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Latest News in Israel – 9th October

‘Israel won’t accept fake Palestinian reconciliation’

The PA cannot reconcile with Hamas at Israel’s expense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in his first reaction to the latest unity deal between the Palestinian factions.

Netanyahu told the Likud faction in Ma’aleh Adumim that as part of its reconciliation the Palestinian Authority must insist on Hamas recognizing Israel, dismantling its military wing and breaking off ties with Iran.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said. “We cannot accept fake reconciliation on the Palestinian side that comes at the expense of our existence.”

Sources close to Netanyahu said they were worried a deal between Fatah and Hamas would lead to Hamas and its Iranian patron gaining a foothold in the West Bank, which could make the security situation more challenging. They also warned that with Hamas no longer in control of Gaza it could return to acting solely as a terrorist group and not as a sovereign that must take responsibility.

Hamas is trying to gain international legitimacy without accepting Israel’s right to exist, without disarming and without accepting the Quartet principles, while remaining a ruthless, mass-murdering terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction, a source close to Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu made the statement hours after Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett demanded the security cabinet convene to discuss the Palestinian reconciliation. Bennett intends to ask the security cabinet to immediately stop transferring tax money to the PA because of its deal with Hamas and joining of Interpol.

“Israel must stop being terrorism’s ATM,” Bennett said. “This isn’t about Palestinian reconciliation but about [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas joining forces with a murderous terrorist organization.

Transferring money to a Hamas government is akin to transferring funds from Israel to Islamic State. Rockets will be fired at us in return.”

Bennett said Israel must make clear that three conditions need to be met for the money to be transferred: The return of the bodies of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin; Hamas’s recognition of Israel and ending of incitement; and the PA ending all payments to terrorists imprisoned in Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman downplayed the reconciliation, saying Fatah and Hamas were merely playing what he called a “blame game” in which the sides were looking to blame each other for another deal between them not getting implemented. He said both sides were merely trying to impress their Palestinian constituents by seeking unity but that they no longer have enough in common to reach an agreement.

Security cabinet ministers Israel Katz and Gilad Erdan (both Likud) also said Hamas must change its spots completely by renouncing terrorism or Israel should not deal with the new Palestinian government.

Another security cabinet minister, Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) made news Tuesday when he openly criticized the policies of US President Donald Trump on Israel and the Palestinians.

The context of the criticism was a plan to build Jewish housing in Hebron, which Elkin is pushing and the Americans reportedly oppose.

“This [the Trump] administration feels comfortable changing commitments of the Obama government on issues like climate change but for some reason on issues related to us they continue the same outlook that construction over the Green Line is a negative Israeli step,” Elkin told Yediot Aharonot.

Responding to Netanyahu’s statement, MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) retorted with his own harsh comments concerning the Palestinian attempts to end the rift.

“Those who resist the inner-Palestinian reconciliation are those who resist peace,” he said. “Netanyahu is trying to fuel the inner rift in the Palestinian leadership to be able to claim that he does not have a partner to negotiate with because there is no one body that represents the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”

Odeh continued: “The reconciliation and unity of the struggle of the Palestinian people will help tear the mask off the face of the prime minister and expose the fact that he is [at the helm] of refusing peace and a historic compromise.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Shin Bet: Murder of Jewish man in Arab city was terrorism, 2 arrested

The Shin Bet security agency on Sunday said two Palestinians were arrested over the recent murder of a Jewish man in the Arab Israeli city of Kafr Qassem, confirming that the killing last Wednesday was a terror attack.

In a statement, the Shin Bet said the Palestinian suspects, both from the West Bank city of Qabatiya, were arrested last week in connection with the murder.

Reuven Schmerling, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Elkana, was found dead in a storage unit belonging to his business in Kafr Qassem’s industrial area on Wednesday, hours before the start of the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

Police and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, opened a joint investigation into the murder, looking at possible motives including a work- or money-related dispute. Schmerling owned a coal business in Kafr Qassem, employed residents of the city and had business contacts there.

