Netanyahu: Israel won’t tolerate Iranian bases in Lebanon, Syria
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel opposes the US-Russian-brokered cease-fire in Syria because it perpetuates Iran’s military presence in the country and told French President Emmanuel Macron that Iran wants to establish air, land and sea bases in Lebanon, something Jerusalem cannot tolerate.
The warning came during a two-hour meeting the two leaders held in the Élysée Palace, after a ceremony earlier in the day marking 75 years since the roundup and deportation of more than 13,000 French Jews during the Holocaust.
Netanyahu told Israeli journalists that in addition to Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon, Hamas is also attempting to gain a foothold there, and he said he asked France – which has a special, historical relationship with Lebanon – to use its influence in Lebanon to work against efforts to turn the country into a base for more terrorist organizations, something that would have grave consequences.
Netanyahu said he also raised the issue of Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent base in Syria, saying he was opposed to the agreement reached earlier this month between Russia and the US regarding a cease-fire in Syria because, while it removes Iranian forces 20 kilometers from Israel’s border, it perpetuates Iran’s military presence in the country.
Jerusalem maintains that Iran is not only interested in sending military advisers to Syria, but also is keen on establishing ground and air bases there, something that could radically change the situation in the region. He said that Israel would oppose any agreement in Syria that enables a permanent Iranian military presence there.
In his briefing with journalists, Netanyahu also related to the situation on the Temple Mount following Friday’s attack and reiterated that Israel has no intention of altering the status quo there. He pointed out that he spoke both with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the attack, and they both condemned it.
“It is essential that we won’t let this volatile place explode,” he said. “We must be smart about that, to avoid any other such attack. So the [security] measures that we are installing there are important.’’
Bibi & Macron
At a press conference without questions after their meeting, Macron said he shared Netanyahu’s concerns about Hezbollah’s arms build-up in southern Lebanon, and that there was a great deal of “convergence” between the positions of Israel and France on regional issues.
Regarding the Palestinian issue, Macron said France wanted to see a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the context of a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side, having Jerusalem as a shared capital.
This is the consistent stance of French diplomacy, he said, without mentioning the Mideast peace conference held in the city six months ago, attended by representatives of some 70 countries and 30 foreign ministers, including then US secretary of state John Kerry.
Macron said that France was willing to support all diplomatic efforts, and that – in a reference to settlement construction – he told Netanyahu that it is “important that the conditions for negotiations” exist and that “international law” is respected by all.
Netanyahu, in his comments, said that Israel and France share a desire to see a stable and peaceful Middle East, but that he made it clear, “Our view of is that the root of the conflict – the reason it goes on – is the persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a nation-state of the Jewish people in any boundaries.”
He said this, alongside the question of enduring security, are the two pillars of peace that could begin to be handled “by seizing also on the opportunities, not exclusively, but also the opportunities opened up by the new approach of many of the leading Arab countries toward Israel.”
Netanyahu arrived early Sunday morning in Paris and took part in a ceremony that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of 13,152 French Jews during World War II. The Jews arrested were confined for four days at the Vel’ d’Hiv bicycle velodrome, and from there deported to Auschwitz. Less than 100 of them came back.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron, pay their respects after laying a wreath at the Vel d’Hiv memorial, during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, in Paris, France, July 16, 2017. (Reuters)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron, pay their respects after laying a wreath at the Vel d’Hiv memorial, during a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, in Paris, France, July 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Macron said that it was France that organized the roundup of the Jews. He added, “Not a single German lent his hand.”
“It was indeed France. And thus 13,152 people of the Jewish faith were dragged from their homes between the 16th and 17th of July 1942 to their death. Among them, 4,115 children between ages of two and six, whom we are especially honoring today.”
“Time does its work,” the president said. “Archives open [and] the truth comes out. It’s stark, irrevocable. It imposes itself on us all.”
