About the Balfour Declaration
The Balfour Declaration was adopted by the League of Nations in 1922, thus paving the way to Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948.
The November 2, 1917, Balfour Declaration was a major milestone in the recognition by the international community of the Jewish people’s historic rights to the Land of Israel.
What makes the Balfour Declaration stand out is that it was adopted by the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) in 1922, paving the way to Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948. (MFA)
Top minister says settlement boycott equals Israel boycott
The government minister responsible for combatting international boycott efforts against Israel said Thursday he sees no difference between the targeting of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and the country as a whole.
Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said that all boycotts against Israel are illegitimate, a stance that could put him at odds with some of Israel’s closest allies and the many American Jews who strongly support Israel but object to its policy of settling in the occupied West Bank.
“A boycott is a boycott. If you want Jews not to live there because you think that is preventing peace and you think it belongs to someone else, then in a democratic country you have the tool,” he said. “Go convince people and go get a majority in the public that shares your positions.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Erdan frequently referred to Israel’s democratic character in defending the country’s policies. While Israeli settlers are citizens with full voting rights, the more than 2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, do not have Israeli citizenship or the right to vote in Israeli elections. Most live under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the territory.
Supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement say it is a nonviolent way to promote the Palestinian cause. It has urged businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel and includes thousands of volunteers around the world.
Israel says the campaign, with its call for a return of Palestinian refugees to lost land inside what is now Israel, goes beyond the so-called occupation and masks a deeper aim of destroying the entire country.
Erdan’s office has spearheaded Israeli efforts to combat the movement. He claimed most of its leading activists are driven by anti-Semitism to ultimately destroy Israel and cloak their campaign under a false premise of peace and human rights advocacy. Israel’s measures have included blocking the entrance of activists into Israel and encouraging its allies worldwide, especially in the U.S., to promote anti-BDS legislation.
“My policy is to move from defense to offense, to expose the true face of the boycott activists. They have usurped the human rights vocabulary,” he said from his high-rise office outside Tel Aviv. “They try to portray themselves as either human rights protectors or peace activists and the truth is they are neither.”
Erdan, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that the government was still formally committed to the prospect of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and that it “does not want to rule the Palestinians.” But in practice, he said, that is not currently relevant and instead, Israel is devoted to combatting the lies spread against it.
Although the BDS movement has generated much debate, its concrete accomplishments have been modest. The movement has persuaded several church organizations to divest themselves of Israel-related investments and has garnered support on U.S. college campuses. Early this year, a group of American football players pulled out of a trip to Israel sponsored by Erdan’s ministry after a pressure campaign by pro-Palestinian activists. In Texas this week, a Houston suburb removed a requirement that homeowners must agree to not boycott Israel as a condition of receiving hurricane repair money.
Even so, Israel has seen a spike in economic partnerships and diplomatic ties and it has become a top destination for international sporting and cultural events – with few performers heeding the call for a boycott.
Erdan noted that 23 U.S. states have passed anti-BDS laws and Congress is drafting a federal law as well. Courts in Spain and France have ruled against them, he noted, among a series of other setbacks. Even so, he said it was too early to call the battle over.
“We have many achievements against the BDS but I think it is still a threat that could develop with time into a significant threat,” he said. “It is still alive and breathing. We have put it on the defensive in the past two years but they will change tactics and we will have to adjust again.”
Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, rejected Erdan’s assertions.
He said that with Israel’s “deep alliance” with the Trump administration and the pro-Israel lobby’s influence in Congress, Israel can easily pass anti-BDS measures. He noted civil liberties proponents believe these measures violate the right to free speech.
“As a result, Israel is quickly losing the liberal mainstream, including many young Jewish-Americans,” he said.
He also dismissed claims of anti-Semitism, saying his movement rejects racism in all forms. “There is nothing Jewish about Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid. Therefore, there is nothing inherently anti-Jewish about nonviolently challenging this system of oppression in pursuit of equal rights for all,” he said.
Erdan said he saw a link between the two portfolios he holds in that delegitimization efforts against Israel could result in attacks against its citizens. (Israel Hayom)
Hamas chief vows to bring Israel to justice after Gaza ‘assassination attempt’
Hamas politbureau chief Ismail Haniyeh vowed to bring Israel to justice after what Hamas officials called an “assassination attempt” on the head of Hamas’s security apparatus in the Gaza Strip on Friday.
“The guilty ones behind will be reached by the Palestinian justice and we believe that the occupation and its supporters are to blame for this awful crime,” said Haniyeh, pointing the finger of blame at Israel, as he visited Tawfiq Abu Naim in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Saturday.
