Gaza and Hamas’ Tunnels/ The French Peace Ultimatum
Feb 4, 2016
Update from AIJAC
Feb. 4, 2016
Number 02/16 #01
This Update offers two pieces on the situation in Hamas-ruled Gaza – where Hamas openly admits its priority is building tunnels into Israel to facilitate terrorism while internationally-funded rebuilding efforts there remain sluggish. A further piece analyzes the implications of a recent French ultimatum demanding an international peace conference be called to create an Israeli-Palestinian two state resolution, or else Paris will recognise “Palestine” as a state.
The first piece comes from veteran Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, who looks at Hamas’ goals and why the organisation continues to place so much emphasis on building terror tunnels. He notes that contrary to popular belief, the tunnels in question – where several Hamas operatives have been killed in collapses in recent weeks – are not intended for smuggling of goods into Gaza, but for infiltrating Israel in service of Hamas’ ongoing goal of liberating “all of Palestine.” Abu Toameh says the tunnel-building, at vast cost in terms of both money and lives, shows that Hamas does not care at all about the welfare of Gazans, and indeed views poverty and unemployment as useful means to recruit them for Jihadist violence. Abu Toameh also discusses the latest Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks. To read his very knowledgeable commentary, CLICK HERE. Video of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya bragging about Hamas digging tunnels “east of Gaza” – that is, into Israel, for the sake of “Jerusalem” and “al-Aqsa” is here.
The next piece discusses growing donor weariness in paying for Gaza reconstruction – as evidenced by the large number of donor pledges that are not being fulfilled and likely never will be. Washington Institute research associate Mitchel Hochberg argues that a large part of the problem is that there is an expectation that there will be future military conflicts between Israel and Hamas – as indicated by Hamas’ open preparation for such a conflict noted above – meaning that any large-scale infrastructure built could well be destroyed again in the next round. He notes Israeli security analyst Michael Herzog’s call for Israel and Hamas to jointly declare certain infrastructure off-limits to military use, but expresses doubt it will work. For Hochberg’s fuller exploration of the dilemmas surrounding efforts to reconstruct Gaza, CLICK HERE.
The final piece in this Update is an analysis and critique by Israeli international law expert and former diplomat Amb. Alan Baker of the French ultimatium last Friday, to convene an international conference to create Israeli-Palestinian peace or else Paris “will have to live up to our responsibilities and recognize a Palestinian state. Baker argues the proposal is not only blatantly counter-productive in threatening, in essence, to give the Palestinians what they want if they do not agree to make peace, but also a violation of French obligations under international law. He notes that France is a signatory witnessing the “1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement”, which forbids changes in the current status of the West Bank and Gaza prior to a negotiated peace deal, yet France intends to directly encourage the Palestinians to violate this key clause by recognising their “state”. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Interestingly, Israeli Opposition Leader Yitzhak Herzog just staged an event designed to call attention to what he argues is insufficient government attention to the developing tunnel threat from Hamas. Discussion of the significance of Herzog’s stance comes from Jonathan Tobin.
- Hamas rolls out a new “tank” to fight Israel – which experts say is a plywood mock-up.
- On Wednesday, there was a major attack in Jerusalem where three armed terrorists – planning to attack groups of Jewish civilians – were questioned by two female border police officers and opened fire, killing 19-year-old Hadar Cohen and severely wounding the other officer. All three terrorists were then also killed. Israeli commentators – such as Amos Harel and Yoav Limor – note that this was a very different sort of attack from recent “lone wolf” stabbings, involving firearms, bombs and a well-coordinated group, and may be a sign of things to come.
- Just after the attack, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with parents of terror perpetrators and called their children “martyrs”. Plus, a poster from Abbas’ Fatah movement hailing as heroes two Palestinians who stabbed two Jewish civilian women, one fatally, in late January.
