at the end of the year. That will be after the U.S. presidential election, with a lame duck in the White House who, even if he wants to, won't be able to guarantee what stance the U.S. government will take regarding the problems of the world, including the Israeli-Palestinian matter. One gets the clear impression that the Americans weren't too wild about this weekend's meeting, as evidenced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry refusing to do anything but sign off on a general, noncommittal summary of the meeting. We can assume that the absence of the German, British, and Russian foreign ministers was also a sign of their country's reservations about the French initiative.

In Washington, the somewhat reserved take on the French plan might stem not only from the fact that despite President Barack Obama's declared intention to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East, the country doesn't exactly welcome the galling Gallic attempt to seize the reins, but also from the fact that the U.S. itself is considering offering its own ideas on the Palestinian issue. Israel is aware of that possibility, and bringing the Zionist Union into the coalition would make it easier for it to promote its justified positions.

The Palestinians, of course, were pleased with the Paris meeting. As far as they are concerned, the very fact that the conference took place and the chance that it might have a sequel plays into their game of internationalizing the conflict as much as possible -- in other words, reaching a written agreement without direct negotiations with Israel and without concessions or compromise on their part. The original intention of the French was even more radical and imbalanced: to pay lip service to the idea of negotiations, but announce from the outset that if the negotiations failed, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state. In other words, an invitation to the Palestinians to dig in their heels.

For now, the French might have lowered the gun they had pointed at Israel, but they are repeating the standard refrain that the settlements (which they equate to acts of terrorism) are the main thing bogging down the peace process, and have even added a cry for "a full end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967," ignoring the reasons for the "occupation" and in total contradiction of the U.N. Security Council's Resolution 242, which conditioned an Israeli withdrawal from "territories" (not all of them) on the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries.

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Article 2

The Palestinian Pathway to Paris

What the Negotiations Say about the Peace Process

By Grant Rumley

Foreign Affairs,


This week, the French government, which has long tried to help broker a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, will launch its latest attempt with an international conference in Paris. The summit has madeheadlines not because of its substance but because of its unusual format: neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were invited. Instead, officials from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East will gather to lay the groundwork for future direct talks between the two parties on a two-state solution. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as other Israeli officials, contend that little good can come from a multilateral initiative that excludes Israel. Netanyahu argues that only direct negotiations can resolve the conflict, and has countered with an offer to resume bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians.
But for the Palestinians, the conference represents a twofold victory. For one thing, it shrinks the role of the United States from chief mediator to mere participant. In the broader international community, the logic goes, the Palestinians believe they will find a more sympathetic audience, especially among their European allies. Their overwhelming 138–9 victory in the 2012 vote to upgrade their status at the UN General Assembly only furthers this belief. And as Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah party official, said in February, “Anything is better than American control of the negotiations.”

For another thing, by moving the peace process away from bilateral negotiations and toward a multilateral forum, the Palestinians hope the conference could result in binding international parameters for a future Palestinian state. As a collection of senior Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials known as the Palestine Strategy Group argued in a 2015 report, an “internationalized route” would make sure that “any future negotiations play the role of implementing what has already been internationally endorsed.” Similarly, last September, the Palestinian leader President Mahmoud Abbas called for a “collective, multilateral peace process” that would resemble the “difficult negotiations for the Balkans, Libya, and Iran.” In other words, the Palestinians hope that the Paris conference starts a process of outsourcing final status negotiation issues to the international community.

The origins of their conference strategy lie in last summer’s Iranian nuclear deal. In the talks that produced that agreement, Palestinian leaders saw world powers coming together to sign a diplomatic agreement over Israel’s strenuous objections. In November 2015, three months after the deal was struck, Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Fatah official and a veteran peace negotiator, called for a similar conference, citing the nuclear negotiations as precedent. “If there was a Geneva Conference for Iran,” Shtayyeh asked, “why shouldn’t there be an international conference for Palestine?” 

Although this version of a peace conference may seem new, the Palestinians’ efforts for international recognition are not. Since 2011, when the Palestinian leadershiptoyed with the idea of submitting a resolution for statehood to the UN Security Council, the Palestinians have advanced their “Palestine 194” campaign, a policy to make Palestine the 194th country recognized by the United Nations. A year later, the Palestinians took their bid to the UN General Assembly, securing an upgradedstatus as a non-member observer state. By 2014, the Palestinians had enrolled indozens of international organizations, which emboldened them to go back to the UN Security Council to try for another statehood resolution. When that attempt failed, they signed the Rome Statute and joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move they hoped would allow them to pursue charges against Israel for alleged war crimes.

