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Latest News in Israel – 16th October

Jewish candidate elected as UNESCO head, defeats ‘antisemitic’ Qatari diplomat

Pledging to restore credibility to UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay of France is set to become the first Jewish head of an organization often charged with anti-Israel bias.

In an upset, the former French culture minister bested Qatari diplomat Hamad Bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari precisely at a time when the organization was under pressure to choose its first Arab leader, receiving 30 votes to his 28 in the final round of a secret ballot election held by UNESCO’s Executive Board in Paris on Friday.

“She has all the qualifications [necessary] to make changes [at UNESCO]. She is very talented, educated and professional and has the support of one of the [world] powers, France,” said Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris Carmel Shama Hacohen.

“There is no doubt that she understands the size and complexity of the problem,” he added.

Azoulay’s candidacy is expected to be confirmed on November 10 by UNESCO’s 195 members. She would then replace outgoing director-general Irina Bokova in January.

“If I’m confirmed and brought to lead this institution, the first thing I will do is work to restore its credibility, restore the faith of its members and its efficiency so it can act on the challenges facing our world, because it is the only organization that can,” Azoulay said after the vote.

Qatar’s delegate to UNESCO, Ali Zainal, said his country accepted the results of the democratically held election.

“Qatar is always committed to UNESCO. We will never change our policy regarding the education in the world, the heritage in the world and all kind of support for UNESCO,” he said.

Azoulay appeared to have benefited from the rift in the Arab world and anti-Qatar sentiments alongside hopes that France could restore the agency’s fragile international position.

Audrey Azoulay

Qatar had counted on the Arab votes and the fact that no Arab had ever chaired UNESCO, yet its complicated geopolitical situation combined with a campaign championed by the Wiesenthal Center saying Kawari was antisemitic played against it.

In the end, Azoulay, whose father, Andre Azoulay, was a special adviser to the former Moroccan king Mohammed VI, also appeared to have received support from some of the Arab states, including Egypt.

Abdullah Alraisi, the head of the United Arab Emirates National Archives and an adviser to UNESCO’s Memory of the World program, said of the Kawari candidacy: “If the Qatari had won, it would have been a big scandal in the end, because everybody was talking about bribery, everybody’s talking about corruption. And we have seen it. We’ve been seeing all secret meetings here and there. This is not good, this is not healthy. In the end, we needed justice to prevail.

Azoulay entered the race at the last moment, as a nomination of then-lame duck president François Hollande. Still, she benefited from the active support of France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, who presented her at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July to other world leaders and ordered French diplomacy to deploy considerable efforts in advancing her candidacy.

Israel did not campaign for Azoulay, whose left-wing Socialist Party background has meant that she is not perceived to be overly supportive of the Jewish state.

It’s believed that her campaign also received a boost from the US announcement on Thursday that it planned to quit UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. Israel immediately said it would do so, as well.

But the withdrawal will not take place until December 2018, and it is hoped that a change within the organization could sway the US to remain.

The US’s announcement “shocked everyone and gave a supportive boost to Azoulay against the Qatari, whose victory had seemed certain until then,” said Shama Hacohen.

It was perceived that if Azoulay were director-general, she would have the best chance of achieving the kind of reform that could convince the US to remain in UNESCO, he added.

Shama Hacohen said had met with Azoulay in the moments before the final vote and was so certain at that moment of her success that he congratulated her and predicted she would win by two votes.

“She was very relaxed and kind. We exchanged opinions on the burning issues of the day, and she spoke a word or two in Hebrew,” he said.

“We exchanged phone numbers and agreed that, despite the recent events, we would maintain direct and personal contact,” Shama Hacohen said. (Jerusalem Post)

Earlier story:

Israel, US to quit UNESCO citing ‘anti-Israel bias’

Hours after the US’s dramatic decision to withdraw from UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias, Israel stated that it also planned to leave the education, scientific and cultural body.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night directed the Foreign Ministry to “prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in parallel with the US.”

Netanyahu, in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, called the American move a “brave and moral decision, because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.

“The United States indicated to the director-general its desire to remain engaged with UNESCO as a nonmember observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms and promoting scientific collaboration and education.”

Nauert, later speaking with reporters, said that Foggy Bottom gave a “long,” non-partisan look at whether to remain within UNESCO over the course of several administrations.

She noted that the US owes money to the UN body and that state conducted a “cost-benefit analysis” on paying up.

“The question is, do we want to pay that money, and do we want to pay more money going forward when there’s actually a law that says that any UN entity that accepts Palestinians as a member state cannot get US funding?” Nauert asked.

She said that the recent race for UNESCO leadership was unrelated to the US’ “long, deliberative process” on whether to withdraw.