“I ask my brothers in Fatah movement, and I ask Mahmoud Abbas specifically to accelerate the steps towards the Palestinian reconciliation so we could prevent any party who tries to sabotage this reconciliation and so we could strengthen the internal front of our people against any similar attempts. The Major General is fine, his health is excellent and his self esteem is very high.”
Abu Naim, whom Israel freed in the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap in 2011, has been in charge of security forces in the Strip since December 2015.
Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh visits Hamas’s security chief in the Gaza Strip, Tawfeeq Abu Naeem, as he lies on a bed at a hospital in Gaza City October 27, 2017. (Reuters)Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh visits Hamas’s security chief in the Gaza Strip, Tawfeeq Abu Naeem, as he lies on a bed at a hospital in Gaza City October 27, 2017. (Reuters)
“General Tawfiq Abu Naim left Shifa Hospital… and is in good health. Praise God,” Hamas Health Ministry spokesman in Gaza Ashraf al-Qidra wrote on his Twitter account.
On Friday, Hamas Interior Ministry in Gaza spokesman Iyad Bozm said Abu Naim “survived an assassination attempt… after his car was blown up in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the middle of Gaza City,” adding that the security chief had suffered moderate wounds.
The Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center reported that a security source said Abu Naim had just concluded Friday prayers at a central Gaza mosque when he opened his car door and was hit by a blast.
Pictures posted on social media show the car with significant damage, especially in the driver seat area.
Hamas’s security forces opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the explosion, Bozm said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the explosion, describing it as “an act of cowardice that would only be perpetrated by the enemies of the Palestinian people and the homeland.”
While Barhoum did not specifically accuse anyone of being behind the blast, deputy Hamas chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya blamed Israel.
“Today we point our fingers directly at the occupation and its spies,” Hayya said at a press conference. “The occupation is the first beneficiary of such an incident.”
When Mazen Fukaha, a senior leader of Izzadin Kassam, Hamas’s armed wing, was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in March, Hamas blamed Israel.
Hayya said that only “someone who wants to undermine and ruin the reconciliation climate” in the Palestinian territories would attempt to harm Abu Naim, further suggesting Israel was behind the explosion.
Hamas and Fatah signed an Egyptian-brokered agreement in Cairo on October 12, to advance reconciliation efforts and restore the Palestinian Authority’s governing authority in Gaza. Hamas ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from the Strip in 2007.
Israel has expressed a number of reservations about the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah.
Despite Hayya’s statement, several Palestinian and Egyptian news outlets speculated that Salafists were responsible for Friday’s explosion.
Over the past several months, Abu Naim has overseen a crackdown on armed Salafists in Gaza and worked to prevent them from crossing between the Strip and Sinai.
Fatah Central Committee member Ahmad Helles condemned the blast, calling it a “cowardly act” aimed at obstructing reconciliation efforts, the official PA news site Wafa reported.
Egyptian intelligence officials called Hamas officials to express solidarity with Abu Naim, a report on Hamas’s official website said.
A number of Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian officials on Friday visited Abu Naim in the hospital.
Pictures released on Hamas’s Twitter account show Abu Naim smiling, as Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh squeezes his hand and pats his forehead.
Haniyeh said the blast will not prevent Hamas from advancing reconciliation with Fatah.
“Those who think that this crime can limit our determination to achieve national reconciliation are wrong,” Haniyeh said in statement carried on Hamas’s official website.(Jerusalem Post)
Haley condemns UN official who urged economic sanctions against Israel
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley excoriated a UN official on Friday who urged economic sanctions against Israel and who released a report calling on increased international pressure to end Israel’s “illegal occupation” of the Palestinian territories.
Canadian law professor Michael Lynk, who is the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, cited in a press briefing on Thursday South Africa’s occupation of Namibia as a precedent for calling for the international community to step up pressure on Israel, including through boycott tactics. Those remarks coincided with a report he released the same day making the same argument.
“The United States is deeply disturbed by recent comments from UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk calling for academic and economic boycotts against Israel, and by his report to the UN General Assembly,” Haley said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “Unsurprisingly, the mandate for this report comes from the Human Rights Council’s Agenda Item 7, the only Human Rights Council agenda item that targets a single country: Israel.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, also criticized Lynk, who he said was exploiting his position to spread hateful ideas and energize activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction’s (BDS) campaign against Israel.