Macron’s words were seen as a clear refutation of remarks that far-right leader Marine Le Pen, his rival in the recent elections, said during the campaign, that France could not be held responsible for Vichy France’s actions.
At that ceremony, Macron also strongly denounced anti-Zionism, saying, “We will never surrender to the messages of hate; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of antisemitism.”
Netanyahu, who first addressed the crowd in French and saluted “my friend President Macron,” noted that “the Nazis and their collaborators… shattered the lives of thousands of Jews at Vel’ d’Hiv. It seems that the values of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity – these values were crushed brutally under the boots of antisemitism.”
Addressing Macron specifically, Netanyahu referred to fighting Islamic extremism, stating, “Your struggle is our struggle. The zealots of militant Islam who seek to destroy you seek to destroy us as well.”
One of those who attended the ceremony was Felix Jastreb, who was 12 at the time of the roundup. His parents were taken by the French police. Jastreb himself was sent to a village called Drouais, in the Eure-et-Loir region, to hide
He told The Jerusalem Post that many residents in the village knew he was Jewish, but no one spoke about it. No one denounced him. His parents, on the other hand, were sent to Drancy and from there to Auschwitz. They did not come back.
When the war ended, he received a certificate that described his parents as “disappeared.”
It was only some 10 years later that they were declared dead. Jastreb said, “Macron’s participation today at the ceremony is important. But what was most significant to me over the years was the 1995 speech by then-president Jacques Chirac publicly recognizing France’s responsibility of what happened to French Jews during WWII.”
Salah Bellouti, president of the Association des Anciens Combattant – the association of resistance members and other French veterans who fought against the Nazis – stated, “I am very moved being here today, 75 years after the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, a terrible act committed by the French police which we tried to prevent. I am here today to tell all French Jews and Jews around the world ‘Never Again.’ We fought against the Vichy government and its terrible actions. The Jewish community must know that we, the veterans, did not abandon them. And what happened there at Vel’ d’Hiv should serve as a lesson to our young generation in France.”
Netanyahu will travel Monday from Paris to Budapest, for meetings with the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He is scheduled to return to Israel on Thursday. (Jerusalem Post)
Waqf official may have aided Israeli-Arab terrorists in Temple Mount
Israel Police made a number of arrests in the wake of the deadly terror attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Friday morning, which claimed the lives of two Israeli police officers, and officers were on the hunt for additional suspects who may have helped the three Israeli-Arab perpetrators, police said.
Raids were also conducted on the homes of the terrorists, all from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, and a mourners’ tent for the terrorists was broken up.
Channel 10 reported Friday that among those detained were at least one official from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the Jordan-based organization that administers the Temple Mount, on suspicion that the shooters received help from inside.
The channel said the official was seen on security footage behaving suspiciously.
Police also said they arrested one person, a 22-year-old from the northern city on suspicion he was directly involved in the attack.
Police have not indicated what kind of assistance they believe the Waqf official provided, though Channel 10 said he may have helped the shooters stash the weapons used in the attack. A gag order was imposed on further aspects of the investigation relating to the Waqf.
Channel 10 noted the situation was complicated by the fact that the custodian group answers to Jordan, not Israel.
Channel 2 news said more vaguely that it was possible that the terrorists had received help from inside the compound, and that this was one of the reasons why police had ordered the closure of the area, for the first time in decades, will they carried out security checks.
The terrorists, Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, 29, Muhammad Hamad Abdel Latif Jabarin, 19 and Muhammad Ahmed Mafdal Jabarin, 19, used two Carlo-style submachine guns and a pistol to carry out the attack. One of them also tried to stab an officer after being apprehended.
A pistol and one of two Carlo-style submachine guns used in a shooting attack that left two Israeli seriously wounded near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
After the shooting, the terrorists fled toward the Temple Mount and other officers gave chase. The police then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.
In footage released by police Friday, the terrorists can be seen running armed from the Temple Mount into an alleyway where the officers, Haiel Sitawe, 30 and Kamil Shnaan, 22, were stationed, and shooting them.