“Let me just remind you that Bashar Assad of Syria was one of the people on the human rights committee of UNESCO,” Nauert continued.

“Does that make any sense to you?” Reform within the organization, she said, might cause the Trump administration to revisit their decision.

Trump administration officials, such as UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, have warned for weeks that pulling out would be a possibility if the body fails to reform.

The US decision comes as Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, who has been accused of antisemitism by Jewish and Israeli groups, may be poised to become the next UNESCO director-general.

Kawari has been the lead candidate in four rounds of secret ballot voting. On Thursday he received 22 of the 30 votes needed to replace outgoing director-general Irina Bokova. French-Jewish diplomat Audrey Azoulay and Egyptian human rights advocate Moushira Khattab are tied for second place with 18 votes. A special secret ballot vote will be held on Friday afternoon to break the deadlock between the two women.

Diplomatic sources speculated that news of the US withdrawal, which has been in the works for weeks, could strengthen the standing of the two alternative candidates and weaken Kawari’s campaign.

One diplomatic source explained the rather peculiar wording of the Prime Minister’s Office statement, that the premier had directed the Foreign Ministry to prepare for the withdrawal from the organization in parallel with the US, as a way to retain some wiggle room in case a new leader will change the direction of UNESCO and the US will decide to remain a full member.

The source emphasized that the US decision does not come into effect until the end of December 2018, leaving ample time for the organization to change direction.

Kawari’s initial success in the director-general race is just the latest in a long list of Israeli concerns with regard to UNESCO.

UNESCO’s Executive Board in 2016 passed two resolutions ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and one in 2017 that disavowed Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Over the summer, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee declared the Cave of the Patriarchs and Hebron’s Old City as endangered Palestinian sites.

Netanyahu blasted UNESCO during his speech to the UN General Assembly last month, holding the organization up as an example of the absurdities at the UN when it comes to Israel. During that speech, Netanyahu declared that the organization’s decision to declare the Tomb of the Patriarchs a Palestinian World Heritage Site was “worse than fake news, that’s fake history.”

In 2011, UNESCO became the first United Nations body to recognize Palestine as a member state. To protest the vote, both Israel and the US stopped their funding to the organization and in 2014 lost their voting rights.

But the US and Israel still retain other privileges as member states, which they will lose should they leave the organization.

In an unusual move on Wednesday, the 58-member Executive Board agreed to delay by half a year two anti-Israel resolutions. Typically it passes such texts at its biannual meetings.

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, Carmel Shama- Hacohen, told the board he hoped that the delay was part of a “wind of change” toward Israel and was not tied to the race for director-general.

“We also hope that this change is a not a result of a tactical maneuver influenced by the campaign of a future director-general, but [that it is] a change that will end the anti-Israeli rituals that this committee is used to, a change that will end the politicization that harm this organization.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu at cabinet leads chorus of praise for Trump decision on Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led a chorus of Israeli ministers praising US President Donald Trump’s decision last week to decertify the Iranian nuclear deal, saying on Sunday that the decision provides an opportunity to alter the agreement and to stop Iran’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the region.

“I believe that every responsible government, and anyone who wants to promote peace and security in the world, needs to take advantage of this opportunity that President Trump’s decision created to improve or cancel the agreement, and of course to stop Iranian aggression,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu said that it was also obvious that there was a need to support Trump’s decision to place sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which he termed Iran’s “central arm” in spreading terrorism around the world.

Praising Trump’s decision, Netanyahu said that it was completely clear that if nothing is changed in the agreement, Iran will have a sure path to an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu) characterized Trump’s step as “direct, genuine and courageous.”

The message Trump sent, Gallant told reporters before the meeting, was that “if a state strives to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them, and in parallel spreads terrorism and takes imperialistic actions in the Middle East from Yemen to Syria, then the time has come for someone to stop it.”

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) said that the move proves unequivocally that Trump, “in contrast to the way some people are trying to present him, is the biggest friend of the people of Israel and the prime minister.”

Kara said that what Trump is doing for Israel’s future “is not a given,” and that the changes he wants to put into the agreement are not only good for Israel, but for Saudi Arabia and the entire region. Stressing that the Saudi king also praised Trump’s move, Kara said that the move is a significant step toward the possibility of convening a regional conference in the US in the near future.

Netanyahu, during his brief comments before the cabinet meeting, also referred to his directive last week to the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from UNESCO, saying that the organization consistently gave a platform to anti-Israel and essentially antisemitic positions.

In an apparent reference to the organization’s election on Friday of former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay to lead the organization, Netanyahu said that Israel is hoping that UNESCO will change its direction, but is not placing any great hopes on that possibility. As a result, he said, his directive to leave the organization stands, and work towards implementing this policy will move forward.