During his Thursday press briefing, Lynk said: “Israel is very dependent upon trade with the outside world,” in response to a question on whether sanctions could have an affect on Israel.
“If there was an understanding that all of a sudden Israelis wanting to travel abroad needed to have visas, if all of a sudden there was an understanding that Israel wasn’t going to get preferential trading agreements with the EU [European Union], if all of a sudden, the many and multitude forms of military or economic cooperation or academic cooperation with Israel were now going to come to an end … I think you’d begin to see a sea change in the attitude of ordinary Israelis and in the attitude of the Israeli government.”
Haley responded by saying that not only those comments, but the report itself, were evidence of Israel’s mistreatment by the world body.
“Mr. Lynk’s remarks, and the very existence of this report, underscore the Human Rights Council’s chronic anti-Israel bias,” she said. “The United States will continue to oppose attempts to undermine the UN system through actions that unfairly target Israel.”
Last week, the Trump administration announced it intended to withdraw from UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, for what it called its “anti-Israel bias.”
After that decision was announced, Haley warned the entire UN that other agencies risked the same treatment if they did not reform. (the Times of Israel)
Israel, Palestinians said back to full West Bank security cooperation
Security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has fully resumed some 3 months after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended it to protest new security restrictions imposed at the Temple Mount, Channel 2 TV reported Friday.
Channel 2 said the Palestinian forces resumed full coordination this week, but provided no further details.
In July, Abbas suspended security coordination with Israel to protest the installation of metal detectors at entrances to the site, a move that sparked widespread protests and condemnation from the Muslim world.
The security cooperation between Israel and the PA, in place for years despite near-frozen diplomatic ties, is seen as critical for both Israel and Abbas’s Fatah faction to keep a lid on violence in the West Bank, particularly from the Hamas terror group.
Nevertheless, the PA has continued to make arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank, despite the freeze in cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces.
The resumption comes despite the fact that Abbas’s Fatah has just signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas, designed to end a decade of conflict between the Palestinian factions and return PA rule to the Gaza Strip.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions flared after three Israeli Arab gunmen killed two police officers at the Temple Mount compound on July 14 with guns they had smuggled into the site, prompting Israel to install security devices at entrances to the sensitive holy compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary.
The move sparked some of the worst street clashes in years, and threatened to draw Israel into conflict with other Arab and Muslim nations. Six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces over the last two weeks, and three members of an Israeli family were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in the settlement of Halamish.
The new security measures triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the new measures were removed.
Israel eventually rolled back all the security steps, including metal detectors, railings and scaffolding for cameras, at entrances to the Temple Mount, and Muslim prayer resumed later that day.
The fate of the Temple Mount is an emotional issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions.
Jews revere the hilltop compound as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.
But the walled compound is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. (the Times of Israel)
Haredim plan to undo High Court ruling that relaxes Shabbat rules
Ultra-Orthodox parties lambasted the High Court on Thursday after it upheld a Tel Aviv bylaw that relaxes Shabbat rules for business owners.
Haredi ministers are expected to bring a measure that would prohibit any private business from operating on the Sabbath before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this Sunday. The legislation would also strip local authorities of their power to pass bylaws on Shabbat matters, which would apply retroactively.
The controversy has its roots in an administrative court petition filed by small business owners in Tel Aviv several years ago. In that case, the court ruled that by letting businesses stay open on Shabbat if they paid a fine, the city was improperly enforcing its own bylaw and was placing small businesses at a financial disadvantage. Faced with the choice of either cracking down on all businesses or relaxing the bylaw, the municipality chose the latter, leading to the latest court case.
Thursday’s ruling was the last one by outgoing Chief Justice Miriam Naor, shortly before her successor, Chief Justice Esther Hayut, was sworn in.
Naor wrote the majority opinion on behalf of herself and four justices. The two other justices were in the minority.
Thursday’s ruling – the last one in a lengthy appeals process by local business owners – upheld the new Tel Aviv law despite efforts by the Interior Ministry to nullify it. The new bylaw designates areas of the city where stores can remain open on Shabbat, replacing the old blanket prohibition that let businesses off the hook with a fine.
In her 95-page opinion, Naor sai, “Everyone should be allowed to have a Shabbat based on their preferences; living in a community isn’t an all-or-nothing choice. We must show tolerance and mutual respect when it comes to diverging opinions. We must live and let live.”
Naor added that it is the local municipality, not the interior minister that had the final say when it comes to bylaws affecting the city’s overall character.
