The violent Gaza deadlock revisited/ Israel’s controversial “Nationality Bill”

A picture taken on July 14, 2018, shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Update from AIJAC

July 20, 2018

Update 07/18 #02

Last weekend saw yet another round of fighting around Gaza, with 200 rockets and mortars fired into Israel – and 4 Israeli injuries after one struck a house – and Israel hitting Hamas targets in Gaza, including an unfinished building used as a Hamas training area, in which two Palestinian teenagers were killed. The fighting was ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Sunday. This Update is about the ongoing deadlock around Gaza that led to the most recent outbreak of violence – and also how that deadlock may be broken.

It also contains some background and reporting on Israel’s controversial new Jewish Nation-state basic law, passed by the Knesset on Wednesday night.

We lead with Palestinian Affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff’s analysis of the Gaza deadlock. He says the latest round of fighting was viewed as unnecessary and unproductive, accomplishing little with another round of fighting on the horizon. He says that the incendiary kites which helped spark the latest clash are not seen as the most important danger to Israel – that would be the Iranian presence near Israel’s border in Syria – and Israel does not wanted to and is unlikely to launch a major military effort to topple Hamas in Gaza, because no better alternative appears to be achievable. For the rest of his knowledgable analysis, CLICK HERE. Avi Issacharoff also had an earlier piece about Hamas siphoning off fuel from Egypt intended for the Gaza power station for its own use.

Next up, the US Trump Administration’s Middle East envoys – Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Amb. David Friedman – lay out their proposal to improve the situation in Gaza, in a piece published by the Washington Post.  They note the difficult situation of Gazans, with high unemployment and poverty, but say there is no good option to reverse the current vicious cycle of violence and hopelessness without Gaza’s Hamas rulers changing their approach. Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman then argue that, “Life could significantly improve in short order for the Palestinian people if Hamas allowed it” and call on Hamas to cease violence and work with the Palestinian Authority on border control to facilitate the influx of aid. For their full argument, CLICK HERE.

Last is a report from Josh Hasten of JNS.org on Israel’s Jewish Nation-State law  – but since there has been much misinformation about that law, we strongly recommend readers read its actual text, which is quite short, before reading Hasten’s analysis. Hasten explains what the law actually says and  includes some quotes on what it is intended to accomplish from its two co-sponsors, Amir Ohana and Avi Dichter. He also quotes some of the criticisms of the law by Israeli parliamentary and non-parliamentary opponents of it, and some defence of it from law professor Eugene Kontorovich. For this valuable look at both sides of the debate over the bill, CLICK HERE.

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Israel has Iran on the brain, and all the kites in Gaza won’t change that

Realpolitik dictates that threats from Syria trump Hamas, leaving Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the border little hope for change beyond the cycles of flareups

By AVI ISSACHAROFF

Times of Israel, 15 July 2018

There’s a popular saying in Arabic that roughly translates to “I came the way I left.” In other words, there was a lot of fuss, but no progress has been made. It’s a sentiment familiar to anyone watching the Gaza border’s seemingly endless cycles of violence.

It is likely too early to summarize what happened in and around Gaza over the last 48 hours, but there is a feeling that the latest bout of violence — the most serious confrontation between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war — was unnecessary and unproductive, and left the situation in the Palestinian territory unchanged.

Early Sunday, several mortar shells were fired at Gaza-adjacent Israeli communities, apparently remnants of the violence a day earlier. Technically, this latest bout of violence, starting with Israeli airstrikes late Friday night, was a direct response to a violent riot along the Gaza border earlier in the day in which an IDF soldier was injured by a grenade thrown by a Palestinian.

But in practice, the IDF bombardment was an opportunity for Israel to destroy Hamas’s cross border tunnels it has long known about, and an effort to change the status quo with the Strip’s rulers regarding the increasing arson balloon and kite attacks.