- Meanwhile, another spokesman for Abbas’ Fatah party said a few days before this attack that the violence, which he called a “popular uprising” has “moral and material support from the Palestinian leadership and from the Fatah movement” and will continue to grow.
- An article detailing the antisemitic and pro-violence material emanating from the clerics at the PA-controlled al-Aqsa mosque. Plus, a collection of the cartoons emanating from the Palestinian media about the supposed Jewish “threat” to the mosque.
- The UN agency UNRWA honours as its official Goodwill Ambassador Mohammad Assaf , a young Palestinian who sings songs about using violence and blood to liberate the land ” from the river to the sea.”
- Controversy over how UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon used Holocaust remembrance day to bash Israel and imply Palestinian terrorism was understandable, if not justified. Interesting reactions to his claims come from Herb Keinon, Jonathan Tobin and Michael Rubin.
- A report on torture by Palestinian security services. Elliott Abrams comments on the fact that this report got no media coverage.
- Palestinian academic
- How Arab doctors and other medical workers are pioneering Jewish-Arab integration in Israel.
- Isi Leibler writes that he sees little future for diaspora Jewish communities, and he urges Jews around the world to consider coming home to Israel – and makes some comment on the Australian situation.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro on why no one has noticed that Israel has effectively frozen all new approvals for housing in settlements for around 18 months – and indeed many leaders who should know better have claimed the opposite.
- Sharyn Mittelman on Israel’s growing relationship with Greece and Cyprus – rooted in part in energy cooperation – and the implications for relations with Turkey.
- Details for seeing Israeli strategic expert and AIJAC guest Prof. Efraim Inbar’s latest talk at the Sydney Institute.
In the words of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the tunnels are being dug not only to “defend the Gaza Strip, but to serve as a launching pad to reach all of Palestine.” As one can see from any map of Palestine, “all of Palestine” does not mean living in peace alongside Israel; it means supplanting Israel.
To its credit, Hamas has been refreshingly transparent about its ambition, the elimination of Israel. Hamas wants the Palestinians to continue living in misery and bitterness. It is fertile soil for jihad recruitment.
A Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government would mean tunnels not only along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, but also from the West Bank into Israel.
Forever looming, of course, is the illusion that Abbas will be able to persuade Hamas to abandon its aim to destroy Israel.
The myth that Hamas uses tunnels to smuggle food and other necessities to the “besieged” Gaza Strip has been buried under the rubble of the tunnel that collapsed last week east of Gaza City.
The incident, in which seven members of Hamas’s armed wing, Ezaddin Al-Qassam, were killed when the tunnel they were working in collapsed, provides further proof that the Islamist movement has stayed true to its charter, which calls for the total destruction of Israel.
The Hamas men who were killed in the tunnel collapse belonged to the movement’s elite “Tunnel Unit.” According to Ezaddin Al-Qassam, the men were busy repairing one of the tunnels (damaged during the 2014 war with Israel) when it collapsed due to severe weather conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, the tunnel was not being renovated to allow Palestinians to smuggle basic goods from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. This was one of many tunnels that Hamas has dug over the past few years to infiltrate Israel and carry out terror attacks.
Hamas makes no secret of the goal of its renovations. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar readily admits that the tunnels are being rebuilt to target Israel.
Indeed, clarity seems to be the name of the game with Hamas. Senior Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayeh explained that his organization would continue to dig tunnels for use in future confrontations with Israel. “We have enough mujahideen [jihad warriors] to replace their brothers who were martyred [in the tunnel collapse],” he said during the funeral of the seven Hamas members.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh went a step further: the tunnels were not only designed to launch terror attacks against Israelis, but to “liberate all of Palestine.” In the words of Haniyeh, the tunnels are being dug not only to “defend the Gaza Strip, but to serve as a launching pad to reach all of Palestine.” As one can see from any map of Palestine, “all of Palestine” does not mean living in peace alongside Israel; it means supplanting Israel.