Israel is expected to leave the organizations in parallel with the US, which has announced it will do so by the end of 2018.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel caught Russian hackers, alerted US to intelligence theft attempts

Israel tipped off the US to a broad Russian hacking attempt, first revealed two years ago, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

In 2015, Russian government hackers scoured computers across the world to try to reach American intelligence programs, but they were not aware that Israeli intelligence officers were tracking their activity and eventually brought it to the knowledge of the US, who then put the dangerous hacking attempt to a halt.

The Russian hackers, the Times report explained, used an antivirus software operated by a company called Kaspersky Lab that is broadly utilized by some 400 million people worldwide (including by officials at American government agencies).

According to the Times, the Russian hackers used the software to steal classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who was using the software on his home computer. They also turned the software into a type of search engine, but the extent of the activity they pursued by doing that has still not been revealed.

Last month, the US government decided to remove the Kaspersky software from all government computers as a result of the Israeli reveal that the Russian espionage attempt was underway.

A previous report on the Russian use of the software to steal classified N.S.A materials from an employee who used the software inappropriately on his home computer was released by The Wall Street Journal last week, but did not reveal Israel’s integral role in preventing the Russian hackers from getting their hands on further sensitive information.

The Russian hackers were reportedly unaware that Israel was keeping tabs on their activity until mid-2015, at which point an engineer with Kaspersky who tested a new detection tool was made aware of unusual activity in the network, leading to an investigation by the company that concluded with a report released in 2015 and available to the public.

The report didn’t point at Israel as the country that hacked into the software, but noted that the hack was reminiscent of a previous attack identified as “Duqu,” which was attributed to the same countries behind the Stuxnet cyberweapon.

Stuxnet, spearheaded in an Israel-US collaboration, infilitrated Iran Natanz nuclear facility in 2010 and destroyed a fifth of Iran’s uranium centrifuges, according to foreign reports.

Kaspersky dubbed this attack as “Duqu 2.0,” and pointed out that others who were attacked in the same way were ideal Israeli targets.

According to the Times, Kaspersky investigators realized that Israeli hackers used especially sophisticated tools to infiltrate the system, stealing passwords, erasing emails and documents and taking screenshots.

The Jerusalem Post first reported of Kaspersky’s suspicions in 2015, when the cybersecurity firm noted that there were breaches in its software at three luxury European hotels from a virus considered a hallmark of Israeli intelligence operations. Kaspersky’s investigation then led to the discovery that all three hotels hosted talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program in the past year.

According to the company’s report, Kaspersky crosschecked thousands of hotels in search of similar breaches. It found only three. The firm declined to name those hotels, but the negotiations have been held in only six hotels in Switzerland and Austria since the diplomatic effort first began.

Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told The Jerusalem Post at the time that the hack was not limited to the hotels and that “up to 100″ targets were subjected to the attack.

“It’s important to know that Kaspersky Lab products identified the infection within various victims,” Baumgartner said. “In addition to several unknown victims, we are quite sure that at least three of the venues where P5+1 talks about a nuclear deal with Iran were held have been attacked.”

Speaking to the Times, representatives of Kaspersky Lab denied that they were aware or implicit in the Russian hacking. “Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” the company said Tuesday. Kaspersky Lab also added that it “respectfully requests any relevant, verifiable information that would enable the company to begin an investigation at the earliest opportunity.”

Israeli intelligence officers reached out to the N.S.A to inform the agency that while hacking into the Kaspersky software they learned that Russian government hackers were using the system to scan American government classified programs and take findings back to Russian intelligence systems. The Times report said that Israeli officials provided evidence for their findings, showing N.S.A counterparts evidence in the form of screenshots and other documents.

And while Israel intruded the Kaspersky software in 2014, only in September did the Department of Homeland Security ordered all federal executive branch agencies to stop using Kaspersky products within 90 days.

The National Security Agency, the White House, the Israeli Embassy and the Russian Embassy all declined to comment on the Times report. (Jerusalem Post)

US, Egypt Urge Israel against ‘Sabotaging’ Palestinian Reconciliation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received firm messages from the United States and Egypt leaderships, demanding him against “sabotaging” the Palestinian reconciliation deal, political sources in Tel Aviv revealed.

Chances should be given to allow the deal to be a success, they said.

They noted that at first glance, it appears that the PM’s reaction to the reconciliation is negative because he has been demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

He has also been demanding that Hamas be stripped of its weapons and sever ties with Iran.

The sources said that this response is in fact a “moderate” one.

In his first reaction, Netanyahu had said that “we will not accept a fake reconciliation where Palestinians will reach an agreement at the expense of our existence.”