Reports throughout Friday said the two police officers were killed just outside the Temple Mount compound. However, Channel 2 news reported late Friday that the second policeman may have been killed by the assailants on the mount itself, after they had fled back.
It was not immediately known how the terrorists brought the weapons into the holy site. Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount complex go through a less rigorous security check than non-Muslim visitors who enter through the Mughrabi Bridge.
Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi said Friday that officers were sweeping the Temple Mount, with the help of the Waqf, to look for further weapons.
After the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting with top defense officials, during which they decided to close the holy site for the day, a dramatic move given that Fridays are a holy day in Islam, when many travel to the Temple Mount to pray.
Israel closed the compound for the first time since 1969, saying it was carrying out security checks, including for further weaponry.
Halevi enforced the decision, ordering the complex cleared and the entrances to the holy site closed. Police also placed checkpoints at the entrances to the Old City.
Following the sweep operation, Halevi said he would give his recommendation to the government on whether to reopen the site, the holiest in Judaism.
Jordan had urged Israel, which is responsible for security at the site, to “immediately reopen” the Haram al-Sharif compound, as it is referred to in Arabic. The site also houses the Dome of the Rock sanctuary and is the third-holiest site in Islam.
“Israel must reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately,” said government spokesman Mohamed Momani, who is also information minister.
He added in a statement carried by the official Petra news agency that Israel must “refrain from taking any step aimed at changing the historical” status quo.
Israel has repeatedly denied seeking to do so, including on Friday.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the police, called the attack “an extremely serious event which crossed all red lines. The investigation is ongoing. We will need to reevaluate all of the security arrangements on the Temple Mount and its environs. I call on all public leaders to act to calm the situation and ensure quiet in Jerusalem.”
In the aftermath of the attack, many right-wing politicians and activists called to change the long-standing arrangements at the holy site that allow Muslim prayer there but forbid Jewish prayer and religious rituals.
However, Netanyahu fended off those requests with a blunt statement from his office saying, “the status quo will be protected.”
Following the attack, Israel briefly detained then released the grand mufti of Jerusalem.
His son said he was released without charge after being questioned over his call for Muslims to come to Jerusalem following the closure of the Temple Mount to worshipers in the wake of the attack.
In a speech in the Old City, the cleric had condemned the closure, which Israel said was done for security reasons, including to search for weapons.
Hussein called on Muslim masses to flood to the holy site, and condemned what he called Friday’s Israeli “aggression” there, Army Radio reported a presumed reference to the closure of the site and/or to Israeli forces’ shooting of the assailants.
No terror groups took immediate responsibility for the attack, though Hamas did praise it, saying it was a “natural response to Israeli terrorism.” (the Times of Israel)
Old City terrorism deters tourism, hurts shops
Passing the closed Jaffa Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, the emptier-than-usual streets were a stark reminder of the terrorist attack that took place on the Temple Mount two days earlier.
“In the shops, [we] feel secure,” said Shaun Nathan, a manager at Fifth Quarter, a Judaica shop in the Old City.
“It’s the visitors that aren’t. And also the tour guides don’t want to feel responsible if something will happen.”
Attacks like those on Friday have a major impact on the number of tourists that pass through both the store and the Old City, he said, noting that tour guides he works with often cancel tours or take people directly to the Western Wall without stopping to shop after violent events take place in the city.
He described an incident at Ammunition Hill last year, the first time an Arab terrorist had shot people dead in the streets during the wave of violence that began almost two years ago. He had three tour groups in his shop at the time.
“I literally saw all three tour guides get SMSs. They looked at their phones and very quietly they said to their groups: ‘We’ve got to go,’ and then they just left the Old City. And there was no one in the Old City for a month.”
Nathan said he has noticed a “very problematic” phenomenon since the Ammunition Hill shooting – tourists stopped coming to the Old City, but children continued to roam around.