For Haniyeh, the tunnels are a “strategic weapon” in Hamas’s jihad to destroy Israel. Hamas’s military wing dug the tunnels around the Gaza Strip “to defend our people and liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem,” the Hamas leader stated.
Hamas, it is argued, has changed it colors. It is now ready, the theory goes, to reject its own charter and accept a two-state solution.
So much for a Hamas change of heart.
To its credit, Hamas has been refreshingly transparent about its ambition, the elimination of Israel. Yet Hamas has few ambitions for those now clasped in its grip. Nearly a decade after its violent seizure of Gaza, the movement and its leaders have offered the 1.9 million Palestinians stranded there precious little but destruction and death.
Oh, and tunnels. Hamas has tunnels — two types. The tunnels running under the border with Egypt are designed as conduits for weapons. The tunnels running under the border with Israel are reserved for Israel’s destruction.
Hamas’s Palestinian political rivals have pointed out in the past few days that the tunnels have turned the leaders of the Islamist movement into “merchants of war.” These “merchants,” according to the Palestinians, have long been using the smuggling tunnels to increase their personal wealth at the expense of dozens of underpaid workers who work as diggers around the clock.
As Al-Hayeh has made evident, Hamas is prepared to sacrifice as many Palestinians as it takes to advance its deadly goals. Between 2006 and 2011, 188 Palestinians were killed while working in Hamas’s tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip, according to figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Moreover, child-labor legislation seems not to have made many inroads in Hamas-run Gaza. Children under the age of 18 constitute at least 10% of the dead in the tunnel-digging industry.
And while the economy of Gaza is in tatters, Hamas has invested millions of dollars into its tunnel-building projects.
Unemployment in the Gaza Strip during the year 2015 topped 40%, while more than 65% of the population live under the poverty line. More than half of its population is now almost entirely dependent on aid from different relief and humanitarian organizations. Economic experts predict a gloomier scenario for the Gaza Strip during 2016.
Despite its claims to the contrary, however, the last thing Hamas cares about is the welfare of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In fact, Hamas wants the Palestinians to continue living in misery and bitterness. It is fertile soil for jihad recruitment.
The collapse of the tunnel last week and renewed Hamas threats to pursue the fight against Israel coincide with reports that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to resume his efforts to achieve “national reconciliation” and “unity” with the Islamist movement.
According to the reports, representatives of the two sides are scheduled to meet in Qatar next week in yet another bid to end their dispute and pave the way for a new Palestinian unity government and elections.
Forever looming, of course, is the illusion that Abbas will be able to persuade Hamas to abandon its aim to destroy Israel.
Hamas will never exchange its attack tunnels for PA cabinet portfolios. Abbas recently announced an interest in resuming peace talks with Israel. His interest, however, has been for some time taken up by reaching out to Hamas. A PA-Hamas unity government would mean tunnels not only along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, but also from the West Bank into Israel.
It was not only seven men, then, who were buried beneath the rubble of the collapsed attack tunnel last week. Along with them was buried the persistent but utterly naïve hope that Hamas will somehow transform itself into a “peace partner” for Israel, the Palestinian Authority or even the Palestinian people.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award winning journalist based in Jerusalem.
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Jerusalem Review, February 2, 2016
The promise of renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas has made donors shy away from funding the large-scale projects and new housing developments needed to improve and not simply manage living conditions in Gaza.
The three Israel-Hamas wars in the last seven years have destroyed billions of dollars of infrastructure and housing in Gaza. Hamas launches rockets into Israel to burnish its credentials for violent resistance in the eyes of its public, and Israel retaliates to manage an unacceptable security situation. Some Israelis refer to these wars as efforts to “mow the grass” and prevent Hamas’s terror infrastructure from developing. Yet, while regularly mowing down Hamas’s capabilities, Israel also has set back development and humanitarian efforts.
Despite the risks, many donors recognize that their efforts must continue for humanitarian reasons. Yet ongoing tensions between Hamas and Israel and the promise of future conflict likely make them hesitant to continue providing aid. At the very least, these groups probably would want guarantees — from Hamas and Israel — to avoid targeting projects or using them for cover in the future.