Yet after joining the ICC, the Palestinians hit a brick wall. For years, Palestinian officials insisted that that the true end goal of Palestine 194 was ICC membership. Now that they had accomplished that, their threats about future action rang hollow. A senior Fatah official told me in 2013 that joining the court would serve as a trump card that would shift the balance of power against Israel by threatening their leaders with international legal action. Another senior Fatah figure described membership in the court as a “last resort” that would signal the end of peace negotiations, since it would crystallize the shift away from bilateral talks to the international realm. But ever since the Palestinians joined the ICC, they have found themselves in international legal purgatory, with prosecutor Fatou Bensouda still conducting a lengthy preliminary investigation into the events of the 2014 Gaza war. Accession to the ICC may have worried some Israeli officials, but any rulings on alleged Israeli misbehavior are unlikely to come for years, and in any event, the preliminary investigation is also looking at alleged misconduct conducted by Hamas and other Palestinian parties in the war. Even if a ruling were to come down, such a verdict won’t do anything to create a Palestinian state. 

That’s why the Palestinians shifted their focus back to the international community. Earlier this year, before the Paris conference became a reality, Abbas drafted a UN Security Council resolution—similar to the one the United States vetoed in 2011—calling for a freeze of Israeli settlements. Even though the resolution didn’t make it to a vote, Washington has signaled that it may not veto a similar resolution in the future, given the frosty relationship between the administration and Israel and the precedent set by the two previous presidents in their last terms in office. And there’s reason to believe that the Palestinians may return to the UN Security Council with a new resolution before U.S. President Barack Obama’s term expires. Indeed, the Palestine Strategy Group’s 2015 report urged the leadership to follow an international conference with “successive UN resolutions.”

The Palestinians clearly see a window of opportunity. Between the European Union’s decision to label products made in Israeli settlements and the acts of various European parliaments to recognize a Palestinian state, Palestinian leaders sense a growing wave of diplomatic support. Add in the Obama administration’s reluctance to take the lead on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in its last year, and it’s not hard to see why the Palestinians think they might never get a better shot at internationalizing their struggle than they will in 2016.

The meeting in Paris may spark both Israelis and Palestinians to participate in a future peace summit later this year. Or, it could produce nothing more than empty rhetoric in support of peace. It will most certainly bolster Ramallah’s confidence in its internationalization campaign. Regardless of the outcome of the French conference this week, the very fact that it’s happening represents a victory for the Palestinians.

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Article 3

Hamas Is Ready for War with Israel

The Gaza Strip may still lie in rubble, but Hamas operatives are convinced that they are ready for another battle

By David Patrikarakos
Foreign Affairs, June 7, 2016

  Hamas Is Ready for War with Israel

Gaza City, GAZA — The first thing you notice about Gaza: the donkeys. Attached to carts invariably driven by middle-aged men, they weave in and out of traffic, hauling fruits and vegetables through the city center.

Gaza still bears the scars of the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel. The 51-day conflict resulted in the deaths of 2,300 Gazans, with 10,000 others wounded; 66 Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians also lost their lives. Gaza’s infrastructure was decimated: A recent U.N. report stated that only 17 percent of the 18,000 homes destroyed during the conflict have been repaired, and an estimated 75,000 Gazans remain displaced.

Tensions are once again high in the strip. On April 18, a bomb exploded on a Jerusalem bus, injuring 21 people — the first attack of this type since the Second Intifada ended 10 years ago. The Palestinian group in control of Gaza, Hamas, admitted that the culprit, Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour, was a member of its organization.

Shortly after the explosion, Israeli security services discovered a 120-foot-deep tunnel running from Gaza to Israel. The tunnels are of particular concern to Israel — it was by using a similar cross-border tunnel that Hamas fighters were able to kidnap Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, and which Hamas used to hide weaponry and militants during the most recent war.

The Israeli government responded in no uncertain terms. “If Hamas tries to challenge the State of Israel, or disrupt the lives of Gaza border residents, it will be hit very hard. We will not tolerate such attempts,” said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who recently stepped down amid a political reshuffling. The new defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, is even more hawkish, arguing in April that Israel should kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if the Islamist group did not immediately return the bodies of two Israelis killed during the 2014 war.

Gazans are fearful that another war looms on the horizon. I wanted to know if Hamas members felt the same. My fixer Mahmoud and I went to find out, driving through Gaza City and eventually arriving in a narrow street, where a man in robes greeted us. This is “Mostafa,”* a senior advisor to a Hamas minister.

He opened a tall, metal door and ushered us inside. We took a seat inside a large room with just two sofas furnishing the entire space.

“What is happening in Jerusalem is a normal reaction to what is happening in the West Bank — the arrests of people day and night, killing people day and night, the burning of children,” he said.

This is the so-called stabbing Intifada, which began late last year. Lone Palestinians have attacked Israeli civilians with knives or scissors, or run them over with cars. Thirty Israelis have been killed, with 443 wounded; 216 Palestinians have been slain in response. So far it was been confined to Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, but many fear it could be the beginning of a larger wave of violence.