The children, he said, know that shootings in the Old City are “just part of life, but the tourists, even the bravest tourists… it affects them.”
Shops owned by Arab Israelis also experience the economic frustrations of decreased tourism following violent incidents, Nathan added.
“Definitely, today we’re feeling it [with fewer customers], and we’ve spoken to the other shops and they’re all feeling it,” he said, adding that the police “do a good job” responding to the attacks.
Some tourists, however, decided to follow through with their visits, including a number of Birthright groups, even while acknowledging the danger of entering the Old City following the attacks.
Neil Myeroff, a Jewish tourist from London, said he briefly reconsidered visiting the Old City and Western Wall, but ultimately felt it was necessary to go and not allow the violence to keep him from the site.
“[Friday’s incident] flashed through my mind for a second. But you’ve got to live,” he said, calling the Western Wall “a very, very special holy place.”
Jamie Myrose, a Christian American college student participating in the Tel Shimron archeological dig, said she wasn’t concerned about going to the Old City after the attacks.
“I thought that Israel, as far as my experience goes, has been really quick with dealing with security threats and returning to kind of normal business, so especially because it’s now Sunday after the attacks, I felt pretty safe,” she said. “We also did stop at the Temple Mount and it felt as safe as it’s been every other time we’ve gone.”
An Israeli visitor, Miriam Cohen, said that, in spite of the attacks, it is necessary to visit the Western Wall and establish a continued Jewish presence there while adjusting to the current reality of danger in the Old City.
“Yes, it is scary,” she said. “Things happen here and they do not end.” (Jerusalem Post)
Muslim authority protests Temple Mount security measures, blocks entrance
Islamic authorities in Jerusalem called on Palestinians on Sunday to avoid entering the Temple Mount, following a decision by Israel to place checkpoints with metal detectors at the compound gates. The site was reopened after a deadly attack on Friday killed two Israeli policemen.
At this stage, only two of 10 gates – The Gate of the Tribes (Bab al-Asbat) and The Council Gate (Bab al-Majlis) – will open to the public, a police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.
The decision to reopen the Temple Mount for prayer services followed moves to place metal detectors next to each gate to monitor and prevent the smuggling of firearms into the compound and install surveillance cameras to improve security. It was not disclosed, however, when and where the cameras will be placed.
Shortly thereafter, members of the Jerusalem Islamic Wakf, the Muslim religious body that oversees the compound, protested the new security measures and called on Muslim worshipers to avoid entering the compound. The Muslim leaders said Waqf personnel would not return to the mosques for the time being.
“This is a severe violation of the status quo,” said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of al-Aksa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount.
In a statement to the press, al-Kiswani said prayers would take place outside the gates until the metal detectors were removed, demanding a return to the way things were in 1967 when there was no police presence at the site.
He then asked: “How could they check hundreds of thousands of people who come here every Ramadan?” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a diplomatic trip to Paris, said he believes the status quo should remain unchanged but that the metal detectors are there to stay and security cameras should be installed to prevent similar attacks in the future.
Outside the Gate of the Tribes, some 300 people gathered to protest the situation, and performed the noon prayer at the spot.
Some of those gathered called on Jordan’s King Abdullah and the rest of the Muslim world to interfere and help to return the security situation to its status before the attack. Others were heard shouting at police: “Disgrace, enough with that, you are suffocating us! Al-Aksa belongs to Muslims!” They also chanted: “With blood and spirit we will liberate al-Aksa.”
The protesters, in fact, helped enforce the canceled ban, urging those who wished to enter not to proceed. Nevertheless, according to a police statement, hundreds of worshipers entered the compound.
Most of the day passed in relative quiet, though a couple of violent incidents were reported.
At approximately 5 p.m. the protesters were evacuated from the plaza of the Gate of the Tribes by police after violent clashes were sparked.
According to the local residents, the violence began when one of the protesters threw a bottle of water at three passing Jewish women.