He later added however: “Israel will study the developments on the ground and work accordingly.”

An official at the Israeli Foreign Ministry underlined the premier’s “remarkable” diplomatic rhetoric, while the political sources attributed his position to his desire against harming ties with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

He is also aware that the US administration of President Donald Trump welcomed Cairo’s sponsoring of the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Furthermore, Netanyahu realizes that the Palestinian Authority’s return to Gaza, even partially, will serve Israel’s security interest.

Observers believe that Netanyahu was forced to take a more lenient stand, but he is still “unconvinced” of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

The premier and other officials in his government are concerned with the reconciliation possible longevity because the Palestinian division had greatly benefited Israel.

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett went so far as to describe the government that will be established through the agreement as a “terrorism unity cabinet.”

Other observers said that the reconciliation will be short-lived due to ongoing Palestinian and Arab differences.

Alex Fishman of Yedioth Ahronoth said: “The Cairo talks left Hamas with its tunnels, labs, weapons factories, drones and with the Ezzeddine al-Qassam Brigades and their naval commandos. In fact, Hamas’s military wing remains as it were—under the direct and exclusive command of Hamas.

“This is why Israel views the agreement signed on Thursday as one that has no chance of being realized, so there’s no reason to even waste energy on trying to sabotage it. Especially as both the American administration and the Egyptians have asked Israel not to interfere,” he noted in an oped on Friday.  (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Belgium withdraws Palestinian school support over terror glorification

The Belgian Foreign Ministry announced today that it is removing its financial support for a Palestinian school in the Southern Hebron hills after discovering that the school had changed its name to the Dalal Mughrabi Elementary School. Dalal Mughrabi was one of the terrorists that carried out the Coastal Road massacre in 1978 in which 38 Israelis including 13 children were murdered and 71 injured.

The Belgian Foreign Ministry said, “In reaction to a number of articles published the last few days, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo clarify the Belgian policy regarding the support to schools in the Palestinian Territories.”

“The Belgian government has supported the construction of a school building in the south of Hebron in 2012-2013. When the school building was handed over to the local community in 2013 it was called ‘Beit Awwa Basic Girls School’. This name was later changed to the Dalal Mughrabi Elementary School. The Belgian government was unaware of this name change.”

The announcement adds, “Minister Reynders and Minister De Croo find this change of name unacceptable.”

“The Belgian government unequivocally condemns the glorification of terrorist attacks. Belgium will not allow itself to be associated with the names of terrorists in any way. Our country has immediately raised this issue with the Palestinian Authority and is awaiting a formal response.”

Belgium has also put on hold aid worth €3.3 million for two projects related to the construction of Palestinian schools.

It has taken a long time for the Belgians to act on this issue. The Israeli media reported about the name change back in 2014 and research institutes monitoring Palestinian affairs have also reported the matter.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem believes that this is another indication of a new trend in Western Europe against anything that smacks of encouraging Palestinian terror.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel’s Defense Minister: Lebanon’s army ‘an integral part’ of Hezbollah

Lebanon’s army has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday, warning that the next war on the northern border will not be confined to one front, but rather see conflict with both Syria and Lebanon.

Addressing soldiers during a celebratory Sukkot event in his sukka at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Liberman warned that preparation for the next war was of great importance because it will likely include the Lebanese military along with Hezbollah.

“We’re talking about Hezbollah and the Lebanese military and, unfortunately, this is the reality,” Liberman said, adding that the Lebanese Army has lost its independence and become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.

“Even if the next campaign develops – and it does not matter where it develops, in the North or South – it will immediately become a battle on two fronts,” the defense minister said.

“We are supposed to prepare for every possible scenario, and the new reality also prepares new challenges for us. If we once talked about the Lebanese sector, then there is no more such a sector. There is a northern sector in every development,” he said.

Senior officials from Israel’s defense establishment have repeatedly stated that, while the chance for escalation on the border is low, the smallest incident or a miscalculation by either side has the possibility of leading to conflict.

“Our entire effort is to prevent the next war.

But in the ‘new Middle East,’ the assessments we previously knew are simply irrelevant. The reality is fragile. It can change from moment to moment, from today to tomorrow,” he said.

“Whoever wants peace must prepare for war. And I hope that our enemies on the other side will think carefully about every step taken against the State of Israel so that we will not have to demonstrate the full strength and capabilities of the IDF.”

Israeli officials, including Liberman, have repeatedly voiced concern over the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and the growing Iranian presence on its borders, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish State.

France and the United States have provided Lebanon with advanced weaponry. This past summer, the Lebanese Armed Forces received 50 armored vehicles, 40 artillery pieces and 50 grenade launchers from the US as part of an aid package to bolster the country’s defenses against threats posed by terrorist groups.