Naor said Shas Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s decision to strike down the Tel Aviv bylaw ignored the city’s autonomous status on such matters.
“The interior minister is supposed to engage in oversight to ensure the bylaws are within what is permissible, but that doesn’t mean the city has no discretion,” she said.
Deri shot back, saying, “At this sad moment, the only thing I can do is quote President Reuven Rivlin, who said this week: ‘Rather than carrying out a revolution, the court is carrying out a coup.’ I believe this is a real coup.”
Deri said he was “very sad to learn that, after generations that the Jews gave their lives to protect the Shabbat, now, in the Jewish state of all places, it has become a mission to desecrate it.” Eons-old Jewish law specifically prohibits work on the Sabbath.
Health Minister Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said: “The court decision runs contrary to the views of most Israelis. The outgoing chief justice, true to the court’s form, has left the stage with an anti-religious ruling to mark her departure. This is a blatant attempt by the court to undermine the Jewish character of the state, while inflicting undue moral harm on thousands of workers by infringing on their rights, making them lose their livelihood and denying them rest with their families as a basic right for all humans.”
Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) also attacked the decision, saying: “The Supreme Court is detached from the people; the justices have systematically attacked the holy Torah and the tradition of the Jewish people.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the largely secular-oriented party Yisrael Beytenu, welcomed the decision and tweeted: “This is a very good decision. There is no reason to have the state undermine the Tel Avivian way of life and to impose on the people in the city and in Israel a way of life that they reject and disagree with.”
MK Tamar Zandberg, from the left-wing Meretz party, said this is “a huge victory for sanity.” She said that “Shabbat will be inclusive and free, unlike the nefarious and seclusive efforts of Deri, Litzman and [right-wing lawmaker Bezalel] Smotrich.”
A poll conducted in May by the religious freedom advocacy NGO Hiddush found that 73% of Israeli Jews supported the initial High Court of Justice’s ruling allowing certain Tel Aviv businesses to stay open on Shabbat. (Israel Hayom )
Australia’s Turnbull to shorten Israel visit due to political crisis at home
Facing a political crisis at home, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delayed his departure to Israel by three days, and will be arriving to take part in the ceremony marking 100 years to the Battle of Beersheba on Tuesday only on the day itself.
Turnbull, who will be the first serving Australian prime minister to visit Israel since John Howard in 2000, was originally scheduled to arrive on Saturday night, and leave on Wednesday. Now he is slated to arrive on Tuesday, and leave late that night.
Australia’s High Court ruled on Friday that his deputy, Barnaby Joyce, and four other lawmakers should be expelled from Parliament because they held dual nationality. This has cost Turnbull’s government its parliamentary majority, and forced a crucial by-election for Joyce’s seat.
According to Australian law, foreign citizens are ineligible to sit in the Parliament. Joyce has said he was unaware that he inherited New Zealand citizenship from his father, a New Zealander, and has since denounced it.
This turn of political developments is the second that has altered plans for the festive marking of the Battle for Beersheba. Australian and New Zealand mounted forces captured Beersheba in a pivotal battle on October 31, 1917, on the first day of the Palestine campaign that paved the way for the end of Ottoman rule in Palestine later that year.
New Zealand was originally planning to send its prime minister – who until last week was Bill English – to the commemoration. English, however, lost his job when the New Zealand First party decided – after close elections there last month – to join a coalition with English’s rival Labor party, making Jacinda Ardern the prime minister.
Ardern was sworn in only on Thursday, obviously much too soon to travel around the world for a commemorative event. Instead, Wellington is sending New Zealand’s Governor-General Patsy Reddy as its representative. (Jerusalem Post)
Israel files complaint against Polish restitution law
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday lodged a formal complaint with the Polish Embassy in Israel in response to proposed Polish legislation that would make it difficult for Holocaust survivors and their relatives to receive compensation from the Eastern European country.
Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari plans to file a similar complaint with the Polish Foreign Ministry on Sunday. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is also set to travel to Poland to discuss the matter with officials there.
Under the proposed legislation, those seeking restitution must be Polish citizens and provide documentation that they lived in the country when their property was confiscated by the Nazis or after the war by the communist regime. Only survivors themselves or their children or grandchildren are eligible to submit claims. However, with 90 percent of Polish Jewry wiped out by the Nazis, in many families there are no direct heirs, and siblings, nieces or nephews, or cousins may be the sole surviving heirs.
Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz has demanded that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hold an urgent meeting to discuss the proposed Polish legislation. Peretz said the 3 million Polish Jews murdered in the Holocaust left behind a great deal of private property and that authorities in Poland have made it difficult for survivors and their heirs in Israel and around the world to receive compensation. (Israel Hayom)
Jerusalem to approve construction of 700 homes beyond Green Line
The Jerusalem Municipality is expected to authorize the construction of 700 new homes beyond the Green Line when the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee meets this Wednesday.
The committee is poised to greenlight the construction of 500 housing units in the suburb of Ramat Shlomo and 200 in the Ramot neighborhood as part of the “Jerusalem 2000” zoning plan, under which Ramat Shlomo will expand to the north and Ramot will expand in the northeast.
Alongside residential construction, public buildings, religious institutions, and commercial and public spaces will also be built. In Ramot, around 40% of designated land will be allocated for public use.
In addition, the committee is also expected to authorize plans for the construction of 200 housing units in the Arab neighborhood of Sur Baher.
One municipality official said the construction would be “unstoppable.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the move, saying, “Fifty years after the city’s unification, we are unifying Jerusalem through action in the field.”
The head of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Meir Turgeman, said he was glad “we no longer have deterrents and delays to construction in Jerusalem,” a change he accredited to the Trump administration.
Turgeman said new housing units would be small in size in order to accommodate young couples. “We are building in every part of Jerusalem in order to keep young couples in the city.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Pinchas Wallerstein, one of the founders of the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, would head a newly formed outpost regulation committee. “Wallerstein is a moral person who will contribute greatly to the settlement [enterprise],” Netanyahu said. (Israel Hayom)
Meretz removes ‘Zionism’ from its platform
The Meretz party confirmed that the word “Zionism” was removed from its platform in 2015, Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon confirmed. Israeli media reacted with shock to the disclosure.
Journalist Yishai Friedman spoke with several official sources in the party, and these sources confirmed that the word “Zionism” had been dropped intentionally.
“Meretz is an Israeli party, and it has Jewish and Arab members,” Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon tweeted. “My ‘Zionism’ is not Makor Rishon’s Zionism. The Jewish people are not the only ones who have a right to self-determination. The Palestinians have this right, too.”
Two weeks ago, Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint Arab List) said that Jews are “not a nationality and therefore have no right to self-determination.” She also said the Right of Return belongs to Arabs – not Jews.
MK Mossi Raz (Meretz) tweeted, “Meretz never defined itself as a Zionist party. I am a Zionist, most of the Jews in Meretz are Zionists, but a party which includes Arabs by definition cannot be a Zionist party.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) tweeted, “The removal of ‘Zionism’ from Meretz’s party line is sad and upsetting. Is the huge ideological argument no longer an argument between right and left but between Zionists and post-Zionists?”
Zionism was the ideological catalyst for the struggle for the establishment of the Jewish state,known as “The Zionist Enterprise,” and whose founding head was Theodore Herzl. (Arutz Sheva)
Militias vs. Palestinian “Reconciliation”
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
The notion that Hamas would ever dismantle its security apparatus and deliver the Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas’s forces is a fantasy.
It is estimated that there are about 50 different militias operating in the Gaza Strip. These militias are said to be in possession of about a million pieces of weaponry.
If Hamas refuses to disarm, that is one thing, but when Abbas’s supposed loyalists also come out with similar statements, that this is akin to spitting in the face of the Palestinian Authority president.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas says he does not want to see “militias” in the Gaza Strip if and when the “reconciliation” agreement he reached with Hamas is implemented. “The Palestinian leadership will not accept the model of militias in the Gaza Strip because it isn’t a successful one,” Abbas told the Chinese news agency Xinhua. “There should be one authority, one law and one weapon, with no militias.”
Hamas, for its part, has already rejected Abbas’s demand. Hamas has said it has no intention of disarming despite the “reconciliation” agreement recently signed in Cairo. “We can’t give up our weapons and because the Palestinian people are still in the phase of national liberation,” said Yehya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip. “We also can’t and won’t recognize Israel.”
Hamas’s refusal to disarm should come as no surprise. Since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip ten years ago, it has built a huge security apparatus that consists of thousands of militiamen, most of them members of Ezaddin Al-Qassam, the movement’s military wing. Hamas has also smuggled large amounts of weapons into the Gaza Strip and dug dozens of tunnels along the borders with Israel and Egypt.