According to a Red Crescent medic at the scene, four people were injured during the clashes.
A police spokesman said one suspect was arrested for attempting to attack a police officer during the incident.
MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List), who arrived at the Gate of Tribes, told the Post the security steps taken by Israel were contributing to the deterioration of the situation, and that placing the metal detectors would bring more bloodshed.
“It is far more than breaching the status quo. The Israeli government is defiling the mosques. They took advantage of the situation to impose a complete control over the compound… This move is fanning the flames and I see Israel as only the responsible cause of this situation,” he said.
Abu Arar said the situation was unacceptable to the Palestinian people and also called for avoiding entering the compound.
“This is our mosque and when we enter it we want to feel that,” he said.
“The Jews have no rights whatsoever to this mosque – it is for Muslims only. We will not accept being checked every time we want to get inside. We are asking to go back to normal and enter freely, as it was three day ago,” he added.
Fatah vice chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is holding “intensive phone calls” with international parties to reverse the new Israeli security measures in and around the Temple Mount.
Aloul also accused Israel of trying to impose a new reality on the Temple Mount.
“Israel is seeking to realize a plan to divide al-Aksa Mosque in terms of time and place,” he told a meeting of Palestinian political, religious and civil society leaders. “It [Israel] is exploiting the latest Jerusalem operation to begin work on its plan.”
Meanwhile, Temple Mount activists reported that, despite the police statements, Jews were not allowed to enter the compound.
The adjacent streets to the Old City, Sultan Suleiman and Salah al-Din, remained closed to traffic on Sunday, and police checkpoints were scattered around the area, including at the gates of the Old City itself, to monitor the situation. Over the weekend, police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) personnel scanned the compound for weapons and reportedly found several knives on the premises. (Jerusalem Post)
Knesset Approves Bill to Ensure Jerusalem Remains United
Israeli lawmakers are advancing a law to ensure that Jerusalem remains the undivided capital of the Jewish state.
A bill that would require a special majority of 80 Members of Knesset to approve any Israeli withdrawal from parts of Jerusalem as part of a diplomatic agreement was advanced on Sunday at the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
In most cases, a standard majority of 61 votes is required to pass a bill. The proposed United Jerusalem Bill aims to ensure that ceding territory in Jerusalem would require the support of 80 lawmakers – three quarters of the Knesset.
The bill, unanimously approved by the Committee, would effectively make the possibility of partitioning Jerusalem almost impossible with Israel’s current political makeup.
“The United Jerusalem Law that has passed at the Knesset Legislation Committee will prevent any possibility of partitioning Jerusalem,” said Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home political party, which is sponsoring the bill.
“Solidarity over the United Jerusalem Law will strengthen our position in the world and will prevent future pressure on Israel,” Bennett explained. “Our capital city has twice been saved from the partition disaster led by [former Prime Ministers] Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, when they temporarily held a Knesset majority. It’s over,” he said.
Considering that two recent prime ministers had offered to divide Jerusalem, “We must prevent a priori any attempt to harm Israel’s capital,” Jewish Home Knesset faction leader Shuli Moalem-Refaeli declared.
“The current coalition makeup provides an opportunity to pass the law,” she added. (United with Israel)
Ya’alon: Israel will destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure in next war
Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday to a Saudi news website that the decisions in Lebanon are made by the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khameini, and not by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
In the interview on the London-based “Elaph,” Ya’alon pointed to Iran as governing the actions of Hezbollah, its proxy group in Lebanon, and the possible implications for Israel.
“There is no nation called Lebanon, the decisions are made by Iran and not by the president or Nasrallah,” Ya’alon said. “If Khamenei wants war, then Lebanon will go to war, and every Lebanese [person] will suffer from the next war because all infrastructure will be destroyed.”
Regarding weapons manufacturers in Lebanon that were built by Iran, the former minister said, “I am sorry that the matter arose in the media before their destruction.”