There were those in Israel and in the IDF who believed that bombing empty Hamas facilities would cause the organization to panic and order its members to stop flying incendiary devices over the border that have burned thousands of acres of forests and agricultural fields in recent months. In addition, Israel hoped the strikes would appease residents of southern Israel and right-wing politicians who have been demanding a heavier response to the increasing arson attacks.

It’s doubtful the arson kite phenomenon will be stemmed, however, and thus the demands for action will only intensify.

Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail to during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Hamas was less than enthusiastic about the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal reached on Saturday. When it was informed the deal was going into effect, the terror group launched dozens of rockets at Israeli communities on the other side of the border to register its discontent without completely refusing to accept it.

And again, a few hours into the ceasefire, Hamas sources leaked that Egypt was pressuring the group to stop launching rockets and adhere to the ceasefire.

Nonetheless, both sides did want Egypt to successfully broker that truce to end the violence.

And everyone knows — Israel, Hamas and Egypt — that the next round of fighting is on the horizon, and that the reality in Gaza is unlikely to change significantly in the wake of the weekend violence.

The Israeli politicians who are quick to announce the government must not tolerate the ongoing “kite terrorism” are not telling the public the truth.

Firstly, the kites are not the most urgent security threat facing Israel but more like third or fourth down that list. Gaza has been downgraded, and is now regarded to be a less critical threat to Israel than the one posed by the Iranian military along the northern border in the sunset of the Syrian war.

Israel sees getting dragged into a complicated war in Gaza over incendiary kites as unnecessary for the IDF while a much more critical campaign is being waged in Syria over Iran.

So long as Iran is trying to entrench itself near the Golan border, it’s doubtful the reality for the Israeli residents living near the Gaza border — where kites are sparking multiple fires every day — will radically change in the near future.

Secondly, Israel — though politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government generally refrain from saying this in public — wants to ensure the survival of Hamas in Gaza. Not out of affection for the organization, but because the alternatives to that terrorist group ruling the Strip are either complete chaos or Israel re-occupying Gaza and ruling over its 2 million residents.

This is the consideration behind Israel’s cautious policy regarding Gaza. A bout of violence, incendiary kites and demonstrations along the border is considered to be “tolerable.” It certainly does not warrant an all-out war that could force Israel to deal with far more difficult decisions than those it is already facing.

Help is at hand for Palestinians. It’s all up to Hamas.

By Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman

Washington Post, July 19 at 6:27 PM

Palestinian women walk near the Erez crossing. (Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency

At the end of a productive six-day trip to the region recently, one reality was painfully clear: The nightmare of Hamas’s leadership is continuing and needlessly prolonging the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level , and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49 percent. The Palestinians of Gaza are stuck in a vicious cycle where corrupt and hateful leadership has provoked conflicts leading to reduced opportunities and the poverty and hopelessness that follow.

International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer? In the past, investments in badly needed infrastructure have been diverted for weapons and other malign uses, and even the projects that are built are often destroyed as a consequence of Hamas’s aggression. Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option.

Seventy years after the founding of Israel, it would be wise for Hamas to acknowledge that the existence of Israel is a permanent reality. Almost all in the Middle East have come to accept this fact, and many even embrace it. At the expense of the Palestinian people, Hamas is fighting a morally bankrupt, decades-old war that has long been lost.

Peace will provide opportunity to break this stalemate, and peace will be achieved only by embracing reality and dismissing a flawed ideology. Life could significantly improve in short order for the Palestinian people if Hamas allowed it. There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible. If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.

There is no reason the Palestinians (in both the West Bank and Gaza) can’t enjoy economic success and integrate into a thriving regional economy — if they let us help. As President Trump has said so many times, economic security is national security. By encouraging economic recovery in the region, we can enhance our efforts to increase stability as well.