The notion that Hamas would ever dismantle its security apparatus and deliver the Gaza Strip to Mahmoud Abbas’s forces is a fantasy. Hamas has no problem allowing Abbas loyalists to return to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as was the situation before 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. But this is the most Hamas would be willing to sacrifice to support the success of the “reconciliation” accord with Abbas and his Fatah faction.
This is a price Hamas is prepared to pay, not out of affection for Abbas but because it serves its own interest. The reopening of the Rafah terminal will allow Hamas to breath after years of isolation and blockade. A few hundred Abbas loyalists who manage the Rafah border crossing do not pose a threat to Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip.
Above all, Hamas seeks to prevent a return to the pre-2007 era, when the Palestinian Authority had exclusive control over the Gaza Strip. Until that year, the PA had multiple security forces that maintained a tight grip on the Gaza Strip and employed an “iron fist” policy against Hamas and other opposition groups.
The statements of Hamas leaders in the past few days show that they are seeking to duplicate the model Hezbollah uses in Lebanon. Hamas wants to remain in charge of security matters in the Gaza Strip while restricting the Palestinian Authority’s responsibilities to civilian affairs. Hamas’s refusal to disarm and hand over security responsibilities to Abbas could torpedo the Egyptian-sponsored “reconciliation” agreement — especially in light of the PA’s rejection of copying the Hezbollah model in the Gaza Strip.
While Abbas is talking about the need for Hamas to disarm and dismantle its militia, however, some Palestinians are wondering what would be the fate of armed groups in the Gaza Strip that are affiliated with Fatah if the “reconciliation” agreement is implemented.
Hamas is far from the only party with a militia in the Gaza Strip. Almost all of the other Palestinian factions, including Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), have their own militias there — in addition to a number of ISIS-inspired militias that have also appeared in the Gaza Strip in the past few years.
It is estimated that there are about 50 different militias operating in the Gaza Strip. These militias are said to be in possession of about a million pieces of weaponry.
Abbas’s real test will be the day he is forced to face the unruly Fatah-affiliated armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Abbas has good reason to be worried about the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP and DFLP militias. None of these groups will ever voluntarily lay down its weapons or dismantle its militias just because the Egyptians or Abbas want it to. Abbas, moreover, also needs to worry about the Fatah-affiliated groups: they also are unlikely to comply with his wish to see no militias in the Gaza Strip.
Fatah has in the Gaza Strip several armed groups not known for their blind loyalty to Abbas. Some of these disgruntled armed groups, in fact, often sound more like Hamas and Islamic Jihad than Fatah.
Fatah has quite a number of militias in the Gaza Strip: Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Ahmed Abu Rish Brigades, Abdel Qader Al-Husseini Brigades, Martyr Ayman Judeh Groups and Nidal Al-Amoudi Brigades.
Although they are affiliated with Abbas’s Fatah, these armed groups continue to talk about an “armed struggle” against Israel and their desire to “liberate Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river.” The unruly Fatah-affiliated groups have a history of angering and embarrassing Abbas and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank. The groups often issue statements applauding terror attacks against Israel, such as the recent shooting at Har Adar, near Jerusalem, in which three Israelis were murdered.
For the past few years, the Fatah leadership in the West Bank has sought to distance itself from the actions and rhetoric of those Fatah armed groups in the Gaza Strip. That effort reflects the desire of the Fatah leadership in the West Bank to present itself to the international community (and Israel) as a “moderate” party that opposes violence and seeks a peaceful solution with Israel.
Even more worrying for Abbas is that in addition to Hamas, the Fatah armed groups in the Gaza Strip are refusing to disarm as a result of the “reconciliation” agreement.
Now, not only does Abbas have to worry about Hamas and Islamic Jihad; he has his own Fatah gunmen saying that they too will not disarm. This headache for Abbas poses yet another obstacle to the implementation of the “reconciliation” agreement.
As Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Gaza Strip, said recently: “We won’t give up our weapons until all Palestine has been liberated.” His statement echoes the position of Hamas and all the other armed groups. If Hamas refuses to disarm, that is one thing, but when Abbas’s supposed loyalists also come out with similar statements, that is akin to spitting in the face of the Palestinian Authority president.
The “reconciliation” agreement has yet to be implemented on the ground, yet the issue of the militias in the Gaza Strip is already emerging as a major obstacle and a severe blow to Abbas. He will now have to decide: either to proceed with the “reconciliation” agreement and accept playing the role of president of a Gaza Strip filled with armed groups and militias — most of which are no friend of his, or to backtrack and realize that his wish to have one law, one police force and one authority in the Gaza Strip is nothing more than a pipe-dream.