After the last 2014 Gaza War, donor countries promised more than $3.5 billion of humanitarian and development aid, but according to an August 2015 World Bank report, only 35% of promised funds have been delivered. Western donors, including the United States, European Union, and Japan, have given the most aid and almost met their full pledges. Qatar and Turkey, both Hamas supporters, have fulfilled 10% and 29% of their pledges, still high absolute totals, respectively. Finally, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait — aligned against Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood more broadly — have all given less than 13% of their pledges. Egypt did not pledge aid to Gaza and instead has undermined the Gaza economy by closing the Rafah crossing and destroying smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian-Gazan border.
For the Middle Eastern countries, the decision to send aid to Gaza results from political competition. Hamas’s backers eagerly help the group improve living conditions in Gaza to aid an ally and increase its legitimacy, while opposing countries, cautious about bolstering Hamas, limit funds and disburse them through proxies and international organizations such as the United Nations.
Humanitarian concerns rank foremost for Western donors, which helps explain their speedy and full delivery of aid, but several countries have questioned the wisdom of spending more money on projects that Israel later destroys. European diplomats in particular have expressed concern about the destruction of their Gazan — and West Bank — projects and have even debated asking Israel for compensation for destroyed humanitarian efforts. European officials perceive Israeli intransigence as the main obstacle to resolving the conflict and they fear Western aid may unintentionally prolong the Israeli occupation by defraying the costs of occupation. Given that the European Commission estimates that Israel destroyed 29.4 million Euros of European Union and EU member state-funded projects in the West Bank and Gaza from May 2001 to October 2011, it is unsurprising that a Western diplomat reported “considerable donor fatigue” from watching “infrastructure projects that we have contributed to” be destroyed.
Though aid continues to flow, donor wariness has impacted the ability of international organizations to continue raising funds for large development projects and expanded humanitarian work. As Robert Piper, the United Nation’s Deputy Special Coordinator (UNDSC) for the Middle East Peace Process, notes, “[The] possibility that work completed now, could be destroyed later in the event of renewed conflict…makes it more difficult to obtain funding — for the reconstruction of totally destroyed homes, as well as large-scale development projects.”
Piper contrasts ongoing humanitarian work — repairing homes, disbursing food, maintaining educational infrastructure — with bigger efforts such as building new homes, building a 161kv power line for a desalination plant, and converting Gaza’s power plant to natural gas. Donors are abandoning such large-scale projects that seek to invest in the future of Gaza for fears of another conflict. Piper also noted that these same donors limit these projects due to concerns about empowering Hamas and granting the Islamist group construction materials, which could be used to build weapons. In Piper’s view, Palestinian reconciliation that would give the non-violent, Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority a greater role could reassure donors and increase aid.
However, the specter of future war may not discourage donors, but spur them to invest in measures that decrease the chances of conflict. According to Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli brigadier general and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, donors are “actually motivated to do more to…delay the next round.” In other words, donations that improve Gaza’s quality of life may alter Hamas’s strategic calculus from seeking legitimacy through conflict, to seeking legitimacy through economic prosperity.
Further, Israel has demonstrated willingness to work with the international community in developing Gaza. According to Herzog, Israel does consider the presence of foreign investments when making its targeting decisions and Israel has never cut off water or electricity supplies to Gaza during conflict. Thus, investments in desalination plants or electricity grids have a high chance of lasting through conflict. Herzog holds that investors could work with Israel and Hamas to obtain commitments not to target or militarily use projects before starting constructions. Nevertheless, guaranteeing the safety of an air or seaport would be harder given Israeli concerns on their use for smuggling in military materials.