Israeli officials have said that since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 Hezbollah has taken deeper control of the country and that Lebanon is now more directly supporting Hezbollah’s military efforts.
Preventing Hezbollah from improving the accuracy of its amassed projectile stockpile is the “top priority” of the army, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot earlier in July. According to Israel estimates last year, Hezbollah has more than 120,000 missiles in its possession. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told the UN Security Council last July that Hezbollah has multiplied its stock of projectiles by 17 times the amount of missiles it had 10 years ago.
Hezbollah vowed to “surprise Israel” during any upcoming war, upping the war of words between the Lebanese Shi’ite terror group and Israel.
In an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel on the 11th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, the head of the group’s Executive Council Sayyed Hashem Safieddine said that Hezbollah has been changing and developing new military capabilities.
At a briefing with journalists last week Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah was a redline for Israel, which will continue to act to prevent the group from getting them.
“We take everything seriously. We are certainly aware of the reports and we will do what needs to be done. This is a significant phenomenon and we cannot ignore it. Precise weapons such as these missiles are a challenge. Compared to past wars they will hit deep inside Israeli territory,” Liberman said.
Turning to the civil war in Syria where Hezbollah has sent ground forces, Ya’alon said that “Israel holds red lines.” He also denied Syrian President Bashar Assad’s claims that Israel supports al-Qaida splinter ground Jabat Al-Nusra and other jihadi organizations.”
He also spoke on the relationship between Israel and Gulf states, emphasizing that “the relationship is based on mutual interest, and the issue of uncovering this coordination is in the hands of those states.”
The former minister emphasized that at this stage this is no possibility for a final solution with the Palestinians, but there is for economic and security coordination, while tightened the embargo on Hamas. “Mahmoud Abbas is shying from responsibility, and is afraid to take responsibility,” he said. “He has disappointed the Saudi’s and the Egyptians.” (Jerusalem Post)
10 Ancient Jugs Predating First Temple Unearthed at Shiloh Site
Ten ancient jugs unearthed at the West Bank site of the ancient city of Shiloh could lead researchers to new discoveries about the Jewish tabernacle that existed there before the First Temple was built in Jerusalem.
The jugs, only some of which were broken, date to the time when the Jewish people first entered the land of Israel. The vessels were unearthed approximately half a meter (20 inches) underground in a large room that is part of an ongoing archaeological excavation. The Bible attributes the tabernacle at Shiloh to the time of the high priest Eli and the prophet Samuel.
In recent years, the Archaeological Unit of Israel’s Civil Administration has been excavating together with the Shiloh Association. The goal of the work is to locate the southern wall of ancient Shiloh.
Some of the jugs unearthed at the site of the ancient Jewish city Shiloh
The newly discovered jugs indicate that in ancient times, the area was vacated abruptly, with residents not having enough time to collect and pack up their belongings. Among the jugs, the archaeologists also found a goblet known as a kobaat, a type of ritual chalice. The discovery of the kobaat ties in with the stone altar that was unearthed in the area a few years ago, and could indicate that researchers are closing in on the precise location of the Shiloh tabernacle.
Hanina Hizami, coordination officer for archaeology at the Civil Administration, said, “This is a very exciting find. The destruction could have been caused by the Philistine invasion and the fire that raged [at Shiloh].” (the Algemeiner)
Abbas Will Never Walk the Walk of Peace
By Prof. Hillel Frisch BESA (Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Thanks to his struggle against Israel, Mahmoud Abbas is a political superstar. Many heads of NATO states can only dream of his access to great leaders. As long as Abbas does not make peace with Israel, he meets US presidents with almost the same frequency as the prime minister of Great Britain. If he does make peace, he might suffer the fate of Jordan’s kings, who meet the US president far less after having signed the Israel-Jordan peace treaty than they did before.
Whether Mahmoud Abbas will walk the walk of peace rather than merely talk the talk has been a subject of debate since his assumption of the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004.