A spokesman for the Elkana settlement, Schmerling’s hometown, said the Shin Bet statement confirmed initial suspicions the murder was carried out for nationalistic reasons.

“To those who knew the murder victim, his values, his righteousness and the Elkana settlement where he lived, it was clear from the outset this was a nationalistic terror attack,” the spokesman said in a statement. “The tough [crime] scene and the manner of the murder also left no doubt.”

“We thank the security forces, the Shin Bet, the IDF and the police for capturing the murderers and expect significant action against the terrorists and their dispatchers,” the statement added.

Earlier Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he believed the murder would be designated as a terror attack. Schmerling’s family said Thursday it had “no doubt” the killing was an act of terrorism since his body was discovered by one of his sons covered in stab wounds.

A court has imposed a gag order on publishing details of the investigation. The Shin Bet said couldn’t elaborate on what findings led them to suspect terror because of the gag order.

Schmerling was buried on Friday. His family wore shirts to the funeral they had made for his 70th birthday, which he was set to celebrate on Thursday with his children and grandchildren at home in Elkana.   (the Times of Israel)

Trump: I want to give peace a shot before I even think of moving embassy

US President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he wanted to give a shot at achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians before moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In June, Trump signed a temporary order to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv, despite a campaign promise he made to move it to Jerusalem.

In an interview with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on the TBN program “Huckabee,” Trump noted his administration was working on a plan for peace between the two sides.

“I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said.

“If we can make peace between the Palestinians and Israel, I think it’ll lead to ultimately peace in the Middle East, which has to happen,” he said.

Asked if there was a time frame for the embassy move, Trump said: “We’re going to make a decision in the not too distant future.”

Hours before going on air, Trump took to Twitter to promote the show and his appearance on it, inviting his followers to watch him make an appearance on Huckabee’s show as his very first guest. The fact that Huckabee managed to snag such an important guest for the first episode of his show was criticized by many, seeing as the former governor’s daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, currently serves as White House Press Secretary.

Many in Israel were looking forward for the president to make good on his campaign pledge and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital, but were disappointed to discover that Trump was backtracking on his promise as the first months of his presidency and his key Israel visit both went by without significant progress towards a move.

Trump’s decision to halt the embassy relocation was perceived as a stinging blow, despite the fact that has sent officials from his administration with increasing frequency in recent months to attempt to accelerate the stagnant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who serves as a shadow diplomat in the White House in charge of US-led peace efforts, and US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt visited the region numerous times in the past six months to negotiate with government officials in Israel as well as Palestinian Authority representatives.   (Jerusalem Post)

Jewish reporter says she faced antisemitic harassment on Australian TV

A Jewish television reporter for the British news station Sky News charged that harassment by a former colleague escalated into “brazen antisemitism.”

Caroline Marcus wrote in a column published Tuesday by the Australian edition of the Daily Telegraph that Ben MCormack plastered his work station situated next to hers with “vile cartoons depicting Jews as Hitler,” and reportedly wrote on Facebook his opinion that Israel was a “f***ing international disgrace.” He also said, referring to the Holocaust, “Your 70 years of special treatment are over.”

Marcus wrote that McCormack knew she was Jewish and that her family had survived the Nazis in Eastern Europe.

The two worked together on Nine Network’s “A Current Affair” in Sydney. The targeted antisemitism took place in 2014.

Last week, McCormack pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. He faces a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.  (Jerusalem Post)

Trump expected to decertify Iran nuclear deal

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the landmark international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a senior administration official said on Thursday, in a step that potentially could cause the 2015 accord to unravel.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an American official said Trump was also expected to roll out a broader, more confrontational U.S. strategy on Iran.

The Trump administration has frequently criticized Iran’s conduct in the Middle East.