Yet, guaranteeing any project against Israeli targeting is unlikely. Even if Hamas and Israel both agreed to respect a no-go zone around a desalination plant, Palestinian factions could launch rockets near the site and trigger and Israeli retaliation. The absence of a political deal or even ceasefire between Israel and Hamas also shakes donor confidence. Between this donor wariness and competing urgent priorities, including the civil war in Syria, Western donors and major international organizations remain unlikely to undertake major projects.
Donors continue to fund Gaza’s reconstruction for humanitarian political reasons. Still, the promise of renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas leads donors to shy away from funding the large-scale projects and new housing developments needed to improve and not simply manage living conditions in Gaza. Donor wariness alone does not explain this behavior — the lack of Palestinian reconciliation, competing priorities, and regional politics all matter as well — but without hope of tangible progress, donors will remain hesitant to invest in a failing a project.
Mitchel Hochberg is a research associate at The Washington Institute and a master’s candidate in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.
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Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, Feb. 2
On January 28, 2016, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, in a statement issued after meeting with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, voiced a somewhat curious and ominous warning and threat, directed solely against Israel: If imminent efforts being organized by France to end the deadlock in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians end without result, France intends to live up to our responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and recognize a Palestinian state.1
This curious, unprecedented, biased, and far from friendly ultimatum raises some pertinent legal and diplomatic questions regarding France’s capacity and standing, both in the context of the Israel-Arab peace process, as well as regarding France’s responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
France, as a leading member of the EU, is party to the EU’s signature as witness to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.2 This agreement constitutes the internationally acknowledged backbone of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
France Undermines the Oslo Accords It Witnessed
The commitments set down in this agreement, to negotiate the permanent status of the territories as well as other central issues such as Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees, are solemn Palestinian and Israeli obligations which France, together with its EU partners, as well as the United States, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and Norway are obligated to honor after placing their signatures on the agreement as witnesses.
By the same token, the UN General Assembly in its Resolution A/50/21 of December 4, 1995, supported by France, expressed its full support for the Oslo Accords and the peace negotiation process.3
In its capacity both as a signed witness to the agreement, as well as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is incumbent on France, which voted in favor of the UN resolution endorsing the agreement and the negotiation process, not to attempt to undermine the same agreement and process, nor to prejudge issues that are still open and to be negotiated.
France Prejudges Issues Meant to Be Negotiated
In threatening to unilaterally and arbitrarily recognize a Palestinian state, France is clearly prejudging the issue of the permanent status of the territory, which, as set out in the agreement itself, is a negotiating issue yet to be resolved. In this context, France and its European colleagues cannot and should not act to undermine the Palestinian obligation set out in the Final Clauses of the agreement, according to which no step will be taken to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.4
Thus, in acting to unilaterally organize an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners, American, European, Arab, notably to preserve and make happen the solution of two states, France is attempting both to bypass and undermine a negotiating process called for by the UN in several resolutions since 1967, all supported and endorsed by France.
France is also undermining the various reciprocal commitments between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, including a letter from Yasser Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin dated September 9, 1993, in which Arafat declared that all outstanding issues relating to the permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.5
As such, by engaging in a parallel, un-agreed process with the declared aim of imposing upon one side Israel the outcome of an international conference, France is, in fact, acting ultra vires all accepted norms and principles of conflict-resolution. Since all the agreed issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including borders between them, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, security and cooperation, as well as the permanent status of the territory, require reciprocal negotiation, France cannot deceive itself and the international community into believing that these issues can be imposed arbitrarily by any conference or international or regional organization.
In imposing its ultimatum and threat to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state should Frances efforts to make happen the solution of two states fail, France is, in effect, granting the Palestinian side the prerogative not to engage in any bona fide negotiations with Israel, knowing that, in any event, France will unilaterally grant the Palestinians what they are demanding.
As such, this statement by France’s foreign minister would appear to be the very antithesis of what is to be expected of a respected and responsible permanent member of the Security Council which presumes to live up to its responsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council.
In view of these considerations, France is urged to reconsider this imprudent, irresponsible and damaging position.