The answer is clearly no. The evidence is in the list of meetings with the president of the US, the meeting most coveted by heads of state.
Abbas currently meets US presidents with almost the same frequency as the prime minister of Great Britain, the most trusted ally of the US, with a population at least twenty times that of the PA and which carries nearly 400 times its economic weight. British GDP stands at $2.8 trillion; the PA’s is
$7 billion (including Gaza, which Abbas does not control).
But thanks to his struggle against Israel, Abbas is a political superstar many heads of NATO states can only dream of being.
From the end of 2004 through this summer, the heads of state (king or prime minister) of Spain – a medium-sized European state, NATO member, and home to US military installations, which has had warm ties with the US since the Cold War – have had fewer official one-on-one meetings with US presidents than Mahmoud Abbas (11 to the PA; 9 to Spain). Only one of the three most recent US presidents, Obama, visited Spain (in 2016), and eight of the meetings between the heads of state were in the US on working or official visits. By contrast, Abbas met all three presidents on his own home ground. He didn’t even have to make the trip to Washington.
So far, the numbers have shown it is worthwhile to avoid making peace with Israel. But how do we know making peace will dent Abbas’s superstar status? Isn’t it possible he will meet the US president even more after making peace than he did in the pre-peace era?
No, it isn’t. Two sets of evidence demonstrate that making peace with Israel is bad for one’s international visibility.
The first is what happened to the King of Jordan after making peace in 2004 compared to the same period before making peace. Between 1991 and 2004, Kings Hussein and Abdullah met the US president 15 times. That number dropped to three over the same length of time after King Abdullah signed the peace treaty.
Tunisia provides another case for comparison. The last US president to visit Tunisia was in 1959! Tunisian strongman Zein Abidin Bin Ali met the US president only twice during his thirty years of dictatorship. The individuals who catapulted Tunisia to democracy have fared better – three Tunisian heads of state have met the president of the US in the past six years – but despite Tunisia’s uniqueness as the only democracy in the Arab world, those meetings have occurred at only slightly more than half the rate of Abbas’s meetings.
Abbas, who relishes his place in the sun, has rightly concluded that as far as he is concerned, it is better to talk the talk than walk the walk of peace.
Abbas: Shut Up or I will Arrest You!
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
Critics say the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Cyber Crime Law, which permits the imprisonment of Palestinians for “liking” or sharing published material on the internet, paves the way for the emergence of a “police state” in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. They also argue that the law aims to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA leadership.
“What is laughable is that this law carries penalties that are tougher than those imposed on thieves and sex offenders… the law, in its present form, is designed to limit the freedom of the media and punish people for simple matters.” — Journalist in Ramallah.
This latest dictatorial move in the PA-controlled territories might also serve to remind the international community about the current readiness of the Palestinian leadership for statehood, and what such statehood would look like. In its current incarnation, that state would fit in just fine with its brutal Arab neighbors.
A new Palestinian law combating information technology (IT) crimes has sparked a wave of protests from Palestinian journalists and human rights organizations.
The controversial Cyber Crime Law, signed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on July 11, permits the imprisonment of Palestinians for “liking” or sharing published material on the internet.
Critics say the law paves the way for the emergence of a “police state” in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. They also argue that the law aims to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA leadership.
The new law comes on the heels of the PA’s recent decision to block more than 20 Palestinian websites accused of publishing comments and articles critical of the PA leadership.
The law was approved by Abbas himself, without review by the Palestinian parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The PLC has been paralyzed for the past decade, as a result of the power struggle between Abbas’s PA and Hamas — the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.
In the absence of parliamentary life, Abbas and his senior officials and advisors have felt free to pass their own laws to serve their interests and promote their personal and political agendas.
In the view of Palestinian journalists and human rights advocates, the new Cyber Crime Law will further restrict freedom of expression, especially on social media, which will now be closely monitored by the PA security forces. They say that the law makes a mockery of the PA leadership’s motto that the “sky is the limit when it comes to freedom of expression.”