Saudi Arabia in March halted its military aid program to Beirut after Lebanese President Michel Aoun defended Hezbollah’s arsenal in an interview to on Egyptian TV, calling it “an essential component” of the means to defend Lebanon.

“Hezbollah weapons are not contradictory to the state, but are an essential part in defending the country,” Aoun told Egypt’s CBC satellite channel. “As long as a part of the territory is occupied by Israel, and as long as the army is not powerful enough to fight Israel, we feel the need to maintain the weapons of the resistance to complement the army.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006 that came to an end under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for disarmament of Hezbollah, withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Lebanon, deployment of the Lebanese Army and an enlarged UN force in the South.

According to IDF assessments, Hezbollah has increased its military capabilities as a result of its fighting in Syria and has spread its troops across the entire Middle East. In addition to a massive arsenal of rockets and missiles, Hezbollah is able to mobilize almost 30,000 fighters and has flouted its tunnel system, complete with ventilation, electricity and rocket launchers.

Some 200 villages in south Lebanon have been turned in “military strongholds” from where Hezbollah fighters are able to observe Israeli soldiers at any moment.

On Saturday, Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that security services had arrested three men who were allegedly gathering intelligence on Hezbollah and passing it to the Mossad. (Jerusalem Post)

Arab MK: Jews have no right to self-determination

Speaking at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center in Dallas last week, Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint Arab List) openly admitted that Jews do not have a right to self-determination, and that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state.

“It’s an equality which challenges the definition of Israel as a Jewish state,” Zoabi said. “We use this democracy – of course, there is a question of why you…give legitimacy to Israel when you are within the Knesset. This is true. So remember, I am telling you now that now we have the ability to use these tools, the democratic tools, for our own interests, for our own national approaching.”

“The military regime (i.e., Israel – C.R.) tried to be more liberal, more sophisticated with us, and again more to negate our identity…

“It is not enough that Israel should exit – should leave Gaza and the West Bank.

“Zionism should leave also, from the whole area… There are articles in Haaretz, you can read. Israel now resembles Germany in the thirties. It is that we also within this vision define the matter of self-determination, not for the Jews – for the Israelis.”

Zoabi then said that the Jewish people are not a nationality, but admitted Israel has a right to self-determination.

“The answer we give is that the Jews are not nationality, so we cannot talk about self-determination for the Jewish people,” Zoabi said. “But for the Israelis, they can have a self-determination. But not as a Jewish state – within a secular democratic state.”

“I will finish by saying that our struggle for human rights…for collective and civic equality…and the right of return …when you say that this will eliminate us this democracy will eliminate us, this democracy – this proves that Zionism is racism.”

Zoabi then called on Israel to cease security coordination and not grant automatic citizenship to any Jew who wishes to immigrate under the Law of Return.

“What to do?” Zoabi asked. “In the macro, I don’t know. I know in the micro, immediately to stop security coordination….but the vision… Okay, this is what we say. The vision is full equality, right of return, to change all the citizenship law, no automatic guarantee, no automatic citizenship to any Jewish [person – C.R.], and of course the right of return to the villages, and to the houses of the refugees.”

“Jews who don’t want to accept that, yeah, they are allowed to go, to return. The vision of a state, of democratic state, entails a huge compromise.

“It’s not one hundred percent justice… It is a strength also, in front of the international community that yes, we are suggesting a huge historical amount, to give up the name even of Palestine in Haifa… This is, for us, a compromise.” (Arutz Sheva)

Palestinian reconciliation deal: Abbas to rule the land and Hamas the underground

Realizing plight of Gazans is hurting its standing, Hamas gives up administrative control, but until the occupation ends it won’t lay down its arms

By Jack Khoury               Ha’aretz

https://www.haaretz.com/misc/article-print-page/1.816992

Hundreds of people, many of them waving Palestinian flags, celebrated the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas on Thursday in Gaza City’s Square of the Unknown Soldier. Palestinian and foreign Arab television stations broadcast the celebrations live.

Many of the people who gathered in the square expressed approval for the reconciliation, but added that they expected immediate change. They were referring not to national, military or strategic issues, but to the needs of their daily lives — from a reliable supply of electricity and medicines to employment and freedom of movement.

Palestinians, both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, realize that it’s premature to celebrate reconciliation in the broader sense of the word, to talk about national and strategic unity. Many see the agreement as a compromise between two organizations that divided the nation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a decade and were forced to reconcile due to massive pressure from the Egyptian government as well as an internal and regional crisis that threatened the Palestinian national project and the aspiration for self-determination.