Hamas must immediately cease provoking or coordinating attacks on Israelis and Egyptians, and on infrastructure projects sponsored by donor nations and organizations. Rather than looking for opportunities to weaponize everything from kites to mirrors in order to attack Israel, Hamas should focus its ingenuity on improving the Gazan economy. Rather than cynically attempting to exploit its barbaric holding of Israeli soldiers and citizens, Hamas must return them to their families. Instead of exploiting crossings such as Rafah and Salah al-Din to smuggle weapons and siphon off tax revenue for illicit purposes and personal enrichment, Hamas must hand those functions over in their entirety to the Palestinian Authority so that badly needed materials can get through to the people of Gaza.

The three authors of this article, with Israeli PM Netanyahu and other American and Israeli officials last November. 

The international community stands ready to work with the Palestinian Authority on this vital effort.

The cycle is clear: Rockets, mortars, terror tunnels, kite bombs and other weapons of aggression lead only to stricter constraints on the people of Gaza. Hamas’s acts of aggression have only produced misery for the people of Gaza. The true victims of this terrible situation are the many Palestinians who are not rioting but whose futures are dimmed by Hamas’s radical approach.

It is evident that the leaders in this region are tired of being on this hopeless treadmill and are hungry for real change. There is a clear divide between the bad actors looking to cause destruction, violence and human misery, and the responsible leaders trying to create a better and sustainable future for their citizens. The world is moving forward, but bad choices are causing Palestinians to fall further and further behind.

The international community also bears some blame. More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks. The United States has invested more money in helping the Palestinian people than has any other country in the world.

For far too long, Gaza has lurched from crisis to crisis, sustained by emergency appeals and one-time caravans of aid, without dealing with the root cause: Hamas leadership is holding the Palestinians of Gaza captive. This problem must be recognized and resolved or we will witness yet another disastrous cycle.

Jared Kushner is an assistant and senior adviser to President Trump. Jason Greenblatt is an assistant to the president and special U.S. representative for international negotiations. David Friedman is U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Knesset makes it official: Israel is a Jewish state

The bill now holds weight as one of Israel’s “Basic Laws,” the highest level of legal authority, being that Israel has no official constitution

JOSH HASTEN

JNS.org, July 19, 2018

Committee chairman Amir Ohana (right) with Jewish Home parliament members Nissam Slomiansky (centre) and Bezalel Smotrich at the joint Knesset and Constitution Committee meeting discussing the proposed National Law at the Knesset, July 16, 2018. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

After a heated session that lasted well into the night, the Knesset Plenum passed the controversial “Nationality Bill” into law on Thursday. The bill now holds weight as one of Israel’s “Basic Laws,” the highest level of legal authority, being that Israel has no official constitution.

It followed on the heels of narrow approval from a special Knesset committee headed by Netanyahu appointee Likud Party MK Amir Ohana before it then moved to the Knesset for its final reading.

Included in the legislation, which passed with a vote of 62-55 (and two abstentions) are the official recognition of Israel’s state symbols, including the menorah emblem, the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Hebrew as Israel’s official language, the right of return for Jews living in the Diaspora, as well as the utilization of democracy as Israel’s state democratic process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered these opening remarks after 3 a.m. on Thursday: “This is a defining moment in the history of Zionism and in the history of the State of Israel. 122 years ago after [Theodor] Herzl shared his vision, we have established into law the fundamental tenant of our existence. ‘Israel’ is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The legislation also includes language enshrining Shabbat and Jewish holidays as official days of rest in the country, though allowing for non-Jews to determine their own rest days and holidays.

Contention over wording pertaining to the official allowance of the creation of Jewish-only towns threatened to derail the legislation, but was satisfactorily amended to say that “the state considers the development of Jewish settlement a national value and will act in order to encourage and promote the foundation and establishment of such settlement.”

Another topic of contention was a clause involving ties between Israelis and Jews from the Diaspora.

‘Two kinds of opponents’

Speaking to JNS in a state of euphoria, Ohana said that “70 years after the founding of the State of Israel, what the current Knesset, Israel’s 20th, succeeded in passing, should have been passed in our first Knesset.”