The absence of a free and independent media in the PA-controlled territories has prompted many Palestinian journalists, bloggers and political activists to resort to Facebook and Twitter. There, they express their opinions, air their grievances, and discuss taboo issues — such as financial and administrative corruption among the top brass of the Palestinian Authority leadership.
The new law legalizes what has long been happening in the PA-controlled territories, however. PA security forces have long targeted Palestinians who post critical and controversial comments on social media.
Hardly a week passes without two or three Palestinians arrested or summoned for interrogation by the PA security forces regarding a Facebook or Twitter posting or comment. Many Palestinians have been taken into custody for “liking” or sharing a post, article or photo that was deemed offensive to Abbas or a senior PA official.
Yet, the Cyber Crime Law is indeed a watershed in repression: prior to it, no law existed that prohibited Palestinians from expressing their views on social media platforms.
Now, anyone who commits the offense of establishing a website with the intent of disseminating news that could “undermine the safety of the state or its internal or external security” is liable to a prison sentence and fine. The law also aims to punish anyone who promotes such news by “liking” or sharing it.
Palestinian journalists identify themselves as the real targets of the Cyber Crime Law. One journalist in Ramallah remarked:
“What is laughable is that this law carries penalties that are tougher than those imposed on thieves and sex offenders. This is a law with a purely political goal, although it has some positive aspects such as preventing extortion, fraud and impersonation on social media. But the law, in its present form, is designed to limit the freedom of the media and punish people for simple matters.”
Jihad Barakat, a Palestinian journalist who was recently arrested by the Palestinian Authority security forces for filming the motorcade of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah while it was passing through an Israeli military checkpoint, expressed outrage over the new law. He too said that the law was aimed at curbing freedom of expression and intimidating critics of the PA.
“This is a dangerous law,” Barakat complained. “The law should conform with public freedoms and not be used to curb them.” Barakat later was charged with “begging and loitering in a public place in suspicious circumstances.” He was arrested because his filming of the PA prime minister at the checkpoint was considered embarrassing and offensive.
Palestinian journalists and human rights activists point out that the law contains ambiguous references, such as the “undermining or endangering of the safety of the state.”
Journalist Shatha Hammad said that she and her colleagues were not sure what this phrase actually means.
“As journalists, we are confused,” she said. “We don’t know what type of news or postings which are considered — according to this law — a threat to the security of the state.” She also pointed out that the new law comes amid a continued crackdown by the PA on Palestinian journalists and activists over their Facebook postings.
Alarmed by the new law, several Palestinian journalists and writers said it paves the way for the emergence of a repressive regime whose goal is to suppress public freedoms and violate the privacy of people.
“This law is aimed at providing the Palestinian Authority with a legal cover to suppress the voices of its opponents,” explained Palestinian writer Ahmed Al-Najjar.
“In this way, the PA can arrest any journalist or ordinary citizen for publishing an article or posting something on social media that is deemed harmful to the security of the state. This is a bleak scenario that makes it clear that we are facing a repressive police system. This dangerous law drives the final nail in the coffin of public freedoms.”
The Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq joined the chorus of critics of the new law restricting freedom of expression. “The law was issued by President Abbas without being presented to the public,” the organization said. “It was issued in a very secretive manner.”
Al-Haq also noted that the PA leadership turned down requests and appeals by Palestinian groups and individuals to receive copies of the new law before it was passed. The organization went on to denounce the law as a “Sword of Damocles” over the head of Palestinian journalists.
The Cyber Crime Law showcases the fact that the Palestinian Authority regime is being run as a one-man show.
This latest dictatorial move in the PA-controlled territories might also serve to remind the international community about the current readiness of the Palestinian leadership for statehood, and what such statehood would look like. In its current incarnation, that state would fit in just fine with its brutal Arab neighbors.