Hamas’ conduct in Gaza since its dissolution of the shadow cabinet that was established some months ago, deepening the crisis with the Palestinian Authority leadership, demonstrates that the organization genuinely intends to renounce control of the Strip. It also shows that civilian control, the need to deal with day-to-day problems, hurt Hamas’ popularity. The sanctions imposed by the PA in the past few months led the Hamas leaders to understand that governing comes with a civilian and political price.

This attitude change is led by no other than Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, despite his being seen as militant and extreme. Sinwar said last week that he would “break the head” of anyone who sabotages the reconciliation, while at the same time threatening Israel that Hamas could launch as many rockets at it in 51 minutes as it did during the entire seven weeks of the 2014 war.

Sinwar’s statements mark a new Hamas strategy — a willingness to concede civilian control over the Gaza Strip, but not to disarm, at least until an arrangement is made to end the occupation, in which case Hamas and the other armed factions will have a reason to discuss the issue.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 83, and Fatah understand that in the near future they have nothing to offer the Palestinian people regarding the peace process, in view of the statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his cabinet. If there is any chance that U.S. President Donald Trump can be trusted to come up with an effective peace plan, Abbas cannot afford to speak only for the West Bank. In view of this scenario, the reconciliation seems like the only option open to Abbas and Fatah. So the agreement is mainly a confluence of interests, best described as follows: The PA and Fatah will rule aboveground and Hamas will rule under ground.

The third side to this meeting of interests is Egypt. Egyptian intelligence led the reconciliation move, and the Egyptian view of it can be summed as a matter of national security. Egypt, grappling with Islamic State terror in Sinai, saw Gaza under Hamas rule as a potential hothouse for a logistic and ideological Islamic State base and a refuge for terrorists from Sinai.

Under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Cairo cannot extend to Hamas sovereign privileges such as opening the Rafah crossing regularly, which would help perpetuate the Palestinian split between the West Bank and Gaza. The attempt to advance the move with former Fatah man Mohammed Dahlan wouldn’t have received Palestinian, Arab and international legitimacy, the kind the PA has in the international community.

So the only option was to return the PA to the Gaza Strip as part of the deal signed in Cairo six years ago, with the necessary amendments and the option to bring Dahlan in at a later stage.

The Palestinians are convinced the Egyptian position received a nod from the White house and the United Nations, and perhaps from Israel as well, in view of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The deal also opens the possibility for a prisoner swap deal. So the meeting of interests is even broader in the short run.

Translating the deal into a move with a strategic regional significance in the long run requires extensive international intervention that would adopt and lead an international peace initiative or act to implement the Arab peace initiative. Abbas mentioned this initiative again last month in his speech, when he warned of the approaching moment in which he would declare that the two-state solution had collapsed.

Palestinian Normalization — With Hamas, Not Israel

by Bassam Tawil         The Gatestone Institute

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/11144/palestinian-normalization-hamas

The most widespread conspiracy theory, which has been floating around for decades and can be heard in almost every coffee shop on the streets of Cairo, Amman, Ramallah and Beirut, is that Zionist Jews, together with American capitalists and imperialists, have a secret plan to take control over the Arab and Islamic countries and their resources.

How exactly are the “Zionists and imperialists” trying to “undermine” the Palestinian “national project”? And what, precisely, is this project? Is it the project of Hamas and many other Palestinians that seeks the destruction of Israel?

The corrupt Arab and Palestinian leaders spread such rumors to divert attention from problems at home, such as corruption and dictatorship. These leaders want their people too busy hating Jews and Westerners to demand reform, democracy and transparency from their leaders. Those valuables, of course, are what Arab and Palestinian leaders still refuse to offer their people.

Why do many Palestinians prefer peace with Hamas? Because they identify with Hamas’s dream of destroying Israel and killing Jews. It may be an unpleasant a truth, but that is the bottom line.

When Palestinian women took part in a march with Israeli women for peace this week, they were condemned in the harshest terms by many other Palestinians, who called for their punishment. The Palestinian women who participated in the October 8 event, organized by a group called Women Wage Peace, have been denounced by many of their own people as and “traitors” and “whores.”

Conversely, when Palestinian Authority (PA) officials held “reconciliation” talks with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip and Egypt during the same period, many Palestinians praised them as “heroes” and “brave.”

Judging from the reactions of many Palestinians, especially on social media, they prefer peace with Hamas rather than with Israel.

The thousands of Palestinian women who participated in the march with Israeli women are being accused of promoting “normalization” with Israel. This, in the eyes of their critics, is an abhorrent and despicable act, tantamount to “high treason” — an offense punishable by death.