Trump, who has called the pact an “embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated,” has been weighing whether it serves U.S. security interests as he faces an Oct. 15 deadline for certifying that Iran is complying with its terms.

“We must not allow Iran … to obtain nuclear weapons,” Trump said during a meeting with military leaders at the White House on Thursday, adding that “the Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East. That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions. They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”

Asked about his decision on whether to certify the landmark deal, Trump said: “You’ll be hearing about Iran very shortly.”

Supporters say the deal’s collapse could trigger a regional arms race and worsen Middle East tensions, while opponents say it went too far in easing sanctions without requiring that Iran end its nuclear program permanently.

Iranian authorities have repeatedly said Tehran would not be the first to violate the accord, under which Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in return for lifting most international sanctions that had crippled its economy.

If Trump declines to certify Iran’s compliance, U.S. congressional leaders would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, suspended under the agreement.

Whether Congress would be willing to reimpose sanctions is far from clear. While Republicans, and some Democrats, opposed the deal when it was approved in 2015, there is little obvious appetite in Congress for dealing with the Iran issue now.

The prospect that Washington could renege on the pact, struck between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union, has worried some of the U.S. allies that helped negotiate it.

“We, the Europeans, have hammered this: The agreement is working,” said a European diplomat who asked to remain anonymous. “We as Europeans, have repeated … it’s impossible to reopen the agreement. Period. It’s impossible.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said last month there was no alternative to the nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

A senior Iranian diplomat told Reuters on Thursday the end result of Trump’s expected move would be to isolate the United States since the Europeans would continue to support it.

“Many foreign investors told us that they will not be scared away from Iran’s market if Trump de-certifies the deal,” the diplomat said.

Trump has long criticized the pact, a signature foreign policy achievement of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

The administration was considering Oct. 12 for Trump to give a speech on Iran but no final decision had been made, an official said previously.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, said that unless provisions in the accord removing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program over time are eliminated, it should be scrapped.

“Fix it, or nix it,” Netanyahu said in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders on Sept. 19.

Many of Trump’s fellow Republicans who control Congress also have been critical of the deal.

Trump blasted the deal in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, also on Sept. 19. “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said, adding that Iran’s government “masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shiite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria and its support for militant groups.

Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that Iran was “fundamentally” in compliance with the agreement. He also said the United States should consider staying in the deal unless it were proven that Tehran was not abiding by it or that it was not in the U.S. national interest to do so.

When Mattis was asked by a senator whether he thought staying in the deal was in the U.S. national security interest, he replied: “Yes, senator, I do.”

Last week, Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran may abandon the deal if Washington decides to withdraw.

A State Department official said the Trump administration was “fully committed to addressing the totality of Iranian threats and malign activities and seeks to bring about a change in the Iranian regime’s behavior.”

The official said that behavior includes ballistic missiles proliferation, “support for terrorism,” support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, “unrelenting hostility to Israel,” “consistently threatening freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf,” cyberattacks against the United States and its allies, human rights abuses and “arbitrary detentions of U.S. citizens.”

“The JCPOA was expected to contribute to regional and international peace and security, and Iran’s regime is doing everything in its power to undermine peace and security,” the State Department official added.

The move would be another step by Trump to undo key parts of Obama’s legacy. If Trump moves to decertify the accord, it would mark another example of walking away from international commitments as he pursues his nationalist “America First” agenda. He previously announced plans to abandon the Paris climate accord and the ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, two key Obama achievements.

Meanwhile Thursday, Trump delivered a foreboding message when he told that this might be the “calm before the storm,” as he posed for photos with his senior military staff.

White House reporters were summoned suddenly Thursday evening and told the president had decided he wanted the press to document a dinner he was holding with the military leaders and their wives.

Reporters were led hastily to the grand State Dining Room, where they walked into a scene of the president, his highest-ranking military aides and their spouses posing for a group photo.

Then, Trump gestured to the reporters in the room. “You guys know what this represents?” Trump asked. “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be the calm, the calm before the storm.”