He went on to explain the bill’s ramifications. “The passing of the law declaring Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people shows that in principal, we are not a bi-national state, not a bi-language state and not a bi-capital state. We are only a Jewish state with Hebrew as an official language, and Jerusalem as our undivided capital city.”

Ohana acknowledges the adamant opponents of the new law, though differentiates between Arabs who oppose the law and Jews who do so, particularly his fellow members of Knesset.

“There are two kinds of opponents” to the law,” he said. “The Arabs, I understand, want a binational state and don’t want to recognize Israel as the Homeland of the Jewish people. I disagree with them, but I understand them.”

He added that “those who call themselves ‘Zionists’ in the opposition, what exactly is in this bill—the version that we passed—that they are opposed to? I have yet to get any good answers based on Zionist values. It’s most likely a matter of coalition vs. opposition.”

Ohana concludes the conversation by saying that he wishes a “mazal tov to the State of Israel!”

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, is a critic of the new basic law. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said in a statement that “although the version that passed is much better than previous iterations, the nation-state law is an unnecessary embarrassment to Israel.

“Rather than celebrating 70 years of independence with an initiative to strengthen the Jewish and democratic values of the Jewish nation-state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the Israeli Parliament [Knesset] today passed a law that is jingoistic and divisive,” he said.

“The new law threatens to drive a wedge between Israel and the Diaspora, and fuel the campaign to delegitimize Israel. It will fall to future leaders to rectify the damage and return Israel to the Zionist vision that for 70 years has guided Israel’s vitality, dynamism and international reputation.”

Like any other Western nation

Some Diaspora Jewish leaders have voiced their disapproval of the bill in recent weeks, as they claim that one of the clauses, reworded from its original format, implies that Israel would act in the Diaspora to improve relations between Israelis and non-Israelis, though not between both populations in Israel. Some interpreted the final text as an attempt by Israel to weaken the influence of Diaspora Jews in dictating Israeli policies, such as prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.

However, Professor Eugene Kontorovich, head of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and Professor of International and Constitutional Law at Northwestern University, told JNS that “the overwrought reactions by Diaspora Jews to Israel’s commonplace law about national character are like those of someone in a romantic relationship they’ve grown tired of. The most innocuous actions by their partner can become annoying. It seems that some of the organizational leadership of American Jewry are looking for an excuse to break up with Israel. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.

Former Knesset member Dov Lipman says he opposes the new law due to its final wording. He tells JNS that he “is all in favor of the idea of having a Jewish nation-state law. I think it’s critical since without a constitution, courts often make decisions that hurt Israel’s status as a Jewish state because all they have to go on is ‘human rights,’ and at times, we have to ensure the Jewish character of the state.”

He adds, however, that “when you enshrine a law that Israel is a ‘Jewish state,’ you have to go overboard, in my opinion, in making sure that those who aren’t Jewish maintain their equality and feel comfortable.”

“Dropping Arabic to a secondary language when 20 percent of the country consists of Arabs is a slap in the face.”

He also says the law also makes the Druze community feel secondary. “The Druze population, who are proud Israelis, and serve in the military and the police, who speak Arabic … my Druze friend just called me and said, ‘You spit in my face.’ ”

Lipman also takes issue with the clause in the law that allows groups in Israel to create and maintain neighbourhoods and communities based on identity.

Kontorovich, however, released a statement citing the hypocrisy of Western nations who would take Israel to task over the new law.

“Israel’s nation-state bill is similar to provisions in many Western democratic constitutions, which provide for an official language and national character that reflects the majority of the population. Since Israel doesn’t have a formal constitution, it is imperative that the Jewish state has legislation that affirms the values and ethos it was founded upon.”

He added that “the Israeli bill is actually far weaker than constitutions of many European democracies, which unlike Israel even create an official national religion. The present bill does not violate anyone’s individual rights or create any special privileges for Jews.

“The faux outrage against the bill,” he stated, “is simply another attempt to single out the Jewish state and hold her to a double standard. What’s good for the United Kingdom and Spain should also be good for Israel.”