Prior to the women’s march, Palestinian activists waged an online bid to stop the Palestinian women from taking part in the “shameful” event. It was a vicious campaign that lasted for several days and that accused the Palestinian women of treason for promoting “normalization” with the “Israeli enemy.” One group, The Women’s Campaign for Boycotting Israeli Merchandise, said in a statement that the planned march was “hurtful to Palestinian and Arab and international efforts to boycott and isolate Israel.” The group pointed out that the march coincided with a “Zionist-imperialist onslaught to undermine the Palestinian national project.”

Exactly which “Zionist-imperialist” conspiracy these protesters are referring to remains unclear.

Such rhetoric, however, reflects the mindset in the Arab and Islamic world. The most widespread conspiracy theory, which has been floating around for decades and can be heard in almost every coffee shop on the streets of Cairo, Amman, Ramallah and Beirut, is that Zionist Jews, together with American capitalists and imperialists, have a secret plan to take control over the Arab and Islamic countries and their resources.

What does a peaceful march of Israeli and Palestinian women have to do with Zionism and imperialism? How exactly are the “Zionists and imperialists” trying to “undermine” the Palestinian “national project”?

And what, precisely, is this project? Is it the project of Hamas and many other Palestinians that seeks the destruction of Israel? Is it the project that still talks about a phased plan to destroy Israel by demanding a Palestinian state next to Israel so that it would be used in the future as a launching pad to eliminate Israel?

Palestinian and Arab leaders have long advanced anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-Western conspiracy theories. Why do these leaders do so? For one purpose: distraction.

The corrupt Arab and Palestinian leaders spread such rumors to divert attention from problems at home, such as corruption and dictatorship. These leaders want their people too busy hating Jews and Westerners to demand reform, democracy and transparency from their leaders. Those valuables, of course, are what Arab and Palestinian leaders still refuse to offer their people.

Back to the controversial women’s march.

The abusive comments hurled against the Palestinian women who took part in the march are frankly embarrassing to read. Even the PLO committee that permitted the participation of the Palestinian women in the march is being pilloried by many Palestinians, with some calling for holding the PLO officials involved accountable.

The verbal abuse is reminiscent of the experience of teenage Palestinian girls who recently participated in a summer camp with Israeli girls in the US. The Palestinian girls endured a massive smear campaign for attending the summer camp, which was organized by Creativity for Peace, an organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Like the women from the march, the teenage girls were also cursed on social media and dubbed as “sluts” and “traitors.” The abuse reached the parents of the Palestinian girls, for allowing their daughters to commit the sin of dancing and mixing with Israeli (Jewish) girls. The girls, like the women, were also accused of promoting “normalization” with Israel.

Sadly, only a handful of Palestinians have thus far dared to come out in defense of the summer camp girls or the women who participated in the October 8 march.

While many Palestinians may be opposed to the brutal and senseless attacks on the girls and women, they are terrified of voicing their views in public. No one wants to get targeted by the abusers, especially if some of these people are affiliated with terror groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Palestinians have an unfortunate habit of allowing thugs and terrorists to intimidate them, control the discourse and set the agenda. This is certainly not new. Most Palestinians prefer to sit on the fence instead of speaking their minds. This is what happens when you live under ruthless dictatorships such as the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that suppress freedom of expression.

Yet this most recent exhibit has an ironic twist. Just as the women were shamed publicly for taking part in an event with Jewish women, many Palestinians were celebrating the “reconciliation” between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip took to the streets to express their jubilation over the “accord,” and when the PA Prime Minister and his delegation arrived in the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, scenes of kissing and hugging were easy to spot.

What does all this teach us?

First, that many Palestinians continue to consider any form of contact with Jews and “normalization” with the “Zionist entity” an act of treason.

Second, that Palestinians do not hesitate to designate their own women as prostitutes and traitors for engaging in the most basic activities with Jews. Such disrespect for women is not, by the way, something that should surprise us about conservative Arab and Islamic societies.

Third, that for many Palestinians, the priority remains making peace with Hamas and not Israel. Why do they prefer peace with Hamas? Because they identify with Hamas’s dream of destroying Israel and killing Jews. It may be an unpleasant a truth, but that is the bottom line.

The IDF’s Gaza Wall Might Change Hamas Strategy

By Yaakov Lappin                BESA   (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)

The IDF’s Gaza Wall Might Change Hamas Strategy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Time may be running out for one of Hamas’s main weapons against Israel: its cross-border terror tunnels. As Hamas loses its potency against Israel in Gaza, it is turning its attention to fanning the flames of terrorism in the West Bank.

According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) assessments, Israel will complete an underground wall stretching along the 60-kilometer (37-mile) border with Gaza by 2019. The wall is the product of several years of research and development, and is designed to eliminate the tunnel threat to Israeli communities located near Gaza.