The Fatah movement officially rules in the West Bank, but Mostafa was not willing to cede responsibility for the territory to its Palestinian rival.

“There are a lot of people from Hamas in the West Bank — Fatah is trying to kill or erase them, but Hamas exists everywhere,” Mostafa said. “The Hamas West Bank leaders, [men] like Yahya Ayyash [a Hamas bomb-maker killed by the Israelis in 1996], are professionals when it comes to exploding buses. No one can forget Hamas operations in the West Bank. We are everywhere.”

Mostafa wasn’t coy when I asked him if Hamas is preparing for another war. “The military is training,” he said. “We control all the security in the strip, and we are hidden, so I am sure Israel has few obvious military targets. If they start a war, thousands of civilians will die.”

I wanted to understand what he thinks of the Israelis as an enemy. When I asked him, he pointed to a photo of a man dressed in a kuffiyah on the wall opposite us. “They killed my brother. What do you think I think of them?”

I made myself clearer: As an enemy, I continued, do you respect them?

He smiled and motioned again to the poster of his dead brother. “They are a very weak enemy,” he says. “Our al-Qassam soldiers hear them shouting in fear when they attack. War is about how religious you are — the al-Qassam soldier knows he is going to heaven so he fights to the end. The Israeli soldier wants to go back to his girlfriend.”

Near the center of Gaza City stands a monument: a rocket belonging to the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. It points in the direction of Israel.

But despite the recurring wars with Israel in the past decade and the devastation they have wrought, my fixer Mahmoud contended, Hamas’s dominance in the strip is as strong as ever.

“Ten years ago, if we had walked down a street in central Gaza at night someone would have come up to us, put a gun to our head and demanded all our money — and we would have given it,” he told me. “With Hamas in power, that changed. Order has been brought to Gaza.”

As we drove through Gaza, Hamas police were everywhere — occasionally checking vehicles, thoroughly but not aggressively. The strip was calm. As we entered the port, Mahmoud pointed out what he said were a couple of Qassam Brigade soldiers standing by the side of the road, automatic machine guns at the ready.

“What you have to understand is that every 200 meters along the strip there is a Hamas operative watching over his particular patch,” Mahmoud said. “If there is something out of the ordinary he will report and action will be taken it. They are in total control.”

But Hamas isn’t the only armed group in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is, if anything, a more extreme organization. Founded in 1981, like Hamas it seeks the total destruction of Israel — and it also will not countenance a long-term cease-fire with Israel, which Hamas has offered on several occasions (albeit with difficult terms for Israel to accept).

The day after my meeting with Mostafa, Mahmoud and I drove out of Gaza City early in the morning. We went to meet “Yasser,”* a PIJ fighter who lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp, a cramped maze of alleyways housing 60,000 people that lies roughly three miles northeast of Gaza City.

PIJ is largely funded by Iran, which makes it unique among Sunni militant groups. The group claims to have 8,000 fighters in its ranks. Its relationship with Hamas is often strained: Hamas has struggled to rein in PIJ rocket attacks against Israel. Last month, Israel accused PIJ of firing rockets into the country from Syria at Iran’s behest.

Yasser greeted us in camouflage uniform, carrying an AK-47. He was all smiles and offered us coffee and a Palestinian version of a Kit-Kat bar.

“The Prophet Mohammad teaches us that the Jews don’t keep their promises and they never tell the truth,” he said. “So I can never envisage living side by side with them. My original village is near Ashkelon [a city in southern Israel], so I am fighting to return to the land my grandfather was kicked out of.”

In Yasser, one sees both the tragedy and the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He claims to come from Ashkelon, a place he has never been and will almost certainly never go. Meanwhile, an Israeli baby born there today could have parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents born in Ashkelon after the State of Israel was founded. Can he not see their sense of belonging, too?

He replied almost instantly. “They know it’s not their land. These days people are emigrating from Israel because they know the people fighting them are fighting for their land. And we will win.”

Yasser might dream of the day he wins a total victory over Israel, but in the here and now, life in Gaza is tough. The strip cannot sustain electricity for 24 hours a day, and blackouts are frequent. Israel announced on April 4 that it would suspend private cement imports into Gaza, arguing that a substantial proportion was being diverted for use by Hamas, prompting the United Nations to warn that the policy was slowing reconstruction of the territory.

Many Gazans are tired of this destruction and bloodshed. Most of the Gaza residents with whom I spoke just wanted to live normally, free from war. Hamas and PIJ call the shots in Gaza, however, and insist they are ready to fight to the bitter end.

“We as a population don’t want a war,” Yasser said. “We just want them to leave us alone and leave. The Israelis thought we would give up the land easily. We kicked them out of Gaza, and we will kick them out from the rest of Palestine.”

* Names have been changed at the request of interviewees.

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