“What storm Mr. President?” one reporter shouted.

“You’ll find out,” the president said

He also praised those assembled for the photo, saying: “We have the world’s great military people in this room, I will tell you that.”

Earlier in the evening, the president had lauded the group, including his defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said they would be discussing the most pressing military issues facing the country, including North Korea and Iran.

Trump said “tremendous progress” had been made with respect to the Islamic State group, adding, “I guess the media’s going to be finding out about that over the next short period of time.”

He also offered another stark warning to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or allies with unimaginable loss of life,” he said, vowing to “do what we must do to prevent that from happening and it will be done, if necessary. Believe me.”

He also said that, moving forward, he expects those in the room to provide him with “a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace.”  (Israel Hayom)

World’s first narrow electric ambulance inaugurated by United Hatzalah

The United Hatzalah emergency medical services organization has just put into use the world’s first narrow electric car, fully equipped with an automatic defibrillator and all other necessary equipment, to reach the sick and injured in spots impossible to access with other wheeled vehicles.

UH president and founder Eli Beer said that the $45,000 vehicles, dubbed the mini-lance, can even get up stairs and over narrow sidewalks and streets. The first four cars, purchased with donations, have been places in cities around the country and can also be driven by disabled volunteers who are unable to mount UH ambucycles and bicycles to give first aid.

Narrow Ambulance

The organization, which now has nearly 4,000 volunteers who provide absolutely free service, also has tractors that bring emergency medical technicians to those needing help in off-road locations and other difficult locations. A first intensive-care ambulance, which is like a mobile intensive care unit, has also been purchased by Beer’s family in memory of his cousin, Alan Beer, who was murdered some 14 years ago in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem.

A month ago, UH completed a massive, $18 million renovation and purchase of a nearly half-century-old building at 78 Yirmiyahu Street in Jerusalem that has been its headquarters for 26 years. While UH began with only 100 square meters of space, it has dug into solid rock and expanded to have 3,000 square meters for its rescue and education efforts. The Jerusalem Municipality has also given permission for it to eventually to add four more stories.

UH has treated 2.5 million people in the last quarter-century, around 300,000 per year, or 900 to 1,000 a day, all at no cost to the patient.  (Jerusalem Post)

An Israeli trauma expert predicted a Las Vegas attack three years ago

By Ben Sales         JTA

An Israeli trauma expert predicted a Las Vegas attack three years ago

When Dr. Avi Rivkind landed in Las Vegas three years ago to lecture as a trauma care expert, he saw something that troubled him.

The airport, McCarran International, felt too open, almost exposed.

He felt no more comfortable on the city’s Strip while watching crowds flow from hotels to casinos to shops to the street — with little security in sight.

“I felt there was a lack of presence, from the ease of getting around there, from the casinos, from how easy it is to enter all the malls,” he told JTA on Monday. “I felt very uncomfortable.”

Rivkind, who heads the Shock Trauma Unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, is a pioneer in treating victims of mass-casualty terror attacks. He gained his experience treating terror victims in Israel, and his techniques were used in 2013 to save the lives of some of the injured in the Boston Marathon bombing.

He came to Las Vegas in the summer of 2014 to speak at a Hadassah conference, but cut his trip short when Israel’s most recent war with Hamas broke out.

Before he left, however, Rivkind delivered a warning to a local TV channel: Get ready for a potential terror attack.

“With all the casinos and people are coming here from all over the world, I think you should take a huge situation,” Rivkind told Channel 8, the local CBS affiliate. “I don’t want to give anybody any ideas. However, you should be well prepared. In my mind, it’s a question of time.”

Rivkind’s words feel ominous today after a gunman rained bullets from a Las Vegas hotel room window, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 500 at a concert Sunday in the worst mass shooting in American history. Police said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada — killed himself and appears to have acted alone.

Rivkind had spent stints living in Los Angeles and Baltimore, so he was familiar with the scale of an American metropolis. But he hadn’t felt scared in those cities.

Although he can’t remember details now, Rivkind said something felt more dangerous about the public spaces in Las Vegas. He noted that some of the 9/11 hijackers met in the city before carrying out their 2001 attack.

The doctor said he offered to advise local government officials on emergency preparedness but never heard back.

“It was clear, I don’t know why, that it was destined for calamity,” he told JTA.

His specialty is blast trauma, or how to care for victims of a bombing attack, honed during the bloody years of the second intifada at the beginning of the century. Rivkind has taught at hospitals around the world how to save victims from massive blood loss and injuries to vital organs. In one instance he revived a soldier who had been shot in the heart and was pronounced dead in the field.

Rivkind also invented the “accordion method” of efficiently moving patients through stages of assessment in a crowded emergency room. He was the personal physician for the late Israeli President Ezer Weizman, and helped care for Ariel Sharon when the former prime minister fell into a coma in 2006 following a stroke.

But Rivkind cautioned that medical care after a mass shooting like Sunday’s is different from treatment following a bombing. Besides, he said, “this is a time to turn inside yourself and feel the pain. This is not a time to give suggestions.”

But after a career saving the lives of terror victims, Rivkind said the news of the Las Vegas attack hit especially hard.

“On one hand, you do exceptional things to save a human life,” he said. “Then one crazy piece of shit comes to kill without blinking an eye.”

Stopping Iran Is up to Israel Now

by Efraim Inbar                        Middle East Forum


Western hopes that Iran will moderate and “engage” with the international community following the faulty 2015 nuclear agreement (JCPOA) have been gradually replaced with apprehension. More voices in the international community are joining Israel in expressing growing concern about Iran’s policies.

While Iran seems to be abide by the JCPOA, it resists expanding the scope of inspections, continues its nuclear research and development (for example upgrading centrifuges) and continues to make progress on its long-range missile program. Recently it conducted a test of a missile designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Moreover, Iran’s involvement in the region attests to its hegemonic plans, defying the notion, propagated by its propagandists, that it is a status quo power acting defensively. Rather, Iran is following its Persian imperial instincts that are reinforced by Muslim jihadist impulses. It already controls four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa; its Shi’ite militias and proxies are fighting in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and engaging in ethnic cleansing; and it is on the verge of solidifying the Shi’ite corridor from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Israel tries to capitalize on the new widespread global apprehension about Iran and a new American president who is not committed to the JCPOA to bring about the cancellation of the 2015 nuclear accord or its renegotiation, and the reinstating of the sanctions regime. Yet, these goals are difficult to attain and not useful in preventing a nuclear Iran.

The international community, including the US, has little appetite to confront Iran. The belligerent tone of President Donald Trump might be pleasant to Israeli ears, but we should not forget that he has not yet dismantled the North Korean nuclear arsenal. Understanding very well the Western reluctance to take military action, Iran is emulating the North Korean scenario.

Many states, Germany for example, were eager to renew business relations with Iran after the removal of the sanctions regime and to turn a blind eye to Iranian purchases of dual-use equipment.

The world seems to prefer to wait until the agreement expires in 10 years or so without worrying about what will happen after. Iran signed the deal to gain legitimacy for its nuclear program without giving up the plan to go nuclear in the near future. Iran, with its thousands of years of history, is patient, seeing the agreement as only a short delay on the road to achieving its ambitions.

Unilateral cancellation of the nuclear agreement will only energize the Iranian nuclear program. Even if attempts to convince Iran to renegotiate the deal are successful, the Iranian talent for bargaining will prolong the negotiations for years, gaining it additional time to enhance its nuclear program.

Similarly, putting in place a tough economic sanctions regime requires years of diplomatic struggle. Neither Russia nor China have a great interest in helping the US neutralize the trouble potential of an anti-American Iran. Moreover, the effectiveness of economic sanctions is limited. Past sanctions were useful in bringing Iran back to the negotiating table, but not in changing its policy.

The claim that a tougher deal could have been achieved in 2015 and therefore renegotiations could elicit a better one for the West is not credible. The JCPOA, with its loopholes, was the only agreement the Iranians were ready to sign when it became clear that the US under president Barack Obama would anyway be unwilling to use the military option. Despite the anti-Iranian rhetoric, the US under President Donald Trump seems to lack the strategic acumen needed to stop Iran from attaining regional hegemony. As a matter of fact, its Middle Eastern policies suit Iran.

Trump continued the obsession with Islamic State (an anti-Iranian force) and is going along with the Russian and Iranian plans in Syria. The US prefers the integrity of Iraq, an Iranian satellite, rather than supporting a Kurdish state that Iran opposes. The US did not side clearly with Saudi Arabia in isolating a Qatar that courts Iran. A nuclear Iran will be even more difficult to restrain.

Nothing in the world can convince Iran to give up the nuclear dream. Only the use of force can stop Iran from fulfilling its ambitions. Israel is on its own in this. Nobody will deal with an Iran that is going nuclear. Therefore, Israel must prepare its military for a strike against the main components of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. This will not be easily achieved, but with determination and creativity it is feasible.

A successful attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would change the regional power equation and reverse Iranian advances. Most states would be happy for Israel to do the dirty work, and judging from past Israeli strikes on the Iraqi and Syrian reactors, would hardly create any difficulties for Israel on this account.

It is true that Iran has ways to retaliate and exact costs from Israel. However, these would be easier to bear than the cost of allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons.

How Palestine “Occupies” Itself

By Asaf Romirowsky            Besa Center  (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)

How Palestine “Occupies” Itself

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: “Occupation” has become an all-purpose Palestinian tool. On the one hand, the Palestinians claim the Israeli “occupation” makes serious negotiations with Israel impossible. On the other, they claim the “occupation” makes the development of local institutions and civil society impossible. Western and Israeli diplomats have largely avoided criticism of this strategy, possibly because it has become a central tenet of Palestinian identity.

A consistent Palestinian strategy for seeking statehood while blaming Israel for its absence has been codified through the narrative of “occupation.” The anniversary of the 1967 war brought this to the forefront in endless accusations regarding the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank. There is even an assertion that Gaza is still “occupied.”

Occupation is a Palestinian tool to avoid negotiations, since “no tactical brilliance in negotiations, no amount of expert preparation, no perfect alignment of the stars can overcome that obstacle.” Nor is progress in Palestinian economics, institution-building, or civil society possible, because –  as Nabeel Kassis, Palestinian Minister for Finance, put it – “Development under occupation is a charade.” Even the Palestinian Authority’s own repression and crackdown on freedom of the press is, according to Hanan Ashrawi, caused “of course [by] the Israeli occupation.” And despite the palpable underdevelopment of Palestinian institutions and civil society, Europe must keep funding them, since “Preparedness for several possible scenarios with a long-term focus on functioning institutions is what is required from the EU and other donors in Palestine.”

In 2011, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put forward the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) at the UN, we saw this process in action. The approach is specifically designed to prevent any direct negotiations with the State of Israel. Some Palestinian supporters even opposed the UDI precisely because Palestine “lacks the most essential elements of statehood: independence and sovereignty, and effective control over its territory. The fact is that Israel, the occupying power, has the final say in most matters affecting the destiny of the Palestinian people.”

Despite the high-sounding rhetoric about the declaration, which followed the 1998 Palestinian “Declaration of Independence,” its goal was to put the onus for a Palestinian state on the UN. But Palestinians are already treated by the UN like no other entity, whether state or people. Vast financial and administrative resources are dedicated to the “Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.” Despite these efforts, which have cost many millions and have lasted almost 70 years, long predating the 1967 “occupation,” there is still no Palestinian state.

Palestinians and their supporters want to have the occupation both ways. It is the trump card for their own refusal to negotiate and failure to develop their own society, but it is also a useful tool for further internationalization of the conflict and prolongation of their international welfare status.

This pattern has been clear for decades. Even Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, understood the façade. “There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace,” she said. “That is the only path that will lead to the fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations … Nor is it viable to build the institutions of a future state without the negotiations that will ultimately create it.”

Until now, however, successive American administrations have challenged only Palestinian rhetoric, not Palestinian methods – and the rhetoric of “occupation” has not been directly challenged at all. This is because, alongside “refugee-ness” and victimhood, it stands close to the center of Palestinian identity, at least in political terms.

The UDI strategy was a diplomatic way of selling the so-called “occupation.” Nothing can happen in Palestinian society or politics, such as the development of Palestinian state institutions or a culture of peaceful coexistence with Israel, because of the “occupation.” Empty symbolism like the UDI shrewdly facilitates the long-term Palestinian goal of eradicating Israel by co-opting the UN and the international community of NGOs. This long march through the institutions has broadened the global delegitimization of Israel at a low cost. The inevitable failure of UDI efforts to create a viable Palestine nonetheless rally the cause, while its political successes undermine Israel. The speed of change is slow enough to maintain the illusion of peace and all-important Western aid.

Threats are part of any diplomatic toolbox, and Palestinians excel at them. Insufficient American trumpeting of “even-handedness,” and, above all, any challenges to Palestinian narratives of victimhood (and the resulting need for international aid), produce new rounds of threats. The Palestinian Authority now sees stagnation and lack of appetite within the Trump administration, especially after Jared Kushner’s last visit. Thus did Ahmad Majdalani, an aide to Abbas, comment after the meeting that “if the US team doesn’t bring answers to our questions this time, we are going to look into our options, because the status quo is not working for our interests.”

A new approach to internationalizing the conflict and promoting the Palestinian narrative is being developed. Hence the plan to change the international definition of “Palestinian territories under occupation” into “a Palestinian state under occupation.” This would shift attention back to the “occupation” while requiring nothing from the Palestinian Authority.

Of course, declaring a de facto state does not make it a reality. Nor will declaring that state to be “under occupation.” The reality is that both the essential non-existence and the victimized character of the Palestinian state represent a conscious decision to embrace failure. This will not change unless there are direct negotiations, a choice the PA has consistently refused.

While a functioning Palestinian state remains desirable, it is telling that the Palestinian leadership has refused to directly negotiate with Israel and uses bodies like the UN to endorse a “virtual” state with no viable institutions. Is the Palestinian goal a state of their own, or just the erasure of Israel? If the latter, it is to be followed by what? Insisting upon a Palestinian state must go hand in hand with reviving the moribund Palestinian political system and institutions that would support it, like a free press. But these are demands that should come first from Palestinians. When such demands come from Israel or Western countries, they collide with the narrative of “occupation.”

Palestinian nationalism has never seen the conflict as one between two national groups with legitimate claims and aspirations. Israel’s existence – indeed,  Zionism itself, the very idea of Jewish nationalism – is regarded as wholly illegitimate. Palestinian acceptance of the two-state solution was a means of appeasing the West and its stated desire for all parties to live in peace according to democratic, national ideals. But for Arafat in his day and now for Mahmoud Abbas, the two-state solution was a mechanism with which to buy time until the Palestinians can finally overcome and defeat Israel. The language of “occupation” plays a key role.

Whether Palestinians think they are an “occupied state” or “Palestinian territories under occupation,” as long as Palestinians cling to the notion of being “occupied” and Israel remains the “occupier” we are destined to see more of the dynamics of the past and fewer possibilities in the future. Until we see more self-awareness, self-criticism, and a sense of accountability, Palestinian identity and statehood will remain occupied in perpetuity. Palestine is indeed “occupied” by shadows of its own making.