During the past three years, since the end of its last conflict with Israel, Hamas has invested major resources into its tunnel maze. One of its top goals is to rehabilitate an ability to inject murder squads into Israeli territory through the tunnels. Once inside Israel, they could target IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians for murder or kidnapping whenever the next conflict breaks out.

But Israel has invested far more than Hamas has in trying to eliminate that threat. It is paying 150 million shekels ($42.5 million) for each kilometer of the new wall.

Work began on the subterranean project in areas where Israeli communities are very close to the border. Then, gradually, other areas began receiving protection.

During a conference call with reporters in August, the commander of the IDF’s Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, said the wall would prevent “the digging of tunnels into our territory,” adding that work was “advancing according to plan. In the coming months, this project is going to significantly accelerate. We will see an expansion in the scope of the works. Within two years, we will be able to complete work.”

Many details about the wall remain classified, but IDF sources have indicated that it will contain electronic sensors. These sensors will issue alerts to military control centers, sounding the alarm about suspicious tunnel-digging activity. The control rooms, would, in turn, be able to order action if necessary.

Similar military control rooms are popping up along the Gaza border to handle intelligence coming in from Israel’s above-ground border fence. Sensors installed on the barrier, together with units from the IDF’s Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, are joined by drones, spy balloons, and radars, all of which feed the control centers with a flow of data and alert them to suspicious activity.

The big question now is whether Hamas will sit back and watch Israel take away its offensive tunnel option or whether it will feel cornered and strike out, risking a new conflict.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement earlier this month saying the underground wall “will not limit the ability of the resistance” and vowing to “find the solutions needed to overcome it.” But Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism that Hamas is unlikely to launch attacks in response to Israel’s wall. “They cannot initiate a military maneuver now. The timing is bad for them,” Karmon said, citing Hamas’s financial woes. Its troubles are made worse by the fact that Qatar, under US pressure, is cutting off cash flow to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas wants to engage Egypt to improve its isolation and find a way out of its financial crisis. It just opened an office in Cairo. It cannot depend on friends like Turkey, which has a limited ability to provide assistance, Karmon said. “Beyond that, Hamas is under pressure from the Palestinian Authority. A new military clash with Israel will harm them,” he added.

During his remarks, Maj.-Gen. Zamir said the “Gaza arena is stable,” adding, “We have identified that Hamas remains deterred, and that it is restraining many attacks [by smaller Palestinian armed factions].” At the same time, he said, Hamas was fanning the flames of terrorism to spread in the West Bank. It was orchestrating terror cells remotely as it prepared itself for future war in Gaza.

That assessment was echoed by Karmon, who said Hamas is likely to respond to Israel’s improved position against the tunnels in Gaza by upping attempts to generate terrorism from the West Bank.

Karmon suggested that Hamas, together with Tehran, could try to smuggle rockets into the West Bank, citing a directive by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to assist West Bank terrorist cells. “The Iranians understand that Hamas is deterred in Gaza, and limited in what it can do,” Karmon said.

Karmon cited information unveiled by the chief of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, in recent days, which told the government that about 200 terror attacks have been thwarted so far in 2017. “Most of the big attacks [that were stopped by the Shin Bet] were organized by Hamas, not Fatah,” Karmon said. “Hamas’s whole campaign is focused on the West Bank, and includes using clans that support Hamas and distributing propaganda for violent incitement. They are neutralized in Gaza and are trying to heat up the West Bank.”

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, Hamas continues to neglect the basic needs of the

2 million Palestinians over whom it rules. According to the chief of the IDF’s Southern Command, Hamas remains focused on its quiet military build-up,  “Many resources in Gaza are going to the Hamas military wing. They could be used instead to improve the humanitarian situation,” Zamir said. “We continue to prepare. Reality is explosive. It could deteriorate into a conflict at any time.”

In addition to offensive tunnels, Hamas has built a maze of tunnels underneath Gaza City. Zamir described them as “an underground metro network” designed to move Hamas armed members, weapons, and logistics out of Israel’s sight.

Israel’s Southern Command is watching these activities closely. It is preparing a range of solutions designed to enable Israel to turn Hamas’s underground city into a death trap if a new conflict begins.

The IDF’s Southern Command recently sent out images of civilian facilities in Gaza that Hamas uses as cover for military-terrorist activities. One image is of a six-story residential building near which Hamas built an underground facility, according to the military. Another is of a home containing a family with five children that is linked to a tunnel leading to a mosque. That tunnel enables Hamas terrorists to move underground and use human shields in the process.

This type of activity “endangers the civilians of Gaza,” Zamir cautioned. “We hope that this quiet will continue, but we are continuing to prepare, and are